Where: 301 High St, Northcote, Victoria
When: Most Mondays since June 2011; occasionally beforehand.
Most of our reviews will be written individually, but for our first review, we are both going to take turns to discuss one of our most regular haunts. Normally, we will have photos, but we actually don't have any on hand from the NSC. We wanted to get the blog up and running though and there is nowhere more fitting for our first review than the NSC, so you'll have to use your imagination for this review. We'll post some pictures in May.
The Axver Version
I don't remember the first time I ate at the Northcote Social Club (NSC); the first time I ever went there was on 12 November 2009 to see Dimmer perform in the bandroom, but I didn't eat on that occasion. At any rate, we became regulars at the NSC when they began "Monday Night Mass" - three free bands, $15 chicken parmigianas, and $12 jugs of Carlton. Yes, the $12 jugs only applies to Carlton, which is a pain if you're cider drinkers like us. But the $15 parma? Yes PLEASE.
In our time going to the NSC, we've eaten our way through much of the menu and we never hesitate to take visitors there for a good feed (and hopefully a good band). So here are my thoughts on some of the menu highlights. The menu does go through small changes; they've never significantly overhauled it in our time there, and some dishes (the parma!) will never go anywhere, but they tinker at the edges regularly so don't come crying if something's gone - it's probably been replaced by something else good anyway. It sadly looks like the shaved jamon is gone, for instance.
Garlic bread ($5): Delicious, pulls apart wonderfully, and with a good but not excessive quantity of garlic.
Beer battered onion rings ($8): Love on first sight. They are large, they are REAL ONION RINGS (not some of that processed onion ring shite), and the romesco dipping sauce is delectable. They can get a bit greasy and over-bearing by the end, but they make a very good side for any main. I recommend you put them on your parma. Seriously.
Patatas bravas ($9): The NSC has a mild Spanish theme going on, and this is one of the highlights. These crispy potato cubes are similar to potato wedges, and although I would generally prefer good wedges, these are a delight too. $9 looks pricey, but if you're not a big eater, the serve is large enough to fill you up quite happily.
Chicken parmigiana ($22, or Mondays $15): The parma is a fucking star. This is our benchmark for parmas. It is not the best parma on earth, but it does everything a parma should do, and it does it well. Basically, I expect my parmas to match up to the NSC; if a place doesn't at least get within the NSC ballpark, I won't be going back there for another parma, while if they do a better parma than the NSC, then I am suitably delighted and will recommend it to anyone. So what of the NSC's benchmark, then? It's a very large chicken breast, good quality, well-crumbed, rarely any nude schitznel at all, generously topped, plenty of chips, and the salad is satisfactory. We usually split it between the two of us. When I think "god, I'd love a parma", the NSC's parma is what I think of.
Burgers - beef and 'roo ($19): Until March 2012, the burgers used to be a bit cheaper and a bit bigger. That might sound like a bad thing. It's not. They have upgraded their burgers to the most wonderfully succulent beef patties, the sort of tender beef that just falls apart in your mouth, and they've added another option - a 'roo burger. It's very well cooked 'roo too, tender and thoroughly enjoyable. I normally recommend 'roo over beef, but in this case, I actually recommend the beef burger because of the quality of the beef and the fact it comes with bacon. Both burgers are now in very tasty Turkish buns rather than bog standard buns. So although the size is slightly smaller, the quality's gone up and the price is worth it. Plus, unless you're gargantuan and need a Yank-sized serve to feel full, you can now polish off the whole burger and sides without feeling bloated.
Sticky date cake ($8): I don't normally like dates, but I love sticky date pudding, so the moment this was added to the menu, we had to have it. The moment it was placed in front of me, I was in love. This is a really, really good sticky date pudding - it's a generous slice of cake, enough to share between two if you've had a filling parma for dinner. The butterscotch sauce is rich, they give you a reasonable amount of ice cream on the side, and it's not overly sweet. It goes down extremely well after a parma or a burger ... if you have room.
The Charlotte Version
When I first moved to Melbourne, I was relatively (okay, completely) inexperienced when it came to pub grub. In New Zealand, for instance, the idea of a parma is pretty much unknown. Pub staples are more likely to be a good old steak or fish and chips. Anyway, all that aside, I only ever went to pubs when I was already much too drunk to appreciate the food. These days I eat first.
The Northcote Social Club is easily the Melbourne pub I've eaten at the most, and for good reason. The atmosphere is awesome, there's usually good music playing, and one of the bartenders sometimes gives us cheap drinks. And the food just happens to be excellent. Here are a few of my favourites:
Beer battered onion rings ($8): I am a sucker for all things greasy and salty, and these onion rings fit my criteria perfectly. The batter is light and crunchy, filled with fat slices of real onion. The romesco sauce tops things off nicely. Easily the best onion rings I've ever had.
Patatas bravas ($9): Delicious crispy potato cubes akin to wedges. The serving is large and it can get a bit overbearing by the end, so I would recommend sharing, but they are a very filling snack.
Chicken parma ($22, or $15 on Mondays): A straight-up good parma. The chicken is of good quality and the crumb is always nice and crispy without being burnt. The napoli to cheese ratio is just right, and no ingredient ever overpowers another. The salad is simple but good, much better than the token lettuce leaf you get at some pubs.
Fish and chips ($22): Northcote's fish and chips is absolutely divine. The batter on the fish is perfect, light and crispy, and the fish is always nice. The house-made tartare complements the fish very well, and the chips are crisp and salty. The serve is massive though, so make sure you're hungry!
Specials: I think the specials are definitely worth mentioning. They change from day to day, and some amazing things have popped up. A few weeks ago, I had a spaghetti dish with three different kinds of mushroom. It was absolutely delicious. The mushrooms had more flavour than I ever thought they could have, and combined with the light tomato and olive oil sauce to give the dish a wonderful subtle array of flavours. We have also had an incredible starter special, consisting of three kinds of cheese crumbed, fried and spiced with paprika. It was divine, and we think it should become a menu staple!
Churros ($8): If I can ever fit dessert in, the churros are an excellent choice. The serve is just right - any more and the sweetness would be overpowering, at least for me and my total lack of sweet tooth. The chocolate sauce is delicious, with just a touch of bitterness that complements the cinnamon sugar on the churros nicely. Perfect to share if you can't manage a sticky date cake!