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The Albion Rooftop, South Melbourne

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published February 9th 2018
With a remarkable rooftop bar and great food
Albion Hotel Rooftop Bar South Melbourne
Seared nori tuna, edamame, seaweed salad, wasabi mayo

This is an ashes to glory story about the reopening of the Albion Hotel where dreams once lay smouldering. You may not know it by its 1869 name. Instead, you may remember it as The Motel or even The Roxy during the 80s, the 'party' hotel overlooking South Melbourne Market.

But now there is a brand new and sophisticated refit with upmarket decor and panoramic views from a rooftop bar that have transformed this venue into a place for gourmet food and fine times.

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Earl evening view of the city skyline. Watch it change as the night moves on.

The list of owners reads like a sportscast as it includes ex-Collingwood player Dane Swan (who also featured in the television show I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here) as well as former Melbourne Storm players Danny Williams and Robbie Kearns. Then there is ex-AFL player's Luke Darcy's brother Matt Darcy, with 20 years experience managing hotels in both London and New York.

We attended a preview night of the new dining menu and Matt spoke passionately about The Albion's refit and the history behind it. The Albion was originally set to reopen in 2015 but just ten days before, an arsonist burnt it down to a charcoaled shell.

The Albion Rooftop Bar South Melbourne
The same view further into the night.

As Darcy said, "Instead of jubilation we stood outside that night watching the devastation with sinking hearts."

Alice who showed our party up to the new rooftop bar remembers the day well. "I woke up to messages from my friends saying turn on Sunrise, your workplace is in flames."

But, that is all in the past and on this night, we whizzed up to the rooftop bar in the Albion's new lift. One could also climb up the dramatic polished staircase with gilt bannisters but we wandered down these later, not only to see the renovations but the cleverly preserved remanent of a fire-gutted wall. This is a lasting testament to The Albion's phoenix-like rise from the ashes.

The historic hotel is spread over three levels with a modern front bar at street level. The second storey is perfect for functions with its lounge bar, ambient mood lighting, leather booths and shiny woodwork reflecting the brass accent. There is also a VIP lounge with plush blue velvet couches and a cosy fireplace that just begs a champagne party.

Most people, however, will be heading to the rooftop bar. This is like being in an urban garden with lots of greenery and timber finishes. On the city side, there are incredible open-air views of the twinkling lights of Melbourne at night and the jagged silhouette of the city skyline.

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Lots of foliage in the background it is a little bit like being in a garden.

Even the opposite side of the rooftop offers engaging views looking down over South Melbourne Market, with all the people watching and the innovative rooftop designed by Paul Morgan Architects.

While people will be drawn here for the views they are sure to stay for the great food, drinks and yes, even good conversation. For while the area will be used for DJ's later in the week, a special Jbn sound ceiling means that only eight metres from the dance floor you can still hold a normal conversation.

Another attraction is the glow in the dark bar with backlit bottles of bright coloured liquors and the shiny copper tanks of Brewery Fresh Carlton Draught.

But most importantly the Albion has also expanded its culinary offerings by adding a restaurant kitchen. So whilst transitioning into a nightclub with a 5 am licence, it will also now be an all-day dining venue, with people coming for a quick work lunch or to dine more leisurely over shared plates and the remarkable view.

Executive chef Pat Ortuso introduced the menu to us. "It's been the result of quite a few research trips to source the best of ingredients," he said. "And next door is the South Melbourne Market the kind of resource that every chef dreams of."

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Views down over South Melbourne Market on one side

"There are lots of office workers including ad agency workers in South Melbourne so there will be $20 dollar lunch menus, based on what's seasonal."

"We use Bruny Island oysters and dried aged steak,' he said. "You need to start out with a good product, treat it well and then the dishes speak for themselves."

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Antipasto platter

The menu features a large number of GF options as well as vegetarian dishes.

Signature dishes included seared nori tuna with edamame, seaweed salad, wasabi mayo and little pillar-boxes of cider-braised pork belly with parsnip puree, kale, candied sprouts, apple mustard sauce. There is also chicken karaage with umami mayo and calamari fritti, with fennel salt, and wild lime aioli.

Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Calamari fitti, fennel salt, wild lime aioli

Our dry-aged beef short loin was served medium with witlof and fennel salad, herb potatoes while on other side of the dietary divide there was a vegan option of Miso glazed tofu, puffed rice, spring onion and sesame.

Eating is all about personal pleasure, but it is worth mentioning a few of the dishes that I would come back for and also seemed to gain lots of accolades from the food bloggers around me.

Albion Hotel South Melbourne
Bruny Island oysters

The soft shell crab bao with chilli mango slaw and kewpie mayo was one such dish. It was the springboard sponginess of the bao in startling contradiction to the crunch of the crab. The plumped up baos filled with crustaceans were so fresh, it looked like they really might walk off the table at any moment.

The Albion Rooftop
The soft shell crab bao with chilli mango slaw and kewpie mayo

Surprisingly one of the most 'oohed' over dishes was a simple creation of carrots, with toasted chickpeas and tahini. Here Pat Ortuso's truism about starting with fine produce and treating it well was obviously in evidence.

The rainbow of colourful yellow, orange and purple carrots were cooked with just the right degree of crunch, attractively arranged and then topped with a creamy tahini-based sauce. One could turn vegetarian on the strength of this singular dish.

But I must admit to have really enjoyed the spiced lamb served with a cauliflower paratha, heirloom tomato and cucumber salad and mint yoghurt. This was a lovely colourful combination of yellows, reds and greens and the lamb was welcomingly tender.

Spiced lamb , cauliflower paratha, heirloom tomatoes, and cucumber salad and mint yoghurt.

My hit list here would definitely be any dish that seems to have a Middle Eastern influence.

Another item that really bowled all my surrounding foodies over was the cheese platter. It included wonderful cheeses such as Fromager d'Affinois Triple Cream Brie, Onetik Chebris and Berry's Creek Riverine Blue but it is what came with them that lifted the game from a desirable cheeseboard to a culinary wonderment.

Albion Rooftop Bar South Melbourne
Cheeseboard with truffles and unexpected and amazing combination

There were accompaniments such as fruit and nut roulade, quince paste, lavosh and oatmeal cookies, fresh raspberries and strawberries, but wait for it - house-made truffles including, coconut and white chocolate, choc mint, as well as coffee and sea salt.

Our group were particularly in raptures spurring each other on to see who could come up with the perfect combinations. "Try a raspberry with a sliver of the mint chocolate truffle. Wow, how good is that quince paste with the triple cream! That blue cheese with the quince paste is simply amazing".

Albion Hotel Rooftop Bar
The sparkling bar

At the Albion, you will find a selection of wines from the major wine regions as well as beers on tap. A popular choice I noticed was the Carlton brewery unpasteurised brewery fresh. I'm not a beer drinker but apparently, the lack of pasteurisation ensures that beer tastes just as the brewer intended. A bit like the difference between real milk and the UHT stuff.

But I love a cocktail and I spoke with Chris, the assistant venue manager, who was inspired by some of the rose cocktails based around gin in the UK during his time there. He came up with a unique lavender twist on these.

Naming it Givender, it is a G&T made with lavender, St Germain Elderflower, Bombay Sapphire and Capi Tonic. It is the prettiest of creations glowing a soft lilac colour and dotted with tiny flowers.

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Ginivender a new floral twist on the old G&T

A real winner, especially when you are dying for your espresso martini fix, as this classic cocktail is on tap. While helpful with expediency, the coffee is brewed in-house and it is a gorgeous tasting drink with the requisite light foamy top.

The Albion Rooftop South Melbourne
Housemade espresso martini

So it seems that the Albion's owners' dream for Melbourne has come to fruition. As Matt Darcy said, "We wanted to create an all-inclusive lifestyle venue, a place where patrons can come for the food and stay for the nightlife."

So there you go Melbourne. Now you have it. Enjoy.

The Albion reopens on Saturday 10 February 2018 and the review is based on a preview night of the dishes on offer.
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Why? Great views, excellent food the new venue in Melbourne to enjoy life.
When: Ring or check forthcoming website for details.
Phone: 9645 5277
Where: 172 York St, South Melbourne VIC 3205
Cost: Meals from $20
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