There is a puppy at the centre of Melbourne’s coolest city-fringe cafe—figuratively, not literally. “Mr Hendricks is our English staffy!” says co-founder Ryan of the “common link” he and his three siblings and fellow founders—Simon, Jonathan and Sarah—named their 18-month old eatery after.
Although Ryan admits it’s a sentimental moniker, it’s this kind of emotion and honesty that make the entire Mr Hendricks experience so infectious. “The dining experience and food are very important to us,” adds brother Jonathan. “We have an Italian background, so food has always been a part of our upbringing. We really wanted to introduce high quality food and a pleasant dining experience at a more affordable price.”
It’s a wintry Wednesday at approximately 11.42am when I visit. That grey area between ordering perky long-blacks or mind-lulling, full-throttle meals of Brioche French Toast and double cream has me confused. But I’m obviously alone in my brunch/lunch befuddlement because the stream of clientele working the door hinges double-time are very focused—and familiar—with why they are here, and what they want.
You see, the food at Mr Hendricks is the stuff of suburban folklore. As a local, I’ve heard about it for eons, and now I can see—and smell—why. Inside the kitchen, another sibling, Simon, rules the roost as Head Chef. With extensive experience under the guidance of Philip Mouchel, and having held a senior position at two Michelin star restaurant Serge Vierre, France, he works alongside his younger brother Ryan, his assistant. This is food that is clearly made with a lot of love.
It’s little wonder then—as the long hand hits the high 12—that the speedy service kicks in, and always with a side-serve of smiles. Thick and fast, Cassoulet with lamb shoulder, Toulouse sausage, confit duck, persillade and fried egg is delivered beside slow cooked salmon with raw cauliflower, cooked cauliflower flowerets and puree of cauliflower and apple on house made dark rye. The favourite—crispy eggs, accompanied by sweet potato puree, smoked ham hock and salad of fennel, radish and caramelised walnuts—also disappears as fast as it is dished up.
“The menu focuses on using high quality Australian sourced produce to develop and serve well considered and refined dishes,” says Jonathan. “The chefs draw upon the detailed technique typical of French cuisine to serve up dishes.”
Maybe so, but the small-town, approachable, intimate family element of Mr Hendricks is never lost.
As busy as it gets with the bustle of seating school girls and grown families, tots in high-chairs and ladies who lunch, business men and post-bike riding locals, the mood remains free of pretense and pressure that can come with so many inner-city, over-stuffed Melbourne cafes.
Maybe because it is a little out of the way, situated at the tip of the Whitehorse Road traipse, past the cluttered car parks and melancholic oddities of 70s blonde brick architecture nestled beside new millennium monstrosities.
Or it could be that the urban interior feel is evident, without the sanctimonious inner-city attitude. The female sibling of the family, Sarah, is an architect and has nailed welcoming warmth and industrial grit within her collaboration with her partner, architect Stephen McGarry. The front white-tiled, 28-seat dining area extends into a middle dining room and a ‘green room’ - within the established garden-lined courtyard out yonder, that can host functions of up to 12 people.
“The space is modern and refined, but at the same time honest and inviting, similar to the approach to the meals,” explains fourth sibling, Jonathan, who manages front-of-house operations.
So next time you are heading not-too-far out of town, look for the opulent gold lettering across the unassuming window, for within, you will be greeted with a hearteningly warm interior, world-class fare and family ingenuity at its finest.
Mr Hendricks | Balwyn
Image Credits: Jenna Fahey-White for The Urban List