European in feel and produce-focused across the menu, Hazel Restaurant is a well-oiled machine, from the kitchen to the front of house. This is a classy venue where the food is considered and beautifully executed and the staff are informed and charming.
Location: 164 Flinders Ln, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: (03) 9070 4938
I’m surprised that more people don’t know about the many charms of Melbourne restaurant, Hazel.
For me, this elegant, stripped-back dining space with its pale wood, cream banquettes and lofty roominess is reminiscent of European bistros. Spaces where the mood is light, the food refined and the service impeccable. Just as things are at Hazel.
So it’s not surprising to learn that Hazel Restaurant is part of the Mulberry Group. If the name is unfamiliar to you, there’s a good chance that you know of their cafes. They opened the much-loved Higher Ground, Top Paddock and The Kettle Black, before selling them on, and still helm others such as Liminal. And apart from excellent, Melbourne-worthy coffee and great food, these eateries all reside in uniquely designed spaces.
Update: The Mulberry Group have recently taken over the cafe space at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. Heide Kitchen is open from 9am-3pm and serves delights like a Smoked Barramundi Scramble and a delightfully fresh Heide Garden Risotto.
At Hazel Restaurant, Brianna Smith and Oliver Edwards run a kitchen that delights in quality produce, prepared with care – often from scratch. Therefore, you can expect the vinegars, miso pastes and cheeses featured in your meal to have been crafted onsite. Indeed, after our last visit, we spent time talking to staff about the wonderful pickles we’d enjoyed, whilst admiring a huge jar of them steeping on a counter top.
In fact, chat to any of the wait staff and you’ll come away with information about the restaurant’s sustainable food philosophies and focus on developing relationships with producers who believe in the same things. Pleasingly, an increasing number of Melbourne restaurants are heading down the seasonal, low-waste cooking route and Hazel is right at the front of this movement.
Hazel – The Food
In general, there are 2 types of menu that I really love. A Degustation or Tasting Menu, and any menu that is deigned to share.
The former, because then I get to try everything. I know it’s childish, but I succumb to food envy whenever I see someone on another table eating something I haven’t ordered. And the second, for exactly the same reason, only in this case I covet whatever the person sitting next to me is eating.
Happily, Hazel Restaurant offers a blend of both.
Sharing is encouraged no matter what you choose from the a la carte selection. Alternatively, you can put your trust in the kitchen and order the Chef’s Menu To Share $85pp (compulsory for bookings of 6 or more).
For my first dinner at Hazel, my companion and I went with the Chef’s Menu and were more than happy with our meal.
The second time I visited, we put ourselves in the very capable hands of our waiter who, after a brief chat, recommended an intelligently curated array of dishes for us.
Hazel has a new sister venue in Cremorne, Lilac Wine Bar – read about it here.
What We Ate
We dived straight in with the Barrastrami, Fried Bread + Horseradish. It’s a dish that embodies all that is good about sourcing the best possible ingredients and preparing them simply to bring out their best. A crisp slither of fried bread, topped with smoky, house-cured curls of barramundi. The final addition, a light dusting of horseradish, which went brilliantly with the mild fishy flavours.
I’ve never yet met a Duck Parfait that I haven’t loved, and this one was no exception. Velvety smooth, it came with pickles which had just the right tartness to cut the richness of the pate.
From there we had a plate of delicately sliced raw Kingfish (photo above), perfectly seasoned and dressed. Needless to say, the house-made Sourdough and Whipped Butter were good enough to eat on their own.
The Halloumi was another crowd-pleaser of a plate. At Hazel Restaurant it arrived adorned with Fennel Pollen and a cheek of lemon. The fennel pollen was a real surprise, bringing warm aniseed notes to the dish which worked beautifully with the tangy savouriness of the (house-made) cheese.
A plate of soft, buttery calamari and earthy sauteed mushrooms was fabulous. The textures of the seafood and fungi gently echoed one another and there was real harmony in their combined flavours.
For our Main we shared blushing pink slices of perfectly rested Lamb Rump – gamy in all the right ways. It was served with Pumpkin + Radicchio Agrodolce – a clever play on sweet and sour against the mineral richness of the meat. On the side we had a crunchy plate of Braised Brassicas that none of us could leave alone.
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When it came to the Desserts, we were adamant that we wanted the Quince Brulee and the Ginger Pudding, Miso Butterscotch + Sour Cream Sorbet. Thankfully, our waiter talked us into trying the Honey Tart + Cultured Cream – a marvel of silky, honeyed bliss and biscuity pastry. Oh. And the Quince Brulee and Ginger Pudding were heavenly as well.
Hazel – The Drinks
Arriving early for a dinner booking is only a problem in my mind if there’s no room at the bar.
Fortunately, at Hazel Restaurant that particular evening there were a few bar stools free and we hopped up and attacked the cocktail menu.
I’d had the brilliantly punchy Apple Gimlet previously and loved it. This time I went for the Strawberry Negroni, which came garnished with a chewy leaf of pressed strawberry jelly. It was whimsical and delicious, the sweetness of the strawberry playing off the bitter notes of the Campari.
During our meal, the Arfion ‘Fever’ Pinot Gris blend Skin Contact, Yarra Valley, Victoria, went down well.
And a shout out to a Wine List that includes Small Bottles (375ml) and Big Bottles (1500ml), as well as wines by the glass.
Hazel Restaurant – The Space
I mentioned the European bistro feel of Hazel when opening this review.
The restaurant actually flows over 2 floors. At ground level, the Parisienne vibe is strongest, with high windows looking out over Flinders Lane and a busy feature bar.
Head upstairs and whilst the light and space remains, the mood is more relaxed fine dining. Here, the big draw is an open kitchen where you can watch the brigade display their skills.
Hazel Restaurant – The Service
I don’t always make a point of writing a separate section about the service offered at a restaurant. After all, here in Australia, we are fortunate to have a hospitality industry staffed by consummate professionals.
However, the level of service at Hazel Restaurant was the best that I’ve experienced for a while.
Turning up early for our booking wasn’t a problem, despite the the restaurant clearly being packed. We were slipped onto the edge of the bar without fuss.
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From the greeter at the door to the bar staff and wait staff who advised us on our meal and then brought our food, everyone was friendly, helpful and happy to engage in small talk. And this when everyone was busy.
Such care turned a lovely evening into a great one.
The promise of seasonal, sustainable dining, whilst sounding great, can sometime prove to be a curse. The danger is a mish-mash of dishes that follow food trends rather that expressing a true understanding of the ingredients.
Well, not so at Hazel Restaurant.
Across 2 light, airy floors all that is good about a carefully curated produce-driven menu is on display. From the smart cocktails to the balanced, flavoursome dishes.
But the icing on the cake is the superb staff who make you feel as cared for as the food.
As you enter the building that houses Hazel, you may notice dimmed lights and movement in the basement below street level. Venture down, rather than up and you’ll find your self in Dessous Bar.
A sister establishment to the restaurant upstairs, Dessous Bar is dimly lit and clandestine – quite the opposite of bright, spacious Hazel.
An alluring mix of marble and secretive corners its a great spot for a quick cocktail or glass of wine. However, it also has an enticing food menu, if you decide to make an evening of it.
Start with a Spanner Crab Doughnut with Salmon Caviar ($18ea) or a fragrant Red Curry Corn Fritter with Sweet Chilli and Cucumber ($5ea). I know it’s not for everyone, but I love Roasted Bone Marrow and at Dessous it’s given an Asian twist with Sticky Rice & a Thai Herb Salad ($18).
If you settle in for dinner, the Mains include Grilled Duck Leg, Morcilla, Mustard Figs and Watercress ($38) and a Slow Roasted Rump Cap, Soubise and Onion Rings ($42).
Dessous Bar is the kind of venue that you stumble upon only to find yourself returning again and again.