Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 17th 2011
University pubs are awful – full of cheap beer, grubby furniture and rowdy students, right? Well, not necessarily: Tsubu Bar, on the Swanston St side of Melbourne University is a shining exception. If you're a student, you probably already know about it; if not, it's a great place for a quiet drink or a fancy dinner.
Tsubu Bar is up against some pretty stiff competition, with pubs like Pugg Mahones and the Queensberry within short walking distance, and Brunswick Street's array of classy bars not too far away. Tsubu is not as cheap as Pugg Mahones (and certainly not as cheap as the Queensberry), but it makes up for it by being much nicer to sit in. The beer garden is expansive and doesn't just feel like a place to smoke, and the indoor seating has a nice Asian theme. There is no loud music; just cold beer and good conversation.
The food is predominantly Japanese, with sushi rolls that are crisp and go well with an Asahi. As you'd expect from Melbourne University, Tsubu Bar has gluten-free and vegan options. Vegetarians can tuck into the okonomiyaki, which is pretty good, or the edamame, soybean pods that are made to have with beer. As far as meat options go, the wagyu beef comes with an amazing daikon dressing and the Tsubu salmon is as fancy as you'd expect.
More adventurous diners can choose the tofu steak: a piece of silken tofu dressed up with vegetables and sauces. Tofu steak is pretty common around Melbourne, ranging from incredibly expensive restaurant versions to quick-and-dirty takeaway meals that just consist of a giant hunk of tofu covered in soy sauce. Tsubu's falls somewhere in the middle – it's cut thinly, which maximises the surface area and minimises the bland taste of the tofu, and the sauce is subtle without being invisible. One criticism: it's kinda hard to eat, since when you touch it with chopsticks it falls apart. Unless you're a chopsticks guru, have a knife and fork on hand.
The drinks are reliable if unsurprising, with Coopers Green on tap and more expensive beers by the bottle. The wine selection is varied, too – check the board behind the bar for current specials – and they've got sake as well if that's your thing.
Melbourne University tutorial groups often come here at the end of semester to celebrate, and the Philosophy department hosts a Philosophy Cafe, which is basically a lecture and discussion around a particular theme, at Tsubu now and then.
Tsubu Bar isn't a bar you visit to get drunk. Pugg Mahones and the Queensberry fill that slot well. Instead, Tsubu Bar is a place to chat; to have a spirited discussion or a rambling conversation with your friends. Next time you're in the area, why not trade in a dimly-remembered drunken night for a chance to wax philosophical over a few pints of beer? You might surprise yourself.