Thirteen Duxton Hill doesn’t have plenty of mass appeal. You are greeted with a vaguely explained, vegetable-heavy menu and a lesser-known selection of new wave and 90’s alt-rock. Think, plenty of Talking Heads, Joy Division, Sonic Youth. But dig a little deeper and the rewards are plenty. Head chef John-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble have created a cosy, informal approach to the kind of experimental dishes found at their previous joint, fine dining restaurant Lûmé located in Melbourne. Fiechtner makes the rounds at the nearby markets every morning, and the menu changes according to what he finds, although there is almost always a whole fresh fish. For now, the restaurant seems to be still finding its feet; we were there on a weekday evening and only saw one other table occupied.
On offer every day are 13 sharing dishes and drinks. They didn’t have a bartender in the house yet, so the offerings were decidedly uncomplicated. My partner went with a Prosecco ($17), while I, having been researching Italy the entire day, begged Sally to do a spritz (not on the menu)—which she very kindly acceded to with a floral rose and grapefruit version ($20), since they were out of Campari.
They’ve boldly made many of the meats and seafood into the sauce component of their dishes, in a move totally counterintuitive to local sensibilities. The dish of Asparagus, Pumpkin Seed, Bone Marrow ($16), was vegetal, bright and yet intensely meaty at the same time, thanks to the combination of rich bone marrow and nutty pumpkin seeds, which were pureed into a sauce and draped over tender asparagus stalks.
Another example of that counterintuitive ethos is their Corn, Prawn Head Butter, Burnt Cocoa ($16). Our first instinct was to go ‘where’re the prawns?’, but it turned out that we were too quick to judge as this was a clear winner. The decadent creamy corn custard perfectly complemented the slightly charred baby corn, while the prawn head butter was the delicious, delicious icing on this particular cake: liquid butter strongly redolent of the ocean that just begged for crusty bread.
Slightly disappointing was the Grouper Ceviche ($24), which was cured with a savoury bone vinegar and finished with coriander seed oil and bits of dehydrated tomatoes. The intense tomatoes overpowered the mild white fish, although we did enjoy the warm spice that the coriander oil lent to the dish.
Opinions were split on the their Squid, Raw Broccoli and Snow Pea Salad, Chestnut Milk ($20). The squid was quickly poached to give it a almost-pillowy texture, which I found a bit jarring since I personally prefer my cephalopods with a bit more chew. Otherwise, the dish was a riot of textures and flavours as the brilliant, grassy salad’s acidity balanced out well with the sweet chestnut cream foam and a dusting of lactose powder.
While meat fiends will be drawn to their Flank, Fermented, Raw Mushroom ($36), the true star of this dish were the morsels of salty, intensely umami shiitake that were scattered on top the beef. After some probing we found out that the mushrooms were fermented in red yeast rice, which gave it a distinctive red hue.
We were also undecided on our dessert of Chocolate, Egg White, Barley, Caraway ($15), which was torched Italian meringue topped with roasted barley flour and caraway ‘dirt’. My dining partner did not care much for the anise bite of the caraway, although I thought that it was an interesting combination of flavours. If there were any minuses, the roasted barley flour felt too grainy, and its texture bordered on unpleasant.
Thirteen Duxton Hill
13 Duxton Hill. Tel: 9054 1435