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REVEALED! Tony Leonard’s Pub Of The Year for 2020!

pub of the year
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3AW’s PUB OF THE YEAR, thanks to De Bortoli 

Today, December 4, marks the 25th time that I announce the De Bortoli Pub of the year and around the 30th time since the segment started with Neil Mitchell with Steve Price and Shane Healy starting the tradition in the early 1990s.

This is a year like no other in modern history. Specific to this segment, many businesses in hospitality are lost, never to return, and people whose livelihoods are dependent on this industry, face an uncertain future.

Since a cautious return in November in Victoria, there is a determination at every level of pub life that adherence to the restrictions, be it in capturing information and general hygiene, has never been more acute.

Well done to everyone. From personal experience, the last month has seen people return to pubs in number and they have received a higher level of service with greater attention to detail.

The community contact/connection that pubs provide has never been needed more. Pubs really are delivering hospitality in spades.

To everyone that contacted me via email and gave suggestions/comments, many thanks again.

Before announcing this year’s De Bortoli Best Pub, some comments;

2020 OVERVIEW

Due to COVID restrictions, a total of 16 pubs were visited, 11 for the first time. All pubs provided a point of difference and on reflection, I would be happy to go again to all of them. The standard of hospitality in 2020 stacks up as well as any since 1996.

The split between Melbourne metro and regional pubs was even at 8.

The food and drink part of pub life, especially away from town, ramps up to another level. Increasingly they challenge the metro pubs to do better, in spite of the fact that they draw on a smaller population.

Some general observations;

  • Smart pubs are using their social media platforms better than ever. Up to date and relevant are the keys to attracting business. Declutter. Too many operators allow this to slip, and while it’s great that fabulous time was had at the Steak and Shiraz night back in February 2019, get rid of it.
  • Similar deal with menus. Great to do seasonal offerings, or change a meal deal night, but the menu and pricing should be accurate all the time.
  • From a customer’s viewpoint, a genuine frustration is the wrong info on 3rd party websites, e.g., opening times, posted menus, reviews of 2017 that subsequently bear no resemblance to what pubs are doing 3 years later. Surely these inaccuracies are easily remedied. It is up to businesses to drive this. Opening and closing times must always be accurate.
  • Standard of beer is a non – negotiable; it’s the foundation of pubs. Overall it’s good, but the exceptional really stands out. The greatest give up for publicans is the punter consuming stubbies instead of tap on premise. Look after lines, glassware etc.
  • Further to the above, keep the choices coming. Carlton Draught is a fundamental to business whether beer snobs like it or not (and as boorish they are as wine snobs). But providers like Moon Dog, Wolf of the Willows, Bridge Road bang out tremendous stuff and should be displayed as prominently as more traditional lines: the punter will choose.

HIGHLIGHTS

Although only 16 pubs were reviewed, there were a number of highlights.

THE LOOK

Two polar opposites: The Garden State in Melbourne CBD. An extraordinary refit/regeneration in such a relatively small space, then to The Swiss Mountain Hotel in Blampied, a beautiful old world, weatherboard ranch coming out of nowhere on the Midland Hwy.

THE DIFFERENT

Easy. the Donug, Red Hill Chewton. Seasoned chicken, packed tight and resembling a donut. Icing is bechamel; sprinkles chilli. Runner up – Same pub with the Haggis Sausage Roll.

BEST BEER

Carlton Draught:  White Hart, Longwood.  A genuine treat, served perfectly in a delightful setting. Very honorable mention to Great Western Ballan.

Craft: Alehouse Project, Brunswick East.  Real variety, anyone for Lemon Sorbet Sour?

MOST ENJOYABLE MAIN/DESSERT

MAIN: Montague Hotel. Indian Style Fish and Chips. Light curry flavour through the batter, excellent Rockling Fillets. Great pub favourite delivered beautifully.

DESSERT:  Great Western Ballan. Rocky Road Smash. All elements of a rocky road, clever, generous sweet finish.

WINE:  Garners Shiraz, 2014, Strathbogies. White Hart Longwood. $10pg//36/btle. Genuine bargain price for a ripper drop. The pub supports smaller local wineries.

My best 3 pubs for 2020 are… (all scored 15/20)

Naughtons Hotel, Parkville. Since the restart some 8 or so years ago, this pub doesn’t miss a beat. Glorious setting of Royal Pde, expansive footpath to wine and dine, interesting, smaller menu, great cooking and service.

Great Western Ballan. Only operating for a matter of weeks, what the team has achieved here is nothing short of amazing. Food and drink is bang on, colourful inside, fabulous front bar. Work in progress, suspect it will be much lauded in 2021.

White Hart, Longwood. Final pub of the year to be reviewed, family run in a very small regional town. Very good old style pub, all price points are fair, and above all, a champion of local suppliers.

To every pub this year that was visited thank you for the hospitality.

THE WINNER…

White Hart Hotel, Longwood.

There are elements of all the other 2 finalists that make them standout and individually may be better than the White Hart.

And in 2020 for sure there is a bit of sentimentality in choosing the White Hart. But I keep returning to Dennis Denuto’s memorable lines from the Castle (delete constitution, insert pub);

“There is no one section; it’s the vibe. No that’s it, it’s the vibe”.

Pubs must be places of community and contact, inviting and hospitable, as well as doing food and beverage very well.

The White Hart in Longwood does all of this.

The De Bortoli Pub of the year 2020.

Last year, 3 pubs were afforded De Bortoli Pub of the decade status- 2010-2019. These were;

Lincoln Hotel, Carlton, Railway Club, Port Melbourne and Grand Hotel, Richmond.  All three continue to trade excellently whilst remaining true to their pub roots.  Along with the Emerald Hotel (1990-99), Courthouse Hotel (200-09), these were/are some of the best that Melbourne offers in pub life.

Finally, many thanks to Vince Gurcuillo and the team at De Bortoli wines for support of this segment which has been part of the Neil Mitchell show since this started back in the early 1990s.

And in closing thank you again for all your feedback.

pub of the year
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