Address: 131 Smith St Fitzroy, Vic, 3065
Phone: (03) 9419 5101
Tuesday to Friday, 12pm until late
Saturday to Sunday, 9am until late
Seating times for dinner: early (6pm until 8.15) or late (8.30 until late)
Smith Street is hardly short of places to please the belly. Josie Bones, Easy Tiger, Panama Dining Room, Provence Food and Wine, Boire and Café Rosamond are just a stone’s throw away from each other. It makes little sense to own a restaurant in the area, unless you can really stand out. Thankfully, Huxtable does. Dubbed one of the top ten hot new restaurants by The Age Good Food Guide, Huxtable has been attracting media attention, bloggers, foodies and those who have been more than happily dragged along since it opened last year.
From the name to the interior, Huxtable references The Cosby Show. The American series was popular from the mid ‘80s through to the early ‘90s and starred none other than the Huxtable family. In any other place, the black and brown leather bucket chairs and red brick bar would look dated, but alongside the contemporary plywood ceiling and open kitchen area, Huxtable pulls it off. With all the big fashion names sporting bright colours this season, it would seem that Huxtable predicted the ‘80s revival.
We booked ahead for a work lunch on a Friday, but were the only people in the restaurant by the time we had finished our meal. Most of the tables accommodate four, but the wooden stools overlooking the chefs at work are a great solo dining option. Tables are also available outside, a must if you have never people watched on Smith Street. Groups of six or more must order the set menu, a selection of 10 courses at $50pp. Bookings are recommended.
The staff are the happy-go-lucky kind: casual in their approach but still founts of knowledge. Although Huxtable has an extensive list of imported and local wine, we started with lemongrass pale ale from Alchemy Brewing Co. in Healesville. With “a stalk of lemongrass in every bottle,” the novelty value matched the light and fruity flavour.
Then there was the food, which is divided into bites and share plates. The bites work on a per person basis, except for the tom yum school prawns, which we shared. A bowl of lightly fried prawns arrived with a wedge of lime. They were small enough that you could eat them whole. These tasty little morsels were more-ish to say the least.
Along with the prawns, we ordered a bite each. I had the special of the day, a pulled pork po’boy with XO sauce and a sliced pickle on a soft white bun.
It was a different take on another more permanent option, a po’boy with oysters encrusted with rice flour beside iceberg lettuce and sriracha mayonnaise.
I noticed women dominated the female-to-male gender ratio of the Huxtable team, with only one fella in the kitchen (you go girls). Maybe that’s why they call it a po’boy? Boom boom.
Also ordered was the steamed crab and corn rice noodle with XO chilli. The bulging, homemade noodle rested on a banana leaf with a small blob of the chunky sauce. Inside the bite-sized package was a generous amount of crabmeat nestled amongst some crunchy corn kernels.
The favourite bite was the crisp filo log of lamb puttanesca and lemon yoghurt. Placed on a bed of lemon yoghurt, fine angel hair pastry encased the meat, while the spices, nuts and currants added familiar Moroccan flavours.
The only vegetarian item enjoyed was a perfect cube of steamed tofu, decorated with a chilli, ginger and black bean dressing and a leafy crown. Our bites came out as they were ready and we were encouraged not to wait for the others. There was less of an ‘every-man-for-himself’ philosophy surrounding the share plates.
First up was the ceviche of scallops, octopus and snapper. The pile of fresh, raw seafood was mixed with sliced chilli and onion and was flavoursome without being too fishy.
The king salmon was presented to the table next. The fish was cooked to a crisp on the outside and the bright pink flesh was just barely cooked through. A mound of salad perched on top, consisting of juicy pomelo, chopped peanuts, coriander and chilli.
But the uncontested favourite was the Korean barbeque pork ribs. A layer of crispy crackling hugged the sticky pork meat and appealed to everything but our arteries. The salty, almost bitter, chilli-marinated gherkins balanced the fatty ribs. Perfectly cooked with a side of ‘spicy’ slaw (food bloggers, including myself, have pointed out the lack of spice), they went down a treat.
The char-grilled quail was different again. It came hidden amongst an interesting green mango and cashew salad with a roasted chilli dressing. The tender quail was hardly detectable until we plundered through the attractive pile of ingredients. The green mango more closely resembled rice-noodles than fruit, and had red flecks of chilli throughout. Topped with a fine chilli lattice, it tasted as good as it looked.
Our final dish was the five-spice duck breast. The fat slices had been marinated in mandarin caramel soy and lay on braised wombok (Chinese cabbage). Sweet, sour and juicy, the harmony of flavours was music to our mouths.
Unfortunately, we were too full to order from the sweet section. Although tempted by the rhubarb jam doughnuts with orange blossom custard and yoghurt sorbet; the dark chocolate delice with jaffa, raspberry sorbet and pistachio; and the mandarin creme brulee with a cardamom biscuit, we decided to hold back.
When you step into Huxtable, you step back in time. It’s not just the furniture, it’s the way the menu is unfussy like menus used to be. Thai, Japanese, Italian and Middle Eastern influences sit side by side and staff won’t turn their noses up at you if you don’t know what ‘ceviche’ is. Their mantra is simple: “all the things that work and none of the things that don’t.” On this particularly sunny Friday, we found it hard to disagree.