Where? - 714 Nicholson St, Fitzroy North
Price? - $24.50
Website? - http://theempress.com.au/
Reviewers – Fridge, Lee, Nikki, Pat, Stefo
I think I've started at least a hundred parma reviews with the line "We've driven past this place many times and never gone in", but gosh darn it, thats exactly what I'm gonna say about The Empress. Right down near the Brunswick end of Nicholson Street, this pub managed to stay completely off the radar until last year when they underwent a massive renovation, and we sat up and took notice.
The pub looks absolutely fantastic inside. Beautifully renovated while still maintaining its old world Aussie pub charm. There's a cosy beer garden off to the side that was already bustling with people and a dining room to the back that was filling up fast.
We pulled up a pew in the main bar, with a view of the footy and an eye on the selection of beer taps, and checked the menu -
Target acquired, we placed our orders at the bar.
If you're a craft beer fan you're in for a treat. The Empress has a fantastic selection of beers to suit every taste. We started the night on the "Feature Tap" listed above - the Bosco's Grapefruit and Cucumber IPA from Moon Dog. A very unique drop with strong cucumber notes, and overall a very tasty beer! (and at 6.8% it packs a punch as well). We rotated through some of the other beers throughout the night, but the Bosco's was definitely the one to try.
The food arrived a little staggered, but that's understandable as we ordered separately.
As soon as it hit the table I knew - this would be a unique parma.
The schnitzel sizes varied from plate to plate, ranging from "It could be bigger" to "thats a bit too small". They were all pure chicken breast, well cooked with only the slightest hint of burn on one of the parmas. The crumbs appeared to be home made and herbed, but suffered from a nasty case of sogginess throughout - the schnitz had zero crunch to it. Thick enough, but not winning any awards there - They did well retaining the juiciness of the chicken.
A competent start with only some minor issues, the toppings were really going to make or break this parma!
Let me start by saying that I love prosciutto, and the Empress is most definitely a prosciutto lover's parma. Lashings of freshly shaved ham were not in short supply at all, which added prosciuttos trademark saltiness - Which can, and has in the past, been a little to overpowering and salty, but here it worked well.
(Fun fact - Prosciutto is sometimes known as "Parma ham" ... hah!)
Unfortunately the rest of the toppings let this parma down. The cheese, while being extremely creamy, didn't add a whole lot to the flavour profile of this parma. The napoli was a non-event, much like the cheese there was plenty there, but in the end it just fell flat.
Rather than the standard chips, the Empress had switched things up a bit and opted for a side of duck fat roasted potatoes instead, and let me tell you - They are an absolute triumph. The best part of the dish by far, these potatoes were absolutely delicious. Crisp and crunchy on the outside opening up to fluffy clouds of potato inside. Fantastic flavour that barely needed seasoning - I could have easily downed a full plate of these solo. A very welcome change from the norm.
The salad/coleslaw looked great on the plate, but had some very strong flavours from mint and capers that I doubt are to everyones taste. A salad is usually good as a palate cleanser, but this one is so strong (and sour) and completely obliterated it. It might be for someone, but definitely not for me ... not a fan.
The Empress is a prosciutto lovers parma, and in the end that will be the deciding factor if its one for you or it isn't.
Its clear the Empress is going for the "Gourmet parma" market with this one, and its definitely coming at a gourmet price. $24.50 is a little steep when it comes to parmas, but they are definitely pulling out all the stops when it comes to the quality of ingredients and lets face it, you get what you pay for.
There aren't any parma nights that I can see, but the Empress does offer a pretty sweet Pint club if you're there often -
I won't be rushing back to the Empress to have their parma again, but I wouldn't be completely against it should I find myself in the area. It's a quality pub with a great atmosphere, and god damn those chips are tasty.
- Duck fat potatoes are phenomenal
- If you like prosciutto, you'll like this parma
- Great range of beers
- Small schnitzel
- Unpleasant salad