36 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Phone: 0411 404 374
I don’t know about you, but this year is flying by for me. Life seems to be full of projects right now; I’ve learned a lot, and made some great new friends in the past few months. It’s an exciting thing when you encounter new people and try new things, but it often means that your old favourites fall by the wayside, and old friends who are much loved somehow get neglected.
Ms A and I used to live together, first in a cosy worker’s cottage in the heart of Fitzroy, and then further out in the Crox’, where I planted my most successful vegie patch ever. She’s one of those important people in my life who I know I’ll be friends with forever. But though our friendship bonds are strong and deep, it doesn’t mean we haven’t grown apart, if only in social circles. It had been months since I’d last had a chance to catch up with her properly, so we scheduled a little dinner rendezvous in our old neighbourhood, the ‘Roy.
For years, I’d heard people talk about Houndstooth, but I’d never managed to get down there. They were known for an ever-changing seasonal menu, and exceptionally good value. The menu works like this: there are four courses on offer – starters, entree, mains, dessert/cheese – and you can choose any combination of them, with a minimum of two courses. Two courses will set you back the miserly sum of $20, three courses $25, and four courses $30. It would be hard to find such good value with this style of cooking anywhere else. It’s a fairly small establishment, with only four communal tables, each seating around 8-10 people comfortably.
Not being extremely hungry, we decided to just have two courses. We started with the piadina flatbread, with pickled eggplant. I had expected it to be a little thicker, like pita bread, but it was quite thin, like a more bready version of a crepe. The eggplant was nicely pickled – not too salty or sour – though I thought there was a little too much oil brushed on the bread, and it became a little messy towards the end.
We also shared the Jerusalem artichoke and potato soup. This was a bit of a disappointment. While the flavour of Jerusalem artichoke was very apparent, the overall flavour was still pretty bland, and needed some more seasoning. I wouldn’t recommend you try this unless you’re a Jerusalem artichoke fanatic.
After a bit of a disappointing start, we were looking forward to the mains. We’d both had trouble choosing, as there were many enticing options. It being a chilly night out, we were both in the mood for some hearty meals. Ms A went for the stifado – we both had a little giggle about the name – which was explained to us as a Greek style sweet and sour beef stew.
I sampled a little, and it was indeed sweet and sour, though nothing like the Chinese version. This was much more on the sweet side, and I think it was probably honey and red wine, as opposed to sugar and vinegar. The flavour was rich and warming, and the crumbled feta added a nice piquancy to the overall dish.
I find it hard to look past more unusual meats like goat when they’re on a menu. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s an allure of the exotic, I guess. This goat dish was certainly that; braised with vanilla, cinnamon and white wine.
I took a moment to just inhale the vanilla and cinnamon aroma that floated up from the dish. It was soft, sweet and delicate. Not at all what you would expect from a goat dish, where so often chefs try to mask the flavour of the goat with bold spices. The vanilla and cinnamon were well balanced with the white wine, and the sauce complemented the goat beautifully. So after a shaky start, Houndstooth really managed to deliver. I mean just look at our empty plates!
I think next time, we might try the desserts instead of the entree. And there will definitely be a next time soon, as Ms A and I have resolved to catch up more regularly. Because even though there are so many new and exciting things going on in our lives, it’s good to recognise what’s important, and truly good friends are certainly that.