Where - 191 Grattan St, Carlton
Price - $23
Website - https://www.princealfred.com
Reviewers – Lee & Nikki
I lost sleep last night. Tossing and turning trying to work out the best way to write this review. A little bleary-eyed this morning, but the best way I think I can present it is to go in with an attitude of full disclosure from the get go.
This is going to be a little spoiler-y for the rest of the review, but last night, after the (fantastic and super friendly staff) saw the state in which our parma was presented and how much we had left of the plate as we were about to leave, they refunded our money on the spot - An unprecedented move, in over 336 parma reviews over the last 8 years we have never been refunded - A classy move and it really showed that the staff at the Alfred cared that we had a sub-par experience.
Which is why it pains me so much that I am sitting here writing this review right now, as I know it's not gonna go well and I really don't want to give them a bad review.
Anyway, lets start at the beginning. Back in 2011 we first visited the Alfred, and to be honest it was a bit of a dive. Well, dive is probably too strong of a word - It was the quintessential Uni pub. Pool tables, TV's, Barry machines ... sure it was a little dirty and the floors were tad sticky, but Uni students don't care about that. It was a little pub with great bones and a good heart. I was there a few times around 2011 as shortly after our review I tied the knot around the corner - In fact the Alfred is the pub at which I had my first drink as a married man (I think it was a Jäeger bomb ... Like I said, Uni pub).
Then it closed. Boarded up for quite a while as a new pub group took over and got to work fixing the place up. So, naturally when I heard that they had re-opened mid February (a month to the day from when we reviewed the parma) I made it a priority to head over and see how the old girl had scrubbed up.
Unrecognisable. The 100 burgers group (the team behind such spots as Welcome to Thornbury, The Mint and Brunswick Mess Hall) have done an absolutely stellar job with the retrofit - If you had've blindfolded me and taken me there I would not have known it was the same pub, and with the addition of a rooftop beer garden its honestly one of the best facelifts I've seen in a while.
Word must be getting around, too, as the place was packed. We struggled to snag a seat at 7pm on a Thursday either upstairs or down - But after a pint at the bar some space cleared up for us to sit down and check the menu.
We placed our order and awaited the parmas arrival. They really have done well at the Alfred, even putting in an outside-facing cafe for passing students to get their coffee fix in the mornings. a Fantastic idea, although I'm sure all the staff are sick to death of the 8am "can I get a pint? hur hur hur" jokes already.
Speaking of pints, the 9 drinks on tap run a pretty respectable gamut. The obligatory copper tanks of Carlton Draught that I think is now law to be installed in any pub established after 2016 loom overhead, as well as options such as Melbourne Bitter, Hoegaarden, 4 Pines, Great Northern and Goose island. Not too crafty (especially for Uni students these days) but enough to keep most people satisfied.
About 15 minutes after ordering our meals they arrived at the table. As is tradition with redos, lets compare the 2011 parma to it's 2018 sibling...
Don't say I didn't warn you. This is where things get bad. First up, the schnitzel was burnt to near black, not only that it was almost sticky. Caramelised. You know when you cook chicken skewers on the barbie and the marinade burns before the chicken cooks? kind've like that, as if the schnitzel had been brushed with some sort of sauce before cooking.
Inside wasn't much better. The chicken breast was so overcooked all the moisture had been sucked out. We had trouble cutting through, even with the steak knives provided (Thursday night is $15 steak night) It was so dry. On the plus side at least they used real chicken breast.
The toppings weren't much better. The cheese was a congealed blob, undercooked and with zero flavour. There were some leaves under the cheese but on top of the ham that added a bit of punch, however the green haze shining through the yellow cheese was very visually unappealing.
Points for the slice of ham, but to be honest I couldn't really taste it, the char on the schnitzel overpowered most of the dish. There was minimal napoli, although I did detect a bit of a barbecue sauce tang throughout, but that may have been from the smear of sauce that they put on the plate before serving (see pic below). I can see what they were trying to do, but it kind've just looks like someone spilled some sauce on the plate before they served it. To be totally honest it felt as they were trying a little too hard to be fancy. A parma is a parma, it doesn't need zhushing up this much.
The chips were this parmas saving grace. Beer battered, well cooked, well seasoned, served piping hot and a decent serving, the staff even brought out a bottle of sauce with the cutlery unprompted. Very well done.
The salad not as much. Their "slaw" was pretty much shredded cabbage and some greens sprinkled on top. It was dry and in desperate need of some dressing.
Tuesday at the Alfred is $15 parmas all day & night, but to be honest, in it's current state I wouldn't pay that much, let alone the $23 we paid (well, tried to pay, as I said we were given our money back after the staff saw what was plated up).
I really wanted to like the Alfred. The venue is great, the staff could not have been friendlier in the situation (we tried to refuse the refund but they weren't taking no for an answer), and it's a pub that holds a lot of sentimental value. Everything was great ... Except for the parma.
I don't normally do this but I'll make a declaration here - If the Prince Alfred wants to have a re-jig of their parma and let me know I will waive our rule of "Minimum of a year between redos". They've only been open a month, lets hope we can chalk this up to teething issues, call it a false start and try again soon.
In the meantime, if you want to have a beer in a fantastically renovated pub you should stop in to the Alfred - Just avoid the parma.