Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Cha Cha Char - redemption tastes so sweet

It's become abundantly clear over the last few years that Brisbane has developed a hyper competitive market for dining.  Where once there were a few dominant restaurants, filled to the brim on most days and nights, now there are many great restaurants, with some struggling to attract the large crowds that once graced their dining areas.  Eagle Street and its range of fine dining spots is a good example of where once upon a time it was next to impossible to get a booking, any day of the week.  With such a competitive market, restaurants just can't afford to have an off night, people won't put up with it any more.

Cha Cha Char is a restaurant that I used to go to a lot, back in the day, but a couple of years but a very poor experience put an end to my regular visits to the Brisbane steak institution.  You might ask what it takes to stop someone from going back to a restaurant they have frequented so often....  It was a case of the restaurant trying to cram so many seats into the dining area that it became uncomfortable.  This was coupled with being seated right by the exit door on a cold, wet and windy night and a failure to be moved to better, and warmer seats, despite repetitively asking.  It was frustrating enough being freezing and seeing a small number of spare tables free, but when the food just didn't measure up, it was time to say 'enough'.  

It's been a few years since that fateful night and while I voted with my feet and my wallet by not going back for a visit, so I thought it was a time for redemption.  Our leadership group had our quarterly lunch and as usual I was tasked with finding a restaurant for us to visit. Cha Cha Char came to mind and I decided to give it another go.

Cha Cha Char is part of a chain of restaurants owned and managed by legendary Brisbane restaurateur John Kilroy, who also owns the riverside restaurant, Jellyfish.  Like most good restaurants, the philosophy of John and his restaurants is as simple as it is universal...  to deliver fabulous natural flavours using only the fines produce which is simply and beautifully presented.  It's also the recipient of an Australian Good Food Guide chefs hat and has held a hat for some time.

Cha Cha Char has always been primarily a steak restaurant but I noticed that there was a little bit of a change to the menu, with a distinctly Asian influence to many of the dishes available.  It seemed as if the influence of the now closed Organic Char (see post here), which had a very Asian influence, had translated over to the main Cha Cha Char menu.  I also noted that the steak menu had more comprehensive accompaniments included with the beef, with some creative an interesting options paired up with each of the ten different cuts of prime beef.

I was really impressed with the list of entrees available and I was genuinely struggling to decide on the best starter, with the scallops and the beef tataki high on my list.  After consulting with our waitress on the best option, she had no hesitation in recommending the Wagyu rump cap beef tataki with fried capers, soy, shallots and garlic with tonnato.  Once the dish was placed in front of me I understood why, it was a spectacular looking dish, elegantly plated with wonderful colour and a smell that was simply amazing.  Tataki is a Japanese process of preparing meat that is seared very briefly over a hot flame, briefly marinated in vinegar and sliced thinly.  The beef was incredibly well cooked and was full of flavour that was enhanced by the soy and garlic sauce that was drizzled around the beef.  What really set the dish apart was the tonnato sauce, which is usually made with anchovies and caper, which added great flavour.  This dish had it all, flavour, texture, colour and presentation and it was a generous service to boot!

I got to sample a couple of the other dishes from my workmates, and the salt & pepper squid with chipotle mayonnaise, cucumber and mint salad with chardonnay vinaigrette was the first.  Again the dish that was presented was beautiful, and although not as pretty as my wagyu dish it was still a very attractive looking 'slate' of food.  The flavour from the calamari was really nice, with a crisp coating of batter that held just the right amount of seasoning.  I did find my piece to be ever so slightly overcooked, a fact that was confirmed by FA.  None-the-less, it was a lovely tasting starter for the meal that was offset nicely by the delicious chipotle mayonnaise.

The other starter that I sampled was perhaps one of the most interesting of the day.  The grilled asparagus wrapped in wagyu sirloin with ginger, garlic, and a soy vinaigrette not only sounded intriguing but it also looked the part too.  The thick and well cooked asparagus spears were wrapped in perfectly cooked and thinly sliced wagyu sirloin strips.  The beefy flavour and texture of the wagyu was in stark contrast to the slightly sweet asparagus, but somehow the two worked in perfect harmony. It was certainly an interesting dish that I have never come across before, but would love to try again sometime.

There is a veritable array of beef options on the Cha Cha Char steak menu and I found it difficult to choose a steak.  Should I go for the eye fillet, or the sirloin?  I finally settled on the rump, which I think has the best flavour when done well.  The steak placed in front of me looked great and had a simple accompaniment of marinated courgettes with buffalo feta and roasted cherry tomatoes.  The steak came presented with knife displayed on the plate, just inviting a deep cut to the meat.  I gladly obliged, looking forward to the lovely flavour of the rump, only once I cut into the filet I could immediately tell that it was medium well as opposed to the medium rare that I asked for.  I quickly caught the eye of our waitress, who took one look at the steak and agreed that it was not right and took it away to be replaced.  After a short wait, an apology and an assurance that the steak would be subtracted from the bill, the new rump arrived.  This time the deep cut produced the result that I was looking for, the steak was a perfect medium rare and was delicious and full of flavour.  The cherry tomatoes were a lovely addition to the plate and the slightly acidic flavour balanced out the rich and meaty rump flavour.

I didn't get to sample any of the mains from the rest of my dining companions but they all had just about finished off their mains by the time my replacement rump had been delivered.  There was a bit of a mixed bag with the rest of the steaks, with NC's rump also a little over cooked and was more of a medium than a medium rare.  NC however was quite happy with the medium and devoured the steak with the assistance of some mushroom sauce.  

FA ordered the butter roasted WA lobster medallions with cured salmon, truffled risotto & peas, which looked amazing on the plate.  The lobster was well cooked but the feedback was that the risotto slightly overpowered the subtle buttery flavour from the lobster.  On its own the risotto would have been lovely but there was a little too much cheese for the balance of the dish.  Having said that, FA still loved the dish.

Perhaps the prettiest main of the day went to NLJ's market fish with braised baby fennel, roast Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus salad.  The fish was hiramasa kingfish and was perfectly cooked and presented beautifully on the plate.  There was some spherification of what looked to be mandarin juice on the plate that looked much like roe and there was some dehydrated mandarin to balance out the strong kingfish flavour.

We ran out of time to have dessert, in part due to the delay caused my my steak needing to be replaced, which was a shame.  Some of the deserts on the menu looked pretty awesome and I had my eye on the Eton Mess after having fond memories of a deconstructed Eton Mess at Organic Char.

The service we received on the day was excellent but it was a fairly quiet Monday afternoon, so there was no real pressure on the staff.  Having said that, the restaurant can only deal with the people it has on site at the time and we had a great lunch and a great time.  I will admit though that on such a quiet day, there is not the same time of buzz or vibe that you get from a full restaurant with lots going on.

It was time to head back to work and crack on with the rest of the day, so  as we all piled in our money to pay for the bill, we found that we had thrown too much cash on the pile for the bill, it seems that everyone rounded up!   We had too much money, so we left an OK tip for the quality of the meal and NC eventually went and bought a ticket in the powerball....  Well, keep an eye out for the good news, six million split six ways works out nice!  

Anyway, back to the tale, I was pretty glad that I gave Cha Cha Char another go after my last very disappointing visit.  The quality of the food was first rate, the service was brilliant and they fixed an issue with my overcooked steak with aplomb.  There's not too much more you could ask for.....

MS had the eye fillet with crumbed artichoke with roasted capsicum ribbons, olives, spinach and onion soubise
The paris mash was elegantly plated like a couple of peeled potatoes
The peas and bacon was a great accompaniment for the fish
So quiet on a Monday at lunchtime.  A decade ago this would have been a different picture.  Is there too much competition for the dining dollar in Brisbane now?
Never seen this little fella before
There were a few patrons around after we sat down to eat
I love the ceiling fans at Cha Cha Char, which are connected by leather straps
Cha Cha Char has won awards and I was a bit freaked out by the steel cow skull

Cha Cha Char on UrbanspoonCha Cha Char Wine Bar & Grill

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