Sunday, 7 April 2013

Cinco Bistro - Rise of the Sub-Urbane Bistro

Over the last few years there has been a rise in the number of successful suburban bistros around Brisbane, in fact there seems to be a new suburban bistro opening every week.  There have been a few pioneering and creative chefs and restauranteurs that have paved the way for many of these bistros but one chef and one bistro in particular stands out.

Peter Stubbs created Cinco Bistro almost a decade ago and many people wondered at the audacity of opening a 'big city' bistro in suburban Brisbane.  When Peter set up Cinco, Camp Hill was not the cool inner city suburb it is today and he took a huge risk, but is seems as if Peter is not averse to taking risks.  Originally working with renowned Brisbane Chef Phillip Johnson (of E'cco fame), Peter took a huge chance to move from Brisbane to London.  After working with some of London's great chefs, Peter then took another huge risk by becoming a private chef to the 'rich and famous', including rock stars such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie and billionaires including Roman Abramovich.  Peter's final risky move was leaving behind that glamorous world to open up his own restaurant in suburbane Brisbane, Cinco.

Given that Cinco has survived and thrived in a very competitive restaurant market, its fair to say that his risk has payed off.  Cinco has been awarded a coveted Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat and has held a Australian Good Food Guide Chefs Hat for a number of years.

SC and I have been going to Cinco for many years and have had some of our most memorable family get togethers at Cinco.  However, once we moved into the CBD our visits to Cinco slowed up and then eventually stopped.  So I thought it was high time that we made the trip out to Camp Hill and rekindled our relationship with Cinco, with one key question in mind......  Would we still really enjoy the Peter Stubbs experience?

The first thing that we noticed when being seated at the restaurant was the significant changes since our last visit, the place had been completely remodelled.  We knew that Peter had opened up a pizzeria called Piccolo next door, but now the pizza and Cinco kitchens were combined.  It was interesting coming into the bistro and having the lovely garlic and pizza smell wafting through the restaurant, but also a little off-putting.

The menu at Cinco is Modern Australian and there was a good cross selection of entrees and mains available.  Within a few minutes we had perused the menu and our selections were taken by the very attentive waiter.  Impressively, he took all of our orders and SC's wine selection without a note-pad.  We also ordered some fresh bread to start off with, which was promptly delivered, fresh out of the oven, and was delicious with soft butter and a sweet chutney.

We had only just started on our bred when the entrees promptly arrived.  SC had felt like something a bit spicy to start off with so the orecchiette pasta with spicy pork sausage, cavelo nero and pecorino cheese was a great option.  The orecchiette pasta was cooked to a perfect 'al dente' and was immersed in a light tomato based sauce where the star was the spicy sausage.  There was a heap of the spicy sausage included and provided a lovely hit of heat throughout the dish, with the pecorino cheese not only adding some texture, it helped balance out the heat and the pasta.

There was not that much on the entree menu that appealed to me so I ended up choosing the crisp fried calamari with pickled chilli, caper butter and a radicchio salad.  The calamari came with a crispy and slightly spicy batter and was indeed crisp fried.  The flavours on the dish were really interesting with the caper butter adding the saltiness needed when eating seafood.  The pickled chilli added further spice to the plate which the radicchio salad helped cool down.  While the overall dish was nice, I would have preferred slightly large pieces of calamari.  Whit such small pieces, the timing of the cooking is crucial and I found that some of the smaller pieces were over-cooked.

While there were limited offerings that appealed to me on the entree list, there were a heap of items on the mains menu that really appealed.  SC was also spoilt for options and finally decided on the crispy duck confit with roasted figs, watercress, witlof and hazelnut vinaigrette.  This was a massive plate of food with a generous amount of duck and was delicious.  The confit duck leg was cooked perfectly and the meat just fell off the bone.  The flavour of the duck was intense and was matched perfectly by the sweetness of the roasted figs.  Surprisingly there were a couple of strips of pan fried duck breast as well, which was a bonus!  The salad that came with the duck was refreshing and again was perfectly balanced with the richness of the duck flesh.  SC's very minor complaint about the dish was that some fo the confit duck was a little over-done and dry, but the vast majority of the duck was perfect.

With so many options for manis I was a little undecided on my choice but finally settled on the seared barramundi with cannellini beans, chorizo and sauce bouillabaisse (mainly because of the chorizo).  There were some interesting flavours on the plate with a good pairing of the cannellini beans and the chorizo, with heat coming from the chorizo and the beans blanketing the heat with a contrasting coolness.  While the barramundi was nice, it was ever so slightly over cooked and therefore lost some of its flavour.  One half was cooked well, but the other over so overall the fish was just a bit disappointing.  I also felt that there should have been more of the sauce.  The way the dish was described, with a bouillabaisse sauce, I expected a bowl and enough sauce to require a spoon!

Cinco is well known for it's desserts, so there was never any question that we would be indulging in some lovely french inspired desserts.  The last time SC had indulged a mille-feuille, it had been a disappointment, so she was keen to try the classic French dessert again and opted for the chocolate and hazelnut mille-feuille with caramel foam and creme fraiche.  The mille-feuille presented was a beautiful rendition of the dessert, with incredibly light and crispy pastry layered with rich chocolate cream.  The balance of slightly bitter chocolate with the sweetness of the pastry and the caramel was perfect and the dessert danced on the tongue.

I decided on another classic French dessert and chose the passion fruit souffle with caramelised peach and verjus sorbet.  I have had a lot of souffles in recent months, but none were as light and as perfectly cooked as this one. The souffle itself was incredibly light on the palate, so much so that it dissolved as soon as it entered the mouth.  The passion fruit flavour was very subtle and was not overpowered by the sweetness and, when combined with the caramelised peach, provided an explosion of flavour.  The acidity from the verjus sorbet was a perfect foil to the sweetness of the peach and souffle.  This was a fabulous was to finish off the meal.

By the time we had finished our desserts, Cinco was packed, both inside at the bistro and outside for people eating pizza from Piccolo.  There was a nice vibe throughout the night and the full restaurant contributed to a great night.  Sometimes when a bistro is packed the service levels drop off, but we never found this to be the case for us.  We could also tell that there were a heap of regulars in the restaurant on the night, with the wait staff showing good knowledge and appreciation of their regular customers, which I love to see.

While it was a good night, and I was happy with the overall meals, they were not without fault on the night.  The flavour combinations of the plates we selected were well balanced and creative but I found my fish to be over-cooked, which just detracted slightly from the dish.  I also found the dishes to be a little more rustic in their presentation than I remember from previous visits.  I remember coming to Cinco and having some extremely refined looking dishes that tasted amazing and, while the flavours were there on this visit, the level of refinement that I like to see was missing.

There is no doubt that the inclusion of the pizza kitchen in Cinco has added to the popularity of the restaurant, but I can't help wondering if this has contributed to the more rustic feel of the food.  Never the less, Cinco remains a very popular suburban bistro with a dedicated following and deserves its place as one of the better restaurants in town.

Lovely fresh bread with a chutney to start off the meal
It was fairly quiet when we first arrived
But before too long was packed! 

Cinco Bistro on UrbanspoonCinco Bistro

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