We scheduled our February book club meeting at The Carlton Club, hoping to take advantage of its somewhat surprising switch to an all vegan menu. Sadly, between us picking the venue in late January and the date of our dinner they'd changed things up again and shifted back to an omni menu. Still, a good number of vegan options survived the menu change, so we persisted. We didn't venture up to the well known rooftop bar, instead settling into the dining room, which had an odd vibe - part opulent ballroom, part suburban RSL. If nothing else it provided a relatively quiet and spacious setting for our book-club to discuss Swing Time.
The new menu is pretty classic pub food - burgers and parmas make up the mains, with a selection of starters and salads to complement them. They've kept it about half vegetarian and there's a decent array of vegan stuff to choose from. We split a pile of vegan dishes three ways to give us the best chance to sample everything.
First up were a couple of starters - macaroni and cashew cheese croquettes with a porcini mayo (top, $8) and field mushroom and kale meatballs baked in a napoli sauce with almond parmesan (bottom, $7).
This was a spectacular start - the croquettes in particular were fantastic, combining fried carbs and creamy sauce to good effect. I really liked the mushroom meatballs as well - they were dense, hearty and well seasoned.
Next up was a flurry of mains and sides - a beetroot, black bean and quinoa burger with lettuce, vegan cheese, sriracha mayo, jalapenos and fried onion (left, $12) and fries with cajun salt (right, $8).
They were accompanied by a sub based on the mushroom and kale meatballs with vegan cheese and pesto (left, $12) and a chopped kale salad, with avocado, shaved fennel, crispy chickpeas and a creamy vegan Caesar dressing (right, $14).
Again, these were all pretty great. The beetroot burger patty was maybe a little dry, but it went down a treat slathered in spicy mayo and mock cheese. The mushroom meatballs worked well as a sub filling, although they went a little over the top with the gooey toppings, which made it tricky to split three ways. The kale salad was excellent - it'd be a boring meal on its own, but it was the perfect way to accompany our other heavily fried selections. Most importantly, The Carlton Club does a damn good chip - it's such an important thing for a pub to do well.
We were a bit disappointed when we arrived to find that we'd missed The Carlton Club's short time as a wholly veggie place, but they turned our frowns upside-down with an excellent selection of vegan dishes, efficient service and some cheesy backing tunes for our intellectual book discussions. It's not a venue I can imagine visiting on a busy night, but if you're after vegan-friendly pub food in the CBD you could do an awful lot worse.
There are surprisingly few blog reviews of the Carlton Club - I could only find Parma Daze and Words and Flavours, both of which are from the days before things turned vegan-friendly.
The Carlton Club
193 Bourke St, Melbourne
Accessibility: Entry is up a long flight of stairs - I didn't see an elevator anywhere. There's full table service in the dining room except that payment takes place at a high bar. We didn't visit the toilets.