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.

I had eaten in the casual dining area at Esquire before the transformation of the menu to Esq, so I was intrigued to see how the it differed from my last visit.  I was catching up with some mates for lunch and was meeting them at the restaurant. As usual I arrived first and had some time to look over the menu and get a sense for what had changed.  I remembered from my last visit to the causal side of Esquire that the menu very much reflected the degustation menu of Esquire, but you could just pick the components you felt like.  The menu at Esq is a little different.  Sure, there are some of the classic items from the Degustation menu on offer, but it now has a very distinct and different feel to it.

Once my Lunch Buddies (LB's) arrived, I set about the task of explaining how things worked at Esq and why Esquire was my favourite restaurant in Brisbane, and quite possibly Australia.  My LB's had never been to Esquire before, so I was hoping they would really enjoy the food, which is usually a bit more extraordinary than most restaurants they would have visited.  We selected quite a few different options on the menu with the aim to (mostly) share the food, but we each chose a 'main' to have to ourselves (with the obligatory tasting bite, of course).

First to arrive at the table with a simply stunning presentation was the Air Dried Beef and Kim Chi, which are usually served separately on the Degustation menu.  The simple ingredients belied the amazing depth of flavour that came from the dried Kim Chi, which had an incredible saltiness, but was perfect when combined with the air dried beef.  The beef was so incredibly thin it was almost translucent.  This starter was an example of how combining two ingredients can achieve perfect harmony and confirm the theory that less is more.  This is a theory that would play out wonderfully with the rest of the meal.

Next up was Southern Squid with Garlic and Parsley, which was again simplicity on a plate.  The squid didn't have the same artful presentation of the previous dish but was a little more rustic, with different parts of the squid lightly char grilled and then flavoured with a subtle garlic sauce that tantilised the tip of the palate.  The squid was exquisitely cooked and almost melted in the mouth and had an amazing texture with flavour that was enhanced with a squeeze of lemon.

I was really excited to see the Berkshire Pork Gyoza with Chilli, Vinegar and Soy on the menu.  Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know I love gyoza, so there was never a doubt that I would be ordering the Japanese dumplings.  I was keen to see how a Ryan Squires-inspired gyoza would look and taste.  Each gyoza was perfect in its symmetry and each was grilled to perfection with a lovely glaze, then coated in a light drizzle of sauce.  The Berkshire pork in the gyoza was incredibly sweet and succulent and was offset with the subtle flavours of chilli and vinegar soy.  These were gyoza with fine dining credentials and were probably the best I have ever eaten.

The first of the mains to arrive was whole grilled Sand Whiting, olive oil and herbs.  There was a boldness in the simplicity of this dish, with absolutely nowhere to hide if the fish was not cooked to absolute perfection.  Sand Whiting is a delicate fish that has to be treated with respect and once the fish was put in front of us, we knew that this fish had been loved throughout the cooking process.  The flesh of the fish just fell away from the bones and was expertly cooked.  There was a purity of flavour in the brilliantly white flesh of the fish that danced on the tastebuds and left you wanting more.

When you think of slow cooked meat, I would wager that 70 hours is not a figure that you would consider, but that's how long the Glazed Lamb Belly, Smoked Aubergine and Cavolo Nero was cooked.  I have had this dish as part of the Degustation menu at Esquire and was pleased and surprised to see two pieces of the lamb.  There are only so many superlatives that can be said and I am not going to waste time with any here, this was literally soft as warm butter and as easy to cut through.  The flavours were intense and while visually you could have been eating pork belly, there was no mistake that this was lamb.

Last of the mains was again simplicity and was Charcoal Grilled Wagyu, Perilla and Fresh Horseradish.  It is staggering how good beef can taste when simply grilled over a charcoal fire then flavoured with a hint of horseradish and perilla flavoured oil.  The wagyu was cooked to perfection and was extremely tender, with that lovely rendered fat flavour you get when wagyu is cooked just right.  I really loved the flavours of the wagyu combined with the oil on the plate and would have loved more, but wagyu is super expensive and the idea at Esq is to be much more accessible.  The only issue with the wagyu was that there were a couple of gristly pieces of beef that I couldn't eat.  It seemed like such a waste to leave them on the plate.

Time for desserts and this is where things started to get really creative.  First up was Caramel Popcorn, Grilled Sweet Corn Parfait and Tarragon, which is a mind bending experience.  The bowl placed in front of looked exactly like a serve of scrambled eggs, but this is the genius of Ryan Squires... things are not always as they seem.  It's an interesting juxtaposition between the visual and the taste where you mind almost can't keep up with the senses.  This dessert provided a distinct popcorn flavour with the texture and visuals of scrambled eggs.  You really have to try this to believe it.

The next dessert looked just like a risotto but was Goats Milk Ice Cream with Toasted Barley Porridge and Walnut.  There were some interesting flavours and textures going on in this dessert, which was not overly sweet and had almost a earthy and savoury feel to it.  There was some nice crunch from the walnuts and the goats milk ice cream was subtle and perfectly matched to balance the barley porridge.  It was an interesting contrast after the popcorn, but I would say that the two desserts didn't match each other well.

Saving the best dessert for last was the signature dessert of Esquire.  I have had the Campari Sherbet, Orange Sorbet, Curds and Whey Ice Cream many times and can confirm that it's an incredible dish.  There is something mystical about the combination of flavours and textures with this dish, there are dehydrated pieces of orange (sometimes mandarin) that give the dessert crunch; orange sherbert that takes you back to your childhood; and the curds and whey ice cream that has stunning texture and flavour.  Put the lot together and it's a masterstroke of design and cooking.

It may seem as if I am waxing lyrical about Esq and truth be told, I am.  Esquire has done what no other restaurant in Brisbane has ever done, won then kept three Chefs Hats.  This is not by accident, there is a wonderful team at Esquire, led by the creative genius that is Ryan Squires.

I really enjoyed my visit to Esq and found that it was merely an extension of Esquire and in no way a dilution of the wonderful food that comes out of the kitchen.  My LB's were both staggered with the style and quality of the food that was delivered on the day, with both exclaiming that they had never experienced food like that before.  In fact, one of my LB's didn't even know food could be produced like this.

The wonderful thing about Esq is that you are getting Three Hat quality food and ridiculously low prices.  We still received the wonderful service that Esquire is known for and service befitting a Three Hat restaurant.  One thing that surprised and amazed me was that we were the only diners in the restaurant for lunch, what's up with that?  I will ask again.... what would you do if you could sample Three Hatted food at a fraction of the price?  Well, you should get in and check it out, you just might have the best food experience of your life.


A side of treviso lettuce with tomme de chevre cheese and 12 year old aged balsamic was a great foil for the wagyu beef and Lamb
The incredibly simple braised shiitake mushrooms were another Ryan Squired masterpiece.  The mushrooms were transformed in flavour and texture to something special
Lunchtime on a Thursday afternoon in the Best Restaurant in Brisbane.  Esq is so affordable I am mystified as to why there is not a queue out the door
I can't recommend strongly enough getting in and checking out Esq for lunch any day of the week.  There are not many opportunities like this in the food world
Three Hats is something special in Brisbane
All the desserts in a line.  The curds and whey is worth the trip alone
The menu of Esq and the prices are obscenely low for a Three Hat restaurant

Esquire on UrbanspoonEsq.Esquire Restaurant


  1. Thank you for sharing this post. It was written really well and I am really tempted to visit Esq now! :)

    1. Cheers and thanks.... You should totally get in and check it out, the place rocks and Esq is so cheap (for a three hat restaurant). I look forward to seeing you post about it :)

  2. I absolutely agree with you! Having spent close to $500 at esquire per visit (but totally worth it!), knowing I can pop into Esq with a friend and spend a fraction of that is amazing. We do tend to blow out on the wine though... Just wondered if you have tried the bread with caramelised butter? It makes me weak at the knees. A must try.

  3. Hi Kristy, I have not tried the caramelized butter but it sounds like I am missing out. I will need to rectify that pronto! Haha, it's the wine that can do the damage allright :)


  4. Hey

    What a great review!

    My partner's birthday is coming up and I was wondering whether this is okay a place (food looks perfect! but what about the setting?) to take him to?


    1. Hi Elaine, it has a very similar look and feel to the main restaurant, but is just a little smaller :) It's pretty relaxed at Esq and Esquire and not what you would expect from a Three Hat restaurant.

      I think Esquire is great for a special occaision like a birthday, but is a bit more expensive. At Esq you get a similar experience at a fraction of the price!

      If you like interesting and creative food, then I say go for it :)

    2. Hey

      Thanks for the quick reply!

      I will be making a booking soon... :)

      Keep up with the blog! I just moved here with my partner from London and we need blogs like yours to educate ourselves regarding the Brissy foodie scene.

      Thanks, Elaine.

    3. Haha, no problems Elaine, I will definitely be keeping the Blog up! I am off to New York next week, so there will be a slowdonw of Brisbane blogs, but a few from NYC


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