The Palace by Luke Mangan

11 July 2010
The Palace by Luke Mangan
@ 505 City Rd, South Melbourne

So called "gastropubs" have steadily increased their numbers in Melbourne in recent times. With the venerable Paul Wilson transforming the kitchens at establishments such as the Albert Park Hotel, the Middle Park Hotel and the Undertaker, the Melbourne dining scene has witnessed a discernable shift from traditional fine dining cuisine to simpler and more wholesome fare.

The Palace Hotel is a gastropub that forms part of the Luke Mangan empire which already includes the highly regarded Glass restaurant in Sydney, the pioneering Salt restaurant in Tokyo and a line of food products including olive oil, mineral water and spices. The Palace Hotel pays conspicuous homage to its founder through its name (officially "The Palace by Luke Mangan") and through the liberal smatterings of Luke Mangan branded items throughout the dining room. I must admit, the shrine like nature of the place is, at least initially, mildly off-putting.

The dining room at the Palace Hotel is set in a small space that is separated from the front door by the traditional bar; an acknowledgement of its gastropub status perhaps. The tables in the dining room are spaced relatively far apart. A couple of tables, including the one at which we sat, are placed flush against a wall with a window view of the pass. This provides not only an entertaining porthole into the busy operation of the kitchen but also, from the orange hue of the heat lamps, a warm tone to the dining room setting.

On this visit, the Palace Hotel was experiencing a relatively busy Sunday lunch service. The attentiveness of the wait staff, although passable, suffered as a result. At times it was difficult to summon wait staff but in the context of a leisurely Sunday lunch, this can be overlooked provided that the food is up to scratch.

We shared three entrees which were of a uniformly excellent standard. A salad of pan fried gnocchi, sweet corn, asparagus, zucchini, cauliflower and truffle dressing was a superb dish that was highlighted by the light gnocchi which captivated with its delightfully pungent truffle aroma and its lingering rich parmesan flavour. The salt and Szechuan pepper squid with Chinese dipping sauce was a terrific example of a modern classic. The squid was very tender and was coated in a well seasoned, mildly spicy, light and crisp batter. The dipping sauce had a sharp tartness which complemented the fried squid. The crab omelette with Asian salad and miso mustard broth was a standout. A light omelette was folded over a generous portion of shredded blue swimmer crab. The flesh of the crab was wonderfully sweet and worked well with the heavily seasoned omelette. The delicate miso broth and salad of red chilli, enoki mushrooms, mint and crisp onion rings completed the dish by adding both contrasting textures and a depth of flavours, but also rendered it unrecognisable as traditional gastropub fare. Not really a concern when a dish is so superbly executed. 

The mains did not quite attain the same high standard set by the entrees but were good nevertheless. The confit duck leg was notable for its crisp skin and succulent, well seasoned flesh which worked well with the sweet caramelised pear. However, although it was a solid dish, it was unspectacular. On the other hand, the fillet mignon, which was available as a special on the day of our visit, was superb. Three discs of very tender medium rare eye fillet beef were wrapped in prosciutto and served over a bed of garlic seasoned wilted spinach and truffled mash. Although perhaps a little over seasoned given the generous use of prosciutto, it was nevertheless a superbly executed dish highlighted by the quality of the beef and the excellence of its preparation.

The desserts were similarly well executed. The hot chocolate fondant was a good, but somewhat spongy, example of the classic dish. The eton mess consisted of a decadent mass of vanilla cream, meringue, strawberries and strawberry reduction. The natural sweetness of the very ripe strawberries was particularly prominent in this very enjoyable dessert.


On a value analysis, the Palace Hotel is certainly an expensive example of a gastropub. With mineral water, our bill totalled around $190; encroaching on the premium fine dining price range. That said, given the quality of the food and the generosity of the servings, the prices are largely justified.

The Palace Hotel delivers fare which elevates it above traditional gastropubs. Its dishes are superbly executed, well flavoured and highlighted by the underlying quality of ingredients. The Palace Hotel epitomises what a gastropub should be; it is a well run establishment that delivers consistent, simple and flavoursome food with mouth-watering flair.

Food: 7.5
Service: 6
Value: 6
Overall: 7


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