When? - 20th of June, 2013
Where? - The Portland Hotel & James Squire Brewhouse. 115 - 127 Russell St. Melbourne
Price? - $24.50
Website? - http://portlandhotel.com.au/
Reviewers – Em, Lee, Matt, Nikki, Stefo, Tony
No, this isn't a double review, its just a very oddly named pub. From what I can discern the Portland Hotel & James Squire Brewhouse has two names and they just can't quite decide which one is their favourite, for example their website is portlandhotel.com.au yet their twitter is @JSBrewhouse. My best guess is that the restaurant-side of the pub is The Portland Hotel, and the more "pubby" side with sports on the big screen, pool tables & more standing room is the James Squire Brewhouse (not the first JS Brewery-in-a-pub we've come across either, although our first didn't rate too well - lets hope this one does a little better!)
Either way they share a menu, a kitchen and (most importantly) a parma.
We arrived at the pub and took our seats on the brewery side of the pub. Did I mention this pub has a working brewery inside? If you hadn't worked it out by the "brewhouse" part of the pubs name, there is a working brewery in the pub - an impressive sight and beautifully executed.
First things first though... The parmas.
We located and had a browse of the comprehensive menu - This would be a fantastic pub to bring a friend from another country to, as there are quite a few Australian game meats incorporated into dishes that you don't see too often in the Melbourne CBD (crocodile, emu & kangaroo).
But we weren't there for that! We were there for the parmas...
Now, I'm not normally one to fall for pretentious meal descriptions on menu's, but hot damn that sounds good! Parmesan encrusted crumbs? Honey roasted ham? 3 cheese glaze? Stop. Just stop. You had me at parmesan.
We placed our order and awaited our parmy goodness.
Now, Second things second... The beer.
Being a James Squire Brewery it's no surprise that there is a large selection of James Squire brews available over the bar, quite a few actually! From memory there were about 12 JS beers on tap - now how can one man sample all those beers in one night? With one of the greatest words a beer lover can hear... Tasting paddle.
Isn't it a thing of beauty? And for a pretty reasonable $15 for 6 mini beers it's the perfect way to tour the brews. It's one of life's rare pleasures to be able to sip a beer while sitting next to the still in which it was brewed.
Before too long it was parma time -
Points for presentation! This is officially the first parma I've had served on a wooden board - I had seen photos and heard rumors of this phenomenon in the past (I'm pretty sure Hoo Haa used to do it, and our friends over in SA found one recently as well) - an inventive and eye catching way to serve up a parma, that's for sure.
The schnitzel was a big'un. Definitely not the thickest schnitzel we've had (bordering on a little thin in places but not alarmingly so - nobody left hungry). The chicken was juicy, white and fresh - a quality foundation for the rest of the parma to build on. The panko crumb & parmesan cheese combination was inspired, delivering a unique, tasty crunch.
The napoli was delicious - no Dolmio canned crap here, this was fresh, chunky and in plentiful supply with a strong peppery kick that tickled the back of the throat... which is a bit of a double edged sword. I loved the spicy twang to the nap as I love pepper - however I can see that if I wasn't a pepper fan it might be a tad off-putting.
The honey smoked ham was an absolute triumph, simply bursting with flavour. Picking a bit off the parma and having it on its own reminded me of ham carved straight off the bone on christmas dinner - A fantastic addition to an already great parma.
So far this parma has been generous with all its toppings - and the cheese was no exception , this parma was cheesier than a 70's fondue party. Don't let the menu description fool you, the "3 cheese glaze" described is just your regular melted cheese - and in no way is that a bad thing. The three cheese combo carried outstanding flavour and complemented the rest of the dish perfectly.
Apologies for the dim cross-section lighting, It was a dimly lit pub, and I don't thing they would have appreciated me balancing my parma on the pool table to get good a better photo...
Despite being touted on the menu as fries there was a chunkier chip delivered on the plate - dodging a bullet in my opinion as I've always preferred a chunkier chip over a McDonald's style fry. A decent serving, and despite arriving mostly underneath the parma managed to retain their crunch (and to be brutally honest, a couple of soggy chips under the parma never really bothered me all that much - sometimes a few chips soaking up the parma juices can actually be pretty tasty!).
They were perfectly cooked and seasoned. I seem to say it every week but a pot of something to dip them in would have done wonders.
After an outstanding parma and chips the Portland's parma kind've fell over at the salad. The separate bowl was a nice touch and they weren't tight with the balsamic dressing, but there just wasn't a lot in there. A few lettuce leaves, a halved cherry tomato, two cucumber cubes and a radish slice. It wasn't bad but I just would have loved something more substantial, especially considering the high bar the other two elements of the dish set.
Our rule of thumb for judging value on a parma is "would I be happy to go back and pay what I paid again, for what I received". While the Portland's parma is a little pricey at $24.50 (not the most expensive, but not exactly cheap either) I would have absolutely no qualms in giving it another go anytime.
I absolutely loved the Portland Hotel's parma, all the ingredients were top notch and the peppery kick to the napoli was something that we don't see every week. It's an outstanding bird that I definitely recommend giving a try - if you aren't afraid of a little spice you definitely won't regret it.