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Dear, dear! she said. How queer everything is to-day!
Its hard not to come over all Alice-in-Wonderland during a meal at Hare & Grace. The experience is bound to leave anyone feeling slightly bewildered but in a good way.
On an otherwise unremarkable Thursday we arrive at the old butter factory at the corner of Collins and King where Raymond Capaldi (formerly of Fenix) has created a restaurant mined with surprises at every turn. A herb and vegetable garden flourishes by the front door; a deranged smokebush forest hangs from the ceiling; grog bottles dangle on ropes behind the bar; tea towels masquerade as napkins. Beside the reception desk a dapper hare, holding a teacup, only adds to the Mad Hatter-ish mood of the place. Curiouser and curiouser.
Capaldi has divided it into sections playfully headed Composites (entrees to us), Principals, Accomplimains (sides) and Wood-Fired (larger, meaty dishes such as double-sided Barnsley chops). Desserts are on a separate list titled Sweet, Guilty, Vanity.
Ordering proves difficult because some staff seem bizarrely unfamiliar with the food and wine theyre selling. When we try to order the onion salad with gruyere gnocchi, our waitress tells us its a soup. But it says salad on the menu. She darts to the open kitchen to check. No, its a salad, she confirms. I havent seen this one before. Its, like, new.
Later, she cant get a handle on the Marques de Riscal Rueda Verdejo. Is it like a sauvignon blanc? Yeah, like that, she says doubtfully, and then changes her mind. Its like getting wine advice from the Mock Turtle. The list is lovely, by the way. Just two easy pages punctuated with mouthwatering words such as Scorpo, Pierro and SC Pannell.
As is the yabbie sandwich; a wafer of toasted brioche supporting bright, succulent hunks of yabbie meat, peppery herbs and chunks of dark cherry and tomato. A crustacean mayo ties it all together in the nicest possible way. Theres a pile of unidentified pink fluffy stuff on the side. The waiter tells us it is prawn dust, as if thats the most natural ingredient in the world. (Thats very curious! she thought. But everythings curious today.)
The star of the next plate is a ruddy slab of chilled ocean trout supported by Earl Grey- and aloe vera-flavoured jellies, opaque discs of apple, crème fraiche and crisply halved radishes dipped in what looks like black dirt. Naturally, its squid dust. This might sound like a mad medley of flavours and concepts but its a delight to look at and eat.
Lesser chefs attempting such sleight of hand might fail miserably but Capaldi has a stellar pedigree. A former chef of the year in his native Scotland, he decamped to Londons Dorchester Hotel, worked at elite addresses from Cannes to Hong Kong and, in Melbourne, scooped a slew of hats with his daring dishes at Fenix. His ambitions may be scaled back here but hes lost none of his flair for ideas.
Eating at Hare & Grace is a bit like dining as performance art, confidently done (staff hiccups aside) and tremendous fun. It sure beats the boring old business lunch.Eat this
Hare & Grace
525 Collins Street, city
Cuisine Modern Australian.
Chef Raymond Capaldi
Hip pocket About $90 a head for full restaurant feasting; much cheaper in the bar.
Open Lunch, Monday-Friday noon-3pm; dinner, Monday-Saturday 6pm-late.
Highlights Whimsical food and fit-out.
Lowlights Scatty staff
Phone 9629 6755