You know how it is. You pop in for a quick drink when a glance at the snacks menu reminds you that something to do with your other hand would complete this picture of pre-dinner bliss. Maybe it’s a little cheese and cured meats to whet the appetite; some dips to sate the rumblings of a hungry stomach; or a bridging meal that could be a snack or could be dinner depending on how you’re feeling. And the best part is, whether you go on to make a meal out of it or leave it there, you can pay for all of these bar snacks using your American Express.
One of Melbourne’s best pubs and a leader of the pack when it comes to craft beer is also a top snack spot. While you ponder the merits of a single, double or triple IPA versus the sessionable qualities of a summer ale it’s worth ordering up some thinking fuel in the form of a bowl of steamed local mussels. They coax those bivalves open in a sauce of white wine, shallots and tarragon and serve them with charred bread to soak up the broth after you’re done fishing each bite out of its shell.
The ’80s might have been the time of crinkle cut chips in a bamboo bowl as your drinking companion, but at this vast brewery barn decked out like an airy greenhouse they’re upping the ante on the humble crisp by slicing strips of sweet potato into ribbons and deep frying them until they are the colour of a tropical sunset and extra crunchy. They’re a little bit sweet and a little bit crunchy and go with as many of the little tasting pours from the bar as you can handle.
Chef Javier Pardo-Vinals migrated from Barcelona to Melbourne in 2001, and brought with him a little slice of Spain’s famous snack culture. His St Kilda East eatery serves up to 40 tapas on the daily menu, based on what’s fresh at the markets. Of course, you can generally guarantee certain regulars will make an appearance. Prawns will likely sizzle in a sauce heady with garlic, fried potatoes will feature somewhere, as will croquettes filled with cheese and salty ham pieces in a crunchy armour.
The 12 continuously rotating taps at this Brunswick East temple to craft beer, don’t spend a lot of time in well-trod territory. They prefer to get weird and loose with spicy, fruity New England IPAs, imperial stouts, sour Brett ales and a barrel-aged brew made with strawberries. If you're going on a beer safari here you’ll need some ballast in your tanks so line up a Pigsy pulled pork burger alongside your tasting paddle. The combination of slow-cooked pork with cheddar, coleslaw and chipotle mayo on a Japanese milk bun with shoestring fries will keep you on an even keel, and you can add bacon for $2 to make it a double pork burger.
The crew at this Carlton booze and dairy establishment know exactly why you’re there, which is why they offer a two, three, four, or grand gourmet five cheese platter. But if you are also feeling like a little liquid refreshment they are in the matchmaking business, pairing wine, beer, Cognac, fortifieds, cider, whisky, and sake with cheeses. It lets you have the best of both worlds: four tastes of something with a kick to it and four slices of cheese that match each one.
The Italians have given us many excellent things; Michelangelo, prosciutto, Fellini films, pizza, Verdi and pasta. But top of our list is aperitivo, the partaking of snacks and a reviving beverage after work before heading home for dinner. Gilson, the all-day dining destination by the Tan where you can pop in for post jogging breakfasts, long lunches and elegant dinners, is embracing the tradition of aperitivo, serving up Spritzes and prosecco that can join a bowl of marinated olives on your table as you gaze out over the park.
Cheese and olives are the name of the snack game during the week at 1806, but on party nights they expand the menu at this bar named for the year ‘cocktail’ first appeared in common parlance. On Friday and Saturday nights you can order up chips, meatballs, and calamari or a sausage roll. This isn’t your corner bakery number. They pack a payload of Moroccan-spiced lamb mince into a golden pastry shell to add some ballast to your evening out.
There’s a very solid argument to be made for salt and pepper squid being classified as Australia’s national dish – there’s nary a menu where it doesn’t appear – but it turns out that the humble act of battering and then seasoning with salt and pepper works on a lot more than just cephalopods. It’s just as good when you apply it to the fruits of the field. At Bar Liberty they’re flying the flag for plant-based snacking with a plate of tempura veg as a bar snack to accompany your wine times.
Italy’s version of tapas are tiny bites made to accompany drinking and they put on a serious spread at this wine bar in Carlton. Imagine the lolly table at a children’s party but replace it with savoury treats like artichokes with butter sauce, fried blocks of polenta, mussels on the halfshell and parfait on breads. They only cost $3.50 a pop, or you can get three for tenner. The hardest part is going to be limiting yourself to a number of plates rather than a full-fledged dinner in micro instalments.
Pub food does not even begin to encompass the quality of dining you can expect at the timber counter of the Lincoln Hotel. Any and all hungers are catered to, so you can opt in for a full eight- or five-course tasting menu, but their snack game is also on point. In a surprise move for a corner hotel they serve up light-as-air, crunchy corn crackers (picture something akin to a prawn cracker) and spoon cold, refreshing, picked spanner crab meat into the reservoir for your eating pleasure.
David Thompson’s chilli-and-smoke powered Thai empire does not serve anything you’d recognise from your local suburban noodle joint. When meat comes on sticks here it isn’t yellow chicken in satay, but rather juicy, fatty pieces of pork, charred on the edges and given kick from a whole lot of black pepper. They make fine company for sharp, tropical cocktails from the bar or a glass of Riesling to quell the fire from all the chilli in the air.