680 Victoria Street, North Richmond, Victoria. 3121
This isn’t my first attempt to write a review of our visit to Fenix. I’ve had a couple of goes at it and the result has been a long rambling stack of words that were more about the tram trip to the restaurant and less about how I really felt about the place. I think it's because I really wanted to be impressed but the truth is, I wasn't. So, this time I’m determined to be as honest and candid about the experience as I possibly can.
Firstly, I've got to apologise, it’s been a week since I have posted anything on Food Trek Reviews because life sometimes hits you like a monster wave and you’re flat out just getting up at 4am each morning. My day job has had me driving two and a half hours each way for some special projects and working my arse off in between the drives, and on top of that I’ve been chewing down pseudoephedrine like M & M’s just so I don’t drown in snot. Yesterday I was so sick all I could do when I got home was eat chicken soup with a movie on the box to cheer me up. Not thinking straight, I chose Schindler's List and cried my eyes out. Well that’s enough self-pity, now on with the review.
I’m posting a couple of photos of the night so you can properly appreciate my point of view. I’ve had a good chat with Kelly and she totally disagrees with many of my opinions on Fenix. Kelly absolutely loved it, where as I was a bit disappointed, but everybody has different tastes, right?
We were really excited about eating at Fenix because we like Chef Gary Mehigan so much. On his TV show “Masterchef”, he comes across as a genuinely nice bloke. Gary is always polite and supportive of the contestants (as are the other hosts, George Calombaris and Matt Preston, with their “build them up, don’t tear them down” approach) and Gary’s down to earth personality makes him easy to relate to as a working class success. So, naturally our expectations were high.
The main entrance which is off Victoria Street North Richmond, just before the bridge over the Yarra River has large red neon letters above the door spelling Fenix, so of course we thought this was the entrance to the restaurant. It was in fact the entrance to Fenix’ large function rooms above the main restaurant, and we very nearly ended up crashing someone’s wedding reception. We figured it out before embarrassing ourselves and were directed by a waiter to the stairs which led us down to the restaurant. I should add that we had a very early reservation because we had a show to catch that night, and so, for a while we were the only patrons in the restaurant. It was really cold outside so it was nice to be seated next to the fire place. Unfortunately we were jammed into a corner with Kelly at a nice booth style bench and me with my back up against a concrete pillar. This seemed a bit strange to me as there were plenty of better tables, in fact they could have seated us anywhere, the place was empty. Oh well, Kelly was comfortable and warm and I didn’t want any fuss.
If I was writing an advertisement for the restaurant I would describe it like this: “The décor is much like the personality of the chef himself, relaxed, unpretentious, with a fresh modern take on dining. There is a lovely bar situated centrally and the diners experience wonderful views of the river during the day and the lights of the surrounding area at night through the huge floor to ceiling glass window that sweeps around the dining room. The staff is equally relaxed and friendly and not liveried up in starched uniforms with a rod up their backs. The smiling waiters and waitresses all wear bibbed aprons and speak to you like a friend who has come over for dinner.” And from Kelly’s point of view, this description is completely accurate. From my point of view the décor is stark and cold. There are no table cloths on the café style tables. The light coloured tiled floors and white ceilings and bar area against the dark glass wall that completely surround the dining room give the place an impersonal hollow feel. What comes to mind is a food hall at an airport or the function room at a funeral home. Is that too harsh? Well that’s bad luck. Sometimes I think decorators are so fixed on being hip and modern, they drain all the humanity out of the design.
I can’t fault the wait staff. They were wonderful and friendly, and very attentive. By the time we were served our entrée, other patrons were arriving and the place started to feel alive. Our entrée for two was a Duck Pastilla that was chosen by Kelly because I am not a big fan of duck; however, I’m all turned around on the taste of duck after trying this dish. It was superb to say the least. I think I described my reaction in more detail in my article “Follow that Duck”. The duck meat was shredded and squeezed between two slices of crisp pastry. It was so good we almost ordered another.
Like all good restaurants, Fenix offers a very large selection of wines by the glass and bottle, and craft beers. Our waiter suggested an Australian beer called ‘Ranga Red Ale,’ where a percentage of the proceeds go towards saving the endangered Orang-utan. Nice idea, nice beer.
For our main course, Kelly ordered the Pork belly with crackling, savoy cabbage, pancetta, and apple gravy. I ordered the Spaghettini with fresh crab, chili, garlic, coriander and pangritata. Of course we share our meals and enjoyed tasting both. The pork was fabulously tender and the crackling wonderfully crisp. The flavours were perfectly balanced with the cabbage, pancetta and apple gravy.
The Spaghettini with crab was a nice idea for a dish however we both thought the crab didn’t get a big enough part in the show. The pasta was a bit dry and needed something to bring it all together like a sauce. I know I’m being a bit picky but this is how I felt and I’ll stand by it (show me the crab!!!). By this time the restaurant was starting to fill up with patrons and I saw many wonderful looking dishes were arriving at people’s tables. Everyone looked to be very happy with their meals and I wished I had ordered the beef cheek which would have been perfect in this weather.
Our dessert was excellent, a strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake sundae with short bread biscuit. I’m sorry to say I’d had enough of Fenix by this time and didn’t order a dessert for myself. I tasted Kelly’s cheese cake and nearly changed my mind. It was excellent.
Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Kelly’s experience at Fenix was something she will always remember and my experience is something I would rather forget. The food and atmosphere wasn't quite what I would expect from a high end restaurant, but the hospitality was welcoming and friendly.
There is definitely something missing from the atmosphere of the place and I hope they figure it out before my next visit. I remain a fan of Gary Mehigan and I will return to Fenix one day and hopefully meet the man himself. Maybe he’ll want to punch me in the nose or maybe he will appreciate my honesty. Whichever response will make a great story.
Kelly's Take - Fenix.
Having just read Karl's review on Fenix, I must say I am shocked. It seemed to me at the time that he totally enjoyed himself. For my part I found Fenix to be very homey and comfortable. I did not miss table cloths at all; I always spill something on them! The whiter and crisper they are the more nervous I get about showing up what a clumsy slob I really am!
I may be easily impressed but give me bright red booth seats next to an open fire and gorgeous food and I am sold. The standout thing for me on the night was the dessert. Let me say right now, I did NOT want to share it, not even one mouthful! If you want dessert get your own and let me try it too by the way!
I am not kidding, that strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake was something else and I hope to try it again. I think I will order two!
P.S. from Karl.
I always totally enjoy a night out with Kelly, no matter where we are or what we eat. And have you noticed how Kelly likes to use exclaimation marks all over the place? Thats just another reason why I love her so much!!!!