Hell of the North is a slice of French bistro heaven in Melbourne’s inner north.
Mark Grixti, the co-owner and front-of-house manager, has worked in restaurants for years, his first job as restaurant manager at Guernica on Brunswick Street, as well as working for various other well-known haunts around Melbourne before moving overseas for a while.
He came home to Australia to settle in Sydney before returning to Melbourne’s The European for five years, before he and his silent business partner opened Hell of the North.
“We came up with the concept for Hell of the North because there aren’t too many French restaurants in Melbourne and we love French wine and food,” says Grixti.
“We wanted to do something that was a modern French bistro without the pretence or formality. We love beautiful things but we don’t like it when they come with an over-the-top, seriousness. We are very professional in what we do, but try not to be too serious.”
The current head chef was the sous-chef at Hell until the end of last year, when the previous head chef left and he stepped up to the role. Grixti says the food hasn’t changed a lot over the life of the restaurant, because it is classic bistro food, but the menu does change seasonally.
“Basically the bigger dishes are a protein, vegetables and sauce.
“The Charcuterie and all those little things don’t ever really change.
“Sometimes the parfait may go from chicken to duck but those decisions are informed by seasonality.
“The classics always stay but then some things move and shake to keep everyone interested,” says Grixti.
All the produce at Hell of the North is bought locally and if an ingredient is going out of season, they simply change the dish. There are two changes on the menu per season, which are normally based around major vegetables changing seasonally.
Grixti says it is most likely their head chef that makes decisions about new dishes or comes up with ideas, although sometimes other people on staff will help brainstorm ideas.
Grixti explains that food and wine matching is not a huge focus for them, rather just serving quality foods and wines in their own rights.
“Basically I am of the view there are a few exceptional pairings that go well together, but apart from that, a lot of personal preference comes into it.
“If the wine is savoury, it will go with food, do you know what I mean? There are a couple of things that are very classical matches and we understand why we ask for those things together. But most of the time, any savoury white wine will suit your fish dishes and any savoury red wine will suit your meat dishes. But the specificity of that is somewhat overplayed in my mind sometimes.
“I know a lot of places do degustation menus with matching wines and it makes it a lot easier for the punter when ordering, but this is a bistro, we are not fine dining and that would be more of a fine dining thing.
“People do ask us for recommendations and we happily do it, we offer little half glasses of this or that to accompany courses.”
Aside from wines, Grixti is a fan of local craft beer. He refuses to import beer, suggesting it is like importing mineral water!
“Why do you need all the carbon miles on beer when you can just produce it here and there are perfectly good examples of it locally?“
These are purely philosophical, environmental decisions that Grixti has made as a restaurateur.
The most popular dishes on the menu are the crème brulee, the steak tartare, and the parfait – as Grixti points out – all the classic things. He says people also ask for dishes that friends have recommended to them such as the pork and Gruyere donuts or the seasonal mushroom gnocchi.
|135 Greeves St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9417 6660