1 79 Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Features||Bar, Outdoor seating, Events|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
It's with mixed emotions that you climb the steps to Fancy Hank's new digs on Bourke Street. Of course it's a great sign that Mike Patrick and Kent Bell's low-and-slow barbecue business, one of the first serious players in Melbourne having started out doing backyard parties in 2012, is booming. As it should be.
The brisket may be duking it out with that of Chris Terlikar (now at Loretta's) and the roving duo behind Burn City Smokers, but for the full package experience – the room, the beers, the sauces and jars of pickles with rusting lids that sit on the bar top – Fancy Hank's has long been the barbecue king.
Perhaps, then, you'll fear the move away from the thematically appropriate Mercat pub at the Queen Vic Markets where years of spilled beer gave a musty edge to the air, and you could take your plastic tray to the deck to battle birds, all while listening to a busker lingering with a banjo and intent. Let some relief wash over you then that they've brought some of that character to what used to be Tuscan Bar, a chandelier and marble-trimmed restaurant known (but not celebrated) for having a rooftop bar.
Tables are coated in scuffed-up metal sheets. A boar's head is framed by a ring of rusty saws. Wooden panelling and deco light shades the shape of Chupa Chups add a ye olde diner vibe. You wish the uniforms were overalls and plaid instead of pinnies, but, well. Hank's is a little fancier now.
Behold a pair of devilled eggs – a twinset piped with sweet, silky yolks crowned in paprika and chives. The height of sophistication in certain circles and one of the many new excellent snacks on an extended menu. See also the shrimp cocktail of no clear geographical origin featuring a light creamed-corn base, bright pickled prawns and ribbons of zesty fennel, all crowned with a billowing pork crackling hat.
A waitress offers to decipher the menu and change plates like a roolio troolio restaurant. Beers, beyond a familiar tap range encompassing Asahi black, Two Birds Sunset Ale and other mid-size brewery beers, will empty your wallet if you fail to price check. It's rare and delicious stuff – salty refreshing blood orange gose, La Sirene saisons, a tart winale by gypsy brewer Mikkeler. But several stubbies or 440-millilitre beers can cost $19 to $30.
Most importantly, the barbecue is good as ever. Patrick has taken the art more seriously and for longer than most, and invested in a hell of a new beast. Puffing Billie is working double time on brisket bearing the trademarks of experienced pitmasters. A thick slab has the perfect level of tensility as it pulls apart, the fat rendered, the meat still juicy and the crust gnarled with charred spice. A piquant rack of pork ribs is perfect according to ultimate barbecue lore, offering just a second of resistance rather than falling off the bone (contrary to Australian belief, that's a sign of being overdone.)
The smoke on everything is clean rather than acrid so they can do things such as gently infuse bologna, which they finely shave and pack in a fat wad between slices of toasted brioche with banana ketchup. What a sandwich. Caramelised rutabaga (turnip to you) is brilliantly offset by crunchy slips of fennel in a sour cream and vinegar dressing.
A house-made boudin blanc is grainy and extremely vegetal with fresh parsley and a little rice in the pork farce like an American take on Thai sausages, but the chow chow (an American version of mustard pickle) and salty Saladas bring it all together. Do you want half a smoked chicken? You do.
A warning here to Sarah Wilson's anti-candy army, sugar is a sneak assassin in most of this food. It's there in a mustardy dressing coating slices of firm waxy potatoes that constitutes one salad and in onion jam over iceberg in another. Baked beans are every bit as sweet as smoky, in a good way.
Corn bread drenched in a jalapeno butter is an ode to American food in all its this-bread-tastes-like-cake glory. You'll order this with all the friends you'll bring here before and after gigs or following a session at the soon-to-open rooftop bar for ballast. Likewise golden biscuits (essentially extra-buttery scones) which you spread with a whipped maple butter.
There's no banjo (unless you count that busker). But there's pie, sometimes apple, changing daily. It's America's non-prescription answer to the British cup of tea – the promise that changes may come, but everything is going to be OK.
Barbecue gets fancier, at the new Fancy Hank's.
Pro Tip: The original site lives, serving sandwiches.
Go-to Dish: Pork ribs, brisket and the shrimp cocktail.