22 February 2008

Hotel Nest. Bar Food.

Rob Mills was bounding down the stairs at his old stomping ground, the Red Eagle Hotel, when something caught in his throat. As he stopped to clear it he noticed the crowd chanting and screaming below: "Millsy! Millsy!"

"I feel like a rock star," he said, uncertainly. "That's good, isn't it?"

For more than two years Rob Mills had worked this Albert Park pub as frontman for a cover band, the Megamen.

He was used to belting out upbeat covers of FM hits for the regulars; the blonde, buff, sun-kissed 20-somethings who swayed to Angel, by Robbie Williams, and sang along to 3AM, by Matchbox 20.

And even before the instant fame of appearing on Channel Ten's star quest, Australian Idol, Mills had habitually upstaged the other two in the band, Simon Candy and Brook Chivell.

Sometimes the two guitarists jokingly referred to themselves as "the chopped livers", figuring they might as well be chopped liver with all the attention they got playing next to Mills.

By Misha Ketchell - October 27, 2003

The Red Eagle is dead. When I started going there in the eighties it was par for the course because that was where all The Advertising people played, along with The Flower and The Rex in Port Melbourne. Later on The Botanical joined those ranks. When the Ponytail Set moved on it became the spot for the Millsy generation, but when they too left for the modern, renovated The Beach - once The Bleakhouse - the Red Eagle too became chopped liver.

In December it re-opened as Hotel Nest with a celebration marked with pleasant young blonde 'modules' as they're know in Adland and Rent-a-crowd personnel such as Suzy Wilkes. The opening, orchestrated by event company Gorgeous PR - who claim to have done the branding, PR, uniforms etc, as do Ennis & Perry - meant owner Michelle Matthews had her eyes set on a certain calibre of customer. But on two sweltering nights earlier this week it was filled not with the stunners but with locals, many of whom once belonged to the Ponytail Set of the eighties.

I nipped in for a quick bar lunch yesterday, to dip my toe in the water. Buoyed by the fact that Mansion Hotel Executive Chef Paul Raynor was now consulting to the venue and Nick Dodds, ex front of house at MoMo, Ezard and Gingerboy was working with them I expected good things. I wasn't disappointed.

Gone are the raucous bands and the really young crowd. The venue is modelled on places like 'The Bot' and I can see a similar crowd will converge there. It feels a little young for the Lamaro's set, but some may cross over. It is sleek, white, modern and full of expectation. The white marble counter across the bar drives your eye down the guts of the front bar. Quirky childlike touches add a modernity to the scene like a carved wood goat head wall sculpture, a cluster of white dovecotes and low colourful stools that remind me of my Nursery School in Surrey in the early seventies.

At 1pm unlike The Bot it was quite deserted for a venue of this size. But so also was Lord Cardigan further up in Albert Park Village and feted GastroPub, The Montague. In all I think there were ten patrons in the bar during my visit. Four Grey Nomads from the 90 000 tonne cruise liner which berthed momentarily at Station Pier were lured into the dining room. It will just be a matter of time before the St.Kilda Road Business types and cashed up Domestic Godesses of older private school children join the ranks, especially when the latter hear the news that they will be serving High Tea.

The bar menu was a fine example of the Modern casual dining scene and definitely not what had been offered in previous incarnations. Two $20 specials of Mushroom risotto or Penne with sugo, spinach, sausage and olives served with a glass of wine were drawn to our attention, scribbled on a blackboard.

Menu items listed included...

...And a Wagyu burger with blue cheese dressing, Tempura Prawns with Chilli Mayonnaise, Minute Steak Sandwich with caramelised onions and a Ploughman's Platter for two.

Gluten-Free-Gourmet, who had come for the spontaneous jaunt ordered the Chargrilled Swordfish which was served a touch rare and moist, with an Alsatian style potato salad featuring bacon and grain mustard. I didn't taste, but it appeared to be technically proficient and a very good simple offering. Chardonn-Ange tried the Penne special and gloated about the sausage - as all good women of Germanic descent are want to do after a good feed.

I ordered the Crispy Pork Salad, it was not a fragrant dish but certainly effective in its execution. Small thin, deep fried pieces of belly pork appeared triple fried until the required crunch factor was achieved. They sat atop a bed of cucumber shavings and snow pea sprouts - known as Dow Mui in Cantonese - which had been doused briefly in hot vegetable oil. The lot was garnished with spring onion and dressed in a concoction that seemed to comprise the rock sugar sweet pickling syrup from Asian pickled shallots with a splash of rice vinegar, not soy lime, as described on the menu. All it needed for a truly authentic touch were some sesame seeds and slivers of pickled daikon.

I enjoyed the crunch of the meat combined with the slippery and leafy. I liked the sweet and sour nature of the salad, but as an Oriental this is programmed into the suite of tastes appealing to my palate. For a 'girlie' lunch it was a perfect portion. If you have a larger appetite, perhaps an additional small dish shared between two would hit the spot.

Service was efficient and pleasant. The drinks list includes fourteen wines by the glass, twenty nine beers and - delighting The Coeliac - Little Creatures Cider. With our meals averaging $15 each it was a nice lunchtime diversion. I'm glad this local of mine has been revived and revised, there's something about it which has always felt welcoming and convivial. It is bound yet again to rise to popularity sans Millsy, potentially with an older and wiser league of former ponytail wearing Ad men and with the people who drift in their wake. Now next step, to try their Dining Room.

Hotel Nest, 111 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, Victoria, Australia.
ph. +61 3 9699 9744


grocer said...

that's just the bar menu? WoW!

Anonymous said...

LOVE that illustration on the bar menu....!

Anonymous said...

I remember those old Red Eagle days! A time when Jason Donovan was on an upward trajectory, we all wore Grolsch bottle tops on our Doc Martens & Mel & Kim had a hit with FLM.
Funny how these re-claimed spaces & pubs can mean something different to a new generation isn’t it? Having said this, there aren’t too many places around that bridge this gap with much success. Botanical maybe? Espy maybe Marios maybe?
One band that amazes me though that has been appropriated by three generations now is the Violent Femmes? Closer to home the Celibate rifles also shared this phenomenon.

Vida said...

I must make an effort to get down there, sounds wonderful to me!! Vida x x x

Vida said...

Got lost somehow and ended up at a restaurant called Otis, turns out the owner is a friend of a friend and Eluise and I had a lovely dinner there. Eton mess was delicious as was the goat cheese tart... will still try to get to Hotel Nest, must try the afternoon tea... Vida x

stickyfingers said...

Gobbler - I remember the old days of Jason Donovan, he used to hang out at The Redhead too along with the Reyne brothers and the Chantoozies and The Great Aussie Fishcaf was packed to the rafters every night. You know the Violent Femmes are close to home too? Brian Ritchie lives in Hobart and teaches music there. That's why the Femmes always tour Australia. Their concert at The Corner last year was amaaazing.

Vida, Hotel Nest is closer to the beach. Their Afternoon teas start in March. I haven't eaten at Otis, but had another great meal nearby at L'Oustal today, as part of the Food Fest's express lunch. Will post about it when I'm less brain dead.