Saturday, June 30, 2012

Henry and the Fox, Melbourne CBD: Private invitation

Bureaucrat and I were invited to a special dinner for bloggers held by Henry and the Fox in the Melbourne CBD. Henry and the Fox is a relatively new venture by iconic Melbourne chef Paul Mathis and is headed up by Michael Fox, Age Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year 2011.

Accepting invitations isn't something we normally do. The blog Eat and Be Merry grew out of colleagues who ate out regularly together recording their thoughts for other work mates (and anybody else interested). Accepting our first invitation has left me feeling as though we've left our natural home--and leaves us feeling exposed at reviewing a restaurant I didn't pay to attend.

With that in mind, Bureaucrat and Snooze had to come up with a way of jointly reviewing Henry and the Fox as we didn't agree with each other about everything. We've separately reviewed our experience and it's interesting to compare and contrast our views.

Review: SnoozeMy approach is very simple: to concentrate on the things I enjoyed and liked and and mention the negatives that really stood out. Given my interest in vegetable over meat dishes, I found quite a few vegetable side dishes that interested me.

Review by Bureaucrat:
I’ve provided more comments for the dishes that stood out (in a good and not so good way). I won’t provide comments for the dishes that I was ambivalent about.

Fried zucchini flowers

Snooze: I quite liked these. They looked really pretty on the plate, lightly browned. Inside the filling was delicate and I'd order these again.

Confit ocean trout, salted cucumber, radish and horseradish cream

Bureaucrat: I love the presentation of this dish. Fresh trout and clean flavours.

Roasted Moreton bay bug tails, cauliflower puree with spiced cauliflower

Bureaucrat: Lovely crispiness on the outside, and juicy, plump flesh. The cauliflower puree went well with the bugs. It was a wee bit salty but I didn’t mind – I could easily wolf this down with a nice glass of dry cider. We were all a bit puzzled with the little crispy bits that adorned the dish. It kinda looked like toasted rice.

Seared scallops, apple and celeriac remoulade, caper and raisin puree with toasted pumpernickel

Bureaucrat: This was one of my favourite dishes for the night (the other is the cured kingfish). As with the Moreton bay bugs, the scallops had a delightful crust with a melt-in-your-mouth texture on the inside.

Snooze: This dish was also one of my standouts for the night: the scallops were beautifully brown but moist, and the remoulade balanced the dish beautifully. In my usual, almost perverse style, what really stood out on this dish was the pumpernickel bread.

Cured kingfish, coriander and fennel seeds, mandarin with coriander shoots

Bureaucrat: I loved this dish. The fresh fish, the fragrant and juicy mandarin segments. So clean, so simple, so delicious.

Goat's cheese, roasted baby beets, pickled shallots, shiso with raspberry vinegar

Snooze: This was another standout for me. I love baby beets and have them whenever I can. I haven't had them with goat's cheese before and it's a perfect combination together with the onion. Definitely something I'd like to try again.

Mulloway, avocado, chickpea, chorizo and red pepper

Bureaucrat: Of the mains that were served, this was my favourite. As with all their other seafood dishes, the fish was fresh, tender and succulent – perfectly cooked.

Rocket, pear and roasted walnut salad

Bureaucrat: I loved this salad. It’s such a simple side dish, but it offers a much needed lightness to go with the mains. The salad is refreshing, and in context of all the food that we had eaten that even, it was bit of a palate cleanser.

Brussel sprouts, smoked bacon and chestnuts

Bureaucrat: The sprouts were a tad more burnished than desired. I was curious about this dish. I’ve only tended to eat/use chestnut as a sweet thing (eg as a sweetened puree atop of a meringue or in a crepe), it’s rare for me to come across chestnut as a savoury thing. Similar to the coconut crumble dessert (see below), I give it points for using less popular ingredients (the sprouts and chestnuts), but there wasn’t anything particular I liked/didn’t like about this dish.

Chocolate pannacotta, strawberry cream and strawberry sorbet

Snooze: I'm a great fan of pannacotta and this didn't disappoint. It was smooth and cream and my only regret is I was rather full by this stage and had little room left to enjoy the desserts.

Doughnuts with chocolate sauce

Bureaucrat: I love doughnuts as a dessert. These were good but they’re not the best I’ve had. The texture was a tad mushy – my guess is that the batter was too thin or they were cooked too quickly.

Quince, pear, custard, coconut crumble with coconut ice cream

Bureaucrat: When I saw this in the menu, I thought ‘yum!’. I love quince, I love pear, I love custard and I love crumbles – that’s despite the fact that it had coconut in it (I like fresh coconut, but I’m not a fan of dried coconut). When it came out I was kinda disappointed ... it was a big bowl of coconut crumble (which to me, tasted like a bland coconut macaroon). There was a faint flavour coming from the quince/pear custard, but it was lost in a mountain of dried coconut.
I kept eating it (naturally) and I was trying to figure out the dish. It eventually dawned on me that it wasn't a typical crumble (say, like apple crumble served with lots of velvety vanilla seed speckled custard). This was breakfast. It tasted and looked like a big bowl of muesli, with the crunchy, dried texture and a restrained amount of custard/milk to go with it. Points for trying more unusual flavour combinations and textures, but I’m afraid it didn’t work for me.

Snooze: This was an interesting take on an old favourite. The crumble part, especially, intrigued me. It wasn't a traditional crumble but I really liked the way the coconut clumped together. But the dish itself didn't work for me on two counts: the pear and quince were overcooked for me (I prefer some texture in my fruit) nor could I taste the fruit; it was all about the coconut crumble.

Passionfruit cheesecake, passionfruit mousse, jelly, granita with yoghurt sorbet

Snooze: This was pretty amazing, the best dessert of the night. It was all about the passiontfruit flavour and the different textures until I wasn't sure whether the passionfruit I was eating was cheesecake or mouse or something else. Definitely something I'd recommend people try.

You couldn’t fault the generosity of HatF. We never imagined it’d be so much hard work to try so many dishes!

In forming our review, what we'd like to say is:
a) this isn't the type of place that either of us would normally pick to try. However, given the experience on the night, we would recommend this place for family and friends to try.
b) although we were invited to HatF, our rating for the price reflects what we thought had we had to pay for our meal.
c) similarly, the rating for service is assuming they provide the same high level of service all the time.

Our overall impression is that HatF would be a great place for a leisurely breakfast while perusing the weekend papers, or a work day lunch if you want somewhere a bit more special, or Friday night drinks with friends that metamorphisizes (I know that’s not a word, but you get my meaning) into dinner – it definitely has the warm feeling of being invited to a friend’s (very) nice kitchen ... there’s a very homely feel to the place, which I love. If this restaurant was located in the suburbs (in the ilk of South Yarra, St Kilda, etc), I can imagine it being very popular.

The struggle for HatF is to make itself known to city dwellers and shoppers to know to head towards the end of Lt Collins for this oasis. As a suggestion, while I was driving around trying to locate HatF, I pulled over at a hotel at the top end of Lt Collins. The concierge and bell boy hadn’t heard of the place. I say it’d be worthwhile for HatF to spruik the restaurant to all the nearby hotels.

The service was excellent. Friendly and knowledgeable staff. Of course, a cynic would say that this is because HafT was on their best behaviour. But regardless, it at least showed their commitment to being a success.

For us, HafT excelled with their seafood and vegetable side dishes. Going by the menu composition, I get the feeling that HafT offers a pan-European menu with a tapas-y approach, but puts its own interpretation when it comes to the ingredients, textures and presentation. There seemed to be an effort for each dish to have interesting textures, flavour combinations and visual appearance. We noticed it has a nice list of pizzas which would be interesting to try (together with more of the delectable seared scallops, cured kingfish and bugs tails!).

Food –
Service –
Ambience –
Price –

Henry and the Fox
525 Little Collins St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 03 9614 3277

Henry and the Fox on Urbanspoon

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