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3AW’s De Bortoli Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews The Gem, Collingwood

Article image for 3AW’s De Bortoli Pub Of The Week: Tony Leonard reviews The Gem, Collingwood

Pub:                      The Gem
Where:                 289 Wellington St., Collingwood
Phone:                 9419 5170
Date:                    27 November 2015
Score:                   14/20


The Gem is the final pub for the year 2015 and a wonderful way to finish. Catching the American Smoked/BBQ/Pulled wave before most in 2012, the Gem has won a loyal band of followers in its old pub site, just down from the corner of Alexandra and Wellington where the wonderful Fox Hotel resides.

(Or more politically, where the East/West link ain’t!).

This pub is the Curry’s Family Hotel (aka Amy’s place) updated, but only from an offer of food and drink.

The insides, timber floorboard, tables/benches, brick walls with some Americana doing the honour for the bric a brac, has a small semi circular bar and is the hive of activity. My last time here – 1997 – assures me little has changed in the past 2 decades.

No TAB/No Pokies.

Craft beer dominates the taps with Cider and a tap for Coopers. Again the other 2 big boys excluded. The wine list is similarly small and again priced to the mark.  More on that later.

The nights at the weekend come alive with a mix of music styles and the joint jumps. Happy people having a ripper time knowing this is a place that you can come to and not feel threatened.

That’s the front bar. There is a smaller dining room through a passageway which is drop dead gorgeous and the streets provide the alternative area for dining/socialising.

The offer of smoking/BBQ meat has struck a chord with pub/bar goers in Melbourne (and I suppose wider Australia) and it seems weekly there is another smokehouse or burger joint popping up. Hopefully some pubs a little further out in the ‘burbs may go this trend.

And this where the Gem, like the equally fabulous Le Bon Ton nearby, has stayed ahead of the pack because this sort of dining belongs in a pub.

But one slow for the day. The advantage that pubs like the Gem has is tap beer. To enjoy it to its fullest, or as the industry calls it the ‘theatrics of beer’, the glassware has to be treated properly and here, the beer lost its head quickly and there was no ‘lace’ clinging to the inside of the glass.

A misstep and yes it was drinkable, but a bit more care needed in cleaning.

(If you are in a pub, have a look at other drinkers and you will see what I mean).

The Gem is flying; the offer has hit the right spot. Go and check it out.

PRICE:                bistro menu;

Entrees:               $12 (mainly sliders)
Mains:                  $32 (based on 2 meats/2 sides)
Desserts:             not really (2 offered and sound great)
Wine:                   $10/glass


It is 1.15pm, Sunday, a typical Melbourne day, neither too hot/cold. Heading towards the Gem, parking looks to be at a premium and on reaching the pub, the street tables are all taken. Inside, from the 10 or so tables, only one remains vacant. 

Young and old are full swing have a rip-roaring time. Cold Chisel’s Breakfast at Sweethearts LP is at a gloriously audible level (good) and the barman knows every word (hmmm).

Taps with Rogers, White Rabbit, Coopers Pale, Bright invite and the platters of meat come out at a cracking pace. You want everything.

Table service, bread/water are part of the package. You beauty. A range of sauces sit on the table and are the product of the kitchen. Gotta love that too.

Here’s the deal – Although the pub offers some entrees- Corn and haloumi Sliders (15), Fried Chicken (16) and classic mains such as massive Chicken Parma $25//Fish of the day, fries and Green Goddess dressing $25 with a smattering of clever daily specials, it is all meat (and to a lesser Vegetarian) and sides.

The meats range from $12-24 per side. Sausages, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, all ‘brined, dried, rubbed and smoked’. Woods of different aromas and heat are used to create the flavour sensations. Serving sizes are spot on.

That’s one half of the equation. Now for the sides. Pricing mainly around $4, green salad (sensational and fresh), coleslaw, beans and brisket ends (yes), grilled sweetcorn are some on offer.

Mix and match, take a tip from the staff and wait for the goodness to arrive. Barnesy is really belting out Goodbye Astrid and like the barman, you have joined in the singalong.

The wine list is brief and offers point of difference. This is observation only (not criticism) but $10/glass//$45/bottle of wine in pubs is now commonplace, in spite of wine flatlining in price. Anyway a fantastic riesling from SA, Vertigo, (10) and a glass of Fallen Giants C/S (11) were tried.

You are at ease, you are happy, and you notice the age demographic and are reminded the THIS IS WHAT PUBS ARE ABOUT.

Do different this Christmas if you are looking to take the gang somewhere for a catch-up; try the Gem.


?       Pulled Pork and Pork/Chilli/Fennel (2) snags.  $15/$12. Arriving on a wooden platter, the meat is moist/smokey/spicy. In some respects, it looks rather naked, on arrival but you crack in and before you know it’s gone,

?       Bush tomato rub Smoked Buffalo, salsa verde, orange glazed wattle cakes, fries – $28. Different take on the Sunday roast, the Buffalo has a softer texture and is rarely seen on menus but liked the point of difference,

?       Sides – $4. Green salad – (fantastic), Mac and Bacon Crumble –  (meh),  texas fries (cheese, jalapeno, spring onion, chipotle aioli) $12.  Big bowl of glorified chips, not bad but cheese and potato for mine are mortal enemies.


What a good finish to the year. The Gem is living proof that doing different in pubs and making the offer accessible, people will gravitate from anywhere at any age to sample, while the pub is remaining faithful as the neighbourhood local.

The Gem has captured a base of loyal fans and whilst it continues to offer this, it will go from strength to strength.  It’s just a good fun pub to go to.

(I am reminded though of one of life’s great truism – always check the bill. A small item has been accidentally included. No big deal, but like your tote tickets, always check!).

On leaving the Chisels have done their work and now it’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to step up to the plate.

The Barman doesn’t let me down. ‘Breakdown, go ahead, give it to me, Breakdown, Honey take me through the night….