Saturday, 2 February 2013

Stokehouse - Melbourne comes to Brisbane town

A few years ago one of the final vestiges of Expo '88 was removed from Southbank.  One of my favourite restaurants, the River Canteen, was located in the far corner of Southbank near the Maritime Museum along with a number of other cafes and shops.  Sure they were looking a bit tired but I was incensed and outraged when I heard the news.  I dutifully went along to one of the final sittings at River Canteen and wondered why it was all coming to an end.

Fast forward a few years and we now have one of the most vibrant and amazing restaurant precincts in Brisbane with River Quay  now fully completed.  One of the first restaurants into River Quay was a southern interloper in the Stokehouse, a Melbourne institution located on the St Kilda foreshore.  The Stokehouse has been a favourite for Melbournians for over 20 years and a legitimate question about its fit into the Brisbane market is, would it succeed on the Brisbane River?

The answer to that has been a resounding YES!  The Stokehouse had only been open a short while before its first major accolade occurred with the presentation of a prestigious Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat.  Awards continue to flow with the Stokehouse currently ranked the 74th best restaurant in Australia in the Gourmet Travellers Good Food Guide, still a little shy of the St Kilda version at number 44.  The Stokehouse also remains one of the very few restaurants in Brisbane that hold both a Hat and a Gourmet Traveller Star, a serious achievement for such a young restaurant.

The Stokehouse is an amazing looking restaurant both inside and out.  It also sits in a prime spot on the Brisbane River overlooking the CBD and Botanical Gardens which means its the perfect spot to spend time in the Bar area or sitting down in the restaurant for a fine dining meal.  Outside are clean lines of untreated wood and very modern looking windows and open bar areas while inside is cool sophistication with views of the city from every angle.

I had been to the Stokehouse once a year before with some very good friends and had mixed feelings about my experience.  On one hand the entrees were creative, daring and delicious but on the other the mains were boring and, to be honest, did not belong on a gastro pub menu let alone a fine diner.  So it was with some trepidation that I recommended the Stokehouse for a dining experience with some colleagues from interstate looking for a great meal and top night.  Would I have made the right choice coming back for a second go when trying to impress?  Time would tell......

While the menu at Stokehouse is not extensive there is always an interesting and eclectic offering from their Specials board which is placed next to you table when initially seated.  For my entree I ignored the standard offering and chose an item of the specials board.  My selection of wild mushroom risotto with French black truffle, fine herbs and parmigiano reggiano was indeed special.  The risotto looked spectacular on the plate, with each and every grain of rice visible.  More astounding was the amount of fresh black truffle covered all over the plate and at $1800 dollars a pound, quite a generous helping!  My first mouthful of risotto was delicious, but there was a worrying saltiness in that first bite.  I need not have worried as the risotto balanced out beautifully the more I ate.  Black truffle has a sweet earthy taste and I find it very hard to resist when its on the menu (SC on the other hand is a Truffle monster and will seek it out!).  I thoroughly enjoyed the risotto and lamented the fact that I only got the entree size and not the main!

EC was also supremely happy with his entree which was also on the specials board.  The classic combination of seared scallops and crispy pork belly with a petit apple salad was hard for him to resist, memories of our Aria lunch still fresh in his mind.  The scallops were expertly cooked with a lovely caramelisation and tasted great.  The pork belly was crispy and salty and also perfectly cooked.  Scallops and pork always work well together and the apple salad added some lovely acidity to the meal and helped balance out the sweetness.

JDP was the only other in our group of four that chose an entree and he opted for one of the regular menu items.  The jamon pata negra, fresh fig, torn basil, vincotto with extra virgin olive oil was also a big hit with JDP.  The very salty jamon combined perfectly with the sweet and pungent fig and the sweet caramelised vincotto.  

So far we were pretty happy with our entrees and things were looking up, but I reflected on my last visit here and realised that I had felt the same last time.  Would this be a repeat with a fantastic start and disappointing main?  

I had noticed that there was a blue eyed trevalla dish on the standard menu and on the specials board but only one of them had chorizo combined with it, so I again opted for something off the specials board.  The roasted blue eyed trevalla, grilled chorizo and squid, confit potato and tomato salad with chermoula was perfectly cooked with lovely crispy skin and a fresh delicate flavour.  The trevalla is a robust fish with a delicate flavour, not too strong but definitely fishy and married wonderfully with the sweet chorizo.  The real star of the show however was the chermoula which added a depth of flavour to the whole meal that was astounding.  It was not all plain sailing unfortunately with the tomato and confit potato being a huge let down.  The tomato was a bit insipid and the confit potato under cooked.  While these are only accompaniments to the meal, they should also be cooked with the same care as the stars.  Overall though I was very happy.

EC and JDP both chose the same meal and after having a bit of a taste of their main, I will admit to second guessing my choice.  Their main was also on the specials board, so this was getting a real workout from our group.  Their selection of AACD full blood wagyu beef sirloin (with a marble score of 12), truffled cavolo nero, herb salad and peppered labna.  A marble score of 12 is just about the highest you can get in Australia and this was seriously delicious, almost all fat, but totally amazing.  It was well supported by the peppered labna (yoghurt cheese).  The truffled cavolo nero (also known as black cabbage) helped cut through the fat in the meal and provided some alternative textures on the plate.  Both EC and JDP will be talking about this steak for years to come, it was that good!

KO was our fourth at the meal and had not eaten to this stage due to a big lunch, but finally waded into the meal with the 220 gram Diamantina pasture fed eye fillet which was served with stone ground mustard and herb crust, bourguignon sauce and watercress.  Unfortunately KO copped a fair amount of grief from us about asking for the fillet to be done medium well.  KO grew up on a farm and likes his meat to be really really well done, which led to a long conversation about how meat should come from the kitchen, the consensus was medium rare.  KO admitted that his steak was probably a little over from what he would normally like but thought it was still a tasty slab of meat.

It was time for desserts and only EC and I opted to partake.  I had been waxing lyrical about the Stokehouse signature dish, how amazing it was but in particular how heavy it was.  EC decided to put me to the test and asked the manager what the signature dish was.  She promptly turned over the menu and showed us a painting on the back that showed The Bombe!  EC needed to save face here so he ordered The Bombe, frozen white chocolate parfait, strawberry sorbet, toasted meringue and fresh strawberries.  He loved it and more surprising he finished it off.  Well done to EC!

Being a little scarred from the intense sugar hit from my last attempt at The Bombe, I chickened out and chose the banana souffle, caramel chocolate ice cream with peanut brittle. This was a fine example of a souffle and had risen to an astounding height from the cup it came in.  This was one of the more unusual vessels that I had eaten a souffle from, but it did not detract from the awesomeness of the dessert.  The waiter poured some banana sauce over the top of the souffle and the dessert was complete.  The saltiness and slightly burnt flavour of the caramel chocolate ice cream was a great foil for the sweet sauce and extremely fluffy souffle.  I am sure the Bombe was great, but I really enjoyed the souffle.

This had been a great opportunity to catch up with the boys to talk shop but also talk a little crap too!  As the night had wore on they had continued to consume a few drinks and the conversation at times turned quite raucous.

I had been a little apprehensive about bringing them to Stokehouse but this was a fantastic meal and a fantastic night.  The 360 degree views had been amazing and we all agreed that a better spot we could not have been picked.  Sorry to say that being last seated KO got the worst of the views for the night and we did not let him forget it.  The wait staff were extremely attentive on the night and we felt really well looked after and there was a distinct vibe in the restaurant, with every seat being taken and the bar area pretty full too.

I am glad I took the risk and recommended the Stokehouse as the venue for our dinner, it was a fabulous meal and a fun night.  But really, when you think about it, a place like the Stokehouse does not get its reputation from poor service or bad meals.  I am thinking that the mains from my first visit were an anomaly, but I guess I will have to go back again soon the check out that theory!

I don't even mind that the old area made way for the new!

The peri peri salt on the side of chips was delicious.  Nice chips to boot
Every menu has a painting of their signature dish The Bombe
The Bombe up close and personal 
The kitchen and team hard at it.
A really modern feel to the restaurant and such a great spot
A fond farewell from the management.  Thanks for a great meal

Stokehouse Brisbane on Urbanspoon Stokehouse Brisbane Stokehouse Brisbane

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