Friday, 11 October 2013

Aquitaine - Southern France on the banks of the Brisbane river

It's amazing how time gets away from you, it seemed like only yesterday that Aquitaine opened up and I promised myself that I would get along and try it out.  In reality, the funky new Southbank diner is not so new anymore and almost a year has passed since it opened.  A year, I know, unbelievable, right?  It wasn't until some good friends beat me to the punch and came away raving that I decided I couldn't wait another day to go.........  As it turns out it was four days before we booked in and got along to Aquitaine, but you get the point! 

Aquitaine is one of the new breed of affordably priced but awesome restaurants down at Soutbank's River Quay, which also includes two hatted restaurant the Stokehouse (see post here).  The restaurant is inspired by the L'Aquitaine region in South West France and has instantly become a favourite of Brisbane diners with it's contemporary French menu based on timeless recipes.  

The head chef at Aquitaine is Damon Porter, who was trained legendary Queensland chef David Rayner, owner of the River House restaurant before spending a few years in Monaco and France.  The time was well spent with Damon developing a keen eye for detail along with a flair for European cooking.  Like most great chefs, Damon has a passion for using quality locally sourced products and has spent time cultivating relationships with some of Queensland's best suppliers to secure some of the freshest produce available in the South East.

We picked a weeknight to head over to Aquitaine to make sure we could get a table and not feel so rushed after a big day at work.  I also picked a weeknight because it can be pretty difficult to book into Aquitaine on a weekend as the place gets pretty busy.  I've tried to book a table here a couple of times last minute, only to be disappointed.  It's also on my regular running route, and I have seen how busy it can get most times first hand.

As it turned out, we picked a pretty quiet night with only one other couple dining when we arrived, which meant we had the pick of the tables. It's quite dark and very romantic but I picked a table that had a little better light so I could take some photos of the food.  Our waitress for the night greeted us warmly and quickly brought over the menus for us to peruse while we waited for SC's first (and only) glass of vino to arrive.  It was also a little past our usual dinner time, so we ordered the house bread with sea salted butter and confit butter, which arrived quickly and allowed us to dull our hunger pangs somewhat.

The very well thought out menu at Aquitaine has a range of contemporary and some classic French recipes but also has a slight bent towards modern Australian.  It was quite difficult for us to limit our selections to one entree and one main each, as this was one of those times where you were spoilt for choice.  As hard as it was, we did finally settle on our choices with only a little bit of doubt that we might just have let a winner slip though and chosen the wrong item.  

The first entree of the night was the grilled king prawn with ribbon pasta, pumpkin, pine nuts and a shellfish sauce and turned out to be an inspired choice.  Three large and wonderfully grilled king prawns were smothered in an intensely flavoured shellfish sauce.  The sauce married perfectly with the pumpkin and both were supported with some texture from the pine nuts and the pasta.  The prawn and sauce were the star of this show though, and the skill on chef Damon was on display with the perfectly balanced shellfish sauce and the sweet prawn meat working in complete harmony.

I would have had a little food envy with SC's choice of entree if I wasn't just as gobsmacked with my choice of pork belly and scallops with black pudding puree, spiced milk and quince.  I normally love the combination of scallops and pork belly, but this took the usual combination to a new level.  First of all, the pork belly was prepared three ways, artfully presented on a masterful interpretation of black pudding (blood sausage).  The genius of this dish was the addition of the black pudding puree, which also works wonderfully with scallops. The flavour of the puree blended incredibly with the pork and even better with the scallop, with my only minor quibble being the lack of enough scallop on the dish. For me the balance was slightly off which would have been rectified with an additional scallop.  The scallop on the plate was perfectly cooked, as was every other ingredient and with the contrasting textures of the pork, this was a near perfect dish.....  Ahhh, just another scallop and it would have achieved perfection.

We had been given some strong recommendations from friends about  the mains and as it turned out we ordered exactly the same way our friends had a few days prior.  SC opted for the braised lamb shank ragout with gnocchi, tomato and parmesan which had an incredible smell as it was placed on the table. We had been warned that the dish was as large as it was rich and we were not disappointed with the amazing looking dish. It's pretty hard to make a bowl of ragout look stylish, but the addition of flat pieces of cheese, ever so slightly melted over the ragout did the trick.  The lamb meat was incredibly tender and full of sweet lamb flavour and the rich tomato sauce that accompanied the ragout was perfect.  The light and pillowy gnocchi just added to the allure of the dish but as delicious as the bowl of food was, SC just couldn't finish it off and went to pains to explain this when the dish was cleared. 

I am pretty sure I picked up the dish of the night with my Bendele organic farm duck with spiced almond milk, pears, cavalo nero and artichoke.  I was astounded by the serving size, which was uncommonly generous with two very large pieces of duck breast artfully displayed on the plate.  The duck looked to have been sous vide in a water bath before being finished off in the pan to give the duck skin a crispy flavour.  I really loved the colour and flavour of the duck, which was earthy and gamey but I think it could have used an extra minute on the grill as the duck fat under the skin just needed to be rendered a little more.  Although the duck fat could have been rendered a more, the whole dish worked beautifully with the spiced almond milk, cavalo nero and artichoke all ably supporting the star of the dish.  I polished off the whole lot and and was feeling very satisfied with the world.

Even though we had just had a couple of generous sized entrees and mains we decided we were in for the 'long haul' and ordered some desserts.  While there were some wonderful sounding desserts on offer, SC was sold on the special, which was a cheese cake twist with burnt butter crumble and seasonal berries.  The deconstructed cheesecake was a very pretty looking dish, with the slightly askew cheesecake cutting the burnt butter crumble in half and decorated with edible flowers and fresh berries.  The cheesecake was not overly sweet, which was appreciated as the burnt butter crumble was very rich but further balanced out with the raspberry sorbet.  Normally SC doesn't like raspberries but loved the sorbet mixed with the cheesecake and quickly scoffed down the dessert.

Of course I felt as if I had no option but to order the creme brulee, after all, we were in a French restaurant and the brulee is such a classic French dessert.  The extremely large brulee was simply presented on a long bread board with biscotti and orange, along with some cream custard and raspberry puree.  I loved this brulee, which had a perfect crust sitting atop smooth and creamy custard that was sweet but not overly sweet, in fact, it was stunning.  The walnut biscotti was lightly dusted with icing sugar and could have been too sweet but for the raspberry puree underneath.  I really appreciated the additional biscotti, cream custard and raspberry puree, they all added an extra dimension to the dessert and left me completely stuffed!

Throughout the evening we were very happy with both the service and the food of Aquitaine, the first being friendly but unobtrusive and the second being full of flavour and spectacular.  Admittedly it was very quiet with only a handful of diners for the wait staff to look after, but after chatting to our friends who went on a packed Saturday night, it appears this is just how they roll.

I've spoken to a number of people now about Aquitaine and there seems to be a unanimous and genuine love for the little French brasserie.  I can certainly see why this place is such a hit with Brisbane diners and why it's pretty hard to get into some nights.  Not only was the food inventive and wonderfully cooked, it was reasonably priced with very generous serving sizes.  I really have to tip my hat to the team at Aquitaine and head chef Damon Porter, they really have something special going on here.

As we finished up and paid we were chatting with the maitre d' about how quiet it was on the night and the comment we received in return was it was a very unusual night.  SC and I love heading out to restaurants when it's a little quieter and not so rushed but I couldn't help picture all the times I had seen Aquitaine full and vibrant on a Saturday night.  In a restaurant like Aquitaine I think we have missed out on part of the experience of a packed and boisterous night.......  I think we will have to go back on a Saturday night, and soon, I think it could be a buzz!

Our entrees were beautiful and full of flavour.  We really enjoyed the creative dishes
Desserts were a highlight and wonderful way to finish off the meal
It was very quiet all over Southbank on the night we visited
Summer will be here soon and the restaurants will be packed all every night
The cocktail list is comprehensive at Aquitaine and while we didn't have any this time our friends were raving about them from their visit
The dark interior is quite romantic and the bar is very well stocked with a comprehensive wine menu
We will need to come back to experience the buzz of Aquitaine on a full night
Aquitaine on UrbanspoonAquitaine Brasserie

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...