The Provincial Hotel – the Roast Collection

299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9810 0042

A cold and rainy night was sort of the perfect backdrop for my one and only outing to this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Roast Collection event calendar. The streets were unusually empty for a Friday night in Fitzroy, but you could hardly blame the punters, inclement weather always makes me want to stay home too. But the booking had been made weeks in advance, and I was looking forward to catching up with good friends over a hunk of meat. And at $35 for two courses, who was I to pass this up?

I must admit that I haven’t been inside the Provincial before. I always assumed it was just another Fitzroy pub, with perhaps a beer garden out the back. But what probably used to be a beer garden out the back was actually an enclosed glasshouse-like dining courtyard. We were quickly shown to our table by one of the delightful waiters; I should comment right now that all of the waitstaff that night were perfectly charming.

Some wonderfully soft bread rolls came out to the table shortly after ordering, but we were a little perplexed by the lack of bread plates at our table. Never mind, we all tucked in. It became evident that perhaps the bread was supposed to accompany the first course. Leek and potato soup.

This was a hearty way to start the meal, though I felt it could have been a little thicker. And not to quibble, but the soup arrived a good 15 minutes after the bread, so by that stage, all of the bread was gone. 🙁

Having read Penny’s review of her experience last week, on her recommendation, I ordered the 12 hour slow-roasted lamb shoulder, tempted as I was for a bit of roast chicken. The rest of the table, it seemed, had the same idea, and all five of us chose the lamb option. It took another half hour or so after the soup to arrive, but I’m assuming they slow-roast the lamb for 11 hours, and put it back in for another 1hour once the order is received, so that’s understandable. When it arrived, the wait seemed all worthwhile.

We were all a little surprised when the roast arrived at the table still on the bone, and even more surprised when the waitress announced that “now, this is the two person lamb”… meaning an even larger one was to come for the other three of us!

And arrive indeed it did! Served with roast pumpkin, wilted spinach, some sort of sweet jus, and the absolute standout of the evening, pan-seared semolina cakes, which had a creamy, mildly cheesy, ultra-rich texture. It somewhat overshadowed even the melting-off-the-bone lamb! My one criticism of this dish is that it lacked saucing. While the lamb was beautifully cooked, it somewhat lacked flavour. The jus was there, but a little difficult to get off the serving plate onto your own. Thankfully, we were old friends at the table, so none too shy about dipping our meats in the communal jus! I guess that’s part of what serving a roast at the table entails; there’s a communality and intimacy about sharing food that I love about this style of eating.

Between the five of us, we didn’t come even close to finishing neither the two nor three person lamb dishes, and we were all happily groaning about how full our bellies were.

The rest of the menu looked quite enticing, though there was nothing particularly innovative, it had gastropub favourites like risottos and pork belly. Mmmm, pork belly. Might have to revisit.

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