Cruise through what seems to be a “greatest hits” list of Melbourne’s dining eats, and end with a strong dessert epilogue.
In the last half-a-decade or so, Melbourne’s northside has been increasingly viewed as an up-and-coming place, a favourite of the hipster and bohemian, the student and young professional. Mirroring this trend, a few inspired dining venues have emerged from its generally nondescript road strips. Around the corner from Gertrude Street, whose super hipster cred has spilled onto Smith Street, Huxtable occupies a somewhat unassuming space. Hardly startling in appearance, its pared-downed decor exudes one part retro sensibility and another part Thatcherite austerity. It’s almost perpetually full house, brimming with a crowd that mainly consists of a generation who can recall its namesake sitcom. They seat close together on Huxtable’s storm grey banquettes, noir bucket seats, or hard wood perches wrapping around a brick enclosure that houses an open kitchen. The epitome of casual dining done well, Huxtable buzzes with a rather carefree vibe day and night.
MoMo & Coco visited thrice in the space of a month; one being a weekend lunch and two after-work dinners. Condensed into a single sheet, divided into four sections headed by “bites, sea, land, earth,” Huxtable’s shared plate a la carte menu was a multicultural hodgepodge, pennanted with modern Australian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Thai, Japanese and Korean flags, but steadfastly refusing to experiment with East-West fusion. Between three visits, MoMo & Coco teased our tastebuds with a number of bites, selecting the heart-warming Croquettes ($3.50 each), spiked with a jalapeno kick wielded after a mouthful of cheddar and potato, a kind of intermarriage between Spain and Ireland. A short stump of Lamb Puttanesca ($5.50 each) was rolled in a somewhat sodden filo web that failed to deliver a much needed textural crunch to its soft elements, and was therefore as saddening as the turmoil in the Middle East. We also had two more Asian-esque bites, a cube of Steamed Tofu ($4.50 each) beautifully engaged with its crown of chilli, ginger and black bean, and equally delicious, a lightly-battered Tempura Eggplant Prawn Fritter ($5.50 each) rinsed in a sweet sour emulsion of shiso. Paired with a glass or two from a wine list of reasonable length, price and interest, Huxtable delivered sophisticated bar snacks that could be said to almost eclipse its larger share plate options. A little more substantial, the share plate of Roast Duck Breast ($27) came tethered to a vibrant salad of quinoa, hazlenut, goats cheese, but the duck itself was rendered a little too Japon-esque rare for MoMo & Coco’s personal preference for a more cooked, more French confit version. Stacked as a log tower, the much-lauded Korean BBQ Ribs ($22) were molassy and treacly in texture, but didn’t quite live up to expectations in taste. Far more memorable was the Thai-influenced Quail ($19), two large quails embraced each other and were set alight with a chili dressing, swept up in a flurry of green mango and cashew salad. Perfect summer nom noms.
There were five sweet irresistibles available at Huxtable, four of which MoMo & Coco sampled between three visits, bypassing therefore the boring ubiquitous icecream option. We bestow an advance thank you to Huxtable’s chefs, for putting as much thought into their desserts as they had in their savouries, something that many Melbourne CBD restaurants should consider adopting more thoroughly, and which seemingly Melbourne’s northside restaurants do very well indeed (see eg Merricote and Cutler & Co). A safe option for those who prefer not to dabble in contemporary sweet irresistibles, the first irresistible sampled was the “Icecream and Fudge Sandwich” ($12), consisting of two thin crisp-biscuits sandwiching a frozen icecream wheel subtly flavoured with raspberry, its epicentre a very sweet white chocolate that was more molten than fudge in texture, per se. A simple lovely thing, nonetheless.
The second irresistible, the “Rhubarb Jam Doughnuts” ($15) satisfied the doughnut criteria as fluffy orbs decadently encrusted with sugar and screaming to be popped into one’s mouth. A pity then that their rhubarb hearts lacked the characteristic sting of rhubarb, its pool of custard whispered rather than accentuated orange blossom and its sorbet mound projected only iciness rather than any particular flavour. A little underwhelming, it would seem that MoMo & Coco’s favourite doughnuts — little round dreams filled with semi-molten Turkish delight and draped in honey and rosewater from Maha — remain our benchmark for deep-fried indulgence.
Fortunately, momentum was regained with Huxtable’s third irresistible, the “White Chocolate Delice” ($15). Presented like a setting white sun on a blood red rivulet of jazzy raspberry coulis, a spangled sugar shard arose from a white chocolate mound that cracked open to reveal a very fluffy mousse. Its white chocolate sweetness was offset by a globe of devastatingly exquisite, punchy passionfruit sorbet that ricocheted off one’s palate ampere scale. Quite literally electrifying, it sent chills down one’s spine, and stole the show from the delice centrepiece.
As memorable a dessert as the third irresisitible, the fourth Huxtable irresistible, the deconstructed “Creme Fraiche Cheesecake” ($15) again danced to a whimsy tune of dessert modernity rather than dessert traditionalism. Its cellular components were espaliered against its white plate — a trail of crumbs strewn with freeze-dried strawberry flakes, curving around small hills of cheesecake cream, lightly-infused mango sorbet and somewhat superfluous opaque droplets of an unidentified substance. A sweetly delicate irresistible, especially perfect for this summer.
Over MoMo & Coco’s three visits, service was rendered by a casually-dressed trio, who were friendly and worked to the rhythm of the venue. No significant faults to pinpoint, except perhaps that if one was seated at the bar, service tended to be a little oblivious. On the policy side of things, although it’s great to see a restaurant accept reservations (as they all should in MoMo & Coco’s opinion), it’s negated by a strictly-enforced timed-seating policy. Indigestion is not ideal.
Like “British” cuisine, “Modern Australian” cuisine is a label usually met with smirks of derision. However, a short list of dining venues have redefined “Modern Australian” to mean something alluring, inspirational and as unique as the country itself (MoMo & Coco choose as our favourite examples, Cumulus, Cutler & Co, No 35 and Persimmon). To this list, we add Huxtable, distinguishable as a more casual venue, a comparatively inexpensive entry-point to modern Australian cuisine. It is indeed a surprise to MoMo & Coco that Huxtable succeeds on our radar. It really shouldn’t — situated in a once-junkie inner-city roadstrip, a terribly minimalistic decor, a menu that has no intention to be cutting-edge but rather, merely cruises through what seems to be a “greatest hits” list of the past decade or so of Melbourne’s dining landscape. Yet, it does work. We love it moreover because its culinary prose concludes with consistently strong dessert epilogues. Your Dessert Correspondents here know far more of books than of televsion shows, so we cannot say if Huxtable lives up to its sitcom namesake. Rather, to us at least, Huxtable’s has a quiet poignancy not unlike a Hemingway novel. Highly addictive, we can hear its bell towing for us to re-visit yet again.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Huxtable Restaurant, 131 Smith Street, Collingwood, Vic 3065.
- ☑ Budget: $$-$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert.
- ☑ Must-eat: Every dessert that you can fit it, but especially the “Chocolate Delice.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Cruising through what seems to be a “greatest hits” list of Melbourne’s dining eats with a quiet poignancy.