22 Drewery Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
A typical Melbourne bar: hidden in a grungy laneway; hipsters; an ‘eclectic’ playlist; an A4 sheet-sized menu offering chips and aioli, shaved jamon at $20 a pop and cheese croquettes. Oh, and it must be a ‘well-kept secret.’ Don’t get me wrong, I love my Melbourne bars as much as I loved this week’s Gossip Girl episode but sometimes they can be a little formulaic and tiresome (I’m referring to the bars here […and okay fine, current plot lines involving Serena van der Woodsen and her flavour of the week]). Not Sister Bella though.
Sister Bella, my drinking hole for a number of years, is the younger sister of the (now beheaded) laneway bar St Jerome. The place itself is a little tricky to find but if you saunter down Drewery Place and past the orange-streaked door bitches at Baroq and turn left, the Coopers sign hanging above a nondescript entrance is where you stop at. Sister Bella ticks all the above boxes and then some – a split-level venue covered in ratty timber floorboards, cheap beer sold by the bottle and random statues such as that of the Virgin Mary in the most unexpected places including the area near the ladies’ bathroom. And while they will never play Aretha and Annie at Sister Bella, you can rest assured knowing that The Smiths receive regular play. During the week, there is plenty of room to breathe but go on a Friday and Saturday and you will find yourself fighting over personal space with those who are here for a drink after a gig.
The first time I actually ate something here was in August this year (lag, much?). If you go before 6pm, the pizza (which are already a steal at $7.50 – $9 anyway) are only $6. Bargain. The chorizo, Spanish onion, basil, mozzarella, preserved lemon pizza ($9) is one of their most popular flavours, an exciting mixture of spicy sausage and mild, gooey mozzarella with a hint of lemon juice creating a lovely tangy contrast. Although a little bit oily, the pizza wasn’t bad at all and would do if you feel like a bit of Bimbo Deluxe-type fare but can’t be bothered tramming up north.
My friend, Nick, implored me to try the grilled roo burger ($12.50). While I’m no fan of kangaroos (meat or football team) or any of Nick’s recommendations involving food, I nevertheless decided to give this a try. A grilled patty of lean roo meat was teamed up with a strip of crispy bacon, cheese, tomato, rocket leaves and relish and squeezed between two brioche bun halves. While I liked the way the sweet buns effortlessly brought together the mish-mash of tastes and texture inside the burger like a Wayne Carey-captained North squad, the gaminess of the roo just spoiled it for me. No matter how roo is cooked, I don’t think it’ll ever do it for me – the smell is just too off-putting. The chips, though, were beautifully crunchy and the tarragon aioli made for a perfect accompaniment.
On the night we had the burger and pizza, the service was slow and showed signs of ‘cbfness.’ We waited something like 45 minutes for our food to come … heck, we probably would have waited longer if it weren’t for Adam marching up to the bar politely asking them where our food was. Was it busy? Heck no, this was 4:30pm on a Thursday afternoon and there were only three other occupied tables. Never mind, once we got our food all was forgiven and many more beers were consumed to the sounds of ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.’ Aahhhh.