Hell of the North – a snuggle of food for Wintery weather
To write about French food in Melbourne immediately after returning from Paris, may seem like an appalling idea, but you might be pleased to hear that the benchmark back home is actually not as bad as one would think. It does however, take a little hunting and rummaging through the rubbles.
With no fluoro or out-jutting signage to draw your attention, it seems all the emphasis these days are on the doors – stark bright yellow. Tucked away in quite a dark suburban alleyway, you really rely on your iphone to point you towards this netherworld, assuming the devil hasn’t already roped you in from the minute you called to make a reservation (phone number 9417 6660, coincidental?)
With the weather in a frosty swing, it was time to tuck into some hearty food, French food no doubt. No better way to celebrate a birthday than to order almost every item on the menu and gorge on beautiful food. Behold…
Scallops with Jerusalem Artichoke – generously plump, moist scallops lightly seared, with a delicate-earthy-creamy blend of artichoke. Too bad we had to cut them into small pieces so that we could “share” it.
Aged Sirloin with Peppercorn Sauce – six thickly carved slices of fire-brick red sirloin, are mind-blowingly good. They are absolutely melt-in-your-mouth soft with a well seared outer crust.
Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Pumpkin – It almost looks like a Asian stir fry to be honest, don’t you think? Little golden nuggets of velvety, gently chewy gnocchi folded in with juicy bits, crunchy bites, and a warm glaze of stock.
Mulloway, Potato Farci, Red Wine Fumet – the white flesh of the Mulloway was perfectly seared fall-away-from-the-fork-soft. A beautiful red wine stock lay beneath.
Beef Tartare – it was crimson red, juicy and finely seasoned. More please!
Cassoulet – Though not as refined as the haute-version I had the pleasure of sampling in France, this slow cooked casserole of duck and haricot beans is a hearty filler.
Sides of Endive Salad, Pomegranate and Walnut.
Murray River Pork, Rhubarb, Five Spice – I don’t remember much about this particular dish alongside the many stars of the night. There were fatty cuts of what seemed like poached pork belly that were a little on the blander side, despite the rhubarb and spice. And obviously I must disclose that I do have a bias towards pork with crackling…
Milawa Duck Pot au feu, Winter Vegetables – this would be the first not seared or deep fried confit duck I have seen been served at a restaurant. Although pale and uncoloured, the meat is extremely tender, exuding the beautiful aroma of duck fat. I think I went back for *ahem* multiple servings. Duck sausage and a selection of vegetables to complement.
Sides of Pomme Frites
… Before you go and wipe the drool from the side of your mouth, please keep reading… as no dinner is ever complete without dessert!
Chocolate Souffle – the waiter plunges his spoon into the chocolate crust, before then pouring liquid chocolate into the soft chocolate middle. Need I say more? This soufflé is a little heavier both in flavour (compared with some fruit or vanilla renditions) and in texture, but is a must try for any chocolate lover.
Creme Brulee – is well-executed with a creamy consistency custard and a thin crackle of evenly flamed brulee. However, out of personal preference I disapprove of the heaviness imposed by the high cream content, overwhelming the subtleties of vanilla and egg.
Caramel Mousse, Quince – This was probably the least received dessert of the night, apparently with a degree of “incongruent” acidity that made it a little off putting. I found the nutty bite, light caramel notes, creamy texture and quince perfume delightful.
Crepes Suzette Flambe – this pan comes out literally flaming hot with alcohol on fire with a lovely citrus aroma. The crepes are just the right texture neither so soft it disintegrates, nor too firm that It becomes tough.
Rating: Yummy+2 there is very little to fault in the food brought out from this kitchen. The food is French chic but not haute, hearty yet elegant, and the winter dishes are served in cute little black skillets. A place I will most certainly return.
[Hell of the North]
Where: 135 Greeves St, Fitzroy
Contact: 03 9417 6660
Notes: average $40 / head, excluding drinks. Menu is designed to be shared.