Last week I bid a good friend farewell – he is going to the UK to spend some time with family for a good few months. As I think back to the past 10 years of our friendship since we first met as young law students, the most recent standout memory of our time together was spent D&M-ing over dinner at The Grace Darling Hotel.
At that time, we both had been dealing with bigger than usual dramas in our lives. A meet up was long over due. Too emotionally and physically fatigued, I suggested my local. Though I casually refer to The Grace Darling Hotel as my local, it is far from a low key (but trust worthy) pub which you go to for a quiet drink. It is a pumpin pub almost every day of the week, with music gigs Thursday-Sunday (so I hear) and hearty honest food.
I had first noticed The Grace Darling Hotel when I was living in East Melbourne years ago. Walking along Smith, I often peered through the hotel’s stain glass entrance and wondered what grandeur awaited on the other side. I finally pushed past the coats and hangers and stepped into the wardrobe leading to Narnia when a friend of mine decided to have his going away drinks at The Grace Darling Hotel (coincidentally also before he jetted off to British green(er) pastures) last year in 2015. It was sunny afternoon, and the front room of the pub was radiant and inviting – the perfect venue for a lazy Sunday get-together. Delighted about the variety of beers on tap, I quickly ordered a pint of light beer to kick things off. I then proceeded to order what would be the sticking point for the rest of the afternoon – The pappardelle with duck ragout and parmesan. It turned out the rest of the gang had ordered the Angus beef burger (I believe some of the boys had (without hesitation) gone down the double pattie double cheese heart attack route) and my pasta choice was in their minds blasphemous. The pasta was nothing to rave about, but banter that unfolded was worth every cent and I proudly waved that anti-herd-mentality flag. I have yet to verify how burgerlicious the burgers are personally but I can report back that the boys were raving about them.
Two beers in and a toilet break was needed. As I stepped away from the main room and headed towards the toilets, I was taken away by the glass-house like backroom which was a half level down. It sheltered greenery and light and positive energy. To the side seemed to be a slightly more formal room with a longish high table in the middle for dining. I later found out that the hotel has a few split levels on which the hotel holds simultaneous music gigs on the weekends. I haven’t been to a gig there to date, but judging from the crowd weekend after weekend, they must have something good happening. Though I usually avoid going back to the same place twice, I made a mental note to keep the hotel in mind when I wanted a lazy sunny pub afternoon sheltered from the other less desirable elements.
Jumping back forward to 2016, we were seated in the very glass-house-like room which had taken my breath away last year. At night, it is transformed into a romantic space, dimly lit with candles scattered with intimate tables for twos or larger groups. Perfect for a D&M between old friends.
I ordered the beef cheek and red wine risotto with spinach, basil, roasted beets and saffron risotto & shaved parmesan. My dear friend ordered the special of the day – pork belly with the usual accompaniments (asian much?) My male friend grinned from ear to ear when our dishes arrived. His portion was huge, and mine, even more ginormous (which meant he would inevitably need to step up to help the ‘damsel’ finish her Flintstones of a portion whilst of course graciously pretending he hadn’t been eyeing her food the whole meal). But hand on heart, the risotto portion was big – huge chunks of melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek, with a generous scatter of whole, earthy and creamy beets sitting in a swamp of basmati-rice-like risotto. For $25 it can easily feed two. My only criticism is that the risotto was a tad oily for my liking. The pork belly I hear was also very satisfying.
Over the night, we took turns narrating our woes, being the listening ear, bitching fiercely for therapeutic measure and comforting the other (by either bitching with matching intensely or agreeing vehemently about the injustices of the world). And of course reminiscing about the good old days. A great night for a great friendship. Bitching buddies for life.
So as Britain takes my second friend from me in the span of 1 year, I think of The Grace Darling Hotel and wonder if it will continue to be a reminder of the good ol days, or of friends that are now far away. But true friends are never far despite distance, so I am confident it will be the former.