You could mistake The Builders Arms Hotel for any corner pub and probably be misled into thinking it is just another drinking hole if you didn't know any better. There is a bar area that is very welcoming and you could easily pull up a stool and spend a few hours drinking Cricketers Arms Lager and be virtually unaware that through a connecting door, a bustling restaurant awaits that flows to an outside terrace area. Fortunately for us, we were not distracted by the beautiful sound of beer pouring into jugs and the soft murmur of friendly voices in the pub and when we presented ourselves at the restaurant, the aroma of bread and the sounds of pleasant conversation distracted me sufficiently from my dry mouth.
Service was happy to take us to a table even without a reservation. The restaurant retains a hotel-pub feel and an ambiance which was inviting. the tables are far enough apart so that you are not distracted by other diners. In typical Andrew McConnell style, there is a minimalistic design. There is little art to distract or even annoy which is refreshing which in turn encourages you to have pleasant conversation with your dining partners and be enamoured by the food and beverage on offer.
We ordered in a convoluted way that saw us requesting Claire de Lune oysters ($3.50/each) along with olive toast with Ortiz anchovies and peppers ($4/each) as appetizers and cold poached chicken with English cream and breakfast radish ($16) paired with the seared tuna, celery, potato and white anchovy ($16) as entrée plates to share. Murray's Whale Ale was offered in a jug ($25) so I thought it would be a convenient way to start proceedings with the demon drink.
Although the oysters tasted a bit alkaline, with a bit of lemon and of course the beer, the meal started off well. I really enjoyed the olive toast with the single Ortiz anchovy as I am a huge fan of the brand. Frequently I will stop around at Cumulus, Inc. and just order a beer and Ortiz anchovies and enjoy them at the bar however for this appetizer, I found the pairing of the anchovies with the olive element to be excellent. It would have been easy just to order 24 of these and sit around and drink beer all day, but I knew that there were more exciting things in store.
I like the concept of having a few entrée plates to share. The English cream that is poured on the poached chicken when it arrives is a winner and when combined with the radish made for a wonderful combination of tastes and is certainly a good light dish. The seared tuna was just that. A bright magenta colour and when sliced down the centre and combined with the celery, potato and white anchovy, made it my favourite dish from the experience. I just couldn't get enough of the little soft cubed potatoes and the introduction of the salty anchovy ultimately made the tuna taste even better.
Another jug of beer was ordered along with mains. The fish pie which had smoked trout, prawns, rockling and sorrel ($32) and and offering of steak tartare ($24) which included chips seemed appropriate to order considering the beer. The pie turned out to be deceivingly large with a big bulbous top crust however once you slice into it, you find that it is not completely filled with product and there is a a fair amount of air however you do find a fair amount of fish and the pie is really enjoyable. My dining companion could not stop raving about the steak tartare and insisted that it is one of the best that he has had and put it in the same league as what you get at Movida. I ordered a tomato salad ($14) to accompany my pie and I was happy that I did.
Service remained very attentive throughout the two hour extravaganza. The team were always coming around to swap out dirty plates, utensils and to make sure that our table was clean. There was always water available and we never waited long to have our supply of alcohol replenished. I liked the casual feel of the place but also the professional flare. My very enjoyable meal set the foundations for further beer consumption at the Gertrude Hotel down the road and was certainly a stand-out experience in the recent past.
Builders Arms Hotel
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065(03) 9417 7700
My Rating: 14.25/20
Value For Money: 3.75/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 72% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like the Builders Arms Hotel.