In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
In more recent months, H&T started doing dinners, just a few nights a week, and the results are equally encouraging. Chef Simon Ward has steered away from the high-concept dining of his Vue de Monde days in favour of a more casual, almost rustic menu featuring such standards as a farmers plate and fishermans pie.
His foods nicely matched by the small and tasty wine list compiled by co-owner and former Jacques Reymond sommelier Dennis Ferreira who, similarly, has abandoned his three-hatted past for a more democratic approach to drinking. You can get your hands on a suave trebbiano for $28 thats for the whole bottle, not a glass and Ferreira plans to flesh out the list with more interesting Euro grape varieties in coming months. Cheers to that.
The restaurants interiors have also been stripped of pretension. Gone are the $3000 Mooi pig table and the massive macramé sculpture that hung from the ceiling like a dinosaur skeleton in the Brix era. In their place theres some new crate-style shelving behind the bar, and the rear courtyard has been covered over for all-weather use. But the bones of the place are much the same. Silly to waste money on a new fit-out when the old one will do nicely.
Altogether its a lot more relaxed and friendly at 412 Brunswick Street. Ferreira and his team work the floor with ready smiles and smart service, and Ward does his bit in the kitchen to lift the mood.
Its hard not to feel upbeat after tucking into his soft-shell crab slider (a mini-burger, painfully trendy). Its a torpedo-shaped, pillow-soft brioche filled with lightly battered crab, a zing of coriander and a smother of mayo, cut with Thai sriracha chilli sauce.
A recent menu change supersized the slider to a burger, which is no bad thing. But with menu changes come mixed emotions Im not too fussed about seeing the back of the wagyu charry outside, nicely ruddy inside and served sliced on a plank with a dish of hollandaise, but the meats annoyingly chewy. Or the slow-roasted chicken, a sprawling platter of endive leaves studded with chunks of tarragon-and-sage-scented bird and nuggets of slightly too-dry stuffing. Id give it 6/10 for flavour but 4/10 for presentation, so no great loss.
But theres plenty to like on the latest menu, including glazed pots of piping-hot whitebait crusted with salt and served with a smoked paprika aioli for added interest. And the fishermans pie, with its impeccably golden pastry lid, whose buttery flakes add appealing crunch to the creamy, chunky muddle of cod pieces and prawns bound with bechamel and richly seamed with dill. Its a winning antidote to winter. I just hope they keep it on the menu.
The H&T farmers plate is a fancy arrangement of lamb ham, eggplant hummus, olive bread and cheese. Lamb ham screws with my brain because it tastes more like ham than lamb. And why is it suddenly so trendy? When did it morph from Arabian Peninsula staple to trendy Western delicacy? Whats wrong with real ham? Still, all questions aside, its quite delicious.
The eggplant hummus is pleasant enough, but Im not convinced olive bread is the best match for it plainer sourdough or flatbread might work better. The cheese comes as brie and gruyere slices, so plenty to like there.
Theres a standout side dish in the brussels sprouts although thats not a sentence I ever imagined myself writing. The way to make sprouts edible is to serve them with fat chunks of bacon the size of liquorice allsorts, and coat the lot in grated manchego cheese and puffed rice so that you hardly taste the evil greens at all.
For desserts, theres a tempting choice of chai chocolate tart with lemon curd, or white balsamic poached pear with Ferrero Rocher labne (yoghurt cheese) and a coffee pot de crème with white chocolate hazelnuts. But the main course and side serves are so hefty we cant fit another thing. Hammer & Tong looks like its settling in nicely as a neighbourhood diner, so theres always next time.
Rear, 412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Cuisine Mod Oz
Chef Simon Ward
Hip pocket $70-$80 a head, with wine
Open Tuesday-Wednesday 7am-4pm; Thursday-Friday 7am-late; Saturday 8am-late; Sunday 8am-5pm
Highlights Good eating, good times
Lowlights No room for sweets
Phone 9041 6033