Sunday, 24 March 2013

Urbane - The return visit

There are a stack of nice restaurants in Brisbane now and more opening every week it seems, but there is still only a handful of special occasion restaurants around town.  You might ask, what constitutes a special occasion restaurant, but its not always easy to put your finger on.  Sure, the food needs to be sensational, that goes without saying.  A great atmosphere?  Check!  Something you just can't find somewhere else?  You bet!  All these things are important, but there is also the X factor, which is harder to put your finger on.

I needed a special occasion restaurant recently for a very special occasion.  My best mate, a friend I had spent almost every day with over the last 22 years, was emigrating to another country.  I can think of only a handful of other scenarios that would have a greater impact on my life.  We wanted somewhere memorable, a place where we would reminisce over as the years roll on, somewhere perfect.  It needed to be degustation too.  I am always banging on about how much I love degustations and my best mate, the Big Boy, wanted to experience a great degustation too.  The one other time I had taken the BB to a degustation was Attica in Melbourne (post is here), and we did not have the best of experiences.  I needed to rectify that with an amazing meal.  There were only two places that came to mind, Esquire and Urbane.  I had a feeling that Esquire would be a little too cutting edge for the BB, so we decided on Urbane.  I was looking forward to this.

I have been to and written about Urbane before, so I won't go into too much detail about the wonderful chef, Argentine-born Alejandro Cancino, but you can read about Urbane and Alejandro and their backstories here.

Knowing that a degustation at Urbane can take many hours, we settled down to dine at a very early 6:30pm and the restaurant was empty at this time.  We had the wait staff all to ourselves for now and we were treated extremely well.  Shortly after we were seated and a bottle of red was cracked open, the first of the five amuse bouche started to arrive.

First out was the sweet corn soup, which had a lovely texture and real corn flavour that popped when you sipped it.  There was a very strong flavour of sweetcorn with the soup and there was just enough of it to leave you wanting more.

A serve 'popcorn' also came out with the sweet corn soup, which was not like any popcorn you have had before.  The popcorn is cold and had a lot more in common with a dessert, but had an intense savoury corn flavour.  There was some excellent continuity from the sweetcorn soup to the popcorn.

The salmon, juniper and onion seed came out on a lumpy block of old tree and was quite the sight, with tasty morsels hanging off the wood like fruit on a tree.  A very simple dish with salmon that had more in common with an hors d'oeuvre.  The contrasting textures of the salmon and crusty biscuit were nice.

Next up was the duck consume and it was presented in test tubes with the clear consume at the bottom.  Sitting next to the test tubes was a little dehydrated duck tongue and, in combination with the consume,  was a very intense flavour.

It felt like the amuse bouche would never stop coming and up next was a delicious and plump looking mussel on rye toast with saffron.  This was another bite that was more like an hors d'oeuvre but was perhaps the tastiest mouthful of food I had all night.  Along with the mussel came a vegetable escabeche which is traditionally a spanish dish with poached chicken or fish.  While this was OK, it did not set my world alight.

Finally we came to the last of the small bites and it was a wonderful looking piece of kingfish sashimi.  It was beautifully fresh and had just a little heat coming from somewhere.  I would have been able to eat a few more of these tasty morsels.

We were finally onto the main menu and tonight's degustation was a 9 course offering, which was smaller than the 11 courses we had last time we were here.  The first plate was Avocado with almond, onions and tomato seeds.  I was a bit taken aback by the simplicity of the dish, it was pretty and rustic at the same time, but the main component of avocado did not look that appetising.  It actually looked a bit brown and mankey.  The dish ate well and the tomato seeds provided an intense hit of flavour, but it was the only strong flavour on the plate.

Next was Sugar Snap with broccolini and kingfish, which came with a broth that reminded me of a Gazpacho.  It was quite refreshing but I would not say that the flavours were overly intense and the textures were nice in the mouth.  The kingfish was very subtle, so maybe could have used a little more seasoning.

The Octopus with green apple, avocado and rye was my favourite dish of the night with perfectly cooked octopus tentacles that just melted in the mouth.  The avocado puree was a nice addition to the dish and there was some interesting textures with the dehydrated rye.  I would have loved the dish to be a bit bigger though.

I was a bit conflicted with the Asparagus with sweetbread, emmental and egg yolk.  It very much reminded me of a dish from Attica with the liquid emmental (swiss cheese) and the slowly cooked egg yolk.  The sweetbreads were quite nice and the whole dish had a lovely balance, except for the asparagus.  Considering it was to be the main element on the plate, the asparagus spears looked limp and insipid and added very little in the way of flavour to the dish.  Surely there were better asparagus spears around town on the day?  If not, maybe change the key ingredient.

The next two courses are where it all went downhill for me.  The Murray Cod with chicken liver, shallots and yeast cream sounded good on paper, but the reality of the dish was far removed.  The plate looked overcrowded and not at all like the refined plates of food I have become accustomed to at Urbane and the balance of flavours was all over the place.  I could not get any sense of the murray cod, with flavour or texture.  The fried shallots took over everything, that was until you had a bit of the chicken liver, which I found unpalatable   It really killed the whole plate for me and it was one of the worst plates of food I have had in a while.

The Lamb Shoulder with watercress and horseradish was only marginally better.  The watercress came two ways, a puree which was OK and chopped up pieces, which were not.  There was just too much of the latter.  The lamb shoulder itself was not a good example of how lamb should be cooked and it really lacked flavour and the texture was weird.  It was like some lamb shoulder was wrapped up and squished together to be cooked.  SC did not eat much hers at all and the BB ate the rest of mine because he was still hungry.  Not too sure about this one.

After a couple of dud courses we were feeling a bit flat and hoped that the dessert courses would help elevate the meal.  The first dessert of Local Pink Lady Apple with lemongrass and ginger did just that.  Wow, what a simple and refreshing dish.  The lemongrass and ginger broth was delicious and the pink apple was sweet and bitter at the same time.  There was some apple meringue provided some contrasting textures.  This was a delicious and simple dessert that put us back in the right frame of mind.

There was a Coconut with blueberries and basil dish that came next, but unfortunately I did not get a photo of it, not sure what happend, must have been still raving about the apple dish!

The last of the desserts was another cracker with a Eucalyptus and Fig concoction placed in front of us. Fig is such a unique flavour and texture that worked beautifully in this dish. There was some brioche and whey that rounded our the flavours on the plate.  This was very inventive and we all loved it too.

It was the end of another meal at Urbane and I was not happy.  I really wanted this to be an amazing journey of a meal and unfortunately it fell flat in a few spots.  SC and I always tout degustation meals as the best way to enjoy different flavours and try new things.  We really wanted the BB to have a magical degustation experience and it was not.  We have taken the BB to two degustations with us now, both with amazing reputations and both have fallen flat.  Mmmmmm, maybe the lesson here is not to take the BB with us to degustation only restaurants in future.

As usual at Urbane the staff were brilliant and apart from a couple of courses none of us enjoyed the night was a good one.  However, I was not looking for a good night, I was looking for a special night that we would all remember and talk about fondly in those times when we all managed to get together again.  The BB was moving county and there would not be too many opportunities in the future to catch up and do this.  It's always sad when your life changes forever, but I know I will always be best mates with the BB and now I have the opportunity to go OS and catch up with him.  It won't be as often as in the past, but it sure will be special.

Urbane on Urbanspoon Urbane


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