Josie and the Porkysnacks
No time for greens and Chats
Won’t run when they hear “Fat!”
There where the gorge begins
Come on watch the good guys binge!
My sister and I hit up Melbourne last week and immediately got into the spirit of things by heading out for dinner with Agnes of Off the Spork and Maria of The Gourmet Challenge on our first night. Agnes suggested we check out Josie Bones, revealed by a bit of internet sleuthing to be a newish venture from Australian MasterChef Series 1 contestants Chris Badenoch (the hat guy) and Julia Jenkins, and the promise of a meat and beer fest with the company of Agnes, Maria and their boys was impossible to pass up.
After shaking hands with pig (much less slap bass than with beef) to get through the front door we tried not to ogle the seductive naked rabbit photo above the bar too obviously as we made our way to our table up the back. It took us quite a while, but my sister and I eventually realised that the beer restaurant was in exactly the same location as a drag bar that we went to the very first time we visited Melbourne together. Luckily for us some work had gone into refitting the place before Josie Bones was opened, as the trip upstairs to the toilet previously involved quite a lot of wobbly scaffolding and wishing you’d prepared a packed lunch.
Josie Bones is known for its beer selection, and the drinks menu is as big a papercut risk as this might suggest. Feeling the effects of a very early start and flight from Perth that morning, I kept things simple for myself and stuck to the front page which offers a selection of 8 draught beers. I had been wanting to try Hitachino Nest beers for quite a while and so was immediately drawn to the Hitachino Nest classic ale. I was just as quickly turned off by the $16 price tag for a 330mL serving, but was convinced to give it a go and figured at 7.5% I was going to savour it somewhat. I didn’t take any notes and can’t remember the nuances of the taste but I really enjoyed it and will be hunting it down at The International Beer Shop in Leederville now that I’m back in WA.
Our friendly waitress suggested that we keep ourselves going through the menu decision process with some Crackling of the Day, and who were we to argue? We soon had plates of crunchy pork and chicken crackling to wash down with our beers, and amongst all the crunching we agreed that although the porky skin was as good as you’d expect, the chicken was the winner – nicely seasoned and satisfyingly crunchy under tooth, with the taste taking you back to Mum’s roast chicken dinners and being a bit grossed out by family members fighting over who would get the parson’s nose. We then wondered what they did with the rest of the chicken given the lack of chicken dishes on the rest of the menu. Is there some sort of chicken skin black market?
Given my lack of beef consumption I had not eaten any meat tartare before and was very curious to try this lamb dish. Finished off very cutely with a little quail egg, it was surprisingly tender and accompanied beautifully with the tangy mustard. I was quite surprised by how mild the overall taste was, and how much I enjoyed this.
Chunks of pig trotters, deep fried. This could surely not be anything but glorious. They started off really well with a great crunchy exterior and unctuously tender, not overly “porky” meat hiding within, but were let down by large pieces of fat and connective tissue hiding in there with it. I’m sure some would see these as important elements of a trotter, but I’m all about the meat and not terribly tolerant of chewy fat chunks. Can you blame me though? Chewy fat chunks. Without them I would have given these a big thumbs up.
When our waitress told us about the rabbit terrine special we all got a little excited, though I was also apprehensive. Although I’ve enjoyed many a terrine in my time, given my chunks o’ fat intolerance I often find either too obviously fatty, or too gelatinous. This was perfectly suited to my tastes though, with the only obvious chunks consisting of tender rabbit meat. It was accompanied with booze infused pureed prunes, what we think was an onion jam, and some very crisp slivers of bread. Quite a lovely dish that I happily went back to for seconds.
We thought we’d best at least get a token vegetable dish, and went with the potato salad. As you can see, it’s not exactly screaming good health with the generous squiggling of creamy dressing. It was nonetheless a fairly decent potato salad and a nice break from the meat.
The octopus and bone marrow cigar was referred to by our waiter as “Octo-bone” which is surely reason enough to order one. Sadly this was the highlight of the dish, and was largely disliked by our table of merry munchers. It was quite oily, and the combination of octopus and bone marrow was interesting but really didn’t hit the mark. The tangy green mango salad was an excellent complement to the oily crunch of the cigar though.
Yes. This dish was a porky winner. Another special, so I’m not entirely sure what the different components are, but we all loved this. The belly had just the right amount of fat running through it, acting more as a sidekick to the meaty layers, and the skin had just enough crunch. Thanks to Maria’s superior memory I can tell you that the fruits were pickled peaches, though we all disagreed about what the puree was made of and for some reason didn’t ask for clarification. I am sure I tasted apple in it but other weren’t convinced so I can’t say any more about it except for that married really well with the perfectly cooked pork. A great dish, very well executed, and we were glad we had ordered two serves of it.
We all had great expectations of this jenga stack of chips, given their thrice cooked claim to fame, but were all disappointed. Not particularly crunchy or noteworthy, they tasted just like slightly soggy, oily chips. Still infinitely better than what my sister and I were later to find ourselves eating at the Australian Open on the one night we didn’t pack our dinner, but ultimately disappointing. The beef rib meat on the other hand was quite enjoyed, with the almost crisp exterior hiding juicy, flavoursome meat within. How do I know this? I ate some. Yes, there you have it, I ate some of the beef. Now, let’s all pretend it didn’t happen as I can’t afford to buy a new domain name and they probably won’t let me have Hold-the-Beef-except-for-very-rare-occasions-when-it-looks-particularly-tasty-and-I-would-like-to-have-a-little-try-to-see-if-I-still-don’t-enjoy-it.com.
While considering our dessert options we enjoyed another drink or two, and my curiosity got the better of me. I had to try the Burleigh Brewing Company’s Black Giraffe coffee lager ($9 for 330mL at 5%). After one sip I fell desperately in love. The coffee flavour was much more intense than I expected, and the overall mouthfeel was almost stouty and gave the impression of having a higher percentage of alcohol than the very manageable 5%. The coffee flavours develop more after swallowing, and also are more noticeable as the beer warms slightly. Beautiful!
(I later discovered to my horror that it is not available to buy in WA so my sister and I did a mission up to Carlton North to get our hands on a few longnecks to bring back home with us. After popping one the other night I am sure the flavours were not as intense as drinking it on tap, and I wasn’t as blown away, but still really like it. Perhaps the lack of intensity from the bottle is a good thing given my inability to buy any more over here.)
After deciding to go elsewhere for dessert, a little black sheep then brought us our bill, and we were on our way…
…although not without capturing some evidence of the famous hat. A few more Hitachino Nests and I’m sure I would have been entertaining the others with the behatted routine I learnt in my first term of tap dancing lessons.
Despite the threat of sending friends into unwanted dance routines, I think Josie Bones is definitely worth a visit. The service was excellent – friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable – and the beer selection alone is worth the trip to Collingwood. I’m not sure I would return again for dinner, given how rich, fatty and meaty the overall experience was, but many of the dishes were quite perfect high end beer snacks. I’m sure we also brought the richness upon ourselves to some degree as we were determined to make the most of the meat fest and shied away from the less overly meat driven dishes on the menu. If you do get there, please try the Black Giraffe, and I hope for your sake that pork belly is a special for the day.
In the words of the owners, may the pork be with you.
Address: 98 Smith Street, Collingwood, VIC 3066
Phone: 03 9417 1878
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs: 5pm-late; Fri-Sun: noon-late
Website: Josie Bones
We paid: ~$40/head for drinks, crackling starters and shared mains