525 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9614 3277
I’m a hardcore foodie and a bit of a bibliophile too so nothing gets me more excited than going to an eatery that’s named after a book (well, except for being told that there’s going to be a second Costco store in Melbourne – in the eastside, yo!). So when I heard that restaurateur extraordinaire and all-round good guy Paul Mathis’ was opening up another restaurant on the
arse end, sorry, New York end of Collins Street and naming it after a children’s book, Henry and the Fox, I was excited.
Rocking up to the relatively new restaurant at 7:30pm on a Tuesday evening and finding it almost empty was strange. As far as I was aware, Mathis isn’t called ‘Mr Midas’ for nothing as everything he turns to pretty much turns into gold. Just look at Joe’s Garage, Transport Hotel, Taxi Dining Room and more recently, Akochochin and Sharing House for a few examples. Thus, I couldn’t help but be shocked to find that the restaurant was pretty quiet. On the other hand, we were in a section of Little Collins Street that had heaps of building under construction and this was the arse end of the city. Understandable.
My fellow food-bloggers and I were warmly greeted by sommelier Sophie Johnston who was as bubbly as the glasses of NV Punt Road sparkling wines that she served us. We were then ushered to a communal table, with front-row seats to the open kitchen where head chef, Michael Fox, the Age Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year 2011 winner, was hard at work.
As we broke into our warm bread and butter, Mathis gave us a brief run-down on what HATF is all about. As well as naming it after a children’s book, Mathis also told us that the name is a tribute to both his PA, whose surname happens to be Henry, and Fox, himself. The restaurant itself serves ‘modern Australian’ cuisine that doesn’t try to be fine-dining fare but is a bit more sophisticated than standard bistro fare. The food is also priced accordingly too, with mains priced at around $25-30 (though given that a lot of the starters are priced around $23-25, this pricing structure did struck me as odd). It is food that is simple, a little bit sophisticated but a lot whole of fun.
We ate our way through a long list of starters. First up, we had the jamon and manchego croquettes ($4 each). There was a perfect balance between crunchiness and velvety creaminess and the filling was tasty to boot. Deeeee-licious.
Next we had some fried zucchini flowers ($4 each). I don’t usually go out of my way to order zucchini flowers but if more restaurants made them as nice as these, I’d be ordering them more. Each flower was stuffed with a lovely ricotta, mint and pea filling before being lightly battered.
We smashed them like we smashed the American swimming team back in 2000. While we’re on the subjects, who’s pumped up for the Olympics?
Next, we dug into a plate of rabbit terrine that was accompanied by a rhubarb compote and ‘salad,’ the latter merely being bits of picked endive leaves dotted here and there ($23.50). Wrapped in a thin layer of jamon, the terrine was perfect in shape and texture. Its slightly gamey taste also paired well with the sweet toasted brioche buns that were there for the taking.
Then came the goats cheese, roasted baby beets, pickled shallots, shiso, raspberry vinegar ($18.50). It’s not a dish that I would have ordered voluntarily but I’m glad we got to see it for ourselves as it was so pretty. I loved seeing the bright purple beets against the backdrop of soft marshmallow-like goats cheese while the tangy raspberry vinegar held everything together.
I really liked the cured kingfish, coriander and fennel seeds, mandarin, coriander shoots ($23.50). The whole arrangement just screamed out ‘fresh’ with the little bits of fish arranged neatly amongst this season’s mandarin segments while flecks of coriander and fennel seeds accentuated each bite.
The confit ocean trout, salted cucumber, radish, horseradish cream ($23) was also great. The fish was sublime while the little blocks of radish added a nice crunch.
One of my favourite dishes was the seared scallops, apple and celeriac remoulade, caper and raisin puree, toasted pumpernickel ($24.50). Each scallop was succulently juice and wonderfully sweet. The apple and celeriac remoulade was beautifully creamy. Some people did say that it was a bit salty, though I thought it was just right.
If people thought the remoulade, above, was salty, then they certainly thought the Moreton Bay bug tails ($24.50) should be sent to the tribunal for four weeks. On paper, the dish ticked all my right boxes. It came with lots of cauliflower, in puree form and in roasted form. It would have been good if it hadn’t been excessively salty, and if they had not overcooked the bug tails.
We were already full at this stage – and we weren’t even up to the mains.
We each received an alternating main. I landed the mulloway, avocado, chickpea, chorizo, red pepper ($29.50) much to my delight because I do appreciate a great fish dish. The mulloway was cooked beautifully and I was able to appreciate its naturally delicate taste and texture in conjunction with the other ingredients that didn’t overpower it. That said, the kitchen did sprinkle way too much salt on the crispy skin which impeded my ability to fully enjoy the dish.
Michèle got the poached chicken breast, quinoa, pistachio, fig, sorrel ($29). This protein-rich dish sounded really good on paper and while I don’t make a habit of ordering chicken mains at restaurant, this would have been my first choice. While the chicken was beautifully cooked and soft, the whole dish was just too salty, thus rendering it one-dimensional. It would have been great dish if I could actually taste even a little bit of nuttiness but no.
Thanh’s crispy pork belly, fennel, dill, orange ($30.50) induced heaps of food envy amongst the table. The skin was perfectly crispy, though the pork was a tad too dry and yes, too salty! On the other hand, I liked the contrasting flavours that the tart fennel and the tangy orange segment added to the dish.
HATF also dabble in Italian. I would also like to try their pasta dishes, three of which appeared on the menu but surprisingly did not appear during this dinner. I would have like the sound of the baked rigatoni with beef cheek, horseradish and parsley so I’ll order that the next time if I don’t feel like their roasted mushroom, double smoked ham and mountain main cheese pizza.
Not that we needed any side dishes to bulk up our mains (hell, we were already full even before they arrived), but we appreciated the bowl of lovely spiced carrots ($10) they gave us.
I’m not a fan of brussel sprouts, so I’m afraid I didn’t taste any of the brussel sprouts, smoked bacon, chestnuts ($10) side. However, I was told that it ‘didn’t taste bad at all.’
My favourite side was the bowl of rocket, pear and roasted walnut salad ($8). It was fresh, tart and slightly nutty – just like me (well, maybe not the ‘tart’ bit – and five hours sleep could hardly render me ‘fresh’ on a Saturday morning, bleh). I would happily eat this for lunch during the week – just add some chicken for extra protein, yum!
We were all ready to tap out at this stage but before we could protest, the desserts arriving. Well okay, maybe we’ll stay for a few more minutes!
The first dessert we got was their version of a passionfruit cheesecake ($14). Rather than being served in slices like a traditional cheesecake, it was deconstructed. The soft ‘cake’, base and crumbs and all, was placed in a cute little glass jar and topped with passionfruit mousse, jelly, granita and yoghurt sorbet.
Unlike most cheesecakes, the cake was very light and soft. It blended effortlessly with the other ingredients. I don’t normally go crazy over cheesecakes but this was one that I could eat a full-sized one of.
If winter 2012 could be summed up in a neat little dessert, this would be it. The bowl of quince, pear, custard, coconut crumble (‘Wah! LEGIT macaroons-two-os!’ exclaimed Thanh) and coconut ice-cream ($14) divided the table as much as the Opals economy class issue divided the nation this week. Some thought it was boring, while some liked it. I love coconuts so I was all over this like a spinster is towards the Fifty Shades of Grey books. I just loved the meddling of textures and tastes – warm and cold, crumbly and creamy, and tart and sweet – that this season’s quinces and pears provided along with the summer gone by’s coconuts.
I squealed in delight when I saw a plate of doughnuts ($14) approaching. Accompanied by a warm chocolate sauce, the teardrop-shaped donuts were slightly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and covered with cinnamon all over. I preferred to eat them on their own than with the chocolate sauce which I thought was too much.
Finally, I adored the chocolate pannacotta, strawberry cream, strawberry sorbet ($16). This chocolate dessert pretty much summed up what Henry and the Fox is all about: simple, fun and a little bit cheeky – there were bits of strawberry popping candy scattered in the folds of the cream and the sorbet. How awesome! If this dessert was a book, then it would definitely be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was delicious, whimsical and took me back to my childhood.
Overall, the service was engaging and efficient during the meal and the food was, apart from the way-too-salty-mains, fantastic as Mr Fox himself. We stumbled out of the restaurant, promising to return again. Unfortunately, HATF does not open on weekends (which is probably a smart move as this end of the city is pretty much dead when the suits are away) but I’d love to have breakfast here if I’m awake early enough, or enjoy a few drinks and canapes on the terrace outside after work on Fridays. As long as they give the salt-shaker a bit of a break, that is.
Disclaimer: libishski dined as a guest of Henry and the Fox and Gun Communications.