Name: The Albert Park Hotel
Address: Cnr Montague St & Dundas Pl, Albert Park, Victoria, 3206
Ph: 03 9690 5459
Hours: 12 noon till 3pm and 6pm till 11pm seven days
The Europeans get lunch right.
Now obviously that is a generalisation. I am sure not all Europeans do lunch properly, and I am sure there are many who do what far too many people in Australia do and just eat something completely insubstantial at their desk, but generally they seem to have the idea. At least, the movies show them doing it right.
Because in most of Europe, lunches are long.
The long lunch is an art form that is far too often ignored in Australia. For a few hours in the middle of the day a huge table is laden with food, everyone sits around with drinks in hand and eats and talks and drinks. Productivity be damned, that’s how to live.
Sadly, the demands of modern life make these great events upsettingly rare. Taking three hours to eat and drink before going back to work just isn’t practical, so you have to take the opportunities when they arise.
And what an opportunity the Christmas break provides. It is a short period of time when the vast majority of people don’t need to go back to work in the afternoon, and everyone wants to celebrate. On top of the main long lunch that is Christmas Day, it is always worth trying to fit in as many as you can.
Down in Melbourne for the break, a long lunch was organised by some friends at the Albert Park Hotel, part of the rapidly expanding empire of the Melbourne Pub Group. With eight of us seated around a long table outside on the decking, with palm trees sprouting through the wood, towering over everyone, it felt like what summer should be.
Wines and cocktails were dispersed around the table, and we settled in to ordering. This task was quickly passed to a single person: me. I, in turn, largely deferred to the waiter who was very free with suggestions.
Over the next few hours a parade of updated Latin street food, fresh seafood, chunks of meat and brilliant chips crossed the table. And my, we did eat well.
Two large platters of Pacific oysters came out first, offering us tastes of three different types of varying meatiness. While I feel they are always best eaten straight, the accompanying options of salsa fresca or gingered soy each offered a pleasing extra bite.
A long board was laid with rightfully highly anticipated “surf’n’turf” tacos. Small, soft, freshly made tortillas were filled with lobster, crispy pork, guacamole and pineapple salsa, coming together in an extremely crowd-pleasing few bites. Between the sweetness of the lobster, the fattiness of the pork, and a touch of sharpness from the pineapple, this was wonderfully balanced.
Mains were a simpler affair, lead by a large wood grilled snapper, cooked whole and portioned out in front of us. The flesh was sweet and soft, picked up by a salsa verde that benefited from a solid hit of samphire. Even better, the head and bones of the fish were left on the table, leaving the more adventurous of us to fight over the cheeks, the sweetest meat from the sea.
Rare breed, free range pigs are not only more ethical to eat, they also usually taste a lot better than the bland, ordinary factory farmed pigs that are usually available. The wood roasted suckling Large Black served at Albert Park was what pork should be; melt in the mouth tender, rich and, most importantly, actually tasting of pig. Served with apple and chorizo, it’s a classic combination for a reason.
Sides are all too often passed over, being placed on the table to pad out the meal. Here they significantly boost the rest of the meal. BBQ corn on the cob is sweet and smoky, cut through with fat from the queso fresca (fresh cheese).
But one side was even more exciting. A small bowl of the closest I have ever found to perfect chips. Crisp to the point of shattering when you bite into them, these thrice-cooked spears of potato were exceptional. This laborious cooking process creates miniscule cracks all over the potato, making for a larger surface area for the final hot oil to cook, so they aren’t at all healthy. But one bite of them, here with fried garlic and spicy bravas sauce, and you’ll forget all your worries. An absolute potato dream.
Desserts were kept simple. Good quality versions of crowd pleasers like cheesecake, jelly and ice cream, and crepes. Although, to be honest, my memories of dessert have been somewhat clouded by the copious amounts of well-suggested wines that accompanied the meal, chosen from an interesting list, old world and new. The volumes certainly contributed to the length of the event, and the contentedness of all concerned.
Considering everything that was consumed, the damage to everyone’s wallets was not unreasonable, coming out at under $150 a head. Not bad for an afternoon of great food, drink and company.
Now that the year has begun in earnest, and most of us are back at work, this style of eating is less available as an option. But next time you and some friends have an empty afternoon, consider the long lunch. If you happen to be in Melbourne, the Albert Park Hotel will show you how to do it right.