283 Clarendon St
South Melbourne, VIC 3025
I was an avid reader as a child (and even more of an avid-er reader now), often downing books as fast as my parents could take me to the library. I distinctly remember that in year 3, I went through the booklist for the entire year by September, and my teachers ended up telling me to read the dictionary – and I imagine they were only partially joking!
But despite all that reading, there is a certain age-group of books I somewhat missed out on. I migrated from China to Australia when I was 5, and by the time my English caught up to my Chinese at about age 7, I was at the tail-end of the era of picture books. Whilst the teachers had read and re-read the likes of The Rainbow Fish and Who Sank The Boat to us, they had never been as formative to me as say, The Magic Faraway Tree. Anyway, that was possibly the most round-about and long-winded way I had of saying that the restaurant named Hercules Morse did not immediately conjure up images of a horse-sized mastiff from the Hairy Maclary series.
Despite the almost unanimously glowing reviews, Hercules Morse remains relatively unsullied by the hype train. The narrow kitchen and bar has been allowed to remain cosy and intimate; the small tables and flickering candlelight encouraging diners to lean in just that little bit closer. The food is modelled after British fare, but has since been reshaped into that hard to define label of Modern Australian. There is also a generous amount of liquor on offer from the bar, and from what I’ve heard, one of the best espresso martinis around.
Someone saw the opportunity and took it, and thus the Bacorn ($8.0) was born. Each lightly fried strip of corn was sweet and salty, coated with bacon salt that had that distinctive meaty, smoky taste. It was all kinds of addictive, the mish-mash of contrasting flavours and textures urging you to go back for more.
One dish universally raved about is the Cauliflower and Cheese Balls ($9.5), and it really would be very rude of me to break the trend. These crisp nuggets had a hot, oozy centre that my fork sank right into, and the cauliflower added a bit more interest to a traditionally potato-based dish. The accompanying mayo is unusually tangy, which worked great with the richly cheese-laden creaminess.
Although our wonderful cupcake of a waitress had already warned us that the dishes come out one at a time, I was still disappointed at having the Roast Beet Salad ($14.5) by itself. After all, what good is a just a salad? Well as it turns out, I was WRONG, because this was probably the best (and most beautiful looking) salad I’ve ever had. The simple ingredients of sweet roasted beets, salty feta, and bitter rocket were a timeless combination in perfect proportions, and the toffee-crunch of the maple walnuts was a beautiful quirk of personality. Even Chris, the consummate salad-disliker, was entranced.
“Let’s see if we can top that salad!” boasted the waiter as he put down the Seared Scallops and Pork Hock ($19) with a flourish. And it was a seriously tough call. The plump, pearly scallops were seared in butter for a rich, melt-in-the-mouth flavour; they were definitely the stars of the dish. Performing a stellar support act was a hearty celeriac puree that made this dish perfect for winter, and the salty shredded pork hock jostling for attention with the sweet apple puree.
With just enough room for dessert, we ordered the Eton Mess ($13.5), and it was exactly what the name promised to be – a classy mess of creamy, fruity flavours. There was airy meringue, silky burnt honey panna cotta, tangy lemon passionfruit curd, and the most wonderful nuggets of chewy blondie pieces. This is sheer lick-the-plate-clean goodness.
Just in case my review hasn’t made it clear enough, Hercules Morse is probably my overall favourite dining experience since the amazing Dinner By Heston about 3 months ago. On top of the flawless food, the staff were fun, attentive, but never overbearing. In fact, I enjoyed the experience so much, and thought the prices so reasonable, that I ended up tipping – and I am not a regular tipper. But as great as this place is, I’m dreading the day when everyone else catches on, so let’s keep this a little secret between ourselves, alright?
Rating: 16/20 – hercules morse as big as a horse!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.