Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hell (heaven) of the north

Seeing as my Phd confirmation deadline is impending like a suffocating fog I have decided it's the best time to be spending as much time as I can making the blogs. Incidentally the last couple of weeks have been quite exciting on the food front, having visited at least 3 virgin spots, so I actually do have some justification in 'wasting' time on here. My supervisor encourages me to read all forms of literature to be exposed to different styles of writing, so surely writing incessant food waffle counts as a development exercise as well. There goes that waffle again..

Hell of the North
135 Greeves St
Open: Wed-Fri 5pm - 1am, Sat 12-1am, Sun 12-11pm
BYO: nada, but impressive drink menu 
Hell of the North on Urbanspoon

I had been reading glowing reviews about Hell of the North on a couple of blogs (see here and here) and chatting to my friends about whether it would be another sickening wank spot on Smith St or something half decent. I say sickening wank more as a joke (funny right?!), because I really do love all the new additions to Collingwood - I just can't afford to go to many of them. I had already made the assumption that Hell of the North was going to be classed as one of these spots - until I popped on the interwebs and checked out their menu. What a genuinely nice surprise - pretty much everything was $25 and under and sounded wildly delicious. With an upcoming hot date with E Worm and LV, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to check it out and managed (luckily) to score a table for 3 on a Saturday night with a days notice. That Saturday was the same day Hell of the North received a lovely write up in The Age, so I felt rather smug that we technically booked before they would be inundated with curious foodies.

Hell of the North shares it's name with the infamous annual Paris-Roubaix bike race notorious for it's hellish cobbled route (and apparently the interior transformation from the former Lambs Go Bar also induced visions of the fiery underworld). Hidden away from the Smith St hustle on Greeves St, the first sign of Hell is a bright canary yellow door almost shrouded in secrecy by a thick green hedge.

Photo plucked from three thousand

Once inside you can really appreciate the efforts the new residents, brothers Adam and Christian Ferrante and Mark Grixti, took to transform the old space into a modern, meticulously styled bistro. Maintaining the separated rooms (who in their right mind would smash through bluestone anyway!) the bar takes the main stage as soon as you walk in. We were seated in the back room, having close access to food perving on plates rushing out of the kitchen. We did find it was a little bit chilly, but this was remedied after a few belly warming cocktails . I loved their neat pressed logo on the napkins. It's the small things ya know.

Speaking of cocktails, what a dayumm fine list they have! I chose the Chocolate old fashioned $18, which was incredibly adventurous for me given my current unwavering penchant for manhattans. It was sensational - I loved the richness of the chocolate bitters. My comrades had a Manhattan $16 (divine I am told) and the French 75 $12, a spritzier version of a white lady. It is becoming a rarity to get a well made cocktail below $18 so we were all pretty chuffed with our options.

Onto the feasting! Feeling like we deserved the world we decided to order the seasonal oysters - which were St Helens. Lovely and creamy, St Helens oysters are generally on the smaller side - which I like. There were served au natural with lemon and tabasco on the side.

St. Helens oysters $3 each

The menu is a succinct collection of smaller and larger dishes designed to share with a few sides. We staggered our dishes so we could eat at a leisurely pace - choosing the Beef Tartare $16 and the Scallops with Jerusalem artichokes $17.

The scallops were a dream. Perfectly cooked, slightly translucent in the middle, sitting atop a Jerusalem artichoke cream. Crispy fried pieces of Jerusalem artichoke skin were used as a garnish, providing an extra textural crunch to offset the soft scallops.

Scallops with Jerusalem artichoke

The beef tartare was OK. My benchmark has been set pretty high after having the beef tartare at Coda, which was an OMG moment (am I right LV?!). When I say OK, it was definitely high quality. I thought it could have used a little more seasoning, and there was something about the perfectly cut little cubes of beef that seemed odd to me (as opposed to a more mincey texture). Big serving. 

Beef Tartare

We took a little break and ordered a bottle of wine. Our waiter was fantastic, extremely helpful without being pushy. He suggested we try a bottle of Pinot Noir off the menu - the Garagiste Le Stagaire from Mornington Peninsula for $66. It was great, I'm not going to try and describe it because I just don't know how. I will just recommend it!

After a brief hiatus, we ordered the Murray River Pork, Rhubarb, Five Spice $22, the Mulloway, Potato Farci, Red wine furnet $21 and the Milawa Duck Pot au feu, winter vegetables $23. God where do I start.. 

The photos don't do these beautifully presented dishes any justice. They were all put together with great care and finesse, arriving in small cast iron skillets. I'm not quite sure what the cut of pork was, but there were 3 large chunks. It looked like loin and I was worried that it would be dry, but alas, my fears were abated as soon as I bit into the juicy flesh. We all agreed the highlight of the dish was the cabbage stuffed with flavoursome fromage de tete (head cheese) but were a little hesitant to discuss what exactly was in head cheese (pssssst it's parts of a pigs head!). Crispy crumbed pigs ear, pickled rhubarb and fresh thyme all paired exceptionally well.

Murray River Pork with Rhubarb and five spice

The mulloway was simply pan fried, and served with potato farci, pine mushrooms and a red wine furnet. The freshness of the mulloway was clear and not overpowered by its accompaniments. I was really excited to see the pine mushrooms when the dish came out, I just cannot get enough mushrooms - ever.


Last but not least, the duck. It had a beautiful deep pink blush. I'm sure you can imagine how incredible this was just by looking at it. We loved the heirloom carrots, and the selection of perfectly prepared potatoes - and check out those generous slices of fresh truffle. It was my first time eating fresh truffle, this was from W.A (which has apparently had a bumper crop this season!), I was surprised how mild and delicate the flavour was, unlike the overwhelming rich earthiness of truffle oil (which can sometimes make me think of a rich man's flatulence).

Milawa Duck pot au feu

We also shared a side of potato gratin dauphinoise $8. Predictably creamy and delicious.

Potato gratin dauphinoise

We were most definitely full by this stage, and reeling in the quality of all the dishes we had eaten thus far. We were tempted by a chocolate souffle, but decided to jump back on the cocktail train for the next round of consumption (no pictures) - The Rum Diary's was a merry-sherry dream. Love the spherical ice cubes (?!), now that's an oxymoron if I ever saw one.

Before you know it we had ordered the cheese board.. a selection of three (25g) for $21. The hard cheese was a comte, but I can't quite recall what the other two were. We are beasts I know ! Girls who are gluttons and proud of it. Kind of.  It was the second time in a week that I had cheese served with honey as opposed to the obligatory quince paste. It's a refreshing change, and perhaps a reflection of the burgeoning locally produced honey trend (can't tell you where this honey was sourced m'fraid!). To top it all off we also decided it was time for more wine, ordering an exceptionally well priced bottle of 2010 Gunderloch Fritzs Dry Riesling (Rheinhessen) from Germany for $38. Indeed it was dry, and we were undoubtedly drunk, but I do remember being particularly impressed with it. 

Cheese selection

By this stage we had been chortling away at our table for 4.5 hours.. and that is one of the biggest positives about Hell of the North - it also runs as a bar and opens until 1am. You can even order wonderful bar snacks after 11pm. We felt absolutely no pressure to finish up and boot off after we had finished our meal (although in hindsight we didn't really stop eating the whole time!). Our experience at Hell of the North has solidified it as my favourite new restaurant for 2012.  I implore all of you to pop in at least for a drink, the service is stellar and the food is incredibly well priced for it's quality.

TIP TOP! Back to that Phd writing.. ergh.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent summary blogs gagwood! I agree with the beef tartare comment - would have preferred a bigger kick and maybe a mince. Lets do again sometime! x