This cynical gen x (dressed entirely in black) met a similarly dressed peer and went to the pub, the new Town Hall hotel on Johnston St (formerly Griff’s wine pub and the Purple Turtle before that). I’d enjoyed several dinners at Griff’s, including these in 2008 and 2009, and was sad that it did not survive. But I was equally prepared to enjoy its replacement.
We had a show to go to and wanted a light meal, not an extended fine dining experience in the rear dining room, so we chose to sit in the front bar (which is not much changed from the Griff’s days) and order from the bar menu.
We had beer and cider and ordered the calamari fritti with spring onion, chilli and quince aioli ($15, above) and the beer battered fish and chips with sauce tartare ($20, below). Both were beautifully prepared and of the highest quality – the calamari was very tender and the fish perfectly cooked.
Both were modest in size. The calamari was entree sized and the fish was small by pub standards, especially as most pub fish and chips come with a salad (compare the Napier and the Rose at the other end of the quantity spectrum).
I would have willingly ordered a side salad if the wait staff had pointed out the lack of one, but they didn’t and in any case there isn’t one on the bar menu. It has two kinds of potatoes (rosemary roasted and fries) and mushrooms but no green salad. This was disappointing.
The Town Hall hotel has already been reviewed by Hookturns and Bruce in Abbotford, and both were complementary. I’m not exactly critical but neither am I hugely impressed. Many of the comments on Urbanspoon speak of poor service and steep prices for small meals. In contrast you can read the usual unhelpful gushing from the Age.
The reality may be somewhere between these contrasting views. In my experience the service was attentive and friendly, through we were there early when the bar was not very busy. Most of the other customers in the front bar were older and more beige than us, and I think they’re more the customers the venue is attracting.
My final first impression came in the men’s toilet. After washing my hands I went to use the electric hot air hand dryer, but it was turned off at the wall. I turned it on but it still didn’t work. There was no note saying ‘out of order’ and no paper towels. I left wiping my hands on my jeans like I was at a far grungier pub.
That’s not good enough for a venue like this. I’m sure the food is fine but I don’t think the overall experience justifies the price.