Heralding a refined manner of casual dining, H&F is all youthful energy.
What’s in a name? Barely two months old, Henry & The Fox is a curiously named, curiously located restaurant. At the backside of Melbourne’s Stock Exchange Building, it’s squished into an irregular space. At its entrance, a short covered patio lined with topiary bushes and carpeted in artificial grass entraps the sun’s golden rays from midday until it disappears on this western end of the CBD. Inside, that exasperatingly ubiquitous industrial-noir decor too pervasive in too many Melbourne restaurants has not been plagiarised here. Instead, it has been happily forsaken for a bright, airy space exuding a touch of Ikea-esqueness. It’s a breath of fresh air. Straight lines and clean colours alight from a mix of vintage white and the alternate melon green painted chairs, with tables seating up to six marshalled at the front of the venue. Further inside, there’s a long communal bench that overlooks a partially open kitchen discreetly tucked away, rather than being a focal point. Natural light bounces off a grey-white chessboard floor, while grated wooden ceiling fixtures inlaid with bright halogen bulbs beam on the tessellated recycled timber wall drilled into one side of the venue. Splashed with the vitality of spring, it’s an uncluttered decor that particularly flatters the senses in this warmer season.
MoMo & Coco visited Henry & The Fox three times in the first month of 2012 — one work lunch, two afterwork dinners. With a modern Australian-European-British disposition, Henry & The Fox’s small-plate-style a la carte menu was divided into “small dishes, medium dishes, larges dishes, side dishes, desserts,” therefore allowing some flexibility in being explored as a share-plate or a typical 3-course dining affair. Over our three visits, MoMo & Coco focused on the small and medium dishes. Dining began with a bread basket of crusty olive bread. Served warm, the Ham & Cheese Croquettes ($4 each), that Spanish tapas stalwart that does not fail to appear on many a menu, were fine, super cheesy logs, as were their French cousins of Gruyere Puffs ($11.50) punctuated there with tart beetroot. However, the applaud must go to the Italian Fried Zuchini Flowers ($4 each) for fulfilling their agenda of tantalizing appetisers.
The “medium dishes” at Henry & The Fox were entree-size, and of the ones sampled, they unexpectedly radiated a refined incisive exquisiteness that is the more common territory of more formal restaurants vis-a-vis casual dining restaurants. The star of this section of the menu were those five orbs of Seared Scallops ($24), espaliered across a tempered glass tile by a line of apple and celeriac remoulade, dots of caper and raisin puree and sprinkled rocks of toasted pumpernickle. Note the theme of Henry & The Fox paying warm homage to les fruits de mer: two other excellent seafood-based dishes may be found in the the coral slab of Ocean Trout ($24) done sashimi-style, yielding a gentle peppery murmur and a slightly crystalline texture, and siding with a reef-like formation of turquoise salted cucumber curls and laser-thin white radish slices; and for those not averse to something even more raw-ish, the Kingfish Ceviche ($23.50) was presented like a typical carpaccio, embroidered with the enlivening flavours of coriander, fennel and grapefruit. Redefining the phrase “boring salad,” don’t go past the Slow Cooked Eggs ($18.50) nestled amongst a sylvan bracken wood of asparagus and watercress, interspersed with hazelnut and parmesan; and the Goats Cheese ($18.50) shaped like brilliant white rocks dotting a fairy path strewn with beets and shallots, kissed by a broad slash of raspberry-balsamic-shiso dressing as magenta as a geisha’s lipsticked smile. Because we have a disposition to eat lighter during the warmer months, MoMo & Coco have yet to sample Henry & The Fox’s “larger dishes,” but our dining companions have told us great things about them, the Snapper ($32.50) and the Smoked Duck Breast ($34) particularly. Special mention to the extensive wine list, a clear drawcard for the predominantly after-work drinkers who recline on Henry & The Fox’s patio.
Sweet irresistibles at Henry & The Fox number five, all of which MoMo & Coco have had the pleasure in sampling, thanks to our equally eager sweet-tooths dining companions. By contrast to their more modern-inclined savoury counterparts, desserts at Henry & The Fox were more neo-classical in style. Let’s begin with the English-inspired desserts. The first, an “Eton Mess” ($14) was presented in a bowl glazed with an iridescent finish not unlike that found in Wedgwood’s Fairyland ceramic series. It was a delightful tumble of meringue shards, very tart raspberries, plump blueberries, dollops of berry sorbet and vanilla bean icecream, and a curiously-folded crepe at its base. Simple deliciousness.
A step-down though, the other English-accented irresistible of the “Warm Currant Pudding” ($14) wasn’t unfortunately, too exciting, even with the theatre of the wait staff emptying a flask filled with the quiet tragedy of a chilled cherry soup. Firstly, that cherry soup would have better complemented its pudding partner if it had been served warm; secondly, the soup failed to express a bold cherry flavour on two separate samplings, being more a cold red sugar water than anything else. No matter, the pudding itself was comfortably homely fare — soft, moist, studded with currants and crowned with a lush plume of mascarpone cream. If you love English steamed puddings, look out also for The Deanery‘s lemon curd-filled version in Autumn/Winter.
As the third Henry & The Fox sweet irresistible, the “Doughnuts” ($14) likewise hummed to the homely dessert theme. Fluffy deep-fried pods were well-sugared in sugar and cinnamon, characteristics negated when dipped in a disappointingly watery chocolate pool. MoMo & Coco loved more the sci-fi-like plate on which it was presented. For better French doughnuts, aka Beignets, we would recommend you head to The Aylesbury…or for the most delectable doughnuts of all time, Maha.
Skipping to Italy now, the fourth irresistible sampled was the “Chocolate Pannacotta” ($16). Again, a few misfortunes here: firstly, over two separate samplings, its texture varied between a mousse and a true pannacotta; and secondly, its lovely, rich, slightly spiced chocolate body was a little overwhelmed by a somewhat too-wide layer of strawberry mousse. However, such misfortunes were arguably compensated by a treasure trove topping of freeze-dried strawberry slices, strawberry jelly and…chocolate crackle pops! Yes! 😀
A rhapsody to the tropical delights of French Polynesia, the classical French tart-dessert was deconstructed in the “Mango Frangipane” ($15), arguably Henry & The Fox’s most divine sweet irresistible. Intermittently flecked with hazelnut, large cubes of soft almond cake resembled the rubble of a ruined castle secured by an overgrowth of triangular wedges of caramelized mangoes, daubs of mango puree, and subdued sour flickers from the creme fraiche ice cream. Hello sweet summer!
Over MoMo & Coco’s three visits, service at Henry & The Fox was consistently animated and jovial. Yet another contrast to Melbourne’s pervasive-black-decor-and-black-obnoxious-service restaurants, it was another breath of fresh air to feel welcome to drink and dine at Henry & The Fox, and to see staff who actually seem to love their job and their restaurant. Indeed, it’s the first place in a l-o-n-g time that MoMo & Coco in hindsight, ought to have tipped the staff, we certainly regret not doing so. There’s only four other restaurants in Melbourne where we tip on each occasion — our old favourites of Mezzo, Maha and (sadly soon-to-disappear) Momo, and a new-ish favourite, A La Bouffe.
What’s in a name? Henry & The Fox has a name that reveals nothing about it, though it is perhaps suggestive of a British influence. Of that, the closest connection that MoMo & Coco can discern is an English politician whom we briefly recall from our politics studies, he who served in Lord Melbourne’s administration (yes, the origins of this city’s name). However, an Australian photo-historian and an architect share similar portions of the name, so we are bamboozled. Perhaps the more tangible British connection may be found with the parallels between Henry & The Fox and one of MoMo & Coco’s favourite London restaurants — Pollen Street Social –notably the same higher-end casual dining philosophy and a few similar menu items, minus the latter’s raucous atmosphere and hype-ridden beginnings. Hence, allow MoMo & Coco to sing the as-yet-unsung delights of Henry & The Fox. It welcomes, serves and farewells with attention, elan and smiles. It is neither share plate nor three course, but can be both. Its food converses in a youthful, re-energised European vernacular, featuring not polarising, loaded or electric flavours, but instead, understated elegant tastes with an assured rather than contrived modernity. It’s all fastidiously plated, presented on eye-catching dining ware, from glass tiles, stone slabs, white porcelain to lustrous bowls. Although MoMo & Coco might note that the strength of the menu is binary rather than ternary (its entrees and mains perhaps exhibit a little more consideration than its desserts), Henry & The Fox is altogether a nascent breath of fresh air. Painted in honeydew colours, it is a honeydew — sweet, cleansing, utterly refreshing. Heralding a more refined manner of casual dining, it is moreover a most welcome addition to Melbourne’s dining scene.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Henry and the Fox, 525 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Strawberry Pannacotta.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Heralding a refined manner of casual dining, H&F is all youthful European energy.