Hell of the North has been steadily achieving a reputation for well-executed French food and convivial surroundings in a beautiful blue stone factory conversion in Fitzroy. The area, just north-east of Melbourne’s CBD, has some serious foodie buzz. Hell of the North is at the Smith Street end of Greeves Street where almost every previously derelict shop has been turned into a cool, groovy eatery in recent times.

Despite the geographic location playing into the restaurant’s name, it is in fact an homage to a French Easter Sunday tradition – the Paris to Roubaix bike race, notorious among cyclists for its tooth filling-jarring cobblestoned roads and changeable weather conditions. On an unseasonably warm Sunday in Melbourne, Greedy Girl, gluttonous husband and crew settled into a cool, private alcove overlooking a small courtyard.

The people behind the restaurant have had a long history in hospitality throughout Melbourne and around the world. The chef is Sean Marshall, who trained under French expat Philippe Mouchel – very handy for getting the best of French cuisine down pat. The sommelier and front of house man is Mark Grixti whose family has been in hospitality since his teenage years. He’s also travelled the world, working for the very jolly Irish chef Richard Corrigan in London, a stint in San Francisco and in some of Melbourne’s more iconic restaurants, including the Stokehouse, Bortolottos, the European and the late, lamented Guernica.

The pedigree of the team being well-established, we settled in with some chilled water, a Kir Royale for Greedy Girl (vive la France) and a pale ale for gluttonous husband, and awaited the arrival of the rest of our party.

And a party it was – having the little alcove to ourselves was very enjoyable. Conversations with seven people around a lovely long table flowed easily, as did lashings of the house wines, sourced from Margaret River in WA and bottled under the Roubaix label – we sampled a perfectly acceptable sauvignon blanc and a shiraz throughout proceedings.

And so to the food. The restaurant has a deal where, for A$65 a head, they’re happy to feed you a selection of delights. Friends had already warned Greedy Girl this was a power of food, so we opted for a slightly more restrained approach.

First up was the charcuterie plate. This was more of a charcuterie slab – an organic chunk of slate hosted a duck liver parfait with a madeira jelly, duck rillettes, a duck and foie gras terrine, with some cured meats, a tub of onion jam and some baby gherkins. The highlight was the rillette. Greedy Girl found the madeira jelly a bit too overpowering for the duck liver parfait (which admittedly was very smooth and soft). The cured meat was perfectly pleasant, but there wasn’t enough of it on the slab for sharing (we had two plates between seven adults for a starter) and the terrine was also quite nice.

Charcuterie plate

Charcuterie plate

We moved to mains. Between us, we made three choices. Wagyu beef bavette with sauce au poivre and pommes puree was Greedy Girl’s choice. This was a nice dish. ‘Bavette’ is essentially flank steak. Our server explained they only chose this cut from a premium breed such as Wagyu so they could be confident it would be tender. The meat had definite texture and it meshed well with the soft potatoes. The pepper sauce could have packed a little more of a punch.

Wagyu beef bavette with sauce au poivre

Wagyu beef bavette with sauce au poivre

Gluttonous husband had the John Dory, served with a prawn mousse, crab and coconut ‘fumet’. The fish was cooked well and the skin was reasonably crispy. It sat on top of a vegetable medley in a pool of the broth or ‘fumet’. Gluttonous husband thought the prawn mousse was less successful, not having a particularly strong prawn flavour.

John Dory, prawn mousse

John Dory, prawn mousse

The other choice from one of our dear friends was a Milawa chicken with foie gras and potatoes Lyonnaise. This was probably the best of the dishes. The chicken and foie gras were soft and moist and worked exceptionally well together. The potatoes (sliced and pan fried with butter, onions and parsley) were a good accompaniment.

Milawa chicken with foie gras

Milawa chicken with foie gras

As a side dish we opted to try the Vichyssoise with cauliflower, veal sweetbreads and white truffle slices (the real deal, from Alba in Italy), pictured at the top of this blog. While the coldness was appreciated on such a hot day, this dish looked much better than it tasted. Greedy Girl, a lover of truffles, was sad to find she couldn’t taste this most delectable (and expensive) of treats. The other flavours were just too strong.

And so to dessert. Gluttonous husband was delighted to see a wonderfully retro treat, Crepes Suzette – which arrived flaming at the table in a cast-iron pan. It was delicious. The crepes were thin, the orange sauce not too sweet – in all, a perfect execution of the dish.

Crepes Suzette

Crepes Suzette

One of our dear friends went for another classic – creme brulee. Again, this was executed very well with a nice crunchy top and not overly sweet.

creme brulee

Creme brulee

The final dessert was a berry vacherin accompanied by quenelles of sorbet. While the other desserts were presented very traditionally, this was the pastry chef’s chance to be artistic. It was executed well with light and crispy meringue and the berry flavours were delightful.

berry vacherin

Berry vacherin

Hell of the North is open quite late most nights and offers a supper menu for revellers heading home needing another food fix. It’s a fun spot and a good venue for a group gathering. The food is executed well although the flavours could be a little more harmonious. It’s a good addition to the French dining scene in this most multi-cultural of cities.

Hell of the North

135 Greeves Street, Fitzroy


Hell of the North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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