Where - 4994 Great Alpine Rd. Ovens
Price - $25
Website - http://www.happyvalleyhotel.com.au
Reviewers – Lee & Nikki
For quite a while now I've been promising to get out a little further, to leave our Thursday-night-10km-radius-from-the-CBD comfort zone and check out some of the parmas that regional Victoria has to offer. But which pubs do we pick? Even if we pick a town or region there are just too many pubs out there to get to them all.
So welcome to my idea. We picked a region in Victoria, did a bit of a road trip over a weekend and basically chain ate parmas until it was time to come home, managing to hit up three pubs in Victoria's Alpine region over the course of a weekend.
Here's the fun part, rather than bank these reviews and dole them out over the next three weeks, I hereby declare it "Alpine Region Week", and will be posting a new review today, tomorrow and Friday.
So strap in! The first pub on the Agenda - The Happy Valley Hotel in Ovens, Victoria.
The Happy Valley hotel, a name so sugary sweet that I almost got diabetes reading the sign, is an odd little spot. The other two pubs we will get to this week both came highly recommended - This one I had never heard of, but driving past it catches the eye as a fantastically inviting country pub. The abundant green grapevines snaking their way across the facade is a fantastic visual, making this a very hard pub to drive past without stopping in for a cold one.
The Happy Valley pub is a bit of a dichotomy. The front bar screams old school country pub straight out of the 60's (apart from a few modern touches). A place you could pull up a pew and forget your troubles for a few hours. Walk to the back, however and it feels more like a cafe than a watering hole. You could forget you are in a pub entirely if you wanted to, making it a much more modern experience, at the expense of a bit of it's charm.
We took a seat in the back room and checked the menu -
Looked good to me!
It's also worth noting that the Happy Valley has an impressive and spacious beer garden. Plenty of seating, protected for the weather and set up with an outdoor stage for live entertainment, I could really see this pub getting quite enjoyable on a Friday or Saturday night. The Sunday lunch crowd, however, was a little less rowdy.
It's a country pub, so you aren't going to be blown away with the selection of beers. Draught, Furphy, VB ... And I did hear a rumour that they pour a mean Guinness.
About 15 minutes after ordering our parmas arrived -
The schnitzel quality was top notch. Thick and juicy, just how we like 'em, and served steaming hot to the point I had to let it sit for a few minutes. The crumbing had a little trouble gripping the chicken and flaked away quite a bit, but this was a minor complaint.
It wasn't huge, but big enough that nobody would walk away hungry. Overall a solid foundation to the dish.
Unfortunately, other than the top notch schnitzel, things took a bit of a turn from there.
The toppings were quite bland. No ham on the parma meant that all the responsibility for flavouring the dish fell on the cheese and the napoli - But neither of them were strong enough to drive this parma home.
Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of cheese and heaps of napoli, but neither added much to the flavour profile, making this a parma that was well prepared on a technical level, but not really memorable once the plates were cleared.
The chips followed in the same vein as the parma. They were fine, standard pub chips - But it didn't feel as if any love was put into them. No seasoning, no salt, no dipping sauce, just chips.
They were cooked well and plenty of the plate - But like the parma, completely forgettable.
The salad looked great on the plate, and I'll always appreciate a side bowl - However the execution of this one was also a bit of a disappointment. All of the ingredients were piled into the bowl and topped with a massive sploodge (its a word, shut up) of very thick, rich dressing. It needed to be tossed. The first forkful of salad was 90% dressing and 10% salad, the second forkful was about 50/50 and the third and remaining forkfuls were just dry salad leaves with no dressing whatsoever. The parma and chips were forgettable but still pleasant. I'll be remembering the salad for the wrong reasons.
It's always hard to assign value to a parma that I didn't overly enjoy. I walked out with my hunger sated with an overall pleasant meal. Would I pay another $25 for the experience? I wouldn't rush to, but at the same time if I found myself at the Happy Valley again I could be convinced to give it another crack.
The front half (and beer garden) of the Happy Valley is a great pub - it's a slice of history that is definitely worth dropping in on your drive and experiencing at least once, however when I walked through to the dining area I felt as if the personality had been sucked out of the room - Too many renovations have pulled all of the life out of the place and it has become just another anonymous cafe the likes of which you'd expect to find in Parkville or North Melbourne.
This review is coming off harsher than I had intended. It wasn't that bad. The parma had an A+ schnitzel as a foundation, but just faltered when it came to the toppings and the sides. Not bad by any stretch, but not great either.