Tucked away at Crosby Park in Albion, Ruggers Restaurant would be a surprise to stumble across. I recall hearing a little publicity when it first opened, touted as aiming to bring modern restaurant food to the suburbs with a family-friendly setting and price. With someone who used to be executive chef at Cloudland at the helm as head chef, there was certainly promise. Then not much was heard about it.
We headed here for dinner on a weekend night, and despite trying to follow Google Maps directions, getting there was still a bit of a challenge. There’s a blink and you’ll miss it entrance to the parking lot from Crosby Road, which may be easier to pick out in the daytime, but certainly isn’t evident at night. You can’t see the restaurant from the road either, so it is truly hidden in the suburbs. Fairy lights appear as you head down the driveway, providing reassurance that you aren’t just driving into the middle of an empty sports field.
There were only a couple of other tables occupied when we went into the restaurant and through our time there, possibly due to potential patrons seeking livelier neighbourhoods for their weekend dinners, with available other entertainment close by for after the meal. We were greeted soon after we arrived, and invited to sit at any available table we pleased. A jug of cold water was soon brought out, and menus.
The decor is quite a minimalistic black and white, with the ceiling and booth seat cushions black, dark wood laminate tabletops, and chairs and walls providing contrast in white. Rugby related pictures hang on the wall, a painted picture taking up one wall, and smaller framed photos lining another wall. Silver ventilation tubing stretches across the ceiling like octupus tentacles. The floor is polished concrete. The approximate description I would give it is minimalist industrial, although the aforementioned tubing detracts from that a bit. It is quite dark overall, and doesn’t really project the warmth you would expect for a place geared at being family-friendly.
Music in the genres of pop and R&B played over the speakers at a not intrusive volume. There are both fans and air-conditioning inside, so it avoids being stifling in warmer weather.
The menu was printed on a single rather large sheet, in columned sections of Street food to share, Pasta and rice, Crispy wings, Mains from the grill, Salads, Pizza, Kids meals, and Desserts. We chose some street food items, and one main to share. The food came to the table quite quickly.
We began with Pumpkin and coriander arancini with saffron aioli. They came out rustically presented on a bread board, secured in place with a swoosh smear of sauce on the base (the waitstaff would have had quite a balancing act otherwise). They were crunchy on the outside, and cheesy and gooey on the inside, with the rice cooked just al dente so they were individual grains without being powdery. There were coriander bits as well for some variation in flavour. A touch of salt across the top added the occasional extra punch of savouriness.
The next dish to arrive was the Goat’s cheese profiteroles with sesame seeds, celery salt, and rocket paint. It was a very pretty, chef-ily plated dish. The black and white sesame seeds on top of the profiteroles gave them a rather striking appearance. The choux pastry was nicely done, fluffy and light. The goat’s cheese filling was smooth and creamy, and light enough that it wasn’t overpoweringly gamey. The rocket paint component seemed more for colour than flavour though. Trying it separately, it just tasted salty.
The other share plate we had was Spanish meatballs with tomato, cumin, fennel, and char-grilled bread. The meatballs were flavourful, with a hint of sweetness against the saltiness, and fennel flavour clearly present. There was not enough sauce to necessitate the bread though, and it was a bit dry when had all together. The bread had also been char grilled too enthusiastically, and some sections were too burnt to be edible..unless bitter is a flavour you appreciate.
For the main, we had the Crispy skinned pork belly with du puy lentils, kale, creme fraiche, and pumpkin maple puree. The crispy skinned pork belly had, as promised, a good crunchy skin on about half of it. The other half unfortunately was still squishy, and the fat hadn’t been rendered down. The lentils had a firm texture, and had a bit of a salty stew sauce. The pumpkin maple puree was smooth, and the colour and sweetness made it rather similar to sweet potato.
Wait staff were friendly, polite, and prompt. Perhaps the ratio of staff to customers meant that they could pay more attention to all that was going on, but they were certainly efficient, and more attentive than in many other places.
Ruggers is a place you will have to deliberately decide to go to to find. It certainly has elements of adventurousness in its food, although there are some parts of it that also could do with finessing. While closely linked to the Brothers Rugby Club, it is more than a sports bar, and does better than pub food. It has plenty of space for group events as well. Perhaps for your next function..
Price point: Street food $13 to $16. Mains $18 to $39. Pizza $14 to $19. Pasta $26.
Address: 103 Crosby Rd, Albion (you will need your GPS)
Phone: 07 3862 3201
Website: Ruggers Restaurant