Thursday, April 19, 2012

Because one of everything will do nicely - a Fitzroy foodie crawl

Social media comes in many different flavours, but irrespective of your preference for subreddits, hashtags or funny cat macros, regular users of the Internet are generally familiar with the expression, "first world problems," the kind of trivial inconveniences that you've the luxury of noticing when you're reasonably advanced on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

This comedic device is now spawning variations, such as "first world cat problems" (such is the Internet's preoccupation with felines). However, on a culinary crawl of Fitzroy this week with a chef and some fellow gluttons, I found myself considering the scope of "first world foodie problems"...

"Dude, you can't eat that yet, I need to get a photo."
"Ugh, no tables for thirty minutes, we'll have to just sit at the bar and try their cocktails."
"I just felt there was too much jamón on the plate."
"Wait, it's blurry, just one more shot. Hah, sorry, wrong ISO setting. One sec'."

Frequently, I'm torn up with indecision over menus that offer an array of dishes that all sound spectacular - and me limited to the capacity of a relatively small stomach. Melbourne restaurants are increasingly offering set menu options, perhaps on the basis of diners being unable to make up their minds and wanting to be divested of tough decisions (looking in your direction Mamasita, Huxtable, Chin Chin, Golden Fields).

Our group of six had an alternative solution however: order one of everything.

Venue: Huxtaburger
Style: Burgers
Address: 106 Smith St, Collingwood [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9417 6328
Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30am-late
Prices: Burgers from $8.00
Bookings: Not accepted

The atmosphere in and around Huxtaburger is more akin to trendy nightspot than greasy burger joint. It's a great place for starting or ending an evening, with a simple selection of beers that can be enjoyed on the sidewalk, as the clientèle ensure that the interior remains packed.

The brioche burger buns are a real differentiator in a market so recently swept by healthy burgers. As a believer in moderation and being able to cinch down in a corset, the Huxtaburger offerings are a decadent once-in-awhile treat. The burger has all the qualities of totally satisfying greasy food; flavour is rich, condiments tangy and the cheese melted almost seamlessly against the patty [note: the photo below makes the burger appear larger than it is, they're an easy appetiser].

w/ crinkle-cut chipotle chips

Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon

Moving on for something more substantial, J guides us to the just-reopened Builders Arms Hotel, which has been smartened up and taken over by the team responsible for Cumulus. The interior is austere but inviting, a place where you'd have no compunctions about ordering a counter meal but then again, this is definitely not a case of "Andrew McConnell presents the chicken parma!" (I would be interested).

Venue: Builders Arms Hotel
Style: Gastro Pub
Address: 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9417 7700
Hours: 7 days, bistro 12:00pm-10:00pm, bar 12:00pm-midnight
Prices: Appetisers $4-14 / Share plates $10-16 / Mains $23-34 / Dessert $12-16
Bookings: Accepted at lunch; accepted at dinner for groups of 8-12

Claire de Lune oysters and spiced almonds

This is first-class drinking food, in that there are lots of delicious, small things to grab at and share with friends as you down your Mountain Goat ale. J assumes responsibility for ordering and because we're all so hungry and indecisive, he asks for oysters, three serves of pig ear scratchings, three serves of whipped cod roe, threes serves of Ortiz anchovy toasts, three serves of the smoked curd with crudité, a kilo of mussels with aioli and two serves of Reuben sandwich.

Whipped cod roe and pig ear scratchings

The almonds are warm but not particularly spicy, while the pig scratchings are as crunchy and delicious as they look and go very nicely when dipped into the whipped cod roe, if you're not in the mood to eat bread. Ortiz anchovy toasts are fine but the spread is erring on the salty side (which may be the point, in an establishment erected for the purpose of drinking).

Olive toast, Ortiz anchovy & pepper

Smoked curd, crudité, pomegranate

The fresh crunch of the crudité is a welcome addition to the table, along with the distinct smokiness of the goats cheese. A lashing of dark molasses is a beautiful match for the cheese, but we feel the pomegranate seeds have been included for looks, as they don't add much. The best part about the mussels is the aioli, remarkably light and silky.

Reuben sandwich w/ cornichons and fat chips

The Reuben is hearty, with good textures and mouthfeel, but lacking in flavour. Perhaps we set ourselves up for disappointment, conversing as we were about happy memories of Monterey Jack cheese.

There is good noshing to be done at the new incarnation of the Builders Arms; it's a comfortable space which I could see myself losing hours in with an interesting drinks list and a few very good things to snack on, however, if it's dinner you're after, just go to Cumulus, have the lamb shoulder with lemon and Spanish onion.

Builders Arms Hotel on Urbanspoon

While the Builders Arms dessert menu didn't excite me, tales of the backrooms of some of Melbourne's famous kitchens did, including the levelling of a Masterchef identity years ago with a heavy-based frying pan to the face. We were raucous and quickly established that we all had a dessert stomach intact, so we pressed onward for something that was equal parts sweet and interesting.

Venue: Cutler & Co
Style: Modern Australian
Address: 55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9419 4888
Hours: Lunch: Fri & Sun from 12:00pm / Dinner: Tue-Sun from 6:00pm-late
Prices: Entrées $26 / Mains $43 / Dessert $19 / 8-course Degustation $140
Bookings: Required

Six diners - five desserts. We ordered one of everything, plus an extra chocolate ice-cream sandwich.

For such a large space, Cutler & Co is muted, as well as being moody, low-lit and sexy, comparable to my other favourite venues for romantic dining (Ezard and The European). Service is slick and accommodating; J's partner asks if they might make up a dessert-inspired cocktail for her and they return in no time with a tumbler full of something that is chocolatey and possibly one part rocket fuel.

Violet ice cream, chocolate ganache, sour cherry & clove meringue

The violet ice-cream seems to be the most popular dish at the table, mingling bites of luscious chocolate and the sharpness of the cherries (this dish is best enjoyed by eating some of each element all at the same time).

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait & salted caramel

Sadly predictable, it's the chocolate ice cream sandwich that wins my acclaim. The chocolate is impeccably smooth and the sauce is so bold, with a lovely burnt flavour coming through. This is in stark opposition to another dessert on the table, the ginger granita with coconut, lychee and aloe vera; the latter is light and very refreshing, but it lacks impact once you've inhaled a mouthful of intense caramel sauce. It is the sort of dessert I would order though had I just eaten something rich, like beef cheek.

[Left] Apple terrine, toasted cereal ice cream, burnt butter & oat crumble and [right] Ginger granita, coconut tapioca, fresh lychee & aloe vera

The strangest dessert is that of the apple terrine, with crumble and toasted cereal. It is breakfast transmuted into dessert and again, it does lack for something, in the face of a sour cherry and caramel sauce onslaught; however, the mix of textures is interesting and compelling to eat.

Pear & suet pudding, milk sorbet & candied lemon

Lastly, the pear pudding is a perfect, comforting, winter dessert dish, hot and dense but not heavy with the sweetness. The milk sorbet is plated at the table, so that it doesn't melt against the pudding on its way from the kitchen. I'd have appreciated more candied lemon, but this sort of quibble is indeed a first world foodie problem and barely registers when you've just enjoyed every dessert on the menu of such an impressive restaurant.

Coffee is served with wonderfully moist passion fruit marshmallows, also noteworthy for their citrussy flavour.

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

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