Chefs say all the time that “less is more”. It is obviously a figurative phrase that is probably better said as “focus is the most important ingredient”. To add a diner’s perspective, there are not many pared back menus that have focus and intelligence that I don’t love.
I can be easily confused. But walking into some restaurants and reading the menu I can be sure that the owners have not first determined the strengths of the chefs and based the food and accompanying aspects around it. More and more focus is becoming a feature. Small, carefully crafted menus, that everything else about the restaurant is derivative of. In years it will not be the exception but the rule, resembling the same way seasonal produce became the norm.
It started with blackboard menus that by their very nature are temporary. It has now developed into restaurants, not just surviving but thriving, doing hundreds of covers a night, where before you couldn’t guarantee a crowd so you had to make do with the corner take away joint. Think of souvlaki stands. Now the equivalent is a Jimmy Grants or the slightly fancier Gazi. Think what places like Hunky Dory have done to the corner fish shop; or Fonda and what it has done to our version of “basic Mexican”; not to mention the number of burger joints serving up greatness making the chains unnecessary from most angles. This is all over a small amount of time.
Well, the best example in recent times of brilliant focus is Belle’s Hot Chicken. It is difficult to compare the Southern fried chicken here but if you are comparing to one we all know, and some love (KFC) it is like last year’s AFL Grand Final between Hawthorn and Sydney. To explain, BHC makes KFC look worse than second rate.
The menu is short and sweet, meaning everything on it needs to be exceptional. It is a choice of different cuts of chicken (along with a fish, and a mushroom option), in a sauce ranging from mild to extremely hot, with several classic sides on offer, and a few specials too. The other theme is the natural wines on offer, which is intriguing, and will be highlighted in a new bar next door (coming soon).
We ordered according to our preference. There is no way to make this sound right so I’ll just say that Catherine is a breast girl and I am a leg guy! Catherine’s “tenders” done Southern (ie no heat) were still beautifully cooked and definitely true to their name. My “dark meat” cooked medium had just a steady kick but definitely added good flavour and I recommend having at minimum medium heat for this reason. Personally, I like chilli, and although I have a medium heat threshold, next time I’ll be opting for the “hot” which is the mid-point on the heat spectrum. The “Old Bay fries” on the side are as delicious as chips come, and the coleslaw was nice too, although a touch heavy on the mayo as is often encountered in American cooking.
Catherine had a glass of the palate-refreshing slightly sweetened ice tea. I had a glass of the Arneis, which was viscous and acidic enough to provide a nice balance to the fried chicken, with a good amount of forward fruit. As we finished our baskets of chicken it hit me how well thought out this relatively little restaurant is, with attention to detail and striking features (namely the “diner” sign) all adding to the experience. Nothing tacky whatsoever, and definitely sleek for a fried chicken joint. Our waitperson was polished too, making light work of the many tables in her section.
It is hard not to be impressed by everything Belle’s is dishing out. It might seem simple at first glance, but this is a fried chicken restaurant done exceptionally well.