Located on the eclectic stretch of Brunswick St is Cider House, a new kid on the block by relative temporal terms, but in my mind also a competing neighbour to Little Creatures with Johnston St serving as the North/South divide. At this present time, Cider House would be winning the war to win my preference because it is the alternative, and has a cool vibe to the joint.
There are at least 6 different ciders on tap, as well as a farmhouse cider from the barrel. Most of the producers are ones which you would have heard of, Thunder Rd brewery and Kellybrook amongst others. For the meek souls, there is beer and wine also available. But seriously, would you go to a place called Cider House and have anything BUT cider?? (Given, I knew someone who walked in with a hot chocolate)
The place is well-decorated with a couple of wall features (nice ceiling drop lights), dimmed lighting for the night, and tables or coaches for groups of patrons. The bar is right in front of you as you enter, so naturally you should be enticed to order your drink before finding your seat. If you are unlucky enough not to park your bum, at least have a quick one.
On to the food. Tucker is a great-valued $10 per plate of grazing fare. You can have two choices to share for $22 and that includes some salad as well. The chips and fries which I’d highly recommend are only $8.50 per bowl, and you have your selections of seasoning and sauces to go with it. The sweet potato fries and the potato skins are awesome to pass around.
The Forest Mushroom Bruschetta on Nigella and Fennel Baguette with garlic, herbs and mozzarella was very nice with the earthy mushroom flavours matching the soft bread with its slightly crunchy outer layer. That preceded the Chicken Prosciutto and Macadamia Roulade with roast capsicum coulis was a lovely meaty entree-type dish.
The Szechuan Salt and Pepper Squid with native finger lime was a decent dish. I loved the lightly fried outer layer, but the texture of the squid felt a little coarse. Still the seasoning worked very well, and it was enjoyable. I’d also recommend the salted cod croquettes (but watch your tongue, these were served hot!)
The Confit Duck Legs with beetroot jus and cranberries were nice to bite into. While the meat was a touch dry, the jus certainly helped to revitalise it together with an accentuation of sweetness from the cranberries.
The Confit Pork Belly with cider fennel jelly and bodelaise jus was a tale of two textures. I always attack the crispy crackling first, and on this night, it was like biting into a piece of melted plastic. I had to give up and render it to the side of my plate. That was very disappointing, and kinda took away from the enjoyment of what was otherwise a very well-prepared piece of soft pork belly. The meat was overcooked, there was plenty of flavour within and the fat hadn’t melted away into nothingness. Gotta work on the crackling, seriously!
I really appreciated the way the Sumac Lamb Loin char-grilled with tahini labna was cooked. It was finely cooked on the outside with a dark-pink middle. Still tender, it went very nicely with the ample amount of labna.
And to end the evening which I promised myself only one drink but ended up having three, there was no passing up on the dessert. First was the Apple and Boysenberry Cider Pie which was washed down very nicely with a dry cider. The ice cream kinda took away the acidity of the pie, maybe making it taste a bit blend, but on its own it was brilliant. Perhaps the kitchen should consider serving the ice cream separately? The Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta was creamy and the provision of a hard caramel wafer provided very good textural contrast.
There are several issues to note. Firstly, it would be wise to relocate the blackboard that reads “Specials” away from the furthest corner of the room. That spot also makes it a challenge to notice it hidden behind the party of four seated there. Near the entrance is usually a good location of such decorations yea..
Secondly, the flow of the menu is very haphazard. Why have mushroom bruschetta as the last item while heavier meaty items get listed before prawn dishes? The list can be much better sorted so that the diner can feel less confused over what to order.
Thirdly, while $10 makes very good value, the portion sizes need to be worked on. The size of the mushroom bruschetta could be made smaller and the meaty chicken prosciutto roulade could have come with one slice less. The prices of these could then be dropped a little ($8 maybe) and you’d still get orders for them. In contrast, the char-grilled lamb loin should have double the serve (2 slices is simply too little for the patron, 4 slices would be appropriate) with an appropriate price adjustment. I thought the felafels were extremely dry and I had real difficulty even enjoying the chewing process, I can’t recommend this at any price. The confit duck legs were well worth the price, but would be better off if served on a larger dish with salad, and I would be happy to pay $17 for it.
Overall, Cider House is an enjoyable venue for good drink and cheap but tasty food. The offerings are hit and miss, so one would have to exert some selectivity in ordering. I really enjoyed the fries/potato skins. A place that I’ll definitely be back at!