Saturday, 29 June 2013

Grappino - when bloggers get together II

One of the best things about food is it's ability to bring people together.  This is true of many cultures around the world, cultures where food is more than just eating, it's a way of life, a way of expressing their core values.  While this can be said of many cultures, one stands out at the epitome of the sharing culture....  Italian cuisine.

Now, it's not my intent to start a debate about this statement but to highlight the embodiment of a culture that brings people together over food.  It was the Italian cuisine that brought together a diverse group of people who all share a passion for food.....  Food bloggers!  In what is fast becoming a monthly ritual, I joined a group of like minded bloggers to share in a meal and have some fun while doing so.

Our first gathering was small, with just three of us getting together to enjoy some Deep Southern American food at Carolina Kitchen (see post here).  We had so much fun and talked so much about it, this time we had a larger gathering of passionate foodies.  Our challenge was to find somewhere that none of us had been before, no easy feat when a group of food bloggers get together.  Miraculously, Grappino is a spot where none of us had been before so we congregated to Paddington on a Friday night to enjoy each others' company, oh, and to sample some Italian food!

Jeremy's Bistro - tucked away in Albert Street away from the hustle and bustle

There are restaurants around town with a high profile, the type of place that everyone knows about and everyone wants to visit.  Then there are restaurants that are much more 'low key', ones that you might walk past a hundred times before you realise that you've just passed a dining spot.  Jeremy's definitely falls into the 'low key' category.  In fact, when I mentioned to friends that I was heading off to Jeremy's for lunch, the common answer was.... "where's that?"

It's not surprising that not many people know about Jeremy's, it's not in a 'hot spot' of dining and is located midway down Albert Street, heading towards the Botanical Gardens.  Jeremy's neighbours are 7-Eleven's, Skate Shops and Hair Salons.  It doesn't stand out and looks very understated from the street, but it's not until you step through the front doors that a restaurant materialises.

Jeremy's is quite a cosy restaurant and is reminiscent of a little French Bistro, with exposed brick walls and little tables with white linen that are squished close together.  It's dominated through the centre by a serving counter, which doubles as wine storage and bar and splits the restaurant into four sections, with a casual front area and more formal dining to the sides and back.

Burger Urge - 10 Year Celebration Party

A lot can happen in ten years, countries can rise and fall; wars can be fought; theoretically man could fly to Mars and back!  Ten years ago, Brisbane lads and brothers Sean and Colby Carthew had a dream and started down the path of making that dream a reality.  Their dream was to create a healthy alternative to the fast food outlets that were littering city streets with 'junk food'.  This might not sound so visionary now, 2013, but you need to remember that this was before movies like Supersize Me brought the notion that fast food was bad to our consciousness.

Burger Urge has been a local hangout for of mine for quite a while and I recently wrote about Burger Urge in my blog (see post here) so I was really happy to accept an invitation to their ten year birthday celebration with a number of other Brisbane Foodies and some of Sean and Colby's loyal customers.  It was also an opportunity for the boys to launch their new menu, so there would be some new taste sensations to write about too!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Breakfast Series - The Little Larder

I love living in the Brisbane CBD and one of my favourite pastimes is to wander around the city and surrounds to see what's going on.  Being in such a central spot, it's easy for SC and I to pick a direction and just go, but invariably in the 'River City' we tend to stick to the suburbs along the river.  Moray Street New Farm has been a favourite of ours to walk down for as long as I can remember, it's such an awesome street with lots of lovely buildings and houses.

In all the years that we have been wandering down Moray Street, we have often marvelled and wondered about a little cafe that was always so packed out.  In a quiet part of New Farm which is almost exclusively houses and apartments is The Little Larder, which over the years has become a local favourite and Brisbane institution.  We thought we would marvel no more and finally get in and check out why it's usually so busy.

On a normal day we would have put on the walking shoes and taken the more personal approach to getting to The Little Larder, it's only a 25 minute walk.  However, with this unusually cold period that Brisbane has been forced to endure, we decided a nice quick (and heated) drive would be the prudent option.  Cruising down Moray Street, we almost overshot the cafe, which is fairly non-descript and much easier to spot when casually walking by on the other side of the street!  Because we overshot the cafe, SC let me out to secure a table while she ably scouted for a park.

Cheap Eats - The Bun Mobile

It's amazing to think that one day you can be enjoying a meal in the best restaurant in Brisbane (see post here) then the next enjoying a no-less-delightful meal sitting on a park bench.  This is what happened this week when I sought out, then chased down Brisbane's best loved mobile food van, the Bun Mobile.

Brisbane is lagging behind the other states when it comes to mobile food trucks, which have been infiltrating the suburbs of our southern counterparts for some time.  There are many who would say that the future of casual dining is on four wheels.  When you look around at the southern states, Melbourne and Adelaide are flush with entrepreneurs taking food out of fixed locations and to the masses.  Looking at the site there are around 80+ active mobile food trucks rolling around the streets of Australia, but only seven on the roll in Brisbane streets!

The Bun Mobile is perhaps the best known and most well loved of the Brisbane based mobile food trucks and I figured it was about time to chase it down and see what all the fuss was about.  To make it much easier to track, you can find out the locations of the Bun Mobile by heading over to their web site and look at their location calendar (link here).  Looking at the location calendar it's clear that the Bun Mobile mostly cruises the inner city suburbs, with West End and the Inner West seeming to get the lion's share of visits, but on the night we tracked it down, it was a little further afield at Manly on the waters edge.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Esq - The cheapest Three Hatted meal you will have in Australia

It's no secret that I think Ryan Squires is the best Chef in Brisbane and a case can be made that he is in the top handful of Chefs in Australia.  Ryan, ably assisted by Ben Devlin and the team, have created an experience like no other in Queensland.  Esquire is just across the street from my apartment and I try to get in to sample the amazing food as often as I can.  I have written about Esquire before (you can read about my last visit here) and I have mentioned that as Esquire has confirmed it's stellar reputation and gained its Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Three Hats, it's become a little less accessible to many people.

Well, what would you do if I told you that there is a way to sample the exquisite cuisine from Esquire for a fraction of the price?  A way to experience a Three Hat meal in a relaxed and casual environment?  If you're like me and love food, you would make a beeline and check it out.  In 2012 Ryan created Esq, and unveiled a casual dining spot which centred around the restaurants charcoal fire pit.  Esq was designed to complement the restaurant's incredible formal dining area with an equally amazing casual dining experience.

Where Esquire is a degustation only restaurant that takes you on a Journey concocted in Ryan's meticulous food mind, Esq puts the options in the diners' hands and allows you to choose your own adventure.  The menu is comprised of small plates that you can share at the table or, should you choose, enjoy 'a la carte'. Each of the dishes on the menu has the same amazing quality of Esquire from only the freshest of daily produce, then cooked over Australian Charcoal in the Restaurant's centrepiece charcoal pit.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Helm Surfers - A surprise packet on the Gold Coast

This has been a very cold and very wet winter so far and I have not enjoyed it at all.  So when I had the opportunity to head down to the Gold Coast to check out a new restaurant, Helm Bar and Bistro, I was pretty happy to leave Brisbane behind, for a few hours at least.  It's pretty amazing really, as cold and miserable as it can be in the Queensland capital, just sixty odd kilometres down the road is a completely different story.

We were pretty lucky really, it was one of the few weekends where the sun had been out and while it was still pretty cold, there is nothing worse than heading down to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast on a rainy day.  It has been ages since I last visited the Gold Coast, the glitz and glamour of the nation's holiday strip does nothing to excite me.  In fact the last time we went down we had a pretty disappointing meal at a (then) hatted restaurant.

I alway forget how easy it is to get to the Gold Coast nowadays, with a pretty good road that is going to get better once the fourth freeway lane opens up and traffic flows even better.  What I always forget though, is how painful the bottleneck is when you get off the Pacific Motorway and head towards The Spit, it was like a car park.  It was also pretty painful driving into Surfers as well, with heaps of roadworks and lots of crazy coast drivers.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Depo - where design and food collide

I knew I was in for something special when I approached new restaurant Depo just as dusk was falling.  It had been a bit of a journey for me, I had decided it was a nice enough evening to walk from the CBD over to West End.  I figured a 30 minute walk would be a fantastic way to begin an evening with about a dozen other Food Bloggers, Lifestyle Bloggers and Food Journalists to check out West End's latest offering, Depo.

I wasn't too sure what to expect when I wandered up Horan Street, which is just a little bit 'off the beaten path' at West End, but I was amazed as I walked to the entrance of the restaurant.  I use the term restaurant loosely here as Deop is so much more.  Horan Street is pretty much just a normal suburban street, all-be-it a pretty nice street near the CBD, but Depo is both out of place and perfectly aligned with the street.

I was one of the first to arrive so had the opportunity to marvel at the layout and interior of Depo, which has been put together by design maestro Alexander Lotersztain, who was also responsible for designing the iconic Limes Hotel and super gastro pub Alfred & Constance.  It's instantly a comforting space, with a semi industrial feel but with a layer of plushness that makes you feel welcome, especially if you seat yourself in one of the many comfy looking couches that are a feature.

Cheap Eats - Taro's Ramen Cafe

What makes you decide to finally walk into a restaurant that you have driven past almost every day for over five years?  I recently asked myself this question when I booked in to Taro's Ramen Cafe in Adelaide Street.  I often wonder which restaurant in the CBD is actually closest to my apartment, some of the contenders are Le Bon Choix (not really a restaurant), Alchemy (just across the street and down some stairs) and even Sanitarium (directly across the street).  I think I now have a clear winner with Taro's Ramen Cafe, which right next door, about 20 metres away.

Whenever I have driven or walked out of my apartment I have passed right by Taro's, of course I haven't always known that it was a restaurant.  It might seem funny, but for the first twelve months of living in the CBD I didn't even notice Taro's, it's just so tucked away on Adelaide Street.  Slowly over the years I started to notice the noise and hubbub coming from the restaurant, but still never went that next step to find out what was there.  Incredibly, it was only this year that I finally walked a few extra meters around the corner to see that it was in fact a Ramen cafe.  I know, pretty lazy, right?

Taro's is as the base of the Boeing building in the CBD and is tucked right around the back and mostly hidden behind a bushy fence.  It's quite an unassuming location for what turns out to be a pretty popular little spot.  I was catching up with a mate for lunch and we wanted somewhere new (to us) and fairly cheap and for some reason Taro's jumped into my consciousness.  Not knowing if MJ liked Asian style food, I took the punt and booked us in for a midday Friday lunch.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Casual Dining - The Smoke BBQ

Talk about hard to get into.  The Smoke just about takes the 'kewpie doll prize' for that.  I guess it was partly my fault too, I kept calling up on the day I wanted to go to try to get a booking, mmmm, good luck with that.  I had been trying to get the planets to align and visit The Smoke BBQ, and after a few false starts I managed to get a mid week booking.  CI and I were trying to head out for a boys night out eating meat. The Smoke BBQ was a place that CI had been to a few times before and quite liked, while I was going for my first time.  I was keen to find out why this place was so popular.

While I am a big lover of protein, especially pork and beef, I've only come to eating American style food recently and was still buzzing from my last experience at Carolina Kitchen (see post here).  The Smoke has perhaps the biggest reputation as an American style food joint, so I was pretty excited to get stuck in.  The only other American BBQ experience that CI and I had shared before was over at the SSS Steakhouse in the CBD, which I thought was pretty good.  With those two experiences in mind, I was raring to get stuck into some authentic American style ribs.

The Smoke BBQ has been around for quite a while and opened its doors to New Farm locals in 2006 and has steadily built a reputation as the BBQ joint in town.  Founded by American restaurateur Steve Johnson, the concept was created by Steve's desire to bring a genuine American BBQ to Brisbane.  Steve specially imported a smoker from the United States to ensure authenticity.  The place was originally called Blue Smoke BBQ but after some renovations in 2010, which included an outdoor patio area, it was renamed to The Smoke BBQ.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Cheap Eats - The Mexican Kitchen

Mexican at the Orient, what could possibly go wrong?  Well, plenty when you consider that last venture at the Orient Hotel was a failed steak restaurant called 'Swill'.

The Orient Hotel is one of the last remaining 'ungentrified' hotels left in Brisbane, that is, it hasn't been taken over as a gastro-pub and the yuppies around town have not made it their edgy watering hole (yet).  The Orient Hotel has been around for a long time, in fact it was opened in 1875 and while there have been renovations to the hotel, it still retains much of its old world charm.  You can imagine coming down Ann Street in the early 1900's and not seeing much change from the current Orient Hotel, perhaps there would be not billboards hanging off every building nearby!

I had never been to the Orient before, but had walked by it thousands of times and always wondered who would go to the Orient Hotel nowadays.  I was certainly amused when I first wandered by and saw that a new Steak Restaurant had opened up in the 'old girl' and was not surprised when it closed a short time later....  I mean, who came up with the idea that Swill would be an attractive name for a restaurant?

So, how did I come to be sitting in The Orient on a Friday afternoon waiting for lunch?  It was fairly random when a late change to a team meeting turned into a lunch meeting and we needed somewhere close by.  It was a suggestion from CN and once no one objected, we were booked in for a midday lunch.

Casual Dining - Alfredo's Pizzeria

In what was a huge week of test kitchens and parties, Alfredo's Pizzeria has finally opened its doors to the public.  The team behind Fortitude Valley icons the Limes Hotel and Alfred & Constance have this time put their considerable talent to design the perfect pizza joint.

Alfredo's officially opened on Friday the 7th of June but, in what was a clear master stroke, was open for a week's worth of test kitchens, pre-opening parties and a huge launch party.  I was fortunate enough to be one of a handful of bloggers invited along to some of the test kitchens and the pre-launch party.  It's not often I head over to a new joint two days in a row, but it was a really interesting experience and I was able to see the inner workings of a new restaurant.

The first test kitchen was an amazing event and I was happy to be seated with Brisbane Devoured and Miss Foodie, along with the team from Scrumptious Reads in what turned out to be an extremely busy and hectic test kitchen.  The space at Alfredo's Pizzeria is uber cool with a larger than life backlit wall that shows Alfredo himself munching on a piece of pizza!  I have never seen so many people squashed into a restaurant before, it was full on.  It was also a great way for the wait staff to be tested under extreme stress of a full house and a full bar, a test that they passed with flying colours.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Breakfast Series - Campos Coffee Fortitude Valley

There was a time where a cafe like Campos Coffee would have been the centre of my universe.  Back when I was completely addicted to the oh-so-sweet nectar of the gods.  How times have changed and the only reason I have come back to Campos is as a Food Blogger and to sample their well loved and ever changing breakfast menu.  It's OK, I can actually walk into a coffee house now and not be tempted by the wonderful aroma of freshly brewed coffee or the almost irresistible smell of recently roasted coffee beans.

When and why I stopped drinking coffee is a story for another time but suffice to say that Merlo, Campos and di Bella were well known to me.  The Valley is not only a mecca for coffee enthusiasts but also has an extremely high concentration of cafes and restaurants, so to forge a reputation as a great food destination as well as (arguably) the best coffee around is no mean feat.  Campos is part of and very much separate to the James Street precinct in Valley and has had a checkered past with its well known neighbour.  I am sure everyone remembers the parking debate that led to a wall being erected to separate Campos from the rest of the James Street Market area!

Campos is possibly one of the busiest spots in the Valley to get coffee or breakfast, so SC and I got up nice and early to make sure we could score a great seat.  I can confirm that 7:15am is a great time if you don't like queuing or waiting for your breakfast at Campos.  When we first arrived down the slightly dodgy looking lane off Wandoo Street, there were a number of Campos staff waiting to greet early risers such as ourselves and lead us to comfy inside seats.  I should mention that it's only the entrance to the lane that is slightly dodgy looking, once you get past all of the delivery trucks, the rest of the lane leading to Campos is pretty cool, with some great street art.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Casual Dining - Aquila Caffe Bar

Tennis season is a risky time for me.  I have a regular 'sportsman' bet with a mate about games, usually between Federer and Murray and the loser buys the next lunch.  It's pretty even at the moment and the last lunch was on EC because Djokovic beat Nadal and I was on the "Joker's" team for this one.  Score, free lunch for me!  Because we pay for this lunch ourselves, and not from expense accounts, we normally look for somewhere in the CBD that's reasonably priced but still pretty nice.

As it was EC's time to pay for lunch, he also got to choose the venue and after perusing a list I compiled, he decided that it was time we gave Aquila Caffe Bar a go.  It had been ages since I last visited Aquila and it was for a breakfast, so I was pretty surprised to see how much the place had changed since my last appearance.  It looks as if Aquila had bought out the space next door and completely remodelled; it looked great and was huge.

Aquila is located just down the street from me in Eagle street, in fact I can look over my balcony and see it anytime I want!  Last time I went, it was a pretty decent breakfast menu but didn't really excite me for lunch, but the latest menu is transformed.  Aquila is now pretty much a full Italian restaurant in the CBD.  There is a really broad range of options including share plates, gourmet sandwiches, heaps of pasta and a broad range of pizza too!  I was a bit gobsmacked by the options and that I didn't even realise that Aquila had transformed so much right under my nose.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Alchemy Restaurant & Bar - fine dining with a view of the River

Alchemy Restaurant has been one of my favourite restaurants for as long as I can remember.  I can't think of another dining establishment that has delivered fantastic food time and time again.  One of my best friends, who is notoriously hard to please when it comes to dining out also agrees, Alchemy is the bomb.  However, the last time I went to Alchemy (see post here), it wasn't quite as perfect as it usually is and for the first time, there were some elements that I didn't enjoy so much.

A strange and unusual thing occurred earlier this year and Alchemy lost it's coveted Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat.  I was actually quite astounded when the list of Chefs Hats was announced and Alchemy was not in the list.  The world of restaurants awards can be quite confusing at times with the Australian Good Food Guide still rating Alchemy with a Chefs Hat.  I was keen to get back to Alchemy after a few months and see if my last visit and the loss of the BT Chefs Hat were an anomaly or the start of something bigger.

There have been many times where I have talked fondly about Alchemy and its owner chef Brad Jolly and his wife Angelica Jolly.  When you talk quickly most people think you say Brad and Angela Jolie, but no, Alchemy is not run by Brangelina.  Brad Jolly has been one of Brisbane's best chefs, and one of my favourite chefs, for such a long time that it would be unthinkable that Alchemy would let it's standards slip.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Casual Dining - Brew Cafe & Bar

I love the idea of restaurants, bars and cafes that are tucked away in laneways and that are hard to find, unless you know where you are going.  Brisbane has precious few laneways and spots that are tucked away, but Brew in Burnett Lane certainly fits the bill.  For many years Burnett Lane was a place to be avoided at all costs, but then something happened and it all changed.  There are some cool restaurants and bars in Burnett Lane now, with The Survey Co and Super Whatnot, but Brew is a little different.  Where The Survey Co is more refined and Super Whatnot is uber cool, Brew is a little more grungy and dare I say it, a little more real (or should I say accessible).

I have been trying to get into Brew for ages but have been foiled at every attempt.  It's not as if you need to book months in advance for Brew, there is a no bookings policy, but it's usually so jammed packed, that it's impossible to get a table without meticulous planning.  Even with careful planning, you need a slice of luck to get a table, for example one time I left work at 4:30 trying to snare a table for an early dinner with a mate!  No go, even then every table had been scoped out with other patrons with the same idea as me.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Gerards Bistro - Even at the Best new Restaurant things can go wrong

There seems to be an increasing instance of restaurant shopping in Brisbane.  Restaurant shopping is where people book into several restaurants on a busy night, usually a Friday or a Saturday night, then decide on the day which restaurant they will go to.  This usually happens when there is a group of people involved, so the potential loss for restaurants is huge when people don't turn up.  This was such a big problem in Melbourne that many restaurants are moving to a no reservation policy.  Not cool.

We experienced the results of an environment where restaurant shopping happens at one of the better restaurants around town last weekend, Gerard's Bistro.  Restaurants are forced to call people who make reservations for confirmation and if they can't get onto you, the assumption is made that you won't be turning up and your booking is cancelled.  In hip new restaurants like Gerard's, the spot is filled up pretty quickly.  So picture this, we turn up for our 7:30 reservation for TB's birthday dinner, which has been booked months in advance and are told that we don't have a booking.  Pretty disappointing indeed, but  what was worse was that TB was made to look and feel silly with the question asked 'Are you sure you're not confused?'

We had all been to Gerard's many times and were a bit incredulous that this question would be asked, damn you restaurant shoppers, but after some investigation were told that we did have a booking but it was cancelled in the afternoon, after they 'called' TB and she cancelled the booking.  I'm not sure who was called, but the fact that we were all standing around at our allotted booking time should have been an indication otherwise.  I'm not sure who was called but it was not us and we were left with a conundrum, wait at a very busy Gerards for a table to open up or look elsewhere.  Right, look elsewhere in the Valley at 7:30 on a Saturday night, not likely.


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