New places often spring up without an obvious explanation. I am often fascinated by the amount of due diligence owners conduct before opening a new cafe, restaurant, bar or other casual eatery. There are some inexplicable openings. Naturally they lead to closing in quick time.
For example there is a burger joint that opened on Swan Street that took longer to renovate, than the time it was actually trading for. Whether the reviews were accurate or not, it was empty every time I walked by. They opened across the road from a flashy, large branch of Grill’d, that was popular and cheap. To open across the road you need to be confident your product is better, and resilient enough to see it through.
Further down Swan Street, in the old Union Dining, a new bar has sprung up. I see eye to eye with whoever opened the now named, Union House. Only months before, Catherine mentioned how the food at most pubs in Richmond is too similar on the menu, and not differentiated enough in terms of quality. It seems to me that Union House identified this gap and acted on it.
Add a clean lined, spacious renovation, both upstairs, downstairs, and in the terrace, and you have the ingredients for a lengthy member of Richmond’s dining scene. There are the obligatory selection of beers on tap, and a balanced focus on eating and/or drinking.
Union House differentiates itself on food though. While I’ve eaten from the bar menu twice downstairs, the broader offering (as well as the bar menu) is available both upstairs and downstairs. It is not a “gastropub”. It is more a few focussed pub classics at a price reasonable enough to eat here multiple times over the space of a month or less.
I’ve tried the veal schnitzel and the “pub steak” and they are both simple meals that are well executed. Catherine has tried the chicken and leek pot pie, which comes out looking a bit bereft of greenery, but is again tasty and well made. In fact, don’t expect any greens or leaves with the pub steak either (not that I took any issue as it came with a good mash, and nice pepper sauce). A little bit more resting could have aided presentation, but it didn’t impact the taste.
At lunch, my work colleagues enjoyed the rockling burger, though Natalie thought the colour palate used during the renovation was unattractive. Lastly, Julie was a touch concerned with the chicken in her burger, still enjoying it as a whole, with the jury out on whether it was actually very slightly under-cooked. Horses for courses I think in this case, but something to be weary of nonetheless.
With counter service downstairs, it is certainly more your typical bar. On the couple of occasions I’ve eaten here I have found the staff to be fine, one of the managers taking time to offer Catherine and I a quick tour upstairs, such was the enthusiasm in the opening week.
While a bit further down Swan Street, Union House is a great option for more discerning diners off to the MCG or AAMI Stadium, though it will naturally stay quieter than places like the Corner Hotel, The London, Richmond Club and the Precinct on game days. The real test will be if locals come in regularly, and I think they will. Both the food and the price point are compelling.