To the brunch central suburb of Fitzroy comes Horse On Heels, where it’s all about waffles. It had been added to the list of planned destinations after seeing pretty pictures of their creations on social media (which is where everyone seems to be these days). The name seemed a bit obscure, but staff later explained that it came about because the owners were all born in the zodiac year of the Horse.
Conveniently, Horse On Heels is right down the road from Lune, where we had made our first stop in the morning for a pastry pickup, and the Rose Street Artists’ Market, a nice detour for a wander on the weekend. There isn’t terribly obvious signage, but the chalked directions on the sidewalk will show you the way, and more chalk lettering on the brick wall will let you know you’re there.
Waitstaff greeted us at the entrance as we hovered over the menu stuck to the wall, and ushered us in and to seats when we confirmed that there were indeed items that appealed. There are occasions when you turn up to a place with hopes of particular meals, and find that the menu has changed, and nothing currently there seems interesting enough. We immediately spotted a couple of good options on this though.
There is a shaded outdoor area you walk through before you reach the interior of the cafe. This outdoor area has a slatted roof rather than a fully covered one, so you get air circulation, but you might also get rained on. There is a glass front separating it from the street so that you don’t get cigarette smoke from passersby blowing directly in. It is a bit like a conservatory, with the sunshine streaming in. Here, and in the interior, there are grid elements, recalling the syrup-trap lines of a waffle. The seats are a white wire frame grid. Along the side walls are grid frames that climbing plants are gradually making their way up.
The indoors has a more Nordic style of decor. The light wood chairs and tables have simple curved lines. Geometric boxed ceiling panels create an interplay of light and shadow and interesting contrasts, and again reference the waffle. It has a light, sandy wood colour palatte with turquoise highlights popping up in places like table bases and the shelves behind the counter. Music was playing at a comfortable volume.
We picked the outside area, for better lighting. Water and menus were promptly brought to the table. We had already definitely decided on one item, but deliberated over which other to have. It is, of course, all about waffles here, and there are both sweet and savoury options, with varying levels of indulgence. We eventually decided on two savoury dishes and caffeine.
The flat white had a lovely colour, and the foam was nicely texured. It was thought to be suitably strong, with chocolatey notes, and came with a jammy biscuit on the side.
The soy iced latte was nutty, with no bitterness, and again had a good strength of flavour.
The dish that we had immediately decided on was the Popcorn chicken with caramel popcorn, pickled kale, and chimichurri aioli sauce on black charcoal coconut waffle. It arrived prettily presented, a heap of ingredients on the waffle base with well-chosen garnishes that added pops of colour. The popcorn chicken had a crunchy outer coating, and was nicely seasoned. It wasn’t oily at all, and the meat inside retained juiciness. The caramel popcorn was also crunchy, and was more evenly coated than the kind you get at the cinema. The chimichurri aioli sauce had a fresh, herby, slightly tangy flavour, and had a good creamy texture. There was a bit more crunch from the pickled kale. The waffle was slightly crunchy on the outside, and was soft, fluffy, and moist on the inside. This dish was a great combination of flavours and textures, and balanced sweet and savoury well.
The other dish we eventually picked, after contemplating getting the pulled beef or grilled marinated pork belly options, was the Meatsmith sausage, watercress, smoky baked beans, fried egg, and bacon on flax seed waffle. We hadn’t known this when ordering (heathens), but Meatsmith is a speciality butcher shop in Fitzroy masterminded by chef and restauranteur Andrew McConnell. We did, however, find them to be particularly tasty sausages, with a quite aromatic, herby flavour. They were chunky, robust, properly meaty sausages, with no gristly bits. The egg had been cooked in a mould, so it was presented as a neat little round, with the white jelly-like throughout, and the yolk appropriately runny when cut into. The baked beans retained a bit of chew, and were tomatoey with just a hint of smokiness rather than being dominantly so. The bacon was thick cut, and lightly cooked so it remained supple, rather than fried up for American-style cunchy edges. The flax seed waffle was doughier and denser than the charcoal coconut one had been, with whole flax seeds in it, and a slightly sweet flavour. This dish was a twist on a more typical English breakfast fry-up, and each element was done pretty well. In comparison to the other dish though, it didn’t have quite the spectrum of flavours, and left us feeling like we should have been more adventurous with our second pick after all.
The waitstaff were cheerful and friendly. They answered questions we had about the food, and talked to us about other places of interest in the area. A knife got gotten by gravity and fell off the table, and the waitstaff came over with a new knife within seconds. We felt welcome, and looked after.
Overall, Horse On Heels is waffly good at what they do. The Popcorn chicken dish was a standout, and there are definitely other dishes there that will appeal to either those with a sweet tooth, or those after a solid breakfast to start the day with. Worth a return visit.
Setting: 1.5/2 (those pretty-looking wire chairs could be more comfortable..)
Price point: Basic sweet waffle with butter and rhubarb coulis or kaya $6, with further additional indulgent toppings $1.50 to $4.50. Other more comprehensive waffle dishes $12 to $20.
Value: Pretty good.
Address: 50 Rose Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 03 9972 3948
Website: Horse On Heels