Howler – Brunswick

This is Occupie Fitzroy, and welcome to my very first scathing review of a north-side dining location. The culprit: Howler, Brunswick. 

Context: My friends love their loaded fries. We read this article a few months back, decided to give these recommendations a go and now it’s Howler’s turn.

I wouldn’t say that the pubs and bars of Brunswick generally take themselves too seriously. Brunswick is diverse, and its hospitality industry reflects that. For anyone unfamiliar with the street style of Brunswick, you’re just as likely to see a tattoo-clad gentleman, riding his Samson Fixie down Sydney Rd with a rollie between his fingers as you are a hijab-wearing mother driving her three children to school, an elderly nonna purchasing some meat for Sunday roast or a tracksuit toting junkie that hasn’t seen a full mouth of teeth since age 15. There’s an authenticity to Brunswick that means it can be a bit cool, but its reality is checked before it gets too ahead of itself. Howler is the exception to this, and with the exposed brick and industrial chic styling that makes Broadsheet readers wet in the pants, it’s done a fine job of ferrying some of the Fitzroy brunch vibe across the north side of Park St.

I should make it clear that Howler’s cooler-than-thou vibe is not the deal breaker. At first, the hanging gardens and indoor bike racks are an awesome first impression to this venue, and their menu seems satisfying for a moment. But please, allow me to enlighten you with what followed:

Arrive. Sit down at some tiny tables. Try to move tiny tables, and realise said tables are bolted to the ground. Lose 10 points.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever expressed my deep distain for unmovable tables on this blog (especially at popular venues), but this hatred is there and it’s real. For one, these uselessly unmovable tables are never fucking big enough to serve their sole function of keeping my food off the ground (they barely did in this case). And often they’re placed too fucking close for private conversations or too far away for friendly ones. Unless Howler has a serious concern for tropical cyclones tearing through the streets of Brunswick with the mission to upturn their piss tiny tables, the purpose of bolting tables to the ground is entirely lost on me.

Whatever. I get over Howler’s lack of functional furniture and order some food. They have a pretty good burger + beer special. I go for the saganaki burger and a bowl of the togarashi fries, and enjoy another cider while my food is prepared.

The fries arrive first… and they stink. This is no metaphorical stink, they actually smell extraordinarily pungent. Confusion ensues. It turns out they stink because they’re garnished with fucking fish flakes of all things (did I ever mention that I’m vegetarian and really hate stinky fish?). I double check the menu to see there isn’t some fancy new breed of stinky fish flakes that I hadn’t heard about, but their menu mentions nothing of this stinky fish garnish.  We return the bowl back to the waiter who looks at it with the same confused look and says “I have no idea why that’s there”.

The saga continues as we wait 40min for the rest of our food to arrive. I’m not usually one to complain too much about slow service but I had just been taunted with almost-delicious togarashi fries and I was getting impatient. My saganaki burger arrived, and while I was pretty stoked to be stuffing my mouth with cheese (as I always am), I was promptly assaulted with the reality that saganaki is just a poor excuse for haloumi and that it doesn’t below in this burger or in my mouth.

Why would you not just make this a haloumi burger, Howler? Has the humble haloumi become too mainstream? If haloumi is the bacon for vegetarians, saganaki is the fucking beef jerky that’s sat on your supermarket shelf for the last seven months. The first two bites are filled with the promise of satisfaction, then it just becomes too dry and too salty. Even thinking about it dehydrates me. There’s a time and a place for food of this intensity, and Howler with their non-functional tables is not it.

To Howler’s credit, their wait staff were really cool and patient with us during this trying time. I also don’t like to rag on wait staff for issues beyond their control but in this case, I don’t need to. I think they felt bad but overcompensated by bringing another six bowls of loaded fries to our table (only 3 of which we had ordered), but two of them still had stinky fucking fish flakes on them.

Occupie Metrics:

Door to Beard Index: It’s high. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re handing out vouchers for finger tattoos along with their substandard jerky burgers.

Noms: Their food gets two thumbs down along with all the sarcasm and bitterness of a true north-side resident.

How poor will it make me? If you choose to experience Howler’s kitchen for yourself, you’ll be paying pretty standard dinner prices. Their specials go ok too but you can get better food for the same price (or cheaper) in most areas of Brunswick.

Is it instagram worthy? Yes, if it’s daytime. They take an interesting approach to mood lighting after sunset, in the sense that they don’t have any. Even the best Instagram filters and manual tweaking of contrast levels can’t do you any favours. Most Howler photos will be blurry photos.

Food blog fury: This is it. Their 3.9 rating on Zomato tells me not everyone has shared this experience but I needed to write a negative review eventually.

NEW METRIC- Occupie Enthusiasm: Does this get a ‘Fuck yeah’, a ‘yeah, alright’ or a ‘yeah… nah’?

Yeah… nah. Obvs.

Final thoughts: I guess Howler is attempting to fuse Asian food with the standard pub meals Brunswick usually does so well. I’ve paid for plenty of worse meals in my life but considering Howlers reputation, I expected a little better and I expected no fucking fish flakes. I still had a enjoyable night because my friends can make most things enjoyable, but I could have gone without the cheesy jerky burgers.

Howler Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Little River Vegetarian Cafe – Brunswick

What can I say about the past couple of months other than… I’ve been some places.

Brunch at Little River with Thomas and epic-babe-Naomi was my first brunch after a whirlwind of moving house, 5 weeks overseas including 1 week at some desert party called Burning Man (epic), followed by another week at some awesome bush party called Burning Seed (also epic), followed by four solid days of sleep. I somehow managed to fit some brunch in there. It was in my new hood of Brunswick (my dedication to the north-side is admirable), and it was fucking rad.

Little River is located on Albion St up the top end of Brunswick. In true Brunswick style it’s nestled amongst seventeen bridal shops, three Lebanese bakeries and a converted warehouse-turn swanky apartment block with some ‘how did this get here’ style street art conveniently located along its trim. Little River is unassuming, and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to remind everyone of it’s Brunswick location. It was not however, playing any music by the Little River Band, and this was bitterly disappointing.

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Undecided whether this is considered latte art.

The staff were super friendly. I had some serious difficulty deciding what to eat as it’s unusual to have anymore than four vegetarian options on a good day, but after overcoming this decision paralysis I settled on eggs florentine with spinach and mushrooms. Simple yet effective. The other potential brunch option was a tomato and haloumi grilled croissant. For anyone that hasn’t met me, my love for haloumi can border on obsessive… it was with great reluctance that I opted for this instead.

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Love me some motherfucking mushrooms

Alongside my haloumi obsession… I also have a bagel obsession. Pictured below is a cabinet full of delicious bagels, a bunch of motherfucking haloumi, and no fucking meat. As well as some delicious pastries, because fuck yeah. Little River wants to see that Brunswick butt turn into a bagel butt, and this cabinet of spectacular, meat-free deliciousness is what’s going to achieve that.

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Little River wants your bagel butts

Door to Beard Index:  Despite Brunswick’s density of beards I would still rate this a medium.

Coffee:  Good. My coffee snob radar didn’t register this brew as anywhere near sub-standard.

Noms: Tops. Extra points due to the range of options, and their enthusiasm for bagels and haloumi, all in the name of bagel butts.

How poor will it make me? There are plenty of options below $10 which is a nice change to Melbourne’s outrageous brunch prices. Pretty sure breakfast hasn’t cost less than a ten dollar note since 1997. Bigger meals are upwards of $15.

Is it instagram worthy? Somewhat. Meals are plated nicely and you’ll definitely get some likes on your foodie hashtag of choice. The decor is simple, a welcome change to the exposed brick of every Fitzroy cafe in existence.

Food blog fury: There’s only one negative Zomato review and I think it’s from someone on crack. They said the food tasted like canned food and that they could have gone to Coles and got some canned food instead; a confusing scenario as I’ve never seen bagels, or haloumi, or eggs florentine with a soy flat white available in a can. And if it was, I would be really fucking excited and not complaining about canned food on Zomato. They then signed off with the witty, unclickable hashtag of #stepupyourgame and probably went to Coles to cry in the canned food isle.

Final thoughts: I appreciate how Little River seems to avoid almost all of the wank associated with most north-side cafes these days. No snobbery, just a good time and some bagel butts had by all. This place comes recommended.

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This is how vegetarians like to party.

Also, DID YOU KNOW OCCUPIE FITZROY IS ON INSTAGRAM NOW? Exciting times indeed, you can now stay up to date with every coffee I drink and every bagel I consume. Follow me now! Then, listen to this glorious song by the Little River Band and admire their fabulous hair.

Little River Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Cornish Arms Hotel, Brunswick

The Cornish Arms in Brunswick is the first pub I’ve visited on behalf of Occupie Fitzroy. It’s the first Brunswick venue I’m blogging about. It also has a balls-awesome vegetarian menu. Everything is exciting.

I originally visited the Cornish Arms some years ago amidst a bad acid trip and to see my friend’s angry grunge band. Needless to say, the experience was unpleasant. I’m now extremely grateful to have forged some new memories of this classic venue.

This place is a really nice break from the wankery (and prices) of many Fitzroy venues. I’ve started frequenting the Cornish Arms every Monday night with a band of vegan-parma devotees and cider-holics, and I’m pretty excited to be spending regular hang times here. The place is chilled out and unpretentious, which is what you should be looking for on a Monday night. They have an impressive menu of vegetarian/vegan parmas and burgers, all at the finance-friendly price of $12. And they have cider. So no matter what, this place is either going to be good, great or amazing.

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This is now my Monday night dinner. Noms.

*I know* it may just look like a typical pub meal, but nay! This be a mushroom and haloumi burger, the dinner of gods! And some chips (because every Monday night must include 2 cholesterol points). I would be happy to eat this every week for all of eternity. However I’m already feeling that pang of regret for having discovered this wonderous dish so early on in my exploration of the menu, because now I’m never going to order anything else. Woe.

cornish arms 03This is Nikki enjoying her mushroom burger and being a total gangsta.

The only thing almost (but not quite) as good as the mushroom burner and chips, is that every Monday night is an open mic night. Some open mic nights can be hit or miss, but this one involves a Shakespearean stringed instrument, and a guy who dances to his synthesiser. This place is pure, indulgent, north-side bliss.

cornish arms 02 AKA Lord of the Dance, this guy is a total badass.

Occupie Metrics:
Door to Beard Index: When I say this place is unpretentious, what I really mean is every kind of beard can be seen. Beards on hipsters, ageing alcoholics, north-side family men. Brunswick is diverse, thus the beards are varied and plentiful.

Beer: They have it.

Noms: SO GOOD. Apparently their vegan parmas are amazeballs but faux chicken weirds me out.

How poor will it make me? A full Monday night belly will cost you around $22 (burger and pint). Goes alright in my books (and my blog).

 

-Maddy

Cornish Arms Hotel on Urbanspoon