Teaching the locals
Putting your stamp on the pub sector is no longer an uncommon practice. How you approach this hospitality puzzle can often divide your business! Be it with food, uber design sensibility, old school values and familiar hospitality, gaming or gen y social trappings. You will find great examples of them all in bayside Port Melbourne.
Mardo's new owner Nick Mardling, a former hospitality lecturer, has taken the culinary approach repositioning the former Sloney Pony as culinary school, events centre, tapas bar and restaurant. Exploiting the beautiful grand nature of this towering Victorian / Mediterranean looking hotel. A thoughtful move when you’re enthusiastic about training and giving something back to the industry and local community.
Another progressive move was employing Catalan chef Manuel Villegas.
Manuel is a passionate chef whose enthusiasm is hard to ignore and was no doubt spawned from his apprenticeship within his father’s competitive restaurant landscape where the importance of research, great ingredients, hard work and spirited cooking allowed him to make his mark in Australia at the one hatted Basque restaurant. Now working closely alongside owner Nick the two are developing a warm and locally focused European style with a menu and venue designed for every occasion.
The night we dined we decided to leave it to the kitchen to feed us from the broad and interesting menu. There’s plenty to choose, from small classic tapas, cured meats, artisanal cheeses, interesting Nuevo Latino small plates, robust and friendly mains, to decadent desserts. This hard working kitchen has it all covered!
The venue has been tastefully remodelled for comfort and increased dining. We weren’t convinced about the need for table cloths with so many shared dishes but loved our spacious high tables and how the team have breathed new life and maturity into this former dark and gritty drinking den.
Our first succession of dishes were a seafood lover’s dream, pacific oyster w spiced gazpacho was bright and fiercely seasoned, and the marinated slow cooked octopus with sweet peppers waxy potatoes garlic and mint was sweet savoury and succulent - as good as any lobster dish!
Lemon fried sardines and prawns in a garlicicky pil pil olive oil sauce had my taste buds racing. Fantastic examples of the chef's skill and why the Spanish love and celebrate seafood cookery so naturally. By now, divorce was on the cards as my non seafood eating wife was fighting me off for the classic and appropriately comforting Jamon croquettes!
Up next was posh Spanish quail eggs on toast with chorizo and an unbelievably good pork belly. This was followed by perfect grilled asparagus, lemon and brown butter.
We refreshed our self from the running of culinary bulls with an excellent la corona Soave. More friendly small plates followed, garlic mushrooms were satisfying as was an interesting layered take on apricot chicken. All these dishes were terrific and perfect for grazing and sharing.
By now we were intrigued about larger dishes and the chefs Nuevo Latino muse. We noticed that there was a good selection of traditional meat dishes on offer before being served an exemplary homemade duck and truffle ravioli, which needed a pinch of salt and 2 more minutes cooking, but was presented with great skill and a perfect match with the Beronia tempranillo.
Desserts were equally artistic, playful, and perfectly matched to silky and jammy Pedro Ximenez. It brought an end to an excellent meal and an opportunity to meet the talented Manuel whose enormous passion and desire to please his guests was equally impressive as his culinary skill.
After Nick gave us a brief tour through every level of his venue, we looked forward to the entire venue realising its full potential. With its cooking school, roof top bar, and private rooms all flourishing. It’s an exciting hotel that is evolving and a welcome addition to bayside Melbourne.
What the Chef's says - I always try to work with seasonal products of the highest quality and freshness. My philosophy about food is to try and work with the basic flavours and traditions, but in a modern kitchen and for the benefit of my customers.
What Wilson says - Industry professionals giving something credible back to the community.
When can we go - Monday: Closed; Tuesday to Sunday: 11am until late;