Saturday, 28 September 2013

The 5th Element - still searching for the last element

Southbank is one of the most vibrant precincts anywhere in Australia but it really comes alive during the annual Brisbane Festival.  Where else can you find an open piazza that seats over 2,000 people just a few steps away from a man made beach that is open all year round?  Ever since the transformation of the old Expo '88 site from wasteland to a city playground there has been something for everyone just a short walk across from the city CBD.  One of the reasons why I love Southbank so much is that it's one of the more exciting dining precincts in Brisbane.

I had been hitting Southbank a fair bit during the Brisbane festival, getting over to the Spiegeltent for the incredible La Soiree and the transformed Suncorp Piazza for the street circus spectacular that was Urban.  I've lost count of how many times I have walked by the spectacular Santos Light Show over the last few weeks but it's fair to say that I have heard the haunting Midnight City by M83 that is a highlight from the show.  With all the time I had spent over at Southbank, I figured it was time I visited one of the many cool restaurants while the area was alive with energy and activity.

There are around fifty restaurants to choose from over at Southbank, and that doesn't include all of the mall style eateries that inhabit the centre of people's area in the centre of the area.  Surprisingly, I have not been to many of the dining spots over at Southbank, but those I have gone to I have eaten at many times.  I had to decide if I was going to hit somewhere new or go back to an old favourite and after some contemplation I decided on a compromise, I went back a restaurant I had fond memories of but had not visited for many years.

The 5th Element is tucked right at the end of Little Stanley Street and is pretty much the last restaurant in the strip that makes up hugely popular dining precinct.  I love the name of the 5th Element, which is derived from the belief of alchemists in the Middle Ages that there was a key to immortality that lay somewhere in nature.  These alchemists believed that there was a 5th Element beyond earth, air, fire and water that was the essence of the soul and if they could recreate this 5th Element then they would experience bliss forever.  It also happens to be one of my favourite movies with Bruce Willis and the beautiful Milla Jovovich!

I had been wanting to get back to the 5th Element for some time, I'd had one of the nicest risottos of my life there the last time and I had had my eyes open to the possibilities of desserts by having my first ever tarte tatin.  As we wandered down bustling Little Stanley Street, we noticed how busy each of the restaurants were and I was again struck by how lucky we are in Brisbane to have such a vibrant dining area.  When we reached the 5th Element I noticed that it was considerably quieter than all of the other dining spots along the strip.  At the time I thought nothing of it, after all, it was only 7pm and the 5th Element is as much a bar as it is a restaurant.

As we waited to be seated, I was again struck by how contemporary and interesting the 5th Element is, with it's open bar dominating one half of the large space and very comfy looking seats in the dining area.  I also loved the elements subtly displayed around the venue, especially the open flames which gave the restaurant an ethereal feel.  

Once we were seated, we looked over the menu and decided to indulge in and share some tapas to begin with before moving onto our mains.  There are quite a few tapas and share plate options available in the $15 to $20 dollar range for the tapas, with share plates climbing up to about $80.  We started off with the Jamón and parmesan croquettes with balsamic aioli, which were the highlight of the evening for SC.  I've never been a big fan of croquettes, I just don't like the mushy texture of the Spanish tapas, although the flavour of the Jamon and parmesan was quite lovely.

Unfortunately this is where the night took a turn for the worse.  We had noticed that while it was fairly quiet, the wait staff very friendly and fairly attentive, but after it started to pick up a bit they moved distinctly into the un-attentive category.  This is bad enough but the quality of the food that started coming out of the kitchen also took a dive.  Our next tapas was the house made confit duck spring rolls with beetroot aioli, which looked OK, but after one bite I knew they were not right.  The spring rolls were almost all deep fried pastry with only a thin strip of really dry duck through the centre.  The very dry duck had little flavour, so all you got was the taste of over fried pastry, and while we could dip it in the sweet beetroot dip, overall it was not pleasant.

The spring rolls were unpleasant but our next tapas of wagyu meatballs with rich tomato sugo and toasted sourdough were almost inedible.  As soon as the bowl was put down I noticed the steam coming off the meatball dish and my immediate thought was over cooked.  Once I took my first bite, I confirmed my fear, these meatballs were savaged and some of them had burn marks on the outside. There was no moistness that you like to see from meatballs, they were dry and crumbly, so crumbly that it was hard to get them from the bowl to our plates, they just fell apart.  The tomato sauce didn't help, it too was overworked and over cooked and just had no flavour.  We could not get through this dish and ended up leaving much of it.

We thought we would be on safer territory with the last of our tapas dishes, I mean how wrong can you go with Queensland scallops in miso butter with a shallot salad?  I guess the only thing that you have to worry about with scallops is over cooking and this is what happened.  The scallops looked very messy on the plate but they also looked over cooked and after eating the first scallop, my fears were confirmed, it was like rubber.  The one redeeming factor was that the the flavour of the miso butter was quite nice and worked well with the scallops.

By this time we were feeling a bit despondent about the meal and were hoping that the mains would in some way bring the whole meal back on track.  Any thoughts of redemption were thrown out the window once our mains were delivered.  SC's caramelised pork belly with steamed rice, crispy onion and a soy glaze looked terrible.  The plate looked messy and thrown together but the worst part was the crusty looking pork belly that was dry and overcooked on the outside and was incredibly difficult to eat.  SC had one piece before she declared that it was inedible, I managed to help her out by eating one and a half pork squares before I agreed and left the remainder on the plate.  Even the rice was dry and overcooked and very hard to eat.  

By comparison, my mushroom risotto with truffled pecorino and roast mushroom looked quite appetising but after my first mouthful, I had a very bad taste in my mouth.  I almost couldn't believe the taste, so I went in for another mouthful and almost couldn't swallow.  There was something not right about the risotto, it was certainly over worked but there was a grittiness that was unpleasant in the mouth and a dirty flavour that killed the palate.  I could taste none of the creaminess that you get with a good risotto, no flavour of truffle and hardly any flavour of mushroom, it just tasted bad.  

I normally don't say anything when I get a dish this terrible, but we were determined to say something and have it taken away, however we never saw a waiter again.  We sat there for ages with our plates mostly uneaten in the centre of the table, trying to catch the eye of any waiters that were wandering around the restaurant.  After about 15 minutes of not being able to catch anyone's attention, we decided that we had had enough and just decided to leave.  We had noticed that another couple had experienced the same delay and had paid at the counter, so we followed suit.

While I was taking photos of the restaurant and SC was paying, she was asked how the meal was and unloaded about how bad the risotto was.  After an apology and a comment that the staff member would let the kitchen know, as this was apparently a dish they prided themselves on, we were offered a $6 dollar discount on the meal.

As we walked back home to the CBD, we were feeling a bit flat from the meal.  Our last visit to the 5th Element had been a much more memorable experience, and in a good way.  We tried to recall a worse meal that we had in the last five years and struggled to come up with one.  There have been individual dishes that have been hard to eat but not a meal where we were so comprehensively disappointed.  

At least we had to walk back through the excitement that was the Brisbane Festival. On our way back home and as we walked past the Spiegeltent we were able to reflect on a more positive time during the Brisbane Festival, banishing thoughts of a meal I'd rather soon forget.

The 5th Element is also well known as a wine bar.  You can see the signs of the elements all around the venu

5th Element on Urbanspoon5th Element Bar & Dining


  1. Six dollar discount?! Why bother at all, in that case? It's almost a parting insult.

  2. They could have at least TRIED to make the pork look a little bit appetizing... Wow.



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