Hammer and Tong is #1 on Urbanspoon’s ‘Talk of the Town’ list right now and for very, very good reason. Like many of Melbourne’s best restaurants and cafes, Hammer and Tong is out of the way and has a very humble exterior, so keep an eye out for it. Look out for the slightly questionable red and yellow sign of a hammer crossed with a pair of tongs. The first time I went to Hammer and Tong I walked through the simple, cool, dare I say ‘hipster’, urban cafe with casual seating and bustling people, into the cute little sunroom at the back with a large open window, cactus plants and lots of welcome fresh air where we sat and had lunch. However, I was surprised to see that when I returned a week later for dinner, the tables at the front of the restaurant were decked out with wine glasses, napkins and shiny cutlery. How special!
I’ve been to the restaurant twice now and once to a Hammer and Tong pop-up stall and I have to say, it has been a different experience each time, but I have never left disappointed. Anyway, I’m going to talk about the second time I went, which was for dinner and was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Now, we decided to make a booking for 6pm on a weeknight, because from what I’d seen before it was quite busy and I sure as hell did not want to get there and find that there weren’t any tables available. Better safe than sorry right? Anyway, we got there and it was pretty much empty. Go figure.
Luckily, my friend had brought her lovely DSLR camera with her at my request, so that I may finally present to you some semi-decent photos that hopefully do justice to the meal. I was positively bursting with excitement about taking professional-looking photos, so I hope you like them (though they are far from perfect). I also went and bought myself a new DSLR camera in order to keep All Kinds of Hungry’s visuals at this new awesome standard that you are all so clearly blown away by. Look at you, you’re speechless!
Also, before I go on, I hope people can appreciate that I make a concerted effort to avoid pretentious writing. Unfortunately, the internet is plagued with people who consider themselves worthy of a seat at the Masterchef judge’s table. I definitely have a more sophisticated palate than I did maybe…two years ago. But I still just think food is awesome, and that’s all there is to it.
Enough other nonsense, here’s the meal.
First we ordered lemon, lime and bitters, about as badass as it gets when you’re a p-plater. At least they made it look like a pretty cocktail.
If you’ve ever visited the Hammer and Tong Urbanspoon page, you have most likely seen approximately 1000 pictures of their extremely popular soft-shell crab burger. With that in mind, I am going to force you to look at one more, because I took it. The crab is fried and crispy, with soft and flavoursome meat inside on top of crunchy slaw and served on a brioche bun. Unlike soft-shell crabs I’ve had previously, this was cooked perfectly, and I mean perfectly – I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t be able to recreate this. The shell parts were not chewy, they almost dissolve in your mouth. It’s served with spicy mayo, but it’s spicy in terms of flavour, not heat, so relax – everyone can have one. I might be exaggerating a teeny tiny bit, but this is probably one of my favourite foods in Melbourne right now. It all just goes so well together. Like, damn.
We also ordered the Sichuan spiced lamb spare ribs with dill, cucumber and nashi pear salad. The ribs were nicely spiced (again without much heat), gnarly and slightly smokey. The salad was perfectly sweet and crisp, just right for balancing a hearty meat. I was pleased to see they brought out a little finger-dipping bowl. It’s like a hint, ‘it’s ok, go ahead and use your hands’. Yeah, that’s what we would have done anyway but thanks, Hammer and Tong, for putting us at ease.
On the side we asked for the hand-cut chips with truffle mayonnaise. I am all over all things truffle, so I was ready and waiting to order these after perusing the dinner menu online. Admittedly, the chips do not look fabulous in this photo, but they are crispy on the outside and soft inside. But hey, if you don’t like them, you can at least use them to spoon the truffle mayo into your mouth, which you will not regret. Yup, I have a truffle bias.
I told my friend that I really wanted to order dessert here, which should be an indication of how much confidence I have in this place. I have gone to plenty of restaurants, had great meals and then ruined them with very average desserts. Hammer and Tong certainly delivered in this regard. We ordered the roasted coconut panna cotta with splice curd, kaffir lime and manuka honey flakes. Roasted coconut is definitely different from regular coconut, the taste is almost like a warm and toasty version of coconut and it made the panna cotta so, so tasty. Of course, coconut and tropical fruits go well together and so the splice curd, which tasted mostly like passionfruit, was great with it. Curd can be very strong too, so it was great that there was just a couple of spoonfuls on top. The crunchy silvery stuff would have to be the manuka honey flakes, although they are definitely not flakes. They were a bit like a very light honeycomb but it’s not tough. In fact it completely dissolves in your mouth. Unfortunately I cannot accurately describe this part of the dessert, but I can say it was a very pleasant surprise.
We also tried chocolate fondant with milk and lavender ice cream. The fondant was not very sweet and had a really strong cocoa flavour which I really liked. Over-sweet chocolate just annoys me…it’s wrong because it’s just sugar with barely any flavour. Now, I did not really know what to expect in the lavender ice cream, but once again I was pleased to find it was not too sweet. As it turns out, lavender ice cream really tastes like how lavender smells, if that makes any sense at all. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the taste is easily associated with the fragrance we are so familiar with, but it’s not too floral or overpowering. It’s served with freeze dried raspberries and raspberry curd – no elaboration needed.
I must also mention that I went to a Good Food Month event where there was a Hammer and Tong pop-up stall. It was a pretty quiet event, not a lot of people but still really nice food and atmosphere in the perfect outdoor setting. My friends tried to embarrass me by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ very loudly and the staff from Hammer and Tong heard this and sent over a bunch of little dessert jars in which they were serving the best trifle I’ve ever had. It was such a lovely gesture on a very memorable evening.
Anyway, the bottom line is go to Hammer and Tong because I cannot recommend it enough. It’s best to look that the menu first and decide if you’d rather go during the day or for dinner as there are different items available. Either way, try your best to go at a time when it’s not terribly busy, as there’s less waiting time and more attention from staff. I’ll probably be there too, haha…
412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy