The Astor Grill

Licensed $-$$$
157 Macquarie Street, Hobart CBD
03) 6234 3122
Open: Lunch from noon Monday to Friday, Dinner Monday to Saturday from 5.30.

With its dark wooden dado and blushed peach-coloured walls, art deco lighting, ceiling fans, crisp linen napery, quality tableware and padded chairs, the Astor Grill exudes an unchanging and comforting timelessness that belies its somewhat patchy history.

Opened by John Caire in 1982, it was at its multi award-winning heights and peak popularity in the 90s and early ‘00s under Jan and Tony Francis. Then followed years of mismanagement and decline until, at its nadir, the widely experienced and consummate host, Rocky Doniz, returned as co-owner/manager four years ago. Since then, he says it’s been something of a slow haul.

But a lunch recently, that was a big improvement on my experience of two years ago, suggests it’s on the way back – but still with a way to go to its best.
Of the dishes I had, for example, at this time of the year they might well substitute something else on the menu in place of the seasonal milkiness of their oysters. Also, why complicate things with vodka, capers and lemon oil, all to little or no effect, when all gravlax requires is a good salt and sugar cure and plenty of fresh dill? And the days of a restaurant buying in commercial, plastic-textured terrines instead of producing something so simple in house should be long past.

But Doniz is well aware of these shortcomings and will shortly re-introduce a chunky crayfish pate to the menu. Made to the original recipe, it was for many years one of the Astor’s signature and most popular dishes. And, with chef Les Kereama’s Maori heritage, we can also expect to see some well-prepared abalone on the menu in the very near future.

Of course, the Astor’s true signature items are their steaks and Kereama proved he was a dab hand at the grill with my 300g, Black Angus porterhouse, aged for 35 days, as tender, juicily full-flavoured and perfectly char grilled as you could want. Just as good was the colourful assortment of beautifully al dente vegetables.

Apart from steaks, there are entrees of quail, scallops and octopus and seven mains running from sous vide chicken breast through a vegetarian risotto to pan-fried bug tails.

And, the fact that, on the day, there was an ex-Premier at one table with two business suits and another mixed-threesome in for a long, four-hour lunch, would indicate that the Astor is still attracting much the same cross-section of clientele as it did in its heyday.
However, Doniz says that “While dinners are going gang busters, the explosion in the number of cafes in the city over the past few years has sucked up much of the luncheon trade”.

So he’s now offering a two-course entre/main or main/dessert luncheon special for $35.00.

There’s an extensive Tasmanian and Australian wine list with 21 available by the glass plus a large museum selection of mostly big reds topped by the 1996 Penfolds Grange at $850 for today’s Chinese and other cashed up punters and an interesting range of European whites and reds at reasonable prices for those looking for something different.

Natural oysters $18.50/$33.50; entrees $18.00 – $22.00; mains $28.50 to $37.00; sides and salads around $9.00; 300g porterhouse $34.50, 500g rib eye on the bone $49.50; Desserts $14.00.

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