MELBOURNE | Located at the end of an inconspicuous car park just off Sydney Road, Howler Brunswick is one of the more recent additions to the Brunswick bar scene. We had been meaning to pay them a visit for quite some time so we decided to pop in during a casual Sunday afternoon session.
Opened in mid-2013, Howler attempts to differentiate itself from long-standing venues such as The Retreat and the Brunswick Hotel which retain an ‘old school’ pub feel with an urban-hip space that has a strong focus on design which combines both indoor and outdoor areas to great effect. The frontage of the venue is an homage to its wool store origins with custom art painted over the old brick walls.
On walking into Howler we were greeted by a large, comfortable open air space with ample seating which would be perfect on a hot summer’s afternoon (or night). There are also bar heaters on the wall which make the space usable on those cold Melbourne winter days.
Inside is a another spacious area that makes extensive use of wood and black paint to create an industrial yet inviting feel for the venue. Behind the bar is an array of metal geometric shapes that act as shelves for the extensive spirits collection which further enhances the overall feel of the bar.
First and foremost Howler is a bar and so we were very keen to check out their drinks list. Surprisingly (and pleasingly!) in addition to the expected array of cocktails, wine and spirits, Howler also has an extensive selection of craft beer on offer. In fact, for a venue that does not market itself as having a craft beer focus it selection of beer is probably superior to most so called ‘craft beer bars’. As an example this was first venue where we noticed the Alesmith Speedway Stout (one of the most highly rated beers in the world and a personal favourite of Jeff’s) available in bottles.
On this occasion the beer taps included craft offerings from Japan (Coedo), New Zealand (Monteith’s) and also a local representative (Hargreaves Hill):
Turning to the fridges we found a wide selection of beers by Mikkeller (one of our favourite breweries) including one of their collaborations with 3 Floyds. Given the virtual non-distribution of 3 Floyds beers outside of the US we were most impressed that it was available so we had to give it a try (Spoiler: it was excellent).
Howler’s food range has evolved since opening from what was an Asian-style snack food menu to one that focuses on burgers (there are seven types) and also includes two types of pork ribs and a range of snack-sized dishes.
Togarashi Fries ($9.50)
We kicked off our meal with the Togarashi Fries, which were an Asian take on French fries with Sriracha sauce, kewpie mayo, bonito flakes, tonkatsu, pickles and sesame. Whilst the ingredient list sounds a bit random the combination of flavours actually worked really well and we enjoyed the mix of the spiciness from the Sriracha, the salty-sourness of the pickles and the light, airy texuture of the bonito flakes which gave good variety to the potato fries which can sometimes become monotonous when eaten in volume. Paul considers these to be one of the best fries in Melbourne.
Beer-Battered Flathead Burger / Pork Belly Burger / Chicken Burger ($18.00 each, Served With Fries)
Next we tried three of the burgers on offer, starting with the fried fish burger, which was done in a milk bun with wakame, Asian slaw and kewpie mayo. This was done well, the fish was well cooked and the batter not too heavy, and the slaw and wakame helped to offset the slightly greasy/oily nature of the fish. In addition, we must say that we really like the current trend away from brioche buns towards milk buns which are soft without being ‘crumbly’ and better absorb the various sauces that might accompany a burger.
The second burger that we tried was the pork belly burger, which was slow cooked over 12 hours and served with apple slaw, green tomato chutney and smoked currant mayo. As our regular readers would know we are aficionados of slow cooked meat and this burger did not disappoint. The pork was tender, the apple slaw added a nice crunch and complemented the pork well, cutting through the fat on the meat (which was sufficient to make the burger juicy without being excessive).
Lastly we sampled the chicken burger, which was grilled with lemon and thyme and combined with bacon, avocado, cheese, relish and mayo. The combination of classic ingredients, good produce and well cooked chicken resulted in a burger that lived up to the high standards of the other two that we tried.
Chilli Pork Ribs ($21.00)
Because we apparently had not yet consumed enough food we decided that we would order a serve of the chilli pork ribs to complete our meal. Like the pork belly burger the ribs were slow cooked to the point where the meat fell nicely off the bone, and the chilli barbecue glaze was very much to our liking, a little sweet with just the right amount of spicy kick.
Last but not least, Howler markets itself as a live music venue and focuses on bringing in the an interesting range of local and international indie, electronic and art-house bands. We have yet to attend a gig at Howler yet but with bands such as Hiatus Kaiyote and Holy Holy having played there it is only a matter of time before we do.
Overall, we think that Howler have put together an excellent blend of good food, a top beer list and great atmosphere in one venue. We really enjoyed our time at Howler and will definitely be adding it the list of venues that we visit regularly.
7 Dawson Street
Mon – Sun: 12:00pm to 1:00am