Saturday, 25 May 2013

Libertine bar and restaurant - Vietnamese fusion

Sometimes you go to a restaurant and by the end of the meal you're just not sure about it.  You know the feeling, it's got a great reputation, it's in a great spot, everyone you are with is having a good time and enjoying the food, but it's just not doing it for you.  I experienced this feeling last year when going to Libertine for the first time.  It was with a group of workmates and was a chance to get together outside of work and have a nice meal, but by the end of the night I was a bit disappointed.

Fast forward a year and I decided I would give Libertine another go.  There had been some changes since my last visit and I was keen to see what the impact had been.  The biggest change was to the style of Libertine, which had always been a French Vietnamese fusion restaurant and has now moved to more generic EurAsian fusion style of cooking.  This is most likely from the influence of Kim Machin, formerly of Urbane and Spring, in his capacity as consultant to the well known restaurant.

As I have already mentioned, Libertine is in a great spot and is located at the Barracks in Petrie Terrace which is the old Police Barracks that was redeveloped into a cinema and dining hub in 2008.  There are a heap of great restaurants and cafes there with one of my favourite Spanish Restaurants, Peasant, being located in the same building.  It's pretty close to the CBD, so you can walk there fairly quickly or, if you choose, drive and and park in the complex.  The night that SC and I decided to visit Libertine was an unusually cold and rainy night, so driving was the obvious option. 

SC had caught up with one of her best mates after work for a coffee, so we had arranged to meet at the restaurant.  I arrived a little early, so I had some time to stand out in the cold and admire the old Barracks building.  It's really quite a beautiful piece of restoration work and it's a real shame there are not more redeveloped sites around Brisbane like it.

Once SC arrived, we entered the restaurant and were warmly greeted at the front counter and ushered straight to our seats.  As usual for a mid week meal, we arrived fairly early and the restaurant was mostly empty and it gave me a good opportunity to look around the restaurant.  It's an amazing looking space, with lots of dark wood, low lights and chandeliers that give Libertine a charming old world feel. 

Our visit coincided with the launch of the new menu, which has seen the transformation from French inspired Vietnamese fusion to the more EurAsian style, and to be honest I didn't really see too much of a difference.  The menu is quite extensive and still follows the 'street food' and 'share dishes' approach that it took prior to the slight changes.  There is also an option to say "I'm Hungry" and take a banquet journey which included chef Kieren's seven favourite dishes, which is the option we selected.

After a very short wait the first of our dishes arrived and was the 'bacon and eggs’ - Son-in-law eggs with tamarind caramel, pork scratchings, nam prik and lime salt.  This was a really refined looking dish that would not have looked out of place in Urbane or Esquire and I definitely saw the influence of Kim Machin.  The dish consisted of hard boiled eggs coated in a lovely mix of seasoning sitting on top of what looked to be a 'nest' and came with a large pork scratching.  While the dish looked spectacular, it didn't quite live up the looks flavour wise.  Don't get me wrong, it was really nice, but I wanted just a little more flavour in the dish.  The 'nest' was an interesting texture, kind of like a really dense fairy floss and combined well with the soft egg and crunchy scratchings.

Next up was the ‘Vietnamese cold rolls’ - Tapioca-fried WA scampi & green apple slaw, and served with nuoc mam cham.  I'm not an expert on Vietnamese rolls, but these were well constructed and tasted great, especially mixed in with the noc mam cham, which added a little saltiness.  While the dish was quite nice, I really struggled to find any of the scampi in my serve, although SC was able to find the scampi in her serve.  I'm not sure if it was missed somehow or if there were two types of Vietnamese rolls and I ended up with the fried tofu w/ green papaya salad & patty herbs.

We both agreed that the ‘Bahn mi’ sliders with roast pork belly with pickled vegetables, mayo, hot chilli sauce and lettuce was one of our favourite dishes of the night.  Sliders (or mini burgers) are so easy to construct, but when done well are delicious.  The flavours were quite simple with the pork belly complimenting the pickled vegetables well.  I sure would have liked another couple of these!

The next item on our seven course journey was the free range chicken poached in coconut juice,Vietnamese slaw, young & toasted coconut, fried shallots & nuoc cham.  This was quite a refreshing dish with tender and tasty chicken mixed through a Vietnamese salad, sitting atop a large lettuce leaf as a bowl.  The idea with this one is to eat the whole thing, including the 'bowl' and to do so is a bit messy!  Most of the sauce had seeped through to the lettuce leaf at the bottom, so I thought that the dish was OK but lacking a little punch, that was until I hit the bottom and found the the flavour.

The dish that packed the most flavour of the night and was most visually appealing to me was the red duck curry, lychee and Thai basil, which was an amazing looking plate.  The intense colouring of the red curry blended beautifully with the lychee sauce, which not only acted as a colour contrast, but helped cool down the heat from the curry.  The duck was well cooked, but not quite perfect and seemed just a little over cooked.  The flavour was there though and the red curry and duck matched wonderfully together.  There was also a side of jasmine ricce with the dish, which also helped to cool down the heat of the red chilli.  The major problem with this was the size, a bit small for two people to share, and we were both left wanting more.

Another favourite on the night was the local black mussels in a hot and sour soup, basil, chilli and saw coriander with sesame prawn toast.  If you love mussels, they you would have loved this dish, the mussels were fat and plump and really well cooked in a mildly spicy soup that was full of flavour.  The prawn toast was not too bad and didn't distract from the main show, which were the mussels.  SC only had a few, so I was happy to eat most of the mussels and leave most of the prawn toast to SC.  We didn't finish off the soup though, it looked a bit mankey by the time we finished the mussels and prawn toast.

The dessert of MYO ‘Maxibon’ Caramel ginger biscuits, truffle & honeycomb ice cream, salted dark chocolate ganache was quite intriguing.  We both love truffle and had never experienced truffle mixed in with ice cream.  The concept of MYO maxibon was also interesting, however didn't really work as the caramel ginger biscuits were pretty crunchy and there was no way you could have eaten this as a biscuit sandwich.  Surprisingly the truffle ice cream worked and the truffle flavour was quite intense and left that wonderful truffle flavour on the palate for some time after the meal.  Look, I'll be honest about the dessert, I didn't really like it as a concept, it looked pretty but it was really just a couple of cookies and ice cream.

I was really worried that seven share plates might not have been enough for SC and I to consume and feel sated, but I have to admit it was just the right amount of food.  Sure, I would have like more of some dishes (such as the duck curry and an extra slider) and less of others (the free range chicken and dessert) but on the whole the balance was pretty good.

During the course of our dinner, Libertine slowly but surely packed out, which is not a bad effort on a cold and rainy mid week night.  Pretty much all of the tables inside were taken by the time we paid our bill and left, but there whole outside section was empty (this was because of the rain).  We found the service on the night to be excellent and quite attentive, that was right up until we wanted to leave.  What is it about some places?  You get looked after really well while eating and then when it comes time to leave, you pretty much get ignored?  I guess it's better than being ignored during the meal, but when SC and I want to go, we want to go.  In the end, SC had to get up and go pay at the bar and we will admit that it left us a little bit peeved.

My second visit to Libertine had definitely been better than my first and on the whole I enjoyed the dining experience.  I didn't really see much of the European influence in the dishes that came with the banquet and there still seemed to be quite a Vietnamese presence with the dishes.  Libertine is one of those restaurants that is on the verge of being a great restaurant, but not quite there yet.  It's also been on the cusp of being great, it actually won a chefs hat a couple of years ago, only to lose it a year later.  I think that with a few minor improvements it can take that next step.  Who knows, with some more influence from Kim Machin, it could be truly something.

Jasmin Rice helped cool down the red curry
Dinner setting with red chopsticks.  Red is a dominant colour at Libertine
Super stylish inside and quite dark and intimate
I loved the mostly melted candle
Libertine also has a pretty handy cocktail list and bar.  Red is pretty much everywhere
Champagne anyone? 
So wet and cold outside, there was no one brave enough to eat out here!
Libertine on UrbanspoonLibertine


  1. Wow - that looks like a stunning place and amazing food. I know now where I'm taking Alistair for his birthday this year. Vietnamese food and super cool decor! Love love love. Great review AC.

  2. Thanks KT, it was a much better visit than my first time. You sure should check it out :)

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  5. I also like to go to a restaurant after a long time doing at home, it it very wonderful, I like to cook for my family, thanks for your sharing.


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