Vlado's is well-known, as proclaimed on the autograph-covered plaque adorning one of the walls, for "40 years of no change". And why would you need to change, when you're Melbourne's most famous and enduringly successful steakhouse?
61 Bridge Road
9428-5833 or 9428-2819
Vlado Gregurek opened Vlado's in 1964, and has been serving up Melbourne's finest steaks ever since. His restaurant has become world renowned for the quality (and generosity) of its food, especially amongst the Japanese, and the Germans, who, according to Vlado himself, "very much enjoy their food". (Woo-hoo).
Stepping through the heavy wooden doorway for the first time, I was surprised by how small the space actually is. I suppose I was expecting a restaurant as large as the reputation that precedes it. However, it is just a pleasantly sized, 2 storey, narrow building. Speaking of which, when you make a booking (and you will need to, as it is always packed), ask to sit downstairs if you can. This way Vlado himself will definitely come around and greet you; he seems to spend more of his time downstairs than upstairs; and he is a genuinely lovely person. His waiters, too, are excellent, without a hint of attitude; our waiter had been working there for over 25 years, yet still seemed to be enjoying his work and served us with a smile. (Even when someone on our table ordered their steak well done. Shock, horror!).
The decorations on the wall include the aforementioned gold plaques, covered in autographs and the motto: "40 years of no change", photos of celebrity diners from all over the world, other bits and bobs, and a massive picture of livestock in a paddock. This picture, (see photo above) looks spookily like a similar picture from the menu of that flashy, expensive, new-kid-on-the-block steakhouse, bar and grill in Melbourne. But unlike the single benign beast on that menu, the herd of beasts on Vlado's wall stare at you as you eat. It's kinda bad-ass. I like it.
And speaking of eating... here is the food! It is a set menu, the only choice you have is which steak you would like, and how you want it cooked. (Actually, you can choose between 2 desserts, but that's hardly as difficult as selecting your steak).
Just cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and one addictively sharp dressing. It is simple and perfect. Steaks aside, I could eat bowlfuls of this salad by itself. (Note to self: buy a mandolin and start experimenting with dressings).
One enormous boule of crusty bread. Yummy though it is, heed my father's advice and don't fill up on it.
This is Vlado's house made beef and pork sausage. It combines a spicy taste typical of the eastern Mediterranean with the true coarse-ground meatiness of a proper sausage of Mitteleuropa.
Mixed Meat Selection
The tasting plate includes: beef fillet, calf liver, pork medallions and beef patties. 4 kinds of deliciousness.
Mmm... liver. By the way, I know liver isn't very popular these days, but it was very, very good. For those of you who aren't game to try it, fear not - Vlado told us only to eat what we want to eat, and to enjoy it. That is his aim, to give the customer the dining experience that they want.
Grilled peppers. These aren't strictly on the menu, but they were offered to us anyway.
This, my friends, is the meat station. Behind that fridge full of meat is the grill.
Once you have finished your starters, and begin to worry that you may be too full to eat a whole steak, a waiter will come around with a tray of steaks, and ask you to make your selection. That night, the choice was between fillet and sirloin, and large and small. I chose a small sirloin. Rare.
Check out the massive steak knife!
So good. Perhaps the best steak I have ever eaten. Rare as anything, with a delectably crunchy chargrilled crust, which had almost caramelised on the grill. I didn't think I would be able to eat the whole thing, but once I started, I just couldn't stop. Fabulous. The only accompaniments given are mild mustard, horseradish or hot mustard. For me, this was more than enough, as I just wanted to taste the incredibly complex flavour of the steak.
You have a choice of strawberry crepes...
Or strawberries with ice-cream...
... and filtered coffee or tea.
I guess you don't really need dessert after the meat-feast, but it is a lovely way to finish off a very rich meal. The price, per head, is about $75. This is great value, especially when you consider that you probably won't need to eat anything the next day.