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Published October 24th 2012
Spanish in Disguise
Every visit to Melbourne calls for good food. After a night out at the famed Movida, we were still yearning for more Spanish fare. Our Melburnian friends suggested we gave Robert Burns Hotel in Collingwood a try. Robert Burns? What would Scotland's favourite son have anything to do with Spanish cuisine? I was soon to find out.
So I found myself wandering around Collingwood. The area has an unmistakable bohemian and grungy vibe. After passing by numerous street art works, I spotted Robert Burns on the intersection of Smith Street and Easey Street. The establishment was very much alive with raucous laughter and happy banter from patrons aplenty inside.
As we waited for our table for four to be ready, we decided to order a few glasses of wine from the bar. Ordering from the extensive Iberian and Chilean wine list was not an easy task. A good number of beers were also available. Given too many choices and I am arrested with indecision: A tempranillo from Rioja, an aromatic white from the Rueda region or maybe an aperitif like La Goya Manzarilla. Rather than venture out into the courtyard which was already quite packed, we remained in the bar at the front.
Before long, we were whisked off to the dining area. Along the way, I passed by a curtained off staircase leading upstairs to a function room. The only notion of any Scot being about the place was tartan carpeting used in various sections of the restaurant. The rest of the decor, food & wine and even the waiting staff appears very much Spanish (or no doubt European with an accent).
Chef seeming to have a moment of quietness in the kitchen
The food menu offered simple and safe options. We decided on a couple of different mixed platters and a paella. If we could handle that, some dessert would go well to round it off. Our waiter politely suggested that we may have over ordered for four people. I liked his honesty and reassured him we came to Robert Burns with big appetites. Complimentary bread was promptly brought to the table to mop up top quality extra virgin olive oil that came with it.
Selection of Spanish cured meats $27 Tasty hand cut fries $6
A Spanish charcuterie board was a great start to our meal. The selection of cured meats featured Jamón Ibérico which had been aged 36 months, chorizo Salamanca, seasoned with paprika and Lomo embuchado (smoked and cured pork loin). It never fails to amaze me how the Spanish managed to marry pork with spices, cure it and come up with such a variety of delicacies.
Next up was the seafood paella (paella de marisco) served in its own cooking pan. The half and hour wait for this traditional Spanish rice dish was well worth it. The saffron infused rice was cooked al-dente and the seafood delectable. Brimming with prawns, calamari, mussels and clams, the paella was easily memorable.
Following this was the grilled seafood platter (parrillada de marisco y pescados) which was my favourite. There was a sumptuous collection of Moreton Bay bugs, prawns, calamari, clams, mussels and fish. I confess I could easily have devoured the whole plate by myself. The smoky aroma and taste of grilled seafood has always been a weakness of mine. Drizzled with an oil based herbed sauce of garlic and parsley, it was particularly flavorsome although one of my companions thought it overly so.
Meat platter (for 2). Served with rocket and shallots salad. Sauces: Mojo rojo and chimichurri. Aioli also available. $55
The mixed grilled meat platter (prueba nuestra parrilla) featured a selection of cuts: rack of lamb, chicken, sausage and sirloin steak. A fresh green rocket and shallot salad that comes with the platter complemented the meat nicely. Cooked perfectly, the lamb and steak were tender with a tinge of red inside. The sausage was juicy and tasty. However, the chicken was a tad dry and the flavour had not penetrated deep enough. Two sauces are available with the platter. The chimichurri sauce with its blend of coriander, parsley and garlic was a delicious condiment to the meats, as was the 'mojo rojo' sauce with capsicum with just the right hot spice factor. Both sauces definitely helped the meats gain a more sexy status. Without it, it would have been quite ordinary.
My dessert choice of the coconut flan (flan de coco) turned out to be simple and plain. Had it been made better; for example, more caramel on a not too dense flan, I would have some poetic accolades to pass on. Robert Burns will agree with me that as such, silence is golden in this instance.
On the contrary, the passionfruit and coconut ice cream was outstanding. The flavors of the coconut and passionfruit shone through and was deliciously intense. Luxuriously creamy, it was an ice confection that could top one of the best ice creams I have had.
Keep up with specials and events at Robert Burns via their website - examples include flamenco performances, Iberian wine tasting
At Robert Burns, simplicity is its strength. If Robert Burns was here today and dined at this place, I doubt he would be singing Auld Lang Syne to it. If he was me, he would be returning on his next visit to Melbourne.