Does anyone else get slightly suspicious/worried when they walk into a restaurant and there’s football paraphernalia hanging on the walls? Framed jerseys and the like? Not that I don’t enjoy sports (I do! Watching them at least. Not playing them because that involves moving), but there’s something about a sporty presence in a restaurant that makes me assume that the menu’s going to be filled with steaks the size of your head and burgers containing whole cows. And that the only concession to vegos tends to be a veggie pizza, or maybe if you’re lucky a pasta dish. It’s a little uninspiring is what I’m saying.
The first thing I noticed about Max Bar & Restaurant was the football jerseys on one wall. Of course, I was lucky to have noticed anything at all, as on this particular day I was enormously sleep deprived from having pulled an all-nighter in order to finish an essay for uni (REMEMBER THOSE? Yeah, they’re just as horrible as you recollect them. I am too old for such chicanery). I barreled into the place where The Boy Dan and his friend Jan were waiting for me, having walked around in circles for a good half hour trying to find Hardware Lane in my exhausted fuzz, and hazily explained my lateness away on sleep-depravity, bad directions from The Boy, and something unmentionable that caused Jan to be completely open-mouthed and silent for a whole minute. Hello, I am Hayley and I ruin dinners before they even start.
The Boy, having once ascertained that I was “SLEEPY”, asked as to the state of my tum. “HUNGRY” was the reply. A menu was thrust hurriedly in my direction.
On viewing the menu my prejudices caused me to be metaphorically swatted upside the head. Yes, there is a focus on steaks and pub-style meaty offerings such as chicken parmagiana and lamb shanks, and though the veggie options do include the obligatory pizza and risotto, there are also dips, bruschetta, baked field mushrooms, and a few pasta dishes. Nothing mindblowingly out of the ordinary for the more adventurous vegetarian, but there are plentiful options, which is nice to see.
I ended up going with the vegetarian pizza with grilled zucchini, slow-roasted pumpkin, Spanish red onion, Persian feta and pesto oil. I am normally Not A Fan of pumpkin on pizza, but it seemed like a seriously heavy-duty pizza, and remember, I was HUNGRY! The Boy chose the pumpkin risotto (which I was this close to choosing myself), while Jan went with the Max Burger, going with beef rather chicken.
The pizza looked great, with a nice even spread of toppings, and the pumpkin wasn’t overwhelming. Yet the crust was quite thick, which is a very big foodie turn-off for me, and frankly there was little flavour going on at all despite the taste-explosion menu description. I ate it all because I was deathly starving, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it.
The boys fared better, with Jan saying his burger was great (he even chose to finish it off while leaving behind chips, unfathomable reasoning to me, the potato fiend). Dan was the winner with his pumpkin risotto. I was offered a spoonful, and it was delightful, with plump rice dotted with melting chunks of pumpkin and baby spinach leaves threaded throughout. I immediately developed a distinct case of meal envy, and watched longingly as The Boy scraped his plate clean.
The staff at Max are friendly and efficient (apologies to our waitress who had to deal with my wan smiles and monosyllabic replies. I am normally gregarious, I promise!). The space is very large, and the predominant type of customer while we were there was evenly split between older couples and parents with young children. Not a haven for foodie hipsters, clearly, but I have to admit it was nice to sit and schlub in a place where no one was there purely to be seen eating somewhere dangerously fashionable.
The food at Max was hit and miss, but the hits were good enough to maybe entice me back one day. Sometimes you just need a dose of pub-like food stylings in a nice brasserie setting. Though I could probably still do without the football decorations (some prejudices die hard).
Max Bar & Restaurant
54-58 Hardware Lane, Melbourne