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The atmosphere is preserved, but the offering updated, at one of Footscray’s old boozers
Owner Anthony Hammond’s first foray into pubdom lies in the hipster haven of Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, where a few years ago he helped Andrew McConnell transform the Builders Arms from a working-class hangout to a polished, high-end bistro to match the high-end rents. But as the inner suburbs move outwards, the Fitzroy fashions are coming with them, and Hammond’s latest venture seeks to revive one of the shabby locals in the heart of Footscray.
Here at the Victoria Hotel, the old suburban atmosphere has been preserved far better than at the Builders, with paint peeling off bricks, concrete floors and the occasional floral print rug straight out of 1972. The updates to this faded beast of a building are loving rather than transformative, with more respect paid to the venue as it stood. Big panes of frosted glass overlook comfortable booths built of fresh wood, and the classic rock on the stereo completes the picture of a true local.
To wet your weary whistle, the drinks list is short and to the point, aiming for simplicity and quality over choice and intrigue. Beers on tap include the mass market (Kirin, Carlton) and the accessibly crafty, like Cricketer’s Arms Summer Ale – all juicy peaches, mango and honeyed hops – and Moon Dog Old Mate, for a little more grippy bitterness while still ranking high on the drinkability scale. There are only a few wines by the glass, with white, rosé and red on tap, picked well for quaffing and eating. Juama Speed Climb is a light and earthy shiraz grenache blend that still has nice fruit, a hint of lively spritz, and goes with anything on the menu. There’s more exploration to be had by the bottle with pet nat from Anjou and bottle-conditioned cider, each with a loving description of why you should drink it.
As you'd expect, the food is top notch. The mains section sees pub classics done with serious skill, and starters are more creative, like vegetable and samphire fritters. Bright yellow from aromatic spices inside and super crunchy out, their natural bitterness is offset by the sour raita and sweet mango chutney that comes on the side. Beetroot and watermelon salad is as much art as food, slices of each arranged like a glorious pink and purple flower on a bed of whipped tofu, there for creamy texture rather than flavour. As beautiful as it is, the big chunks make it hard to get a good mouthful and it could use more seasoning, so form wins over function here. Fish pie, on the other hand, is pure comfort. Big chunks of salmon, smoked cod and blue grenadier swim in creamy sauce brought back from the brink of too rich with fresh herbs and mustard, then topped with buttery mash and breadcrumbs.
While the footy plays on the weekend, the Victoria is not a sports pub. Food, wine and space for plenty of good company are the big reasons to be here, but on a sunny late-summer Sunday at the beginning of footy season, it’s still quiet. As the crowd grows to fill in all this elbow room, there’s every reason to think this could become one of the best pubs in the West.
43 Victoria St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu 4-11pm; Fri-Sun noon-midnight|