Henry & The Fox

I feel a bit of a laggard – Henry and the Fox burst onto the Melbourne dining scene around 10 months ago and was lovingly reviewed by a range of bloggers sans Dining Nirvana. It’s taken me some time to get to this little jewel in the Paul Mathis empire… but I finally got there with gorgeous foodie friend J, for our first Ladies who Lunch dinner.

Normally gorgeous foodie friend J and I enjoy our status as Ladies who Lunch, however, we’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to get away from our busy jobs for a lunch date – so we settled on having an early dinner instead. We looked for a venue we hadn’t tried before, had some good press, was close to J’s work and on the way home for me.  Henry & The Fox ticked all the boxes.

I suspect that Henry and the Fox does a brisk lunch trade, but things certainly get a bit quieter after hours in this neck of the CBD woods – so the night we went, it was sparsely populated.  Over the course of the wintry Thursday evening, other couples and groups started to swell the perimeter of the restaurant, but it certainly didn’t get packed out.  The challenge probably lies in the location, 525 Little Collins Street, which sits directly behind the Melbourne Stock Exchange. Let’s face it – when you’re thinking of dining out somewhere groovy – the blocks between King and William Streets are not the first places that come to mind!

Despite the unusual location, and the slow swelling of the restaurant population, we received an incredibly warm greeting, and enjoyed excellent service. In particular, Gregory delightfully looked after us when it was clear that we were too busy talking to even look at the menu and suggested a mouth-watering progression of dishes that we greeted with enthusiastic “oohs” and “aahs” and vigorous head nodding.

For our first dish, we were easily seduced by the special of the day – some gorgeous polenta chips and truffled aioli that we devoured while we happily chatted and imbibed what ended up being copious amounts of Devil’s Staircase Pinot Noir. The chips were fabulous and crispy on the outside, and meltingly soft on the inside.

I do also have to mention the bread which was a perfect example of crusty goodness – the dough was moist and well aerated, and we had to remind ourselves that we had so much food coming that we didn’t want to fill up on bread – even though it was gorgeous!  You know the feeling!

Fried zucchini flowers

This was then followed by some Fried zucchini flowers filled with ricotta and mint.  These were okay, but not the best example of zucchini flower I’ve had.  The outside could have been a little crunchier, and the ricotta filling a bit more zingy.  It’s interesting that they’re actually on the menu given that they’re out of season.

Seared scallops with apple & celeriac remoulade, caper & raisin purée, toasted pumpernickel

The seared scallops were a little bit under-done – but I was OK with that (it’s a much better proposition than the alternative), and had gorgeous caramelisation.  The remoulade was delicious, with the apple and celeriac prepped as small dice (rather than grated) which made a big difference to mouth-feel and complemented the sweet tenderness of the scallops.

Roasted Moreton bay bug tails, cauliflower puree, spiced cauliflower

Interestingly, the winner on this dish was the cauliflower – the spiced cauliflower had been pan fried then baked until it was a gorgeous charred colour, without any bitterness at all. Underneath the charred spicy exterior, it had a gooey centre that reminded gorgeous friend J of roasted marshmallows over an open fire.  A fantastic textural component was the puffed rice which added a crunchy element and lifted the dish to a different level.  Gorgeous friend J was so taken by the spiced cauliflower, she immediately ordered a plate of just the cauliflower – but I think they must have thought she was joking though because it never turned up!  *sigh*

Crispy pork belly, fennel, dill, orange

The pork belly here has a bit of a reputation, and I can appreciate why.  The crackling on this dish was über-crispy. No chewing required at all – it crunched in your mouth and dissolved in with the unctuous layers of tender pork and flavourful fat.  A great fennel, dill and orange salad counteracted the richness of the dish.

Braised lamb neck, Jerusalem artichoke, shallot, pearl barley

I loved this dish – a slow braise, the meat just fell apart and was well flavoured with melting layers of goodness.  It was complemented by some barley that had been cooked in with the juices to create a gorgeous, sticky congolomeration of flavour.  Sublime.

Warm gingerbread, caramelised banana, coffee ice-cream

Who would have thought ginger and coffee would go so well together – the gingerbread was soft and moist, and spiced to perfection.  Partnered with the espresso ice-cream and mascarpone on the dish – it was a revelation!  Caramelised bananas added a hint of light creaminess to the dish, and really contributed to presentation.

Overall, Henry and the Fox is a fabulous place to eat.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time there – the service was friendly, the wine list is great, and the food is clever, well composed and executed with style. The location may not be front of mind when you’re thinking where to go out – but it would be a crime to miss it just for this reason.  It’s certainly worth going a little bit out of your way for, and is a perfect candidate for that quick after work dinner.  Just be careful, because our quick dinner turned into quite a lengthy affair in the end – but that’s always a risk when the food is great, the wine is smooth, and the friends are irresistible.

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