Sampling the Kent Hotel, North Carlton

This is the review I sent the boys regarding the possibilty of using the Kent for our 20 year reunion.

Au contraire! In the days of old, I wouldn’t have to do a reccy as I would be able to give a full dossier from memory based on multiple previous visits.

So I hit the Kent over the weekend for an eye spy and to sample the cuisine. I took a few people with me to get a bit of menu coverage. The actual menu was a little different to the one on the website but you get that due to seasonal variation or whatever.

We sampled the Chilli, garlic, tomato mussels; Beef Carpaccio, soy dressing, truffle toast; and Pork meatballs with tomato (not listed) for starters before moving on to Linguine with tiger prawns, fish pieces, mussels, anchovies, sage, garlic, lemon olive oil; House made lamb & mushroom pie, sautéed chats, fresh peas, red wine jus; Chargrilled grain fed eye fillet (250g) served with rosemary, garlic chats, collapsed cherry tomatoes, wild mushrooms & red wine jus; and Cumin dusted Calamari with local coleslaw (not listed).

Food: The Verdict The unanimous verdict on the food was “really bloody good”! The mussels and the linguine looked to be very good value. The lamb pie was a rustic style, the cumin dusting on calamari I hadn’t come across before but it was cooked perfectly and a really nice flavour. The steak had good flavour, but was the tiniest bit tough I thought – although I have pretty high standards about steak in restaurants so YMMV. The jus was superb though. Overall, a big tick for the food.

Location I, who have a habit of not reading things properly, immediately assumed that the Kent was the pub in Rathdowne St just behind the Lygon St strip. Well fool me, it’s actually in North Carlton which puts it on the north side of Princess St (See attached map). It’s no biggy, just a little bit further out of the CBD if that’s where you’re staying. Cab rather than walking, and probably a bit harder by public transport. A #1 tram would be your best bet. As North Carlton is one of those ‘quaint” Melbourne suburbs with a lot of terrace houses, parking can be a shitfight if you’re in a car.

Venue The place has a good variety of beers on tap and a full bar as you’d expect. It also has an extensive wine list if that’s your go. I didn’t check the top shelf arrangements which is probably a bit remiss. The place is really popular by all reports. Even though it is technically a pub, the food is this places main go. Meaning that it’s set up to fit as many people in and dining as it can. It’s a corner bar arrangement that’s all tables and chairs. There doesn’t appear to be a traditional front bar or standing and drinking area. The restaurant area is really just an extension of the main room. It was probably the lounge bar once upon a time, but now it’s just all the one open area. The floor is polished boards throughout, so it’s really quite noisy! As said the place is all open and the decor is a breezy, minimal style with lots of exposed wood. The outer walls of the main bar area are mostly glass so I got a bit of a seaside pub vibe even though we were in the northern suburbs. And for those coming without significant others, the waiting staff are quite worthy also <nudge, nudge>.

The Negative If I were to be picky, the main negatives are the noise levels in the restaurant, and it did take a fair while for the food to come out. Drink service was slow to start but ended up OK. Certainly not in the dying of thirst department.

Overall Suitability Dicko has spoken about looking at the function room, which is upstairs with it’s own bar in this place. I think for our purposes this would be a better bet. It would get us out of the hubbub of the main area, and any noise we have to deal with would be of our own creation. This obviously depends on the cost aspects as there would be an additional fee via a room hire or minimum spend I would expect. If we were in the restaurant they would probably split us onto 2 tables and we would take approx 50% of the space, so given the noisiness, other patrons may find Brenden asking everyone how their end is repeatedly might become tiresome ;-) There is also the aforementioned lack of an area for milling around. Food wise I think there is enough variety on the menu to satisfy most palettes, the prices are reasonable and the portions good value – although the ubiquitous chicken parmigiana didn’t get a guernsey. My vote is see what the function room deal & availability is and go from there.

Alternatives As Melbournians tend to approach a feed with almost as much gusto as a sporting event, there is a ridiculous amount of choice here. Also, most inner suburban pubs have been done up and yuppified since we were all last here. To simplify I’ve gone with places of a similar style to the Kent but are also culturally relevant to 9 TAC. Again depending on cost and availability I can widen the search if requested.

The Station Hotel 59 Napier St Footscray (Actually on the cnr of Footscray Rd). This place is just down the hill from Footscray Tafe and walking distance from Footscray train station or short cab ride from CBD. Right now, this would be my favourite pub to go for a feed. The steak is to die for! They have other stuff on the menu as well, but I’ve never had occasion to try it :-) Many beers on tap with standard front bar & pool tables but no function room. Also very popular.

Young and Jacksons Cnr Flinders & Swanston. This place has been done up and they’ve gotten rid of all the old bar flies. They generally have a band in the old sportsman’s bar and every time I’ve been there recently I’ve had a good time. The menu is a little more poncy and limited. There are a number of function rooms upstairs and there is a good range of beers on tap, including one of my favourites “The Young and Jackson’s Naked Ale” and obviously this is the only place you can get it. Being what and where it is, I imagine the function room costs may be hexy, but has the advantage of being central and open to 3am if we kick on.

The Queensberry Hotel 593 Swanston St Carlton. This place has changed styles so many times I’ve lost count. I haven’t actually been there for ages, but no 9TAC list would be complete without it! More simplistic menu and to my knowledge the place isn’t known for its food like the others. Multiple function rooms with a minimum spend rather than a hire fee. If people bring their drinking boots it may be a better option cost wise?

Anyway, have a ponder…

Final Bonus Option This place has nothing to do with 9TAC but I really like it. In case people want to kick the dining experience up a notch based upon our years and station :-) The Deanery

Cheers to all!

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