MELBOURNE | The General Assembly South Wharf is one of those places that even we’ll admit we were sceptical about when we first heard about it by way of an invite to sample its offering. It’s located in South Wharf, which despite it’s quite central location still manages to be somewhat of a public transport black spot and is owned by Matilda Bay, which is owned by CUB, which itself is owned by global beverage conglomerate SABMiller. Not too appealing at face value right? Once you do a bit of research though, you soon realise that there’s enough here to put your preconceptions to one side and consider what General Assembly has to offer.
The head chef is Darren Mercaldi, who has some pedigree being him having worked at Matteo’s, Circa, Nobu, Middle Brighton Baths and Ladro. Also of interest is the JOSPER oven, which is a Spanish creation that’s a combination of a grill and an oven in a single machine. We’ve had some very delicious steaks cooked in a JOSPER oven before, and any venue that makes the effort to get one of these things installed is certainly making a statement of intent about how seriously they take their meat. Having brushed aside any preconceptions then, what exactly does The General Assembly do?
Food wise, it’s very much gastropub type fare, with a range of produce focused share plates and of course, the signature steaks cooked in the JOSPER oven. The produce drive focus is apparent when looking at the steaks – not only are a range of cuts available, but the farm that each piece of meat comes from is highlighted. On the drinks front, the full range of Matilda Bay Brewing beers is available, along with some other CUB beers and rotating selection of guest beers from other non-CUB breweries. When we visited there were beers from Manly’s 4 Pines on tap. Wine drinker aren’t left in the dark either, with a range of minimal intervention wines, which includes organic, bio-dynamic and preservative free options on offer. We didn’t pay for our meal on this occasion, but have included prices for your reference.
Scallops, Beer Pickled Cauliflower, XO Sauce ($17.00)
The scallops were cooked perfectly, with the XO sauce adding a nice flavour to them without being overpowering. The beer pickled cauliflower was a nice touch, and was also characterised by the subtleties of its flavour.
300g Ranger’s Valley Black Angus Hanger Steak ($40.00)
The highlight of the night was, unsurprisingly, the steak. We chose to have ours cooked medium-rare and it came out cooked just the way a medium-rare steak should be. Nicely pink in the centre with a beautiful salty char on the outside. We were offered a range of sauces and condiments but, chose to have our steak free of any additions because good meat shouldn’t need anything else other than some salt and pepper pre cooking. Our choice was vindicated as the flavour of this steak was perfect.
Truffled Mac & Cheese ($8.00)
All sides are priced at $8.00, or you can get 3 for $21.00. The truffled mac & cheese was very tasty with an unusual texture. Unlike the usual super creamy and cheesy texture that you get from most mac & cheeses in town, this one was very much characterised by its baked texture. As a result it was a lot less rich than what we were expecting. At first we weren’t sure what to think about this but after a few bites we were quite happy for this lighter version of the classic, lightness of course being relative with a dish like this. The truffle flavour was apparent, but wasn’t really necessary. A lot of places in Melbourne are doing truffled mac & cheese these days but unless you’re going to go all our with proper shavings of indulgent truffle, there’s not much point.
Polenta Chips With Smoked Salt ($8.00)
The polenta chips were another highlight of the meal. These have started to appear on a few menus around town and they’re generally hit and miss. The General Assembly version have a nice grainy crunch on the outside and are moist on the inside. Simple and great.
Savoy Cabbage, Cucumber, Radish, Parmesan, Lemon ($8.00)
There’s not much to say about this salad other than the fact that the fresh greens provided a nice counterbalance to the other food that we were eating.
Mandarin Soufflé, Mandarin Salted Caramel ($15.00)
The dessert options all looked good. It was a close call between this and the doughnuts but on the recommendation of our waitress we went for this one. The use of Madarin in the caramel itself was an interesting touch that really paid off, and the soufflé itself was perfectly cooked. The sugar levels could have been toned down a notch, but overall it was a different dessert and a solid choice.
We began our night with some apprehension however after eating some great food and experiencing some top notch service we can confidently say that these preconceptions were unfounded. Usually we don’t comment on service when we are invited to a venue however on this occasion our waitress did not know that we had been invited and the service that we received, along with the service that other tables were clearly receiving, was excellent. The location of The General Assembly is still an issue, and all venues in this part of town have to deal with that challenge, however if you are looking for good, honest food in a casual, unpretentious environment with great service, The General Assembly fits the bill. As an extra sweetener to convince people to make the effort to get to South Wharf, diners receive a discount voucher for their next meal.
The General Assembly
29 South Wharf Promenade
Mon – Thu: 12:00pm to 11:00pm
Fri – Sat: 12:00pm to 1:00am
Sun: 12:00pm to 6:00pm