Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The BirdCage - still some work to do


Double date night, a time to catch up with some good mates and see a movie and have a nice relaxing dinner.  All of the movies that are out at the moment I have either seen or have no interest in seeing, so I agreed to head to see a flick that SC and I saw in New York while we were there.  While I was happy to see a movie that I had previously seen, I definitely wanted to check out a restaurant that I had never been to.  So began the negotiations with TB and CI and the search for a dining spot that none of us had ever been to.  After a few false starts and a few restaurants that were booked out, we finally decided to check out the Bird Cage over at Woolloongabba.

The BirdCage is fairly new to the 'Gabba hot spot of Logan Road and replaced the old french diner, Bistro Bistro.  I had never been to Bistro Bistro but had walked by it a heap of times going to some of the other great dining spots at the start of Logan Road.  The space that the BirdCage occupies is quite a large area that has two street frontage and has turned into a little Pan Asian restaurant.  

When we arrived at the BirdCage and were taken to our seats, we were quite amazed that there was a feeling of spaciousness in the dining area.  We were seated at at a booth that was set for four but could have easily accommodated six or even eight, so we had quite a bit of table and bench space each. There was also a lot of space between the tables in the restaurant and the overall feeling was that there was a little bit of wasted space, however, there would certainly be room to grow.

I was pretty intrigued by the label of Pan Asian cuisine of a Libertine-style meal and once we started to peruse the menu it became apparent that this was the case.  The menu was not the only thing that reminded me of Libertine, there was a similarity with the colours of the restaurants, lots of black and red.  The menu is very much designed for the sharing of dishes as per the tradition in Asia and many of the options were the type of food that you would easily share with others but be just as happy to eat solo.

Whenever we head out with TB and CI, there is always a focus on the cocktail menu and TB quickly got her nose into the cocktail menu, looking through the options.  Unusually, I decided that I would also have a cocktail, so three of us waited for our cocktails to arrive while SC took a slightly more refined approach and ordered sauvignon blanc.

We decided that we would order individual entrees and partially share them around.  What that really meant was we would get individual entrees and I would poach a bit from everyone elses so I could get a taste of as many dishes as possible.  I liked the look of the salt and pepper squid wok tossed in chili and garlic with sweet soy and lime.  The dish that was presented looked lovely with a heap of crumbed squid pieces that ranged from the squiggly tentacles to more traditional cut pieces.  The calamari was well cooked and had just a little bit of a firm texture that made it an interesting texture when eating. There was a hint of chili that was not overpowering and I even tasted the sweet soy and lime.  It was quite nice, but I did have an issue with the dish....it lacked a sauce and therefore was a bit dry.

SC got a little creative for her starter and went directly to the vegetarian menu, which had some interesting looking options (well, not really, there was no meat!).  The roasted butternut pumpkin in yellow curry with apple eggplant, snow peas and cashews was just the type of food that SC gets excited about.  It was actually the nicest looking of all the entrees that we ordered with lots of colour and fresh vegetables.  The yellow curry was very traditional and creamy but had quite a bit of heat to it but the pumpkin and raisins helped to cool the dish down a little.  There were some cashew nuts hidden at the bottom of the bowl that gave the dish a contrasting texture.  

Last of the entrees were the Thai style fish cakes, kaffir lime and snake beans with sweet chili aioli and the tsukune Japanese style chicken cakes, grated daikon and soy-mirin sauce.  The chicken cakes and fish cakes looked remarkably similar and had a very similar texture and the only way to tell them apart was by the accompanying sauces.  We all agreed that the chicken cakes were lovely and full of flavour and worked well with the soy-mirin sauce.  Unfortunately we were all of the same voice about the fish cakes, which were a huge disappointment.  They lacked any flavour at all, even when using the sweet chili aioli (which thankfully came in handy with the salt and pepper calamari).

We were left on a little bit of a downer after the fish cakes and hoped that the mains would get us back on track.  There were many lovely looking options and we all had trouble nailing down our preferred main but after a little discussion sorted ourselves out.  TB went for the more interesting sounding main of whole gold band snapper, seasoned in BirdCage spices, fried and served with asian slaw, mint, sesame oil and lime soy.  This was a huge whole fish that came delivered on a massive plate.  The fish itself was a little ugly looking but the plate itself looked quite appetising with the snapper cooked up upright and looking like it was swimming on the plate.  I have issues with fish presented in this way, sure it looks good, but it is almost impossible to eat.  The fish itself was tasty, but was overcooked and dry, which was a shame. 

The next main out was the free range chicken roasted in banana leaf and Balinese spices with bean and coconut lawar and it was also incredibly dry.  There were a few problems with this dish with the obvious issue being the over cooked and dry chicken but the key issue for CI was some of the ingredients were not stated on the menu.  CI hates onion, in fact he can't stand it and the accompaniment that came with it was thick with onion, which essentially ruined the whole dish for him. It's really important that restaurants put the key items that end up on a plate on the menu.

In a night of smart choices, SC picked another winner with her duck breast on red thai curry with caramelised pineapple, apple eggplant and roasted shallots.   This was a dish that I was really interested in but was put off with the eggplant, which I couldn't see or detect when the dish arrived.  The duck was perfectly cooked with lovely rendered fat and crispy skin and was bathed in a super hot but super delicious red curry.  This was definitely a dish that was for the chili fan but was also well balanced despite the heat.  In my opinion this was the pick of the night and I carried over a little bit of food envy after my plate was placed in front of me.

I ordered the Berkshire pork belly braised in sweet soy and star anise with tamarind, coriander glaze and cucumber kim chee.  The dish itself was really messy looking with very little refinement but did have a generous amount of pork belly.  I was intrigued with the pork belly, which had lovely rendered fat and crunchy crackling that was quite nice, but was also over cooked on the bottom half and had quite tough pork flesh.  I did like the sweet soy sauce that was delivered with the dish, although it was a bit thin and not very sticky.  The key issue with the dish was the mound of uncooked spanish onion mixed in with the cucumber kim chee, which just killed the the flavour of the dish.

We had a mixed bag with our entrees and mains but decided to stick it out for the desserts, which looked pretty good.  CI and TB did their usual post dinner dance where TB pretends to be uninterested in dessert but is not so subtly steering CI to a particular choice.  On this occasion they ordered the banana fritters with salted coconut caramel and vanilla ice-cream, which came in an amazingly long and skinny bowl.  The dessert looked pretty spectacular with a heap of deep fried banana and scoops of vanilla ice-cream and drenched in salted caramel.  There wasn't a strong coconut flavour with the dish, but it was not missed!  The mix of the banana and salted caramel was perfect and another flavour might have detracted from the dessert.

The next dessert that went to SC was the chocolate marquis with walnut brownie and raspberry sauce and also looked quite amazing.  This was a very rich dessert and was almost death by chocolate and SC had to give up eating it midway through.  I think the dessert was confused, it either needed to be the marquis or the brownie, not both and at the end of the day suffered as a consequence.  The best was the chocolate marquis which had a perfect blend of sweet and bitter that only good quality chocolate can give.

I have seen tapioca on dessert menus before but have never actually tried it so felt compelled to get the tapioca pearls with sweetened coconut cream and poached fruit.  After the dessert arrived and CI and I had spent a few minutes joking about its appearance, I got stuck in.  Once I got over the slimy texture of the dessert and started to enjoy the flavours, the tapioca really grew on me.  It was sweet and had a runny texture that was beautifully balanced by pieces of strawberry and pineapple.  It was certainly one of the more interesting desserts I have had but I would certainly order it again.

During the course of the night the manager or owner had come over to the table to check that we were enjoying the meal.  He had come over during our mains, while we were talking about some of the issues with the pork belly and the chicken.  I think he was a little startled by my response which was pretty honest and was also a little freaked out that I was taking photos of the food.

A highlight of the evening was the amazing service that we received from the moment we walked through the door to the moment we paid the bill.  The staff were friendly and engaged really well with us, which we really like when we are out dining.

We had a mixed bag at the BirdCage, with some of the dishes being actually quite lovely and full of flavour and others that were just poorly executed.  On the whole the entrees and desserts were quite nice but the mains were a bit of a let down, with the exception of SC's duck.  One of the key things that will help a restaurant get a great following and be really successful is consistency.  There is little point if half of the food is amazing and the other half sub par.  I think the BirdCage has got it half right just now, the menu looks great and there are heaps of great looking options but the consistency is just a little lacking.  I really hope they get the consistency worked out, its a good concept and has almost all the ingredients required to be a great restaurant.  

There is a very asian feel with the lanterns and dark interior 
The kitchen is bathed in a red light that reminds me of Libertine
I loved the exposed brick walls
BirdCage on UrbanspoonBirdcage 

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