Sunday, 27 October 2013

Azafran - a suburban bistro thats worth raving about

One of the things I love about having a food blog is how often I bump into other food bloggers around town at restaurants and events.  There is a shared love of eating and an understanding of what it takes to keep a blog interesting and enjoyable for others to read.  It's amazing how often I will read someones else's food blog to inspire myself to continue writing, even when its quite draining sometimes.  Over the last six months or so a couple of us that regularly bump into each other have been meeting up to have our own little blogger events with no pressure and just to enjoy each other's company.

For our most recent catch up, we had arranged to hit a little Bistro over at New Farm and we were all excited about catching up with some new members to our little group.  A few days before the big get together we were hit with the sad news that our chosen destination was booked out and would not be able to accommodate our visit.  As luck would have it, we were able to get into our back up destination and as it turned out, it was a stroke of genius.

Our gatherings had been gaining steam since our first outing where just the three of us hit Carolina Kitchen (see post here).  Our aim for our get togethers is to try to find a restaurant around Brisbane that none of us had been to before and our first choice definitely fit the bill.  It's actually quite difficult to find a spot where a group of food bloggers have never been before but our eventual destination pretty much fit the bill, I was the only one who had been there before but I had not been back since moving away from the area almost a decade ago.

Azafran is one of the new breed of suburban bistros that seem to be sprouting up all across Brisbane but has been one of the more popular destinations for Southsiders for a number of years.  It was one of my go to breakfast destinations when I lived at Tarragindi, a fact that I had actually forgotten until reminded by SC. Azafran is operated by Marc and Sarah Bocquee and has been quietly picking up accolades and loyal customers since it opened in 2004.  The approach taken by Marc and Sarah is to personally select the freshest seasonal produce at the markets and then create ever changing menu options that surprise and delight.  This approach has worked beautifully for the hard working couple with recognition from the Australian Good Food Guide and the presentation of a coveted chefs hat, which they have held for a few years now

Like many suburban bistros, Azafran is located in a converted Queenslander, which makes for interesting and intimate dining spaces.  Each of the rooms in the old house has become a private dining area and as I arrived I was greeted warmly and without prompting was taken back to our dining room where Melissa Loh and Jess from BrisBellyBlog were already seated.  It wasn't long before we had Jennie from Dolce Bunny joining us so we just had to wait for the final member of our motley crew to join us.  As we waited for Jessalyn from FeedMeNowBrisbane, we started to get aquainted with the two newest members of our group Jennie and Jess. With a group of people who share the same passion, it's not long before everyone becomes besties and the laughs started.

We must have been quite loud as the wait staff kept coming in checking in on us.  The funny thing was that every time they poked their heads into our little alcove someone had said something that could have been taken out of context without hearing the full story, which set us all off again.  While we waited for our final member we decided that we would run with the tasting menu option for the night, especially when it was hinted that both duck and pork belly could be accommodated.   Jessalyn must have had her spider senses on because as soon as the bread and dips were brought into the room, she materialised!

We actually decided on the tasting menu without any idea of what we were getting ourselves into.  We pretty much decided on the tasting menu because we couldn't stop chatting long enough to seriously look at the a la carte options.  First up were seared scallops with spiced cauliflower, almond tarator, prosciutto crumbs and saffron emulsion.  I was a little bit surprised by how refined the dish looked, there were interesting textures and colours and the perfectly seared scallops had the right amount of caramelisation.  The flavours of the dish were really quite interesting, with the sweet scallop meat balanced out nicely from the salty prosciutto and acidity from the spiced cauliflower.  The almond tarator and the saffron emulsion brought the dish together. If I had only one word to use to describe this dish, it would be harmonious. 

Our next dish took a little while to come along, but at this point in time we weren't noticing the passage of time.  The pan roasted barramundi with poached asparagus, spiced prawn ravioli with a cardamom emulsion was also a very pretty dish.  The barramundi was beautifully cooked with crispy salty skin and the spiced prawn in the ravioli was incredibly tasty, especially when combined with the emulsion.  My only very minor complaint about the dish was that the pasta for the ravioli needed a few extra second to make it a perfect al dente.

Shortly after our plates were cleared away we were brought a lovely little watermelon sorbet as a palate cleanser.  The icy treat was extremely refreshing on the palate and did its job of resetting the tastebuds for the mains to come.

As a self confessed pork fiend, Jess was super excited when the slow cooked pork belly with a beef croquette, lemon and dill spiced pumpkin puree with braised cabbage and a jus was presented.  Continuing with the supremely cooked and presented plates on the night, the pork belly was expertly cooked with crispy crackling and soft and moist flesh.  The sweetness of the pork was compliment with the dill and lemon infused puree and the sticky jus just completely topped off the dish.  I'm not a huge fan of beef croquettes and this was a fine example, but I thought it was just too much for the plate and think it would have been better left off.

We had started to notice the passing of time and the night was getting on with the dishes slowing down a little bit.  We all noticed and commented that the courses were coming out a bit slow, but we also appreciated that there was a large table full of noisy customers (haha, not us, but another table).  Our next dish was I think my favourite with the confit duck leg with gnocchi, spring vegetables and a pinot noir jus being just about perfect.  The soft pillowy gnocchi was wonderful, especially when soaked in the pinot noir jus but the star for me was the confit duck leg.  It was mostly deboned, no easy feat and cooked to perfection, with incredibly soft meat that was full of gamey flavour.  It would have been a perfect dish if it were not for the olives, which I don't really like.  The universe clearly sensed this as I had the most olives on my plate between us all, but I was able to share them with the others.

We were down to our last course, dessert, and it was hard to think how the team at Azafran would be able to top the four dishes that we had experienced so far.  Incredibly they managed to top the lot with a simple dessert of white and dark Belgian chocolate ice cream with peanut butter dacquoise and raspberries.  The chocolate was smooth, rich and decadent and as good as it tasted it was outshone by the peanut butter dacquoise, which when combined with the two flavours of ice cream was like heaven for my taste buds.  To stop the dish from being too rich, there were dehydrated raspberry pieces and a raspberry cream, which had just enough tartness to balance the dessert.  Add to that some caramel candy shards and the dish had it all; flavour, texture and it looked beautiful to boot.

There was almost a stunned silence as we all devoured our dessert, which after the quite noisy and raucous night was quite amazing.  As we reflected at the end of the meal there was chorus of consensus that we had just experienced and extraordinary meal.  The only blight on the night was the relatively slow pace of the meal, which in my view was a small price to pay for such delectable five courses.

It's easy to see why this is a neighbourhood favourite and has the coveted chefs hat to boot.  It was interesting to note that of all the foodies in the room, I was the only one that had heard about and been to Azafran and that was only because I lived in the area for a number of years.  It's staggering to think that there could be a restaurant with such high quality food that is not much better known.

The service from the entire staff on the night was excellent and they were good enough to put up with our craziness with good humor.  It can't be easy for a restaurant to have a table full of bloggers taking photos of the food in such a cavalier manner!  At the end of the night when we were complimenting Marc on a fantastic meal and such an interesting location, he let slip that the room that we were in used to be his bedroom.  We all had a chuckle about that.

It was time for us all to go our separate ways and head home but the night had been a fabulous success, with the only question being.....  Where next?

We left a bit of a mess but that's a sign of a good meal, right?
We were trying to figure out what this was a picture of and decided it was a Dalek underwater with a school of fish
The chef did so well he deserved a beer!
The outside area is perfect for a Sunday morning breakfast or alfresco dining
Azafran is in an old Queenslander and it has so much character
Azafran on UrbanspoonAzafran

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