Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peacock Inn Hotel & 303 High Street

According to their website, the Peacock Inn;
"was built in 1854 by Horace and Edwin Bastings. The following year they sold it to the 21-year-old George Plant. Plant was to become synonymous with the Peacock, holding the license until his death in 1895. His widow, Catherine then took over the hotel license until 1910."
Welcome to Northcote. Trains, trams and maybe a bus.

Cool. But Northcote has changed since then.

My mother tells the story of discussing Jane Austen in an English Literature tutorial at university. A young male student opined that Austen was clearly bourgeois rubbish, and believed he could smite a fatal blow against nineteenth century gentility with the profound and rhetorical question, "but where are the workers!?"

Fuck the workers; Lis declares victory over the lethargic

It was a fear of twenty-first century gentility that had made me reluctant to eat at the Peacock Inn Hotel. It's a lovely building with an almost Mexican, deco feel. As you walk past, however, through the window you can see the restaurant and its stark, modern furniture and hard surfaces. It bodes. Not of anything in particular; it just bodes. You expect the workers have well and truly been vanquished; gentrified away, somewhere well beyond the picket fences and sushi.

They had a groovy VicRoads/Metlink map of the northern suburbs. Cool, eh?

But no. Modernism aside, if you walk through the bleach-blond, overly thin, hatchet-faced restaurant, you get to the beer garden. A curvaceous, smiling and friendly beer garden with broad hips and.. oh, never mind. No "yummy mummies" here. No three-wheeled prams. A spacious beer garden full of... ummm... space... and... well... beer. People drinking beer, eating chips and smoking. Large people. Students. People talking philosophy, sports and shit.

*Smiles to self*

We also had great company - Lis, who has been with us on a previous journey to High Street, joined us for an evening high on the Hill.

Lis declares victory in general against, well, whoever

You don't go to a pub looking for authentic air-dried Japo-Scandanavian fish welts with a soupcon of green tea jus. No, you expect pub food; forty-seven varieties of schnitzel; the Ultimate Street Fighting Mixed Grill; chips with everything and maybe a token salad.

Lis ordered fish and chips, and by all reports these were pretty good. The fish was thick and moist and the chips were thick and crisp.

Al, F and I all ordered Veal Parmigiana (or in Al's case, chicken). Nothing says "pub meal" in Melbourne like Parmigiana. And this Parma (or Parmi?) was pretty good but not outstanding. Against it were a particularly sweet tomato sauce (although the tomato and onion were cheerfully and roughly cut), too much crumb; a slice of sandwich ham; and yearling masquerading as veal . In its favour, the beef was tender and the crumb was crisp.

I remember pub food in the 1980's as being utter, utter shit. These were the dark days of perverse liquor licensing laws in Victoria, and if you wanted to see a band, the pub was obliged to offer you food. Most of the time this meant getting a ticket when you paid the cover charge, which you could exchange for a plate of sandwich ham, potato salad and maybe some tinned three-bean salad. My expectations of pub food were set in this impressionable age, and they were set low. Since then, the food has only improved.

The Peacock Inn is not a gastropub (I still inwardly laugh, thinking "gastro-pub") but the food is decent pub food. The beer garden is spacious and there were a few free tables on Friday night, although plenty of people making plenty of atmosphere. Inside was similar, but with the now traditional large screen for sports. Charmingly, there are no poker machines.

We didn't stay for coffee or dessert. Knowing that there was an exhibition to support the opening of this year's Melbourne Ukulele Festival (MUF), we wandered down to 303 High Street for coffee. 303 has the ultimate location on High Street, being wedged between the Northcote Social Club and Lamb's (home of the second* best souvlaki on High Street).

We admired some hand-painted ukuleles.

My strong latte was good. F and Lis ordered some chemistry-set concoction called a "chai-latte-cino" (maybe). It was very milky and didn't have a lot of spice, strength or sweetness. Oh well. The band playing on the other side of the bearded door-bitch sounded fantastic, like a funky brass band on a billy-cart on their way to a hip-hop gig.

Lis has a collection of awesome tatts, but this is the best non-Escher one

It was a fun evening. In the absence of children I could have wandered into the back of 303 and enjoyed the band. But no, there were grumpy complaints, eye-rubbing and petulant foot-stampings. When the children had calmed me down, we agreed I needed to go home and have a nap.

*Ulysses is both the taxi driver's favourite and mine. One day I'll tell of our student days in the 1980's, eating double meat souvlakis and drinking chocolate milkshakes. On the basis of our then diet, I'm not sure how we lived this long... In the meantime, if your taxi driver smells of garlic at 4.00am, blame Ulysses.

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