Where - RMIT University Building 81 (427 Swanston St. Melbourne)
Price - $24.50
Website - http://theoxfordscholar.com.au
Reviewers – Lee, Nikki & Stefo
A lot of people reading this review right now will have fond memories of the Oxford Scholar. Either you were an RMIT student or had a mate that was an RMIT student that dragged you down on one day or another for their cheap beers, big TV screens and one of the many cheap food nights on offer to feed the starving uni student.
We visited the Scholar back in 2013, a couple of years before they closed their doors. It was cheap and nasty (Monday was $12 parma night and it was $16 usually) yet it always had a bit of charm. Always welcoming, It was a cosy dive that stressed out students could grab a beer, watch the footy and get a cheap feed if only to escape from their annoying roommate for a few hours.
Then in 2017 the Scholar closed its doors, (apparently) due to works on the Metro tunnel driving away their clientele they just couldn’t afford to keep the doors open.
But like a phoenix from the ashes, the Oxford Scholar has returned. With new owners The Mahony Group (the same group behind The Windsor Alehouse on Punt Road, another spot we need to check out soon) taking the reigns, giving the old girl a facelift and (as of the end of April 2019) opening her doors once again as a second home to Melbourne’s RMIT Students, along with anyone else who may wander down Swanston Street in need of a beverage.
As soon as I heard about the re-opening I knew we had to visit ASAP. I always had a soft spot for the Scholar, so was genuinely curious to get a feel of the new digs. So last night we loaded up the Parma Bus and headed back to school at the Oxford Scholar.
While the exterior looks pretty much the same, the interior of the scholar is entirely unrecognisable. Completely gutted and stripped back to the brick the dank has been cleared out and a bright, airy new pub with a lot of wood, greenery and an (image-changing wall at the entrance that has to be seen to be believed) has been put in its place.
We arrived at about 6pm on Thursday night to an already busy pub, Along the A’Beckett Street wall a line of pretty large booths has been installed so we snapped up one of those as quickly as we could, checked the menu and located our target for the night…
The Scholar was always known as a spot to get a cheap feed, so seeing $24.50 on the menu (not exactly a bargain) gave me pause. On one hand I’m a staunch believer of “you get what you pay for” and I’d rather spend a little bit more to get a quality feed - But on the other hand that is quite pricey for a uni pub. I know times change and you can’t live in the past (and inflation is a bitch), but I feel like having more expensive food is kind’ve going against what the Scholar used to be about. We placed our order and very eagerly awaited the arrival of our parmas
Never really being a “craft beer” sort of pub, I was impressed with the new lineup at the Oxford Scholar. 12 taps ran the gamut of a variety of beers and styles with the addition of a few more options in the fridge. To make it easier (on myself) I’m gonna grab a screenshot from the Oxford Scholar website as opposed to listing each tap individually…
While not having any super deep cuts that’s a tap list extensive enough that I’m sure everyone would be able to find something on which to wet their whistle. I will say the Miss Pinkie by Boatrocker went down an absolute treat.
After a surprisingly speedy 10 minute wait our parmas arrived at the table.
As is tradition with pubs we have visited in the past, lets take a quick look at the 2013 Oxford Scholar parma before moving on to its 2019 counterpart…
The schnitzel was big enough, mine was one solid piece while others around the table had a couple of smaller schnitty’s stacked together. The chicken was great quality - gone are the Coles deli window schnitzels of old and in their place a quality, chicken breast schnitzel. Everything was well cooked and the crumbs delivered an outstanding crunch. Big improvement over 2013, that is for sure.
The toppings on the Scholar parma were applied extremely liberally. First up the ham was sliced so thick it felt like Christmas lunch stacked on top of a parma. The cheese was a fine melt and full of flavour. The only stumbling block I thought was the napoli - It was quite strong and overpowered the taste of the rest of the dish, absolutely eclipsing the flavour of the super thick ham. Minor nitpicks to an enjoyable meal.
The old Scholar parma was an example of how to do a cheap, processed schnitzel parma well enough to disguise the fact that it was a cheap, processed schnitzel parma. The new Scholar parma throws that out the window and delivers a dish made from quality ingredients with a price to match. It was good, but could be outstanding if they balanced out the rich napoli with a more prominent, smokey ham (loved the thickness of the ham though). Still worth a visit.
When I first saw “Salt & Vinegar french fries” on the menu I was damn intrigued. Although I’m not huge on McDonalds style french fries, who doesn’t love salt & vinegar chips? Managing to capture the essence of a salt & vinegar chip in french fry form would be quite the achievement for the Scholar. The end result was unsatisfying. As far as fries go they were fine. Served hot, away from the parma and plenty of them, however the “Salt & Vinegar Fries” had no trace of either salt nor vinegar.
If the vinegar was lost we definitely found it in the salad. This garden salad of lettuce, cherry tomatoes & cucumber slices was absolutely soaked in balsamic. I’m not complaining, I love a heavy hand of balsamic on my salad. A bit wilted but a good palate cleanser overall.
Would I be happy to pay $24.90 for this parma again? Yeah. I’d be happy with that. The ingredients used were top notch and generously applied (especially the ham), hard to say its not a value for money meal as I doubt you could walk away from this one unsatisfied. Now although I didn’t see any specific parma nights advertised anywhere yet (although I wouldn’t be surprised if they pop up - it is still early days. The Scholar does offer 15% off across the board for RMIT students and staff, which would bring the cost of the parma down to about $21 (20.825 to be exact), as well as beers - So that’s not too bad at all.
Despite being located literally on the grounds of RMIT I don’t think the Oxford Scholar is targeting students anymore (unless students have all become millennials in their mid to late 30's). Other than the student discount and the wall piece that occasionally flashes the RMIT logo I feel like they have definitely pivoted to a different crowd than the Scholar of old. Don’t get me wrong, the new look scholar is a great pub. It looks fantastic, the staff were super friendly and the parma was a tweak or two away from being great, however it has definitely lost some of the dive bar charm I used to love.
Worth a visit if you’re in the area.