Sunday, 8 September 2013

Esq - a new menu thats out of this world

I have found myself falling to Esq as my default 'go to' restaurant when I don't feel like cooking at home, which admittedly is a fair bit.  This might seem strange, a Three Hatted restaurant as the 'local' but I live really close and the food is simply amazing.  I have written about Esq and Esquire a few times over the last twelve months.  So it's no surprise to my regular readers that I love the food that owner and head Chef Ryan Squires and his amazing team put together.

While I really love the food, I have been telling my best friend (the Big Boy) about Esq and Esquire for a long time and he had continually refused to come along and check it out with us.  It's not a complete surprise that the Big Boy didn't want to check out my recommendation.  There is a history between us, whenever I have recommend a restaurant and we go to check it out together, the night we go the food ends up being sub par (just for his visit.....  he is cursed!).  The Big Boy now lives overseas and happened to be back in Brisbane for a quick visit, so I decided to take the risk and get him over to Esq to check it out.

There was a dual purpose for wanting to write about this particular visit, Esq has a new menu and it's definitely worth writing about.  

The old Esq menu was very interesting in it's own right, but largely contained items that you would see on the Esquire degustation menu.  The new menu is designed to appeal to a broad audience and is now available at both Esq and Esquire during the daytime hours.  I spoke to maitre' d Murray and Head Chef Ryan Squires about the menu and its purpose is to appeal to a wide range of diners, especially during the lunchtime madness in the CBD.  The menu is now designed to be a bit more recognisable with a starters and mains section and will also appeal to lunchtime diners with sandwiches section (available for lunch only).  I would surely be interested to see what a Three Hat sandwich tastes like!

The first thing that stares out at you when looking over the new menu for the first time is the wide variety of options now available at Esq.  This is only just ahead of the second most striking aspect of the menu, the prices.  The most expensive main available is $32 dollars, but most of the items are in the $15 to $28 dollar range, with many items at the lower end of the price range.  This is simply unheard of for a restaurant of the quality of Esq.

As usual, we were warmly greeted by Murray when we arrived and were promptly seated in Esq and after a quick chat about the new menu we got to ordering.  The menu is designed to eat individually or to share as a group and on this night we did a combination, some share plates but had some individual plates as well.

First to arrive was a new addition to the Esq menu the scraped beef, ginger, avocado shallots and wasabi, which was essentially a beef tartare.  I'm a big fan of beef tartare and the Esq treatment of the classic french, which essentially removed the egg yolk, was incredible.  It's a bold move removing the egg yolk when presenting raw and chopped beef, but the combination of flavours that came from the ginger and avocado covered in wasabi more than made up for the lack of a sauce or yolk.  There was a little crunch from the fried shallots and the dish was very moreish, I definitely could have had a second helping of the scraped beef.

Next up was the poached pork dumplings with chilli, vinegar and seasoned soya.  I have taken a special liking to the Esq dumplings and have dined at Esq a few times just to have dumplings.  Each time I have been, there has been a slight variation, one time fried and another poached Chinese style.  This time it was poached Japanese style and they were delicious as always.  The pork used is Berkshire and is of an extremely high quality but the dish comes together with the combination of the vinegar and soya that has a hint of chilli.  The dumpling dough was super fine, almost translucent and didn't overpower the pork or the sauce.  Even the Big Boy, who has been eating lots of authentic dumplings in Asia recently thought they were wonderful....

One of the things I love about the Esq menu is the large number of classic proteins that have been dealt the Ryan Squires treatment.  The scallops in butter milk and lemon is a prime example.  Esq has taken the humble scallop and added a rich charcoal flavour by cooking it on the massive charcoal grill that is the centrepiece of the Esq and Esquire dining area.  The grilling of the scallops brings forth an interesting texture for the scallops that is somewhat softened by the buttermilk and lemon sauce that the scallops bathe in.  A squeeze of lemon just adds to the flavour and makes the simple scallop sing.

Calamari is another sea creature that is prominent on the new menu and also gets its chance to shine after spending time on the charcoal grill.  Simply called southern calamari, the grilled squid has little done to it and is simply presented with the quality of the produce speaking for itself.  A touch of burnt butter and some parsley is all that accompanied the calamari, which was perfectly cooked and quite delicious.

While we were waiting for our mains to come over, Ryan came over to say hi and chat to us about the restaurant and food in general.  I spent a bit of time sharing our recent New York dining experiences and comparing the New York scene to other countries around the world and Australia.  The restaurant experience that resonated most with Ryan was the trip to WD50 and the cool stuff that Wylie Dufrense was up to.  I got the feeling during our chat that Ryan was getting a bit restless and wouldn't be surprised if he did a stint overseas for a couple of months to re-ignite the creative process, perhaps somewhere in San Francisco!

After Ryan departed and went back to the kitchen, we were surprised with an additional course that found our way to the table that wasn't on the menu.  We were presented with a simple but beautiful dish which was sashimi grade flat head grilled with the scales on with a parsley emulsion and egg yolk. This was a masterful piece of cooking and we could not believe the flavour packed into such a simply cooked piece of fish.  You could immediately tell the quality and freshness of the fish but it was the respect through the cooking process that amazed me most.  The balance from the slightly bitter parsley emulsion and the sweet egg yolk was astounding.  There is no doubt for me that this should be a regular menu option!  It was so good I literally picked up the plate and licked it clean...

After the wonderful detour from our scheduled meal, the mains started to arrive.  SC had chosen the lamb with cavalo nero, anchovy and jerusalem artichokes, which I have had before a number of times. The lamb was presented immaculately on the plate and had the appearance of soft pork belly, with expertly rendered fat and crispy skin.  This dish is a treat and SC devoured the dish, but not before sharing some of it with the Big Boy, who was astounded by the flavour of the lamb.  The sweet flavour of the lamb was complemented by the slightly sweet cavalo nero, but the combination was not overly sweet.  

There are two steak options on the new Esq menu, both extremely reasonably priced but we both could not go past the marbled beef with perilla and horseradish.  I have eaten a lot of steak recently, at Aria and Rockpool in Melbourne and neither of the steaks that I ate from those very good restaurants came close to matching the marbled beef.  The beef itself is of a very high grade and was cooked on the charcoal grill to a perfect medium rare, but it's not just the beef that makes this option spectacular.  The perilla is a Japanese mint called shiso and is the magic ingredient that turns this meal into a masterpiece, with a depth of flavour that is impossible to describe.  It's sharp and sweet at the same time, but somehow enhances the flavour of the beef incredibly.  The best thing to do here to understand how great this is would be to get in and try it for yourself. 

It was time for dessert which was one area that there was not a big change from the previous Esq menu or the Esquire degustation menu.  There are two dessert options but there is the addition of a cheese plate with seasonal jam, so we selected one of each to share between the three of us.  

The first was the campari curds and whey milk ice cream, which is one of the the Esquire signature dishes and one of my favourite desserts around town (Gerards has recently taken that title).  There is a lovely smooth creaminess from the campari flavoured ice cream that I love and when it is combined with the sherbert, it takes me back to my childhood.  There is additional flavour and texture brought to the dessert with the addition of dehydrated mandarin, so the balance between sweetness and tartness is perfect.

Another one of my favourite desserts the grilled popcorn parfait was next, but it was not universally loved at the table.  It's a bit of a different dessert, it challenges your senses by looking like scrambled   eggs, having the texture of ice cream and the flavour of popcorn.  The addition of tarragon gives it a slightly organic flavour as well and it's a little more savoury than sweet.  I personally love it, as does SC, but the Big Boy didn't like it so much, which was OK because I got to eat most of it!

Last up was the cheese plate, which consisted of three huge flat pieces of cheese.  I only picked out what two of them were, a manchego from southern Spain and a gruyere from Tasmania but there was a third cheese which was from France.  Each of the cheeses had a distinct flavour, yet all three worked well together.  The gruyere actually helped balance of the flavour of the popcorn parfait for SC and the Big Boy.  The cheese was accompanied by a cumquat jam for some extra sweetness and a barley tuile for some crunch.  The Big Boys only complaint about the cheese is that he would have liked it sliced a bit thicker, but it was agreed the cheese was a great addition to the menu.

We finished yet another amazing meal at Esq and were feeling pretty good.  While I love the restaurant and the food, I was more concerned about what the Big Boy would think, he is notoriously hard to please when it comes to fine dining.  I need not have worried, I could tell that he was loving the meal and at the end declared that it was one of the best of his life.  Of course there was a caveat with this, he didn't enjoy the dessert as much as the rest of the meal, mainly due to the popcorn parfait.

I often get asked by friends and other food bloggers why I head off to Esquire so often, for many it's a special occasion place.  The answer is simple, Esq represents such great value and the food is so good, how can I not go there often?  Sure, I still like going and having a full degustation at Esquire from time to time (not always special occasions) but I love great food and my wallet sure appreciates Esq's extremely reasonable prices.

For me, its also about supporting a local restaurant that deserves support.  Esq is not the only CBD restaurant that I go to often, there are a few others.  I love the idea of a vibrant restaurant scene in Brisbane, it's why I blog.  If we want to have world class food in Brisbane, we need to get out and shout about the great restaurants and then get in and support them.  After all, I would hate to see our fantastic chefs and restaurants moving to other states.  I've already lost a favourite restaurant (see post here), I would hate to lose more.


One of the many exciting and new additions to the Esq menu.  A side of salt baked sweet potato with smoked almond milk and fried pine nuts.  You sure can't make this stuff at home
65% pure cocoa in the esquire chocolate bar.  A great way to finish up any meal
Only open a short time, already a wall of accolades.  Of course sitting atop of booze!
The centre piece charcoal grill at the centre of the restaurant
One of the talented chefs in action at Esq.  The story bridge lights in the background
The Esq area has the dining bar as well as some the bench seats.
The wood that gives the charcoal grill its unique flavour profile
Esquire is hidden a little from view, but try to find it, its worth the effort

Esq. Casual Dining on Urbanspoon Esquire Restaurant

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