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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Hophaus Bier Bar & Grill

(As seen in GRAM magazine)

Brand new to Melbourne's Southgate is German-style beer hall and restaurant, Hophaus (Mid Level, Southgate Restaurant & Shopping Precinct, Southbank). Launched by Red Rock Leisure (the same group that runs Bearbrass, Ludlow Bar and Dining Room and P.J. O'Brien's, all of which are also along Southbank) along with DEXUS Property Group, Hophaus already has pretty good odds of succeeding. In its favour are its central location, direct views of the Yarra, European beer offerings, and authentic Bavarian food that I haven't tasted since I did a student exchange to Germany in 1999 (yes, I'm old!).

My work boys and I popped along there for lunch last week; in fact, the official opening was due to take place that night. Workmen were hurrying about, completing the finishing touches - such as putting frosted light globes into sockets overhead - and fresh-faced staff stood at the ready, with an air of expectation and happy pride about them.

To get into Hophaus, find Bearbrass on the ground level of the Southgate precinct, and head into the arcade behind it. Turn right, take the escalator upstairs, and at the top you will be greeted by a giant HOPHAUS sign and some deco-inspired geometric design. Maddison Architects were brought on board to emulate classic beer halls but with a warm and contemporary twist.

Past the hefty curved bar, covered in kitschy polychrome-glazed bricks to match the retro powder-coated bar stools, the venue opens out into multiple sections: several indoor areas to the left, that could be used as function areas; the main balcony in front of you; and a side outdoor/indoor area behind the bar, to your right. It's pretty huge, actually, with capacity for 350 patrons in total.

We sat at the edge of the main balcony, directly overlooking the river and the regular hordes of tourists and city workers wondering up and down Southbank. We were even unexpectedly treated to some busker music.

As it was a grey-ish day in late May, the temperature was on the cool side out on the balcony. Not an issue! A heat-sensing clear plastic outdoor blind automatically came down if things got a little too chilly. Plus, of course, there was loads of beer available to keep us warm.

There are 30 draught taps to choose from, including selections from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Belgium, and apparently feature beers will be regularly changed up. Wines are also predominantly European, coming mainly from regions in Germany, Austria and Alsace.

Everything was very Hophaus-branded

Executive Chef, Marc Brown, has created a stellar menu of "good honest food" in the form of Bavarian classics, but designed for sharing as per the Melburnian style. Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because I remembered the flavours from my student exchange. At the time, I stayed in a town near Nuremburg, which happens to be in the Bavarian state of Germany (south-east). I'd tried some of the local food, which included things like Knödel (doughy German dumplings), Spätzle (a kind of fried, piecey carbohydrate, usually served as a side) and Bretzeln (proper, big, soft pretzels), as well as your regular stereotypical Wurst (sausage), Schnitzel (crumbed fried meat), Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and Strudel (pastry fruit dessert) - and had loved all of it.

It could be my European heritage, but something about hot, cheesy/meaty/carbohydrate-y food appeals to me! German restaurants are hard to find in Australia, let alone decent ones that offer genuine German food. So you can see why I was so excited to try Hophaus - and it did not disappoint! It should be noted that meat is a heavy focus here, perhaps so the chefs can maximise use of their open rotisserie-fired kitchen.

Pork knuckle and Bavarian platter

We decided to share everything:

  • Bier-battered oysters served with dill and sauerkraut (unusual, but inspired!)
  • Bitterballen (which I thought were Dutch, not German?!) - basically crumbed balls of shredded meat, served with mustard
  • Knödel - moist, doughy dumplings served with butter and smoked ham hock
  • Pork Knuckle, slow-cooked and served with red cabbage 
  • Käsespätzle - Spätzle cooked into stringy, creamy mac-and-cheese (delicious, but I do like the traditional Spätzle more); and, 
  • For our meat portion: a Bavarian Platter, which included Leberwurst (liver paté), shredded pork, piggy brawn, marinated herring (a bit too similar to eel, for my liking), sausages and beef brisket, and a warm Bretzel. These came with a choice of mustards. 

Beer-battered oysters



The inside of a Knoedel!

Pork knuckle

Mac-and-cheese Spaetzle 


Leberwurst from the Bavarian platter

Mild, Medium and "Extra" mustard selection

Together, it was all really filling. My favourite was the Knödel, and I think the boys enjoyed the meats on the platter the most ...or possibly the oysters (hard to tell!). They certainly enjoyed their Bitburgers, and I drank a lovely wine recommended by the waitress - dry but mild. 

When the staff established that I could speak a bit of German, suddenly we were being waited upon by the German waitress working that day! It was fun, actually - my very rusty German was suddenly put to the test, and although my memory of vocab is lacking, apparently I can still make myself understood! *YAY*

Most other patrons there at the time were businessmen, clearly there for lunch and a cheeky bier. Strangely, I didn't notice many other women present, but that could well have been because it was early days, and the word wasn't out yet! (Now it is! Ladies, haul your appetites over to Hophaus - it's filling, but it ain't just blokey!) 

I really hope Hophaus takes off. Not just for the flavours I am so partial to, but it ticks all the boxes: friendly service, great food and drinks, cool design, stunning view, central location, and it is certainly unique. The crew there have certainly done as much as they can to make you feel at home. Hophaus may prove to be a slow burner, due to the fact that it is out of sight, up on the first level, but it is certainly a destination venue that people will go out of their way to find. I've waited years to find good Knödel and Spätzle in Australia - I'm going to take advantage of this! 

Hophaus is open for lunch and dinner, with bar food available for afternoon and late-night snacks. 

Hophaus on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Lui Bar

In my opinion, some places are simply better experienced than described. This post features many photos which hardly do The Lui Bar (Level 55, Rialto Towers, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne) justice, because no matter how many pictures I show you or words I write about it, there is just nothing like viewing Melbourne from 55 floors up, handcrafted cocktail in hand, listening to jazz.

Albert Park Lake and beyond, from The Lui Bar

The Lui Bar stems off Shannon Bennett's revered restaurant Vue De Monde, the degustation meal of which is absolutely on my bucket list. The restaurant was moved to the Rialto site in 2011, and its adjoining bar has also been making waves ever since.

Iconic in location, the venue not only occupies the top level of what was, in 1986, the tallest building in Melbourne and the Southern Hemisphere at 251 metres, but offers spectacular city views of up to 60 kilometres on a clear day. Even the Eureka Tower, currently Melbourne's tallest building at 297.3 metres, looks smaller from the Rialto's former observation deck.

Eureka from The Lui Bar

Although the restaurant requires bookings, The Lui Bar is not as formal, with walk-ins welcome. 'Walk-ins' probably isn't the right term though, considering that a strict dress code applies, and that all incoming patrons must be approved and buzzed up by a discerning concierge on the ground level.

On the way up in the lift, your ears pop as you ascend to 236 metres above sea level. You are greeted by a uniformed staff member (who obviously knew you were coming, as the concierge had already checked on space availability for you).

You are steered past the commanding central bar with its dark features, stone finishes and clear perspex blobs hanging overhead, where waves of bottles stand at the ready, and ice is being hand-carved from a giant block.

Elegant floor lights of clustered glass baubles are propped around the room, between low bar tables, leather chaise longues and armchairs that are spotted with slightly-fraying but cheerfully bright cushions. You are led to a cluster of chairs and seated, but with natural light pouring in from the outside, all you can do is look at the view. Well, views. You can't look at all of it at once.

Docklands from The Lui Bar

Once you've admired, and recollected your wits, you are proffered a delightful pop-up menu featuring Australiana-inspired cocktails. I had more fun opening the pop-ups than actually reading about the cocktails!

The bar snacks menu is deceivingly simple in comparison: a mere natural-coloured card listing some light food options available (including, yes, 30 grams of caviar for $190). However, on turning it over, you realise from a byline that the card itself contains bottle brush seeds, and instructions are given on how to germinate the menu into a tree!

According to the website, Shannon Bennett aims, through various measures, to make Vue De Monde Melbourne's most sustainable restaurant. I suppose this explains the encouragement to grow stuff!

So. Back to drinking. On a previous visit to Lui Bar, I ordered the Velvet Rotor Macadamia Martini and was absolutely blown away by its gorgeousness. Unfortunately, this time around, a special something-something machine used for something-something in the cocktail had broken down and so my favourite drink was sadly not available. However, it was a blessing in disguise, because I was forced to try something else, and the waiter recommended the Lola Montez Spider Dance Fizz. A reddish-pink liquid came out accompanied by a plastic spider, and I was about to be disappointed, until said waiter popped some bits of something in a scientific-looking flask and a swirling fog magically emerged, releasing fantastic aromas. The fog was offered to each of us for a whiff, then poured into my glass, ready for smell-drinking. Oh, the drama! I loved it.

Drink with spider

Magic stuff begins

Swirling aromatic fog!

Smell THAT

Pour over, then drink.

Other drinks we enjoyed on this occasion were a Koala Stinger, complete with eucalyptus leaves and white chocolate disguised as tree bark, a Sherry Cobbler, and a Virgin Mai Tai. Yes, the drinks here are pricey, but everything is beautifully prepared and presented, with unusual local ingredients, hand-cut ice, and impeccable service. With an amazing view. Worth it, I think.

Koala Stinger - love the glass logo

White chocolate 'bark'

Sherry Cobbler in a ginormous glass

Virgin Mai Tai

Of course, the real reason we had bothered getting dressed up on a Sunday (let's face it, normally we'd have been playing pool at the pub) was to try The Lui Counter Meal, available between 12pm and 2pm, Tuesday to Sunday. For $39 each, you get the dish of the day plus a seasonal side and a glass of wine or beer, followed by coffee and a sweet treat. The meal we had was BBQ beef ribs with coleslaw, which sounds simple but was actually fantastic. The meat was beautifully soft; the 'coleslaw' was more like a green and red cabbage salad dressed with oil and the surprisingly delicious addition of cumin seeds; and there were also polenta cakes shaped like chips. Unfortunately, by the time we ordered and received our food, it was getting onto 2pm and I had skipped breakfast. I was so hungry, I completely forgot to take a photo! But here, I took one of my almost-empty plate. You're welcome.

One of our party has food requirements that unfortunately didn't fit the bill for the counter meal. So instead, she ordered the plate of sausage rolls and party pies:

Our 'sweet treats' with our (pretty mediocre) coffees were raspberry lamington dessert bites of smooth chocolate, berry centres and coconut.

One person opted for tea - peppermint, fennel and licorice, no less - and it came with its own sweet treats. I was amused to hear that The Lui Bar has a 'tea sommelier' (for want of a better term, as our waiter explained): a dedicated person who selects, orders and sometimes even creates specific tea blends.

As we sat and finished our meals, a jazz trio set up and began softly playing. It was so pleasant, I could have stayed all day, only I couldn't afford it!

Live jazz music on Sundays from 3pm

Before leaving, we decided to check out the little observation deck. Naturally, it allowed for many photo ops, and is an essential part of any visit to The Lui Bar, tourists and locals alike!

Although it is somewhat 'uncouth', the bathrooms here are worth a mention. My boyfriend kindly took a photo of the three-way urinal in the men's room for me: interesting design, especially considering the blokes would be forced to face each other whilst doing their business! But hey, space-conserving, perhaps?!

I particularly liked the movement-sensing hand basin with its direct stream of water cascading over the circular base:

Much as on the way up, on the way out, a staff member has to buzz you down in the lift. My very mature friends and I decided to have a lift race.

The staff member, although amused by our silly antics, was clearly trying to be fair-minded though, and  due to his button-pushing skills, we both arrived at the bottom at the same time - I think!

The Lui Bar is an absolute must for any local or visitor to Melbourne. It's certainly fancy and great for special occasions, but accessible enough that I may just have to return in the near future!

The Lui Bar on Urbanspoon