Hell of the North A French Gem in Fitzroy
Hell of the North is a highly impressive French style bistro and bar tucked away in Fitzroy (just off Brunswick Street in Greeves Street). The World Loves Melbourne was invited (met up with journalist Paul) along to experience the menu and connect with Mark the owner. Sometimes you get a feel for a place early on and within seconds of arriving I could tell this place is a joyous foodie haven. Every dish was highly enjoyable and the wine pairing was savvy and exciting. With a decent fit out featuring bluestone walls, wood accents and various dining spaces, Hell of the North is the perfect place to meet up with friends and lovers.
The name Hell of the North is derived from a French byline - referring to the Paris–Roubaix one-day professional men's bicycle road race in northern France. Not being a cycling enthusiast the name conjured up other things to me - I wondered if the restaurant was a grungy punk pizza joint or named after a local character like nearby Naked for Satan - but far from it Hell of the North delivers on elegant fine European flavours and oozes class.
There's also an air of authenticity - Hell of the North is not pretentious but is a restaurant for the people. The menu is focussed and has depth with compelling French style dishes. Mark is keen to please and is proud of his restaurant, engaging customers at tables. There's a pervading conviviality about the place. Mark points to bottles stacked along the steel beams, with certain high end bottles consumed referencing epic evenings that come back to memory.
Champagne on arrival is impressive. Bespoke wine choices featuring many French offerings.
First course strikes a chord with Cured Ocean Trout, Bois Boudran. This is a smoky creamy taste and textural triumph. Mark tells us that in recent years he has paired back on the richness of the food to suit modern tastes, although there's still a wonderful rustic richness still. But not over the top.
Mark serves up Arbois Vin Jaune (Yellow wine from Eastern France) and tells us about the Arbois Vin Jaune "police". As I understand active yeast is formed in the maturation process of this wine and has to be spot on or else that batch is not included (denied by the wine "police"). The veil of yeast on the wine during maturation provides nutty aromas. A great talking point and the wine was excellent.
All kinds of things come to my mind when I think of French Onion Soup including exotic memories from dining in the 80s. This was the best French Onion Soup I've ever consumed and I savoured every spoonful and slurp. Also brilliant is that the wine described above Arbois Vin Jaune was a perfect match.
I wanted to know the recipe - this French Onion Soup is amazing. Apparently cooked in the Normandy style. I was surprised at how thick this soup was, and suspect there was a reduction in which the onions are partially caramelised. I was told there was a presence of cider and the stock was intense. Making the soup even more rustic was a generous amount of gruyere. A heavenly soup shining bright in Hell of the North.
The top of the soup was like a crust of onion and gruyere joy.
Back to the wine.Wine bar? Restaurant? Both are pumping.
Conviviality. Surely a bike race can't be this good.
A signature is the Pork belly, endive, apple served with Raddichio salad. The pork was perfectly cooked and crackling on top impeccable. Raddichio is always hard to spell but a pleasure to eat. I could have sworn there was witlof on the plate but it was in fact endive, and I believe they are closely related. Wonderful rustic dining.
Another signature is the Duck & Mushroom Croquette, comfort food overdrive. Once you start on these you may consider a second serving. Crunchy exterior and creamy inside indulgence.
A packed Wednesday night crowd.
Cheese to finish but not just any cheese. A great selection of French cheeses at Hell of the North awaits.
And a coffee to finish a superb night.
Unpretentious but hits the high notes. Honest and excellent with every course and wine match a joy. How dining is meant to be. Bravo Hell of the North.