Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 8, 2008: The Union Hotel

A few weeks ago an email popped into our inbox promising us veg-friendly pub food in West Brunswick. I figured it must be a hoax - it's hard enough finding good vego food at pubs in Fitzroy and East Brunswick (the EBC excepted of course), surely there was no such thing in the wasteland west of the trainline. But Cindy is more trusting than I, and figured that our tipster Adrian actually was a regular reader and had our best interests at heart and not some machiavellian pub owner hoping to lure us to West Brunswick and force feed us T-bones and parmas. Luckily, she was right.

As Adrian had informed us, the Union Hotel is a newly refurbished pub sitting a few blocks west of Sydney Road with a history of beer and tits which has been all but wiped out in a pretty stylish makeover. The fit-out is almost complete now, and the interior is low-key, but not without style, while the beer garden looked spacious and welcoming (if only we'd noticed it before finishing our food!). The staff were very friendly and attentive (a little too attentive - they were quick to notice us photographing the menu and very curious as to why), and there was a good variety of beer on tap.

All this was very promising, but the real key to our hearts is through the food. The Union has a comprehensive menu - a wide range of vego starters, a pasta and some marinated tofu on the menu and then a blackboard chock-full of specials, including another handful of vego starters and mains. Score.

We started things off with zucchini fritters with green tobasco aioli ($6). For some reason I was imagining these as being kind of cheesy - more like some haloumi and zucchini fritters that I've had somewhere before. Instead, they were like giant battered zucchini chunks

The batter was crunchy and delicious providing some welcome texture around the zucchini's soft flavours. The star though was the tobasco aoli - tangy and spicy without being really hot, I could have happily dunked anything in this sauce.

We had quite a few choices for mains - passing on the vegie lasagne and the broccolini pasta, and settling on one option from the specials board and one from the standard menu. I went for the standard option - grilled marinated tofu with sauteed Asian greens with a salad of mixed leaves, herbs, carrot and enoki mushroom with a tamari and chilli dressing ($16).

This was one of Adrian's specific recommendations, and it was an outstanding choice - perfectly cooked tofu, loads of fresh vegies and a beautiful sweet/spicy dressing. This kind of dish belongs at a specialist vegetarian restaurant, not a pub - highly recommended.

Cindy couldn't go past the pumpkin ravioli with a mushroom, sage and butter sauce ($12).

These were some soft little parcels of sweetness, slathered in a very, very rich sauce. It'd be wise to order a salad on the side of this, but we'd already committed ourselves to the fritters, so Cindy had to work through it with only a few sneaky bites of my salad for some lightness. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find too many better $12 pub pastas.

We were too far gone for dessert, and the sweet options were much more limited than the savoury. But then who goes to the pub for sweets? Beer works much better with chips than with ice cream. The Union Hotel is almost guaranteed to be a success - I'm sure there's a huge catchment of people west of Sydney Rd crying out for delicious, reasonably priced pub food in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. The staff did know we were powerful and influential food bloggers, so they may have turned on the charm just for us, but it's unlikely - we'll have to go back in disguise just to make sure.

Address: 109 Union Street, Brunswick
Ph: ? - they may not have a phone yet - it wasn't busy enough to require a booking anyway.
Website: (presumably still under development - note a remnant of their old, not-safe-for-work past:
Price: Entrees $6-$14, Vegie mains $12-$16


  1. sounds v interesting - I used to live down that way off union street and would have loved a place like that when I was in the area - still not too far away to try out some time!

  2. how good! this place is actually my *local*, in that it is the closest pub to my house, though i've never been! now i have the perfect reason to go, that tofu dish looks wonderful!

  3. thank you SO much for this! I've been watching the refurb with anticipation, and since reopening have been hesitant to drop in, given the past reputations and all. But not now! I'll be making an appearance very soon...and I'll gain a 'local', which is a win all round.

  4. The Union's likewise a little too far to qualify as our 'local', Johanna! It should make a good bike ride in future. :-)

    I'm a little jealous that this is really your 'local', Buttons. :-) Definitely try the tofu first!

    You're welcome, pop!shonelle. :-) We might never have come across the Union if it weren't for Adrian - aren't blogs great?

  5. I used to live literally a one minute walk from there, now its probably about 5-8 minutes :-)

    I might be wrong but I'm pretty sure the location is brunswick not west brunswick. I thought west brunswick started at melville road (a little bit further down on union). Not that it matters.

    Someone told me that the person who own it, owns a whole lot of other cool bars or cafes but I'm not sure which ones.

    Thanks for letting us know about this one, I wonder what proportion is vegan or can be made vegan.

  6. Kristy, you're probably right that it's not actually West Brunswick - that's the product of a long-running joke with a few friends about how uncivilised anything west of the train line is. :-)

    Adrian tells us the folks now running the Union were previously at the Standard in Fitzroy.

    As for vegan food - I would assume that the marinated tofu dish is already vegan, though I can't be sure what's in the marinade. The other veg dish on the regular menu is a pasta with parmesan on top that I reckon would be veganisable (we haven't eaten it but Adrian gave it the thumbs-up!) There were a number of vegetarian dishes on the specials board, but they looked pretty dairy-laden when we were there.

  7. Huh! It seems that the hotel's new owners are using this site, where they've included a phone number and have linked to this review. They're also currently using my photos (uncredited) on the front page. :-/

  8. It sounds good. I've got to wonder though. There are already plenty of pubs serving good food. Isn't there still a place for old fashioned pub like the previous incarnation of this place?

  9. If they involve the footy thugs and stripshows of the former Union Hotel, Hookturn, then I hope not. :-) More generally, I suspect that old-fashioned pubs are at greater threat from pokies than from 'good food'.