Henry Sugar is the dessert bar turned restaurant/bar that is winning over Melbourne’s northside, one serve of parmesan ice-cream at a time
Roald Dahl’s character of Henry Sugar was a magic man. He taught himself to see through walls, guess playing cards, cheat the system at casinos, and made a life out of turning some pretty fancy tricks. An apt moniker, therefore, to give Carlton’s latest cocktail and wine bar. It’s at the quiet end of Carlton’s Rathdowne Street, and it looks every bit the slick suburban wine bar – gold lettering, exposed brick, statement lighting – but the midas touch of the people behind it is where the magic comes from.
This is the newest venture for ex-Cookie barman Daniel Mason and chef Michael Baker. Initially, it was launched as a luxe dessert and cocktail bar, but quickly evolved to loop in food and wine. And thank goodness for that. The food borrows from a grab bag of cultural influences. Eastern European vibes are strong with the crispy confit duck pierogi and a dense smoked cobria fish on a beetroot remoulade; Cookie’s Asian flavours shine through in a tofu tartare and sesame roast pumpkin with black rice.
But the hero dish has to be the grilled octopus. Spanish sobrasada sausage lends punch and weight to the tender cephalopod, which is blackened and spiced, finished off with a fennel emulsion, squid ink, and tangy witlof.
On the dessert front they’re shoehorning tried-and-true flavours into some pretty out-there formats. The crowd favourite on our visit is a bizarre parmesan ice cream paired with apricots in a vanilla syrup, but Baker switches up his ice cream creations regularly, so you’ll have a new surprise next time. Not a sweet tooth? Cheese fans get a Brillat-Savarin triple cream with grilled strawberries – it’s even better with a glass of Moscatel dessert wine.
A standout team of bartenders is on hand to guide you through their buffed-out wine list. The heavy meats, rich flavours, and salty sides demand a red wine matching – try the light and peppery Brash Higgins FRNC Cabernet Franc with cherry flavours that offset salty food perfectly. From the whites, start your meal with a glass of the full-bodied and tart Vittorio Bera 'Arcese' 13 Piedmont.
The cocktails are as Willy-Wonka-wild as the dessert menu. Try the Pepperberry Chaplin (pepperberry gin, apricot brandy, lime) for a light pre-dinner aperitif, or round out your meal with the slightly hairier Gibson (East London gin, aged madeira, pickled onion). Phwoar.
Henry Sugar brings a quiet magic to Carlton. Everything is well considered and polished, from the glossy service to the playful menu. Staff are keenly invested in your happiness so bed in for an evening of dinnertime wizardry at this quietly-spoken newcomer to Melbourne’s North.
|Venue name:||Henry Sugar|
298 Rathdowne St
|Opening hours:||Tue-Thu 3-10pm; Fri 3-11pm; Sat 9am-11pm|