The Merrywell. Crown casino’s latest restaurant opening. A ‘gastro pub’ from ‘globe-trotting American chefs, Grant MacPherson and Sam DeMarco’.
So what’s with the logo? Ok, someone had to say it. We scooted past the neon cloud-meets-rainbow icon (done in bordering-on-offensive bawdy primary colours) stuck on the side of the swish complex a couple of times before realising that the monstrosity signalled the arrival of a new eatery on the Southbank, as opposed to an industrial cleaning solutions company. Harsh? Probably. But the branding really is a strange choice when you consider how stylish the split level bar-dining-balcony areas are.
And while we are still on first impressions – a security guard on the door at 6:30pm, really? How rowdy do you anticipate things getting? Plus the whole glass sliding door, press a button to operate thing only serves to make you feel like you can’t stray from your assigned compartment. Not a hugely welcoming start. But the decent range of beers and wines, and prime riverside spot (excellent people watching opportunities), are not to be sniffed at.
And so to the upstairs space, where the capable waiting staff are chatty, helpful and super-knowledgable on the dishes on offer. Which helps, cos we were kind of stumped. The menu is divided into Share Plates, Grazing Plates, Pub Grub, All Fired Up (that’s wood-grilled to you and me), All Day Breakfast, and Sides. The sharing plate thing ain’t nothing new on the Melbourne dining scene, but I guess we have become so conditioned that we expect a certain size and therefore were initially a bit surprised by the prices.
Nevertheless, we ordered, and were promptly rewarded with such generous serves that our ‘five things to get us started’ turned out to be the beginning and end of our savoury odyssey. The moral of the story? This place is, in our book, less gastro pub (refined Euro-Brit favourites – fish and chips, chicken and mushroom pie, steak frites etc) and more poshed up US diner. Stuff is served in red plastic baskets and on logo-covered greaseproof paper a la MacDonald’s, but make no mistake, this is delicious stateside-size serves done really well.
Favourites? Lobster rolls – initially we baulked at the price of $25 – but when three stuffed-to-bursting and flavourful rolls turned up our worries flew out the window and, once again. left us wondering what is going on at Golden Fields.
Lollipop buffalo wings with a uber-pungent blue cheese dip and backyard BBQ ribs with chilli sauce and cheese-covered Mexicon corn (de riguer in Melbourne openings these days, it seems) with a refreshing slice of watermelon on the side.
Served in a giant paper bag this dish feels more like half a cow than the dainty couple of ribs we have kinda come to expect for the price ($29). Covered in sticky BBQ sauce the hand wipes were much-needed, although I think we probably could have used finger bowls. But would that ruin the rough and ready look? And that leads me to my only moan – the food is tasty and unlike anything else we have experienced in Oz (the grease-fest that is Misty’s Diner permitting), but the food (while big) isn’t cheap and I wonder if the classy surroundings and hefty price tag jar with the hearty like-mom-used-to-make grub. Just a thought. But looking at the menu and sampling the food, I feel like this place should be popping up just off Chapel Street or somewhere in the Fitzroy area. But then it does being some variety to the Southbank. Thoughts please….
We also tucked into a chopped salad – falafal croutons (pretty solid as opposed to fluffy, and actually resembled rye bread in texture, not so great), tahnini, feta and lettuce cups. This was mainly out of guilt, and did help add a bit of a bite and greenery to the meaty mainstays on the menu.
Also, a side of mac and cheese – only $9 (like all the sides) but the size of a main meal pasta. Now we aren’t experts on the ways of the comfort food classic, but could have doe with some grilled breadcrumbs on top, if only to provide a point of difference from the very think, rich and cheesy mass that we struggled to finish half of.
Dessert – chocolate mousse, lamington trifle, rice pudding, chai creme brulee, mango pudding – each served in a shot glass on a wooden paddle for $12. Well that’s a no-brainer. (You can get them separately for $10 each). The range went from great (mango pudding, zingy and refreshing, and light-as-air chocolate mousse) to average (rice pudding, but that might be due to too many bad school lunches).
Will we be back? Yes, to try the firey mojito lamb chops and spend a lazy afternoon on the balcony. Do we recommend it? Yes, go hungry, and go all out. Oh, and try not to let that neon atrocity ruin your appetite – it’s what on the inside that counts.
Where do you suggest is the best meal Crown Casino has to offer?
corner of Clarendon Street and Crown Riverside
Tel. 03 9292 7468
Fri and Sat