You know you’ve officially turned middle-aged at 30 when you go out for a proper sit-down meal before a gig at the Evelyn Hotel instead of grabbing something greasy from Souvlaki King and downing support act beers.

Second confession. Even when I wasn’t middle-aged I never had a drink at the Provincial Hotel. But I have eaten at the adjoining Cafe Provincial several times over the years and never been disappointed.

So, for our pre-gig sit down meal RM had the day’s special braised beef and bacon pie ($28.50) and I had the Otway pork belly with pear puree, roast sweet potato and rocket ($27). I can never resist pork belly and this was a very good example of the cut – a nice hunk of soft meat beneath a smear of fat and a lightly crispy cover, almost like a creme brulee crackling.

Personally I’m not a fan of pie where it’s just a ramekin covered with a pastry crust (why deny the opportunity to put more butter into your body?) but RM pointed out that this is quite common practice so I could hardly take marks off for that detail. The inside of the ‘pie’ contained generous chunks of meat which seemed to have been cooked with something very earthy, perhaps mushrooms? Anyway,  the rich aromas lifted it beyond your bog-standard pub pie and RM was very happy with his choice.

We really didn’t need dessert but were tempted by the chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream and sweet caramel popcorn ($15). This stylishly presented dessert is definitely more suitable for two or even three people – the slice of tart is really just pure chocolate and a couple of spoonfuls is enough. I liked the contrast of the crunchy popcorn with the creamy chocolate ganache but I will take marks off for the commercial vanilla ice cream without a speck of vanilla bean in sight, plus I think the tart may have been microwaved or heated in some way, as the edges were soft but the inside was quite solid, and the pastry bottom was definitely melting away in butter and crumbs. Strange.

Overall, my niggles with Cafe Provincial were minor and willingly overlooked given the good solid food we were served in front of the open fireplace.

The Provincial Hotel on Urbanspoon