Australia has had a long love affair with charcoal chicken. With takeaway shops across virtually every suburb and “bachelor's handbag” the Macquarie Dictionary people’s choice 2022 Word of the Year), the dish has cemented itself in our culinary (and literary) history. But Melbourne’s new Henrietta sets it apart from its more casual counterpart.
The glitzy 80-seater on Chapel Street, Windsor, is only the second location for a restaurant that first opened in Sydney in 2020.
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“I've always thought of chicken shops as a takeaway kind of space,” says co-founder Ibby Moubadder. “Usually, you eat on plastic tables and chairs and you eat it quickly and go. The whole idea was to create a space where people can enjoy [charcoal chicken] in a dine-in environment.”
The space has a burnt orange and cobalt blue colour palette that Moubadder says is reminiscent of the Middle Eastern landscape. Pressed silver panelling that appears through the venue reflects bright natural light from the blue-tinted skylights during the day and adds to the golden orange light that fills the space, and is reminiscent of a woodfired oven, at night.
Though dine-in is the focus, there’s also a small Henrietta takeaway window at the front of the venue. It’s open daily from midday and serves pita, mujadara (an Iraqi lentil and onion dish) rice bowls and, of course, charcoal chicken and chips.
While the restaurant design may suggest otherwise, Henrietta’s chicken is a testament to simplicity. It’s prepared using a wet brine and given a light spritz of oil before being cooked over charcoal until the skin gets golden and crisp. In Lebanon, charcoal chicken is typically served slathered in toum (an aioli-style garlic sauce) and eaten alongside a spread of pickles and flatbread, and that’s exactly how you’ll find it at Henrietta. Chickens are served whole or in half portions and Moubadder encourages diners to dig in with their hands (though they do come with tongs).
Although the signature dish is traditional in preparation and presentation, sides and other plates are made with more creative liberty. Fatteh – an Arabic dish, usually a creamy chickpea and yoghurt topped with toasted pine nuts and shards of fried pita – is transformed into a brown butter prawn fatteh roll, a snack that looks nothing like the original dish, but still manages to encapsulate the flavour profile. And lamb mujadara – a simple plate with protein, rice and lentils – gets an upgrade with slow-cooked, carob-glazed lamb shoulder and smoky labneh. “It’s a very modern way to present a very humble dish,” says Moubadder.
The large bar allows for a more expansive drink offering than you’ll find at Henrietta Sydney. There are nine signature cocktails (Moubadder recommends the Arak Highball, which pairs Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin with the anise-based Levantine spirit) and a lengthy wine list that includes labels from Lebanon, Turkey and Morocco.
“We’re trying to champion and showcase that there are some really good [wine] producers around the Middle East,” says Moubadder.
Dessert includes “Tiramisfouf”, Henrietta’s riff on tiramisu, made from turmeric cake soaked in Arabic coffee, ashta (a rich clotted cream), pine nut praline and chocolate dust. Or basbousa, a soft skillet-baked semolina cake topped with a scoop of Jersey milk ice-cream.
75 Chapel Street, Windsor
(03) 8509 7900
Sun to Thurs midday-9pm
Fri & Sat midday-midnight
Tues to Thu 5.30pm-9pm
Fri & Sat midday-3pm; 5.30pm-10pm
Sun midday-3pm; 5.30pm-9pm