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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hammer & Tong 412

There's a lot of hype about Hammer & Tong 412 (Rear 412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy), as there usually is about most new decent cafes, particularly ones so close to the hub of Fitzroy. In some cases, it's all hot air; in others, completely justified. In the case of Hammer & Tong, it is a mix of both.

Housed in the former premises of The Brix (a short-lived bistro with a reputation for quality), Hammer & Tong's owners Dennis Ferreira and Simon Ward did little to change the fit-out, so impressed were they by its design. Their website describes the look as "light filled", "stylish" and its "own take on vintage-industrial chic". It is definitely more industrial than vintage. It's all hard surfaces and slate grey, in a long, narrow space with a cool but light and airy feel. I didn't find it particularly warm and cosy, but stylish it certainly is.

I didn't witness too much in the way of "vintage" influence, except for the cutlery and a few random irons dotted around the place. The coffee machine looks the equivalent of a 1950s jukebox meets racecar, and it does a stellar job processing Dukes beans into delicious coffees.

Hot chocolate served in double-walled tall glass

Owners Ferreira and Ward allegedly met whilst working at the iconic Vue De Monde, and between them, bring an impressive array of hospitality experience to the table. Their finesse is pleasingly apparent in their food, both in flavour combinations and presentation. But the real drawcard is Hammer & Tong's unusual take on "daytime" menu options. Served Tuesday through to Sunday til 3pm, you might fancy a breakfast of spiced potatoes, fried egg, pickled chilli peppers and kasundi, or perhaps lavender yoghurt custard with raspberry and mango gel, berries, lychee and basil. Dinner is now also available from Tuesday through to Saturday.

On our recent visit, we were very excited by our breakfast orders, which didn't fail to please. The duck egg looked terrific. The rye bagel was the perfect accompaniment to the smoked trout. My housemate almost internally combusted when she saw breakfast ramen on the menu. Even the ham-and-cheese croissant was spruced up with double smoked ham and jarlsberg. The corn on the cob was an odd breakfast selection, granted, but looked exotic and inviting on delivery, served with popcorn butter and a yoghurt sauce.

Duck egg, oyster mushrooms, truffle butter,
watercress, fontina briont soldiers

Rye & shallot bagel with smoked rainbow trout, kale,
radish, poached egg & nori-hollaindaise

...with eggs cut open mmmmm

Pouring the broth onto the breakfast ramen

Breakfast ramen

Mmmm, noooooooodle

Double smoked ham and jarlsberg croissant

BBQ corn cob, chipotle, popcorn butter,
pecorino & lime

Even the Bloody Mary was stylishly presented, finished with a striped paper straw, and apparently it had a strong tabasco kick to it.

The food couldn't really be faulted, so in that regard, Hammer & Tong has certainly hit the mark (fortunately the most common aim, when you're opening a restaurant). The service was also impeccable: friendly and efficient, and although we had to ask for water, single origin coffee was offered as an alternative to the house blend, and menu items were succinctly explained. (I forgot to ask for clarification on the "62c egg" - I assume this is a reference to cooking temperature in Celcius, rather than cost!)

My main hesitations with Hammer & Tong revolve around its design. Sure, it looks sexy, but it is a bit confused with its attempts at vintage. There was also the issue of the queues when we arrived, still there (in fact, worse) long after we were seated. Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence here, and of course I don't begrudge any venue its popularity, but it was badly managed, with no clear space in which to wait. Patrons were literally streaming out the door, in a thoroughfare also used by staff to access the outdoor (footpath) tables, resulting in some uncomfortable breathing-in and elbow-poking. Since the layout clearly isn't set up to accommodate waiting, I think there should be some system installed to manage customers' expectations and cope with demand.

Despite this, I'd certainly recommend Hammer & Tong. Once seated, you won't be disappointed. The food is confident, well-crafted, and pleasingly exciting. The coffee is also very good. I hope Hammer & Tong retains its popularity because it is well-deserved; nevertheless, I'm interested to see how much the hype wanes off over time.

Hammer & Tong on Urbanspoon