Belles Hot Chicken doesn't feel much different to Belles Diner, the restaurant it has replaced. The rejuvenated space below The Everleigh sports the same staff, the same plywood booths and the very same mid-century soundtrack.

Know this, though: if fried chicken caked in chilli powder sounds like your thing, you'll love the new Belles. There are fish and mushroom alternatives, and classic sides such as mac'n'cheese, but otherwise the menu is wonderfully succinct.

Chefs and co-owners Aaron Turner (ex-Loam) and Morgan McGlone wouldn't have it any other way. The duo just returned from a long stint working in Nashville, Tennessee, where they got well acquainted with the local speciality, hot chicken. "We found ourselves eating it three or four times a week,” Turner says. "Chilli's addictive. You just crave it."

Things escalated rapidly after Turner told a friend the dish would work well in Melbourne. The next day, the friend bumped into Reno Pontonio, the owner of Belles, who was already on the look out for a new concept. "We Skyped him about three times, had an agreement and bought plane tickets,” Turner says. “We didn't think too much about it."

The new venue is simpler than the fine-dining environments where both chefs gained their stripes. And customisation is king. Once patrons have picked their cut of chicken (dark meat, wing, tenders), there's a choice of spice (Mild to Really F**cking Hot), followed by three sauces.

The chicken packs an intense, dry crunch, differentiating it from the soggier versions around town. "It's a two-day method,” Turner explains, though he refuses to elaborate too much. "It's not just the Colonel. Everyone in the South has their secret herbs and spices.” Later this year, McGlone will be guarding the recipe by himself, when Turner returns to Nashville to look after a wine bar he owns.

Belles Hot Chicken
150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9077 0788

Hours
Mon 12pm–10pm
Wed to Sat 12pm–11pm
Sun 11am–5pm