About a month ago I noticed that 9 Marys at the corner of Milligan and Hay had closed and was being reinvented as a bar; yesterday I read a review of the opening; and today, being in the area collecting mail from my Cloisters Square Post Office box, I decided to drop in and have a look see.
On the Hay Street side a large serving window and counter has been installed – called the Dispensary this offers coffee, cakes, sandwiches and light meals to the passing business trade – and there are a few tables and chairs on the footpath for those preferring to eat outside.
In the bar itself it is much as it was before – upgraded of course – with a large central bar – some attractive hanging lightshades – on the Milligan Street side by long glass windows are a number of high benches and stools – while on the other side tables, chairs and booths for a more formal dining experience. It has an impressive look about it.
I headed towards a booth and looked over the menu and drinks list.
The wine list is quite small but contains a number of interesting wines; among the whites I was pleased to see Mandoon Verdelho, a couple of wines from Castelli in the Great Southern, along with 3 Drops Chardonnay and Howard Park Riesling. The reds ranged from high end drops such as Grange, St Henri and Tim Adams Aberfeldy to more affordable wines such as Si Vintners Red blend, Bowen Estate Cabernet and Tomfoolery Young Blood shiraz. The most obvious flaw in the list is the absence of the vintage of any of the wines; this is something that should be addressed. It just doesn’t meet expectations of a good bar and list.
There are around a dozen beers by the bottle – Feral Hop Hog, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Liberty Ale, as well as mainstream brews Melbourne Bitter and Corona – with 6 or so on tap – White Rabbit White Ale, Little Creatures Pale and James Squire.
Ciders, cocktails and a selection of spirits round it out.
In the end I ordered a glass of False Bay rosé to start and followed later with a glass of Angus the Bull Cabernet Sauvignon. The rosé, from South Africa, made from Cinsault and Mourvedre, is pale salmon in colour, exhibits spice and raspberry aromas, with a fruit driven palate – some mid palate sweetness, but with a crisp, reasonably dry finish. The red, from Central Victoria, has chocolate and vanilla aromas, supported by black plums; the palate is firm, shows good use of oak and has a long savoury finish.
The menu offers up 6 entrées – smoked beef carpaccio with tapenade; scallop ceviche with crisp pork; prawn and avocado salad – and nine or so mains – smoked barbeque pork ribs; roast lamb rack; rib eye; pulled pork neck sandwich – and a few sides and snacks – chicken wings; chorizo arancini; house made jerky; and beer battered onion rings.
I decided on one of the entrées, salmon gravlax, followed by a main of wild mushroom gnocchi with asparagus, parmesan and truffle oil.
This is where things went a little awry – both my entrée and main were served at the same time. I cannot comprehend why any restaurant would do this; what were they thinking? I asked that the gnocchi be taken back and kept warm until I had completed the salmon – which they did but…….
The salmon was presented as a number of very thin slices of fish, marinated apparently in watermelon and tequila, and topped with baby capers, shaved fennel and lemon balm. The salmon was tender, had some fruity notes from the melon, the capers were crunchy and salty, and the lemon balm added a slight citrus lift. A few shaves of fennel added some aniseed tones to the dish. It was light, well put together, looked pretty good on the plate, and overall was a pleasant dish.
My gnocchi, when it was re-delivered, however did not meet my expectations. The gnocchi was doughy, dense and chewy. The asparagus spears however were well cooked, retaining a nice crunch, and the mushrooms provided an earthy meaty note – although whether they were “wild” as described is open to question – while some seemed to be slices of field mushroom, others were clearly straw mushrooms which I am sure do not grow wild anywhere in Australia. But the overarching problem with the dish was the oil – it was drowning in oil; this was over the top and quite unpleasant. A few gratings of hard parmesan did not add anything to its appeal.
So, Howlings is an attractive bar to be sure – light, airy, well fitted out. The waiters are friendly, but the service of both courses at once leads me to think a little more training is required. The menu sounds interesting, but from my experience the food is somewhat hit and miss; the wine list needs to be improved by addition of vintages.
It has only been open a short time and is perhaps still feeling its way so I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and come back once things have settled down. At this stage however the potential is unfulfilled.