There are not many people I’m completely comfortable with choosing where I am dining. There are times where Catherine and I will sit in a hotel room for close to an hour before we have decided. It is that care about food that means we rarely have a bad meal, but it does cost us time, and it is obsessive.
Tonight, we are in trusted hands. My mate is introducing us to his new girlfriend and it is naturally his pick. He has good taste in food, and if there is ever a time to pick the right place it is early in a relationship! It helps that I know he has trusted advisers (ie guides and a good grip on the latest and greatest).
We finish drinks at Bad Frankie (we’ll be back for the jaffles at some stage) and there is a bit of surprise as we enter Hell Of The North. Fitzroy is grungy. There is amazing food on offer, but it is often very casual. This place has Hell in its name, but there is nothing reminiscent in the look and feel of this restaurant that in any way speaks of Hell.
In fact, the space is designed beautifully, with a mix of heritage style from the building, and new world comforts, that are smartly put side by side. There is a large bar and we are on the left side that feels a more intimate space, but looking around and walking through the back, it seems they have managed to get that type of feel across the restaurant. After the maitre’d giving me a metaphoric slap for suggesting some restaurants take diners more seriously when they decide to have sparking water (rather than tap) we have a bit of a laugh and we are on our way. As you would expect from that interaction, service continues at a good quality through the evening.
It is for this reason that we put ourselves in the hands of the restaurant to select what we eat ($65). To begin we try the brandade doughnuts, and rabbit, pork and black garlic terrine. Brandade is a combination of potato, baccalau (salt cod), garlic and olive oil, but in this case comes served with squid ink in the confines of a beautifully fried doughnut. It’s a start you would have to repeat on any future visit. The terrine is also excellent quality, but there is no slant on this classic.
Next we are served a variety of baby beets with sheep’s milk curd, and particularly delicious candied pecans. I am waiting to become sick of beetroot dishes and have decided they are so simply incredible (subject to produce) that they are less of a fad, and more of a genuine modern classic. We also get served a nicely grilled snapper dish.
For our main dishes we are presented with a great looking chicken dish featuring crisp chicken skin on top of perfectly cooked juicy chicken, with carrots, and a jus that we were going back for. It was at this stage that I started thinking it would be good to have just slightly bigger servings between the four of us. Not that the amount overall was too little, just some of the dishes were ones that you could have more than a few bites.
The bavette of beef was a good finish to the savoury courses. Stacked on plenty of potato puree and soaked in a great tarragon sauce, this was a filling course. Also known as flank steak, bavette is not quite as tender as other cuts, but has excellent flavour when treated right, and this one is very nice. The Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon we are drinking has some good structure to go with the beef too.
We had a couple of desserts, but the creme brûlée was the definite highlight. Served in a shallow wide dish for extra toffee goodness, renditions like this one show there is always a need for the classics.
While much about tonight’s meal was unexpected, surprises like what Hell Of The North dishes up are extremely pleasant. Next time I would probably order a la carte to focus on a few dishes, but trying a broad spectrum did deliver some benefits, most notably the brandade doughnuts to start, and the brûlée to finish, both of which I may not have ever tried. Yet another reason to get to Fitzroy regularly.