Boatbuilders Yard

A great spot to sit by the Yarra River

When the conversion began of an old worker’s shed near the dry dock housing the venerable Polly Woodside on Melbourne’s Yarra River, Greedy Girl spied the profusion of beer taps being fitted and became alarmed. The very idea of a pub in that spot didn’t thrill her at all.

The boardwalk linking South Wharf to the Crown Casino complex and on to the Southgate precinct, at the time, was a sparsely-used thoroughfare. The Polly Woodside, a three-masted barque was also in the throes of renovation and the rest of South Wharf had barely begun development, hampered by a lack of funding post-GFC. It didn’t bode well.

But when the Boatbuilders Yard (their lack of apostrophe, not Greedy Girl’s) opened, it looked like it had always been there. The shed had been sensitively restored, with the use of old timbers. The rest of the landscaping had been executed well. It opened early in the morning for breakfast/coffee and stayed open late into the night for a cleansing ale post-dinner. In short, it looked great.

Trying it for a coffee, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were immediately hooked. The main dining area, extended from the original building by a range of sliding and fixed glass panels, was cosy enough in the winter (even if, for the first winter, there was no chimney attached to the rather large fireplace at one end so it stayed unlit) and cool in the summer, thanks to some good cross ventilation. The coffee was also very drinkable.

It very quickly established itself as a very pleasant place to sit and have a drink – whatever the hour. But what of the food? Greedy Girl has tried a number of  dishes for lunch or evening snacks. While perfectly edible, the range of wraps/sandwiches/burgers was, honestly, nothing to write home about. A range of grilled sausages in bread rolls are also on offer – the only time Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband indulged they were on the dry side and the rolls fell to bits.
But, not to be deterred, we went back one public holiday morning to try brunch. This was a good move.
The breakfast menu offers something for everyone, from fruit salad with yoghurt to the full on egg, bacon, sausage, mushroom …  Well, more to come on that.
Greedy Girl is happy to report the open fire is now working like a charm and nabbing one of the three tables in front of it, with their old-fashioned leather upholstered chairs is a refuge from the very cold winds that can blow along the river. Having said that, on a sunny day, one of the many deckchairs lining the front of the building is delightful – both for getting a dose of Vitamin D and watching the passing parade.
So, to breakfast. It’s rare for Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband to head out for the first meal of the day unless on holiday. We settled in, with duelling iPads to read the newspapers (there’s free wi-fi available here) and ordered – the full breakfast for Greedy Girl and ‘Boston’ baked beans for gluttonous husband.
The Boatbuilders Yard

Boston baked beans

Boston baked beans is basically cannelini beans cooked with pork belly, treacle and mustard – according to  Maggie Beer’s recipe. This one was somewhat different. The beans were cooked with chorizo (a mild one) and liberally sprinkled with feta cheese and a little chopped parsley. A couple of slices of sourdough ‘toast’ were laid on top. It was very moist, tasty and exceedingly hot (temperature, not spice). Not sure it fulfilled the brief of ‘Boston’ baked beans but very enjoyable. The trick was to get a bit of everything on your fork – the feta, a bit of chorizo and the beans. A good combination.

Greedy Girl’s big breakfast was ordered with fried eggs – unfortunately though, your only choices are scrambled or poached. A big serving of creamy yellow eggs soon appeared, on a giant slice of sourdough, accompanied by slab bacon, Kransky sausage, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and a hash brown. It was a gigantic serving. The slab bacon wasn’t to Greedy Girl’s taste – a bit too thick. It was soon snaffled by gluttonous husband as a key addition to his baked beans. The sausage was interesting, moist and flavourful, if a little too salty.

The mushrooms were simply fried without being greasy, but the tomatoes were a bit underwhelming. The hash brown was a good foil to mop up the remainder of the egg. But a word about the toast – it was basically slabs of bread that had been charred a little around the edges. The centre was soft, and untouched by heat. There was also no butter. That too was a little disappointing. Greedy Girl loves toast (a rare treat these days in her efforts to eat more healthily) when it’s ‘well done’ and spread with butter while it’s hot, so that it’s all golden and runny.

The Boatbuilders Yard

Big breakfast

The Boatbuilders Yard is the most easterly venue of what’s known as South Wharf. On the south-western fringe of the city, it’s been trying to establish itself as a new inner-urban food destination.

Despite its proximity to the city centre, it remains a little off the beaten track for many locals and visitors alike. This is slowly changing, given a rise in the number of apartments in the area, the arrival of a Hilton hotel and increasing visitors to such diverse attractions as the Melbourne Convention Centre and the Direct Factory Outlet bargain centre. During the day these both provide a fair amount of foot traffic passing the refurbished strip of cargo sheds, a throwback to the days when they were part of Melbourne’s working port.

If you pull up a chair at one of the waterside tables at South Wharf, you can clearly see the giant car carriers and other container ships berthed at the current port, about a kilometre down the river. In this stretch of water, however, the pace is more leisurely – tourist barges, occasional small fishing boats, the odd kayaker and legions of rowers.

South Wharf’s rebirth, though, has been a difficult and prolonged labour, stalled by funding issues during the global financial crisis for its previous owners. The heritage sheds along the riverfront were always earmarked as a dining destination – it’s just taking rather longer than anyone imagined to bring the precinct up to its full potential.

The area has attracted some significant culinary talents. One of the earlier restaurants to open was The Sharing House, a showcase for the artistry of 2012 Age Good Food Guide young chef of the year, Mark Briggs. It was also one of the earliest restaurants to close. Greedy Girl dined there quite a few times and enjoyed Briggs’ quirky and delicious take on fish fingers (mackerel wrapped in flattened sourdough bread and fried until crispy) as well as a host of other well-executed dishes. Once the shops close, the conventioneers depart and the local office workers head home for the evening, it all adds up to greatly reduced foot traffic and this led to Briggs’ departure.

It’s been replaced by BangPop, a Thai street food cafe which, from all reports, is pretty good and exceptionally spicy! It certainly seems to have attracted a solid following.

South Wharf seems to be trying to offer something for everyone. There’s the Bridge which, like the Boatbuilders Yard, is akin to a pub. Melbourne Public and Citizen are a pub and cafe combo. Gasolina is a diner-style bar, the oddly-named ‘Bohemian’ specialises in tapas (although serves very nice Sangria), the Meat Market is noted for grilling fish and seafood and the Common Man, a bar-cum-cafe is seemingly tailored to the Gen Y beer and pizza crowd – and has a quirky pop-up bar on holidays and weekends which looks to be a great option in fine weather.
Befitting the area’s history, there’s also a fully-fitted out ‘food court’ known as The General Assembly, which is hoped to house a variety of food experiences in refurbished shipping containers. As this blog was published, all the lights were on in The General Assembly but no-one yet has made it home. It’s been in an advanced state of readiness for a fair while now.

It will take time for the area to come fully online but certainly there are very encouraging signs. The Boatbuilders Yard was one of the first to open in the area and it has been created with imagination and flair. It looks like it’s here for the long haul and a very welcome (and welcoming) venue it is too!

The Boatbuilders Yard

23 South Wharf Promenade
The Boatbuilders Yard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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