Shorty’s: Pub ethnography

The terrace is the prize. This little raised platform a step above the lane, where you can watch the parade that constantly passes, is where everyone really wants to sit. I don’t know if it’s the slight touch of sun, the fresh air, or the chance to see and be seen by the crowds, but so far I’ve never seen it less than full.

It’s the coolest section at Shorty’s, the new bar with food in the old Milk & Honey site, but there are many other options of where to sit. In a multi-sectioned fit out like this, there’s a great opportunity for ethnographical study, just like that scene in every high school film where they explain where everyone sits in the school cafe.

You have the high tables, right as you enter the room. These are for the short visitor, getting their drink on before heading out further. They won’t sit for a full meal, but maybe something off the finger food menu. A few people sharing some moist Middle Eastern spiced quail “pops” over some beers, perching on a stool while they do it. This is the noisy area, the part that is more bar than anywhere else.

For something a bit more relaxed, hidden behind a bookcase full of ferns and bottles is the back alcove. This is for people who want to talk. Maybe they’re on a date, or plotting world domination, but either way they don’t want the rough and tumble of the stools, or the grandstanding of the terrace. With the comfortable feel of a lounge room, it’s the right place to kick back with one of the sandwiches, such as a solid if slightly over-full burger, or perhaps a roll with a rich, fried slab of pig face terrine.

Tucked away in the back are the longer tables, low and wooden. The space for families, or for big groups, and the most pub-like part of the place. Normally these would probably be out in a beer garden rather than tucked away in a corner, which is possibly why it’s often the last area to fill. But either way, it’s a great spot for the updated pub grub that’s available.

Personally, though, I sit at the bar. The refuge of the lone diner, or the serious drinker, both categories in which I dabble. Perched down one end, chatting with the staff and watching drinks go out, you get the best chance to watch everyone else. It’s also a good place to try things from anywhere on the menu, whether finger food, sandwiches or pub grub.

Some dishes are really successful, like sticky lamb ribs where the rich and fatty meat of this often neglected cut were dredged in a thick spicy sauce. A messy dish, but worthy of that cliche about fingers and licking.

Having spent many years in the pubs of Melbourne, I’ve had a parma or two. But rather than the thin slab of chicken of dubious origin covered in dull sauce and cheese, Shorty’s version is a little more exciting. The breast is moist, the cheese is given a touch of smoke and so actually has flavour, and best of all there is a serious piece of ham in the mix. People underestimate the importance of the ham in a parma, but getting that gentle bite of cured pig is what takes it to the next level.

Some of the other options are, while still decent, a little underwhelming. A mini-steamer with 5 shitake dumplings didn’t give that herbaceous hit that a great veggie dumpling should. An Asian salad with fried cubes of crispy pork knuckle had decent flavour, and a good hit of chilli, but was a touch dry.

Most disappointing of all, however, is the most staple of pub staples. How does a place serve excellent lamb ribs, great fun quail pops, and a quality parma, but then mess up the chips? So far I have experienced Shorty’s chips on three different occasions, and each time they have been a bit limp. And it’s sad, as the house seasoning is really very good.

They are trying to have a lot of fun here, with a dessert of a deep fried Golden Gaytime being the prime example. It’s a ridiculous dish, but in the best way, combining two Australian classics. It might not be high gastronomy, but it certainly brings a smile.

The packaged cocktail list is also a nod to fun, with a short selection of decent mixed drinks, mostly twists on classics, being served in bubble-tea style cups, complete with sealed top and fat straw. My Lone Star Margarita, a margarita with watermelon and jalapenos, was certainly a nice drink, if not my usual style. However, I feel they don’t go far enough with the concept. If you’re going with the fat straw, have something in the drink that needs it, as with bubble-teas. Something like small balls of lime jelly would add that extra hit.

There is an awful lot to like about Shorty’s, from the relaxed fit out and solid short wine list to the fact they’re willing to use less popular cuts of meat (though sadly the pigs ear crisps were not unpopular enough, being sold out before I got to try them). Whether you want to eat or drink, you’re sure to be able to find something to satisfy you on the extensive menu.

Regardless of where you sit.


Name: Shorty’s

Address: 29 Garema Place, Canberra, ACT

Hours: Open 10am til late, 7 days.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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