Saturday, 17 November 2012

Organic Char - where the wild things grow

Its like a garden party inside
For a quite a few years now we have been in the grip of a revolution, which started slowly in the back streets of suburbs like Paddington and West End.  Slowly over time I have seen the changes coming, firstly in little stores that took some getting to and more recently in the aisles of the major shopping chains, like Coles and Woolworths   I am of course talking about the Organic food revolution and its creep from the fringes of our consciousness to the main stream.

It is little surprise that this organic phenomenon should find its way to the core of the restaurant scene, after all, don't chefs love to use the freshest and tastiest seasonal produce?  What was surprising is that a restaurant like Organic Char open up as the little brother to Brisbane steak institution Cha Cha Char.  Originally conceived by well know restauranteur John Kilroy (Jellyfish and Cha Cha Char)  Organic Char takes a very different approach than it's big city brother next door.

While Cha Cha Char is well known with the Brisbane lunch time scene as a classy and upmarket restaurant, Organic Char takes a much more relaxed approach and does not take itself too seriously, a fact which becomes abundantly clear once you step through the doors and take a seat.  The interior has a bright airy feel to it and is decorated much like a fancy garden party, 'tall grass' decals adorn the walls adding to the feel of being outside on a lovely summers day.  High backed comfy chairs complete the feel of whimsy and you definitely know you are in for something a little different.

The reason for my visit today was to repay a lunch with a work buddy, henceforth known as CN, after he sprang for lunch a few months back.  After some serious discussions on the morning of the lunch we decided that Organic Char would fit the brief of an asian influenced and healthy meal.  We arrived bang on midday and were ushered to our seats by the window, we were the first in and, as it turned out, had the restaurant to ourselves for the duration.

Orders taken it was time to chat and wait for the entrees to be delivered.  CN decided on the Seared scallops w crisp vegetables & ginger, garlic and soy vinaigrette.  If CN had not ordered this entree, I would surely have done so.  The scallops that were presented were lovely to the eye, they were plump and had that fantastic caramalisation that you must see when eating seared scallops.  With the scallops was a salad of asian greens, red cabbage and carrot, all brought together nicely with a tangy vinaigrette.  CN was very happy with the selection and was particularly pleased with the size of the scallops, commenting that he had not seen many of this size lately.  CN left one of the scallops for me to finish off and I can confirm that they were perfectly cooked with the sweetness of the scallops balanced out perfectly with the ginger, garlic and soy vinaigrette.

The scallops were perfectly cooked

Feeling a bit adventurous I went for an entree that I would not normally have selected in the Laidley jerk marinated ham w spiced savoy, nashi relish & sour cherry glaze.  Essentially this was a great big slice of ham that was grilled, with the marinade giving the ham a lovely glazed look, similar to a Christmas ham.  The ham was tender and salty and not overpowering and the sour cherry glaze provided a nice acidic contrast to the sweet ham.  This was needed as there was more sweetness on the plate with some prunes and thick nashi pear relish.  There was a lot of sweetness going on here and even with the savoy was probably a bit too much.  Perhaps a larger dollop of the sour cherry sauce and glaze would have helped balance out the dish a little more and may have added a little more colour to the plate.

Ham - a bit boring really

There were quite a few options for main that looked quite interesting and I decided that I would try the Coorong angus short ribs w soy & ginger glaze, beetroot cumin salad w fennel & sea salt labna. There are a few restaurants around town offering racks ribs and I had an expectation of something similar here.  What came to the table could not have been further away from what I was expecting and I was quite blown away by the most amazing looking ribs I had ever seen.  Not only did they look fantastic but the aroma coming from the plate assaulted the senses.  CN was stunned and I could tell by the envious look at my plate that he was holding back a case of food envy.  Looking and smelling great is one thing, but what about the taste?  Hold the press, there is a new king of foods in town!  The beef was so tender that it was falling off the bone as it sat there and my fork made easy work of the beautiful and tender meat.  The dense rich meaty flavour of the beef was enhanced with the dark sticky soy and ginger sauce.  The tastes were complex and rich and played in the mouth like carnival, it was divine.  I handed over some to CN and he confirmed that this was just heavenly.   Curious about how the beef came to this magical state, I was informed that the short rib was marinated overnight, then cooked in the oven for 12 hours at 85 degrees.  You need to get into Organic Char and get this dish.

My new favourite dish in town

CN ordered the Wood fired roasted angus sirloin w roasted tomato, chilli lime relish & herb salad.  When this came to the table, we were both taken aback as it was far removed from what we were expecting.  Under the salad somewhere was some roasted angus sirloin, but it was quite an effort to find and eat this.  The steak was well cooked to medium rare, but seemed to be served warm and not hot and we were not sure if this was how it was designed to come out.  What was hot on the plate was the chilli lime relish and herb salad, and I mean HOT.  The bites I had of this just blew out my taste buds and I found it hard to get any other flavours from the salad or steak.  CN loves spicy food and found this one a to have a little too much chilli also.

Where's the meat?  This was HOT, Chilli HOT

Even though the mains were large and we were quite full, we decided that dessert would be the order of the day.  There were quite a few interesting looking desserts on offer today and CN went with the Chocolate brownie, dry caramel, chocolate rocks w banana & thyme ice cream.  One of the things I have noticed the few times I have been to Organic Char is that the desserts are usually quite creative and very pretty on the plate.  This was no exception when CN's brownie was delivered, with the perennial chocolate smear on the plate, there were lovely chocolate rocks mixed in with chocolate honeycomb.  The ice-cream was rich and smooth and with the brownie contrasted well texturally with the chocolate honeycomb.  Very sweet but rich and decadent at the same time.

Lovely brownie dessert

Once again my notion of the normal was challenged when my ‘Eton Mess’ broken meringue w passionfruit curd, mango & pepper was placed in front of me.  When you think Eton Mess, you think big, robust and most of all messy meringue and strawberries and cream.  Not so with this, which was clearly a deconstructed version, which I guess is why Eton Mess was noted in inverted commas in the title.  The passionfruit curd was very sweet, as was the meringue and mango and I thought that I was in for a overly sickly sweet dessert, but then I had the mango sorbet and the balance was immediately restored.  The sorbet was almost savory which was a much needed addition and along with the crunch of the other textures on the plate made for a lovely dessert.  But for me, definitely not an Eton Mess. 

Eton Mess??

By the time the meal finished, CN and I were still the only patrons in the restaurant, which is quite intriguing.  While the whole meal had its ups and downs, there were some genuinely amazing taste sensations on offer.  All of the food on offer here adheres to Australian organic certification standards and is of a very high quality and the place looks amazing and is a completely relaxed environment.

I think that it has to do with the crisis of identity that Organic Char has developed since its opening.  SC and I have been to Organic Char quite a few times and have watched the menu change quite significantly.   It's seemed to transform quite regularly from an la carte with a few share options early on in its existence, then moving to almost exclusively share plate with many many choices, including quite a good vegetarian mix and finally onto a very heavily meat influenced limited options menu.  Or perhaps Organic Char is a little ahead of its time.  When we left the restaurant and passed through the shared entry with Cha Cha Char, I could see that even the once impossible to get into now had a few spare tables on a Friday peak lunch time.  Perhaps there is just too much choice for lunch in Brisbane now and partially empty restaurants is the new reality.........


Organic Char on Urbanspoon

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