135 Greeves Street Fitzroy, Victoria 30659417 6660
|Opening hours||Wednesday to Friday 5pm-1am, Saturday noon to 1am and Sunday noon to 11pm|
WHERE AND WHAT
The hipster axis of Fitzroy/Collingwood hardly needs another wine bar for the immaculately cool set, but Hell of the North is so devilishly, charmingly good on so many levels that it stands out in a crowded market. There's the grand heritage building, ominously black with a spicy yellow door; an interior with more slatted wood than a Scandinavian sauna; a dashing cocktail and wine list; and a sommelier with such rambunctious good humour that he spares the place from disappearing up its own nether regions. Even if you're too old to pull off retro-specs and Ned Kelly facial hair, you won't feel out of place - well, not until 10pm hits on a Saturday and the Gen-Y groovesters start spilling in.
WHERE TO SIT
Hell of the North takes its name from an infernally arduous French bike race - and was inspired by the difficulty owners Mark Grixti and Adam Ferrante had dealing with the 1850 building's bluestone walls when renovating. The hard labour paid off. The decor is sleek and elegant, industrial but warmly so: exposed bluestone and walls of midnight blue, lab-chic lights, a stainless steel bar, soft grey benches and lots of blond wood fittings. There are several sections: the action-packed main front room, a canteen-like back area overlooking the kitchen, an intimate bluestone room and a compact courtyard for an informal sip, smoke and snack.
WHEN TO GO
Wednesday to Friday 5pm-1am, Saturday noon to 1am and Sunday noon to 11pm.
Sommelier Grixti, formerly of The European, has compiled a concise and eclectic wine list of personal favourites. Bottled beers lean towards the Australian craft variety and then there's the cocktail list, refined and witty, ranging from Martinis to The Devil's Flip (Calvados, ruby port, spice, cream, whole egg).
The food's a revelation. Chef Sean Marshall was sous chef at Philippe Mouchel's PM24 and he's picked up a trick or two. The menu is short on adjectives but when the dishes arrive you'll start reaching for superlatives: Tasmanian oysters so briny fresh we go back for seconds; luscious, crisp-skinned John Dory with an amazing crab bisque sauce and prawn mousse; melt-in-the-mouth gnocchi with pumpkin, parmesan and earthy curls of wild mushrooms; plump, seared scallops on a creamy artichoke sauce; even a simple beetroot salad with smoked goat's curd glistens with gourmet goodness.
All sorts, from understated mid-aged folk to shiny-faced twenty- and thirtysomethings who look as though they've slipped off the pages of Oyster magazine.
Because it's the full package - great decor, great drinks list and wickedly good food. A class act.
Hell of the North - 135 Greeves Street, Fitzroy, 9417 6660