Date: 9 August 2013
Resident of the oldest building in Melbourne, the Mitre Tavern (naturally) claims the title of the oldest pub in Melbourne. It is a traditional British-style pub that you would expect to come across in a quiet country town; not in the heart of Melbourne. Out-of-place in sorts; with a mixed clientele of businessmen, tourists and your average Joe; the Tavern does a roaring trade as it traverses social classes and aligns people to the oldest and humblest of origins - the love of beer, hearty food and a yarn.
The venue is split in three. The outdoor beer garden, without a blade of grass in sight, is spacious and offers ample outdoor dining yet seats are hotly contested (particularly on a Friday). The type of place you would enjoy a beer on a Friday afternoon before a short stroll to the MCG. Upstairs is the acclaimed steakhouse, where 'business lunches' run into 'business dinners'. An upper class affair, it's the sit-down-napkin-across-your-lap meal you reserve for special occasions, but we were here to sample the humble burger and such delicacies do not require such grand service.
Given the inclement Melbourne weather we opted for the third alternative - to dine inside. Not a bad choice as we were greeted by a highlights reel of Matthew Burton, the 7ft gangly North and Fremantle ruckman of the nineties. Watching the human praying mantis ply his craft before a feast was a real pleasure. My nostalgia of Spider Burton was overshadowed by the history that adorns the walls inside. An unpretentious and classic interior, you could only begin to imagine the number of embellished yarns that have been shared inside these walls. An authentic pub in the truest sense of the term.
We ordered the house burger at the bar and it felt like before we had sat back down that our meal had arrived at our table. This got me thinking of the speed continuum. At one end of the spectrum, which frustrates all patrons, is the painfully slow, hunger-wrenching burger that feels as though the cow was slaughtered in the kitchen before being cooked. A worry for any patron as you start to fear the incompetence of those in the kitchen. Equally as worrying is the other end of the spectrum, which the Mitre Tavern finds itself, is the super quick, bain marie burger. Fortunately, this burger didn't have the 'pie-warmer' feel to it; rather, a rigorous application of Henry Ford's supply change principles.
Not surprisingly, the speed at which the burger arrived did nothing to assist in the presentation. As the photo attests, do not expect to see this on the front cover of the epicure magazine. But lets be honest, you come to a pub with an expectation of a hearty and wholesome meal, not a dainty image you can post on instagram. In accordance with our expectations, this burger was simple pub food - seasoned prime Angus beef, tomato, lettuce, cheese, caramelized onions, homemade tomato relish on a toasted bun for the reasonable price of $18.
The first bite into the burger left a sweet aftertaste in my mouth. Too sweet. While I am ordinarily a big supporter of caramelized onions, the caramelization coupled with the tanginess of the relish was too much for my liking. Both were in generous supply, which meant that they overpowered the other flavors. Perhaps some mustard on the base of the bun might help to offset these strong flavors.
The bun was thick and fresh, but was not toasted as the menu suggests. It lacked that crunch and contrast in textures that a golden brown bun can provide.
In contrast, the chips were crisp and crunchy. Traditionally cut without any herbs or spices; a little salt wouldn't have gone astray though. We compensated for this with some tomato sauce from the bar; alternatively, you could have gone for an off-the-shelf mayonnaise. Neither were glamorous but were hard to fault.
There was no side salad. Hardly a problem with that. The salad that was on the burger was fresh and met our expectations. As is the key with any salad on a burger, it did enough to be noticed without being noticed - if you've ever had to pick out wilted lettuce or a rotten tomato from a burger, you'll know that going relatively unnoticed can be a good thing.
What you do notice when you sit down to eat this burger, however, is the thickness of the pattie. Albeit this was not as thick as previous visits, the burger takes on an almost rissole like consistency. It is cooked through which can lend itself to being too dry - if you're going to use such a dense piece of meat, it should be seared and retain some pink in the middle. Unfortunately, for mine, this was overcooked and meant that any flavors or seasoning were overpowered. A simple fix would be to cook this on a high heat for a shorter period of time to make the pattie the star of the show it should be.
When working out who to name this burger after, I was inspired by watching the highlights of the North Melbourne dynasty of the 90s on the big screen. In particular, the man colloquially known as 'the Fridge' - Mark Roberts. Although he had stints at Sydney and Brisbane, the Fridge is best remembered for his time at the Kangaroos. The Fridge, like the Mitre Burger, is not the prettiest thing to look at; both are keg-like in their appearance and would look misshapen next to many of their counterparts. But the way Roberts approached his football - rugged, robust and honest - is quite similar to the Mitre Burger. Nothing flashy, just honest. Moreover, were you to combine the Mitre Tavern with the Fridge, I reckon you would happily settle in for a long lunch cum dinner as he would have some ripping stories to share about his career and there would be few better venues to hear it.
If you are in the CBD and in need of something to quench your thirst, I definitely recommend stopping at the Mitre Tavern. It's a great pub, in a fantastic location and should you be hungry, try the burger.
Burger Friday Rating: 31.5/50