It was only a matter of time. High Street Thornbury is so bursting with great bars and restaurants that those on the other side of the track that is Bell Street just had to be patient.
Stray Neighbour on Plenty Road is one of the first to sprout. It melds bar, restaurant and gastropub seamlessly — a feat that should not be taken for granted. Where a lounge area with pool table could have brought the warm industrial vibe of the dining area down towards 'grunge', it doesn't. Where a vast timber-clad bar area and casual booth-style seating with bare wooden tables could have made you doubt the focus on and delicacy of the food, it doesn't.
Instead, Stray Neighbour is a wonderfully chameleonic beast that seriously elevates the dining scene of Preston. The menu features such delights as marinated grilled chicken thigh with lemon myrtle ($14) and leek and gruyere croquettes ($3.50 each) for starters, crispy pork belly with white bean puree and red cabbage ($32) and scotch fillet with chimichurri butter and fries ($36) for main, and small plates like pan seared scallops with pea puree and guanciale crumbs ($18), and beetroots with goats curd and sesame tuile ($14) that sit somewhere in the middle. One menu hero worth calling out is the grilled rump steak small plate, served with charred leeks and pickled chilli ($19) — it's a rich, tender taste that will have you exchanging raised eyebrows across the table.
Be sure to leave room for dessert — and find a sharing buddy — because you'll want to try as many as possible. The tart citrus trifle with mandarin granita ($14) plays beautifully alongside the velvety creme brulee ($14).
While the food list may resemble a modest selection, the drinks are available in wholehearted abundance. Twelve taps frequently rotate through boutique beers and more common names, the fridges are stocked with some interesting tastes from near and far, and the wine menu features some quality, lesser-known labels and biodynamic options.
To get a real sense of Stray Neighbour, all you need do is take a good look around: there are foodies who have come from all over town, Preston families giving their new local a try, and young couples and groups delighted by the consolidated offering of the new, multi-talented neighbour who's moved in and instantly lifted the streetscape.