Posted: 28 Nov 2013

Melbourne’s best weird & wonderful chicken parmas

Lee HInkley mugshotMelburnians love chicken parma. It’s right up there with good espresso – almost an obsession.

But on the parma madness scale, nobody comes close to Lee Hinkley (right). Just take a look at his blog Parma Daze, where Lee and his parma-addicted buddies give detailed and perilously honest reviews of every chicken parma in town. But what does he reckon when parmas get a bit weird?

“A true chicken parma sticks to a pretty rigid formula – schnitzel, napoli and cheese with ham if you’re feeling lucky,” says Lee. “Vary this combo too far and you risk angering the parma purists who want the comfort of the familiar dish everywhere they go. Yet stick to the formula too rigidly and your parma can feel tired, unloved, and only on the menu at all because it has to be there.

“Then there are the parmas that stick with you, when a chef takes a chance and does something unexpected and unconventional, while still retaining what the dish is at its core … and somehow it works.

“This isn’t a list of the best parmas, but a list of those gutsy parmas… the ones that stick out because they dare to be different.”

1. The Woodlands Hotel

84-88 Sydney Rd, Coburg, 9384 1122

Served in a bowl on a bed of shoestring fries sits a plump, juicy, golden-brown schnitzel (see picture above). The thick napoli has strong hints of red wine, the salty prosciutto definitely makes its presence known and the gooey tallegio cheese compliments the other two toppings perfectly. Rather than being served to the side the fresh garden salad is stacked directly on top and goes down best eaten with the parma itself as opposed to being scraped off and eaten as a side. This is a parma of bold flavors that you would think is a recipe for disaster, yet the ingredients all come together in perfect harmony. This re-imagined parma will certainly raise some eyebrows when it hits the table, and leave stomachs satisfied after the plates have been cleared.

2. The Napier Hotel

210 Napier St, Fitzroy, 9419 4240

Attempting dinner here without a booking is a recipe for disaster. This funky backstreet local seems to be bustling with hungry diners day and night. The Napier knows pub food. They do it well. While the popularity of the parma has been eclipsed by the famous, possibly infamous “Bogan Burger” (a mammoth burger containing a steak, chicken schnitzel, potato cake, bacon, pineapple, beetroot, egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato & caramelised onions) the chicken parma is not to be overlooked. The standard parma holds its own as one of the Melbourne’s best. Pure chicken breast, lashings of cheese, fresh napoli, flavourful ham – the whole nine yards. However those feeling a little adventurous can swap out the ham for smoked kangaroo fillet. The tender fillets of roo melt in your mouth and couple with the chicken just as well as shaved ham normally does – adding a new dimension of flavour to the time-honoured dish, and in a weird way making it seem even more of an Australian classic. It’s an option I’ve never seen anywhere else, yet after trying the roo parma I’d never go back to ham at The Napier.

3. Palookaville

418 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, 9416 3942

Brunswick St’s Palookaville is well worth checking out. The surprisingly spacious and relaxed pub makes you feel right at home as you sink into one of their comfy couches. Your first clue that this parma might be a little askew from the norm would be that it is listed as a “Chicken Parma-ish”. That little “ish” means big things when it comes to this bird, as this is a completely original take on parmas. Piled high on a bed of hand cut and seasoned potato wedges, the schnitzel is crumbed with a well herbed house made crumb mix, then stacked high with pancetta, mozzarella and crisp tomato & onion salsa (reminiscent of what you would find on bruschetta). Finishing off the stack is some oiled rocket and a healthy sliver of shaved parmesan. The Palookaville parma is a breath of fresh air… and they pour a tasty beer as well.

4. The Lord Newry Hotel

543 Brunswick St, Fitzroy North, 9481 3931

Tucked away in the backstreets of Fitzroy, the unassuming Lord Newry Hotel is a hidden gem that (for the moment) remains relatively unknown. You wouldn’t know there was anything special about this parma from looking at it, but this dish has a secret ingredient. The chef has created his own special take on napoli sauce, inspired by the Virgin Mary cocktail. and that little change means massive things for this parmy. Made from fresh tomato, celery and kicked with Tobasco sauce, the Virgin Mary napoli takes an ordinary parma and makes it extraordinary. The Tobasco is not enough to overpower the flavours of the dish, yet just enough to leave a pleasant tickle in the back of your throat. Aside from the napoli the chicken breast is pure and the ham, cheese and golden beer battered fries are in ample supply. Discovering this dish was a spicy surprise, and definitely one to check out.

5. Hofbräuhaus

18-28 Market Lane, Melbourne, 9663 3361

Hofbräuhaus is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Once you head up the stairs to the beer hall, you could forget you are in the middle of the CBD and think you’ve somehow been whisked away to Bavaria at the height of Oktoberfest. Beer is served by the stein, delivered by barmaids dressed in stereotypical Bavarian garb, even the live band plays traditional German folk music. They also specialise in schnitzel and while not quite a traditional parma, the “Swiss hähnchenschnitzel” is the closest thing you will find. This truly mountainous schnitzel is covered in fresh sliced tomato in lieu of napoli. The smoked leg ham carries so much flavour it could almost knock you off your bench seat, while the gratinated swiss cheese gives it a familiar yet different feel. The lemon wedges provided give it a zing that drives it all home, with a side of garlic and herb mayo that can be used on the schnitzel itself or as a delicious chip dip. This is a parma that screams freshness. You would swear they had a farm out the back and everything on the menu came straight from the paddock to your plate.

Lee’s weird-but-wonderful parma list is almost entirely in Melbourne’s inner north. If you have parma tips in your neck of the woods, make sure you let us know…

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