Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Lab Bar and Restaurant - heritage listed fine dining

I felt like fine dining for dinner during the week and wanted to go somewhere new.  It's become increasingly difficult to check out restaurants that I haven't been to, especially in the CBD, so I had to think about places I hadn't visited in a while.  I also wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't break the bank, so I wanted to use my trusty Entertainment card and for a while I thought I was severely limiting my options.  That was until I flicked to the page that displayed the Lab Restaurant and Bar, one of the fine dining options out of the Treasury Casino.

It had been about seven years since my last visit to the Lab Bar and Restaurant.  We had just moved from the 'burbs' to try out city living and were renting an apartment having just sold our massive 5 bedroom house and were adjusting to a 2 bedroom apartment.  We had never been great in the kitchen, in fact we really tried to avoid the kitchen, so one of the benefits of moving to the city was the numerous restaurants that surrounded us.  The Lab Restaurant and Bar was just across the street from our new rental in George Street and seemed like a natural starting point for us to check out the CBD dining scene.

My overarching memory of the meal that night was of disappointment, so much so that it had been driven from my consciousness, never to be considered for a meal again..... that was until now.  After glancing at the lovely and extremely arty looking picture of a main course, I felt compelled to check out the menu online and what I saw intrigued me further, there were many items that jumped out at me as 'must try'.

The Lab Restaurant and Bar is part of the Treasury Hotel and Casino group and is one of the number of dining options available for those who don't mind mixing their gambling and eating. While options such as the Fat Noodle (see post here) and Marco Polo are part of the casino complex itself, the Lab Restaurant is part of the Treasury Hotel and as a consequence is away from the general craziness that ensues at the Casino (I could be mixing up Brisbane with Vegas here).  Located in the heritage listed former Lands Administration Building and with its Edwardian Baroque architecture and historic sandstone walls, the Lab Bar and Restaurant exudes a quiet refinement that is rarely found in Brisbane.

Walking into the restaurant turned out to be quite a surprise, the last time we had visited the dining area was dark and subdued with the lights dimmed considerably.  This time the lights were on and there was modern feel inside with crisp white table linen blending well with bright and colourful acrylic art pieces on the wall. Where last time we visited if felt a little gloomy and secluded, this visit felt open open and relaxed, a fact helped by the large arched windows that let in some of the ambient light from outside.  As the name suggests, the Lab is dominated by a polished wood bar that runs down the length of the restaurant and lends an old world charm to the now modern looking interior.

After taking our seats and looking over the menu, I was happy to see that the online version was up to date and the offerings had not changed since my little online sortie.  Even though we had already looked at the menu, it was pretty hard to limit ourselves, there were just too many great looking entrees and mains, and after long and hard deliberations we finally settled on our food selections.  Shortly after our waitress took our orders we were surprised with a lovely little lemon and pepper lamb with myrtle crouton amuse bouche.  The 'little bite' was like a tiny lamb sandwich with a tender piece of lamb in between two myrtle croutons and a tasty little reduction that brought it all together.

One of the entree options that I had seriously considered was the seared scallops with sweet corn custard, edamame and ham dust and when I went in another direction SC jumped at them.  The four large scallops were presented as if guarding the sweet corn custard and had a lovely caramelisation that signified that they were going to be perfectly cooked.  The look on SC's face after her first mouthful of scallop confirmed this and she quickly cut off a piece for me to enjoy.  There was an interesting saltiness added to the flavour of the scallop from the ham dust and some additional sweetness from the corn custard and mixed together provided a well balanced flavour profile.  The edamame beans were a nice touch just to give some additional texture but didn't really add to the flavour of the dish.  

After having some average risottos recently I was keen to get 'back on the horse', so ordered the wild mushroom risotto with crème fraîche and parmesan.  Often when you order a risotto, even as an entree, it can be quite large and ruin your appetite for the rest of the mean but this was not the case here.  There was just enough risotto to keep it interesting but leave room for the mains to come.  With a little bit of trepidation I took my first bite and all remnants of my last risotto experiences were forgotten.  There was a wonderful creaminess to the risotto that didn't detract from the mushroom flavour, which was not over powering or too dominant.  Once the parmesan melted a little and was mixed in through the dish, there was an extra level of complexity and saltiness added.  A minor criticism was that there was hardly any crème fraîche on the risotto, so it didn't really add anything to the dish.

As soon as our plates were cleared we were again surprised but this time with a refreshing little raspberry sorbet palate cleanser.  I always get the lyrics from Prince's Raspberry Beret when I think about this palate cleanser, in fact I have going through my head as I write this now (I bet you do now too!).  The raspberry sorbet was perfect, it was refreshing and intensely flavoursome and I could have done with a few scoops!

After such lovely entrees we now had high hopes for our mains and as soon as they were delivered to the table and the wonderful aroma hit we knew that we were in for a treat.  SC went for the king prawns with home-made fettuccine and lightly spiced cream sauce which was where most of the wonderful aromas were emanating from.  It's hard to for pasta dishes to look elegant but the Lab managed to present the fettuccine wonderfully, which was capped off by a bright yellow edible flower.  The prawns were fabulously cooked and were rich with flavour and worked beautifully with the al dente fettuccine.  The lightly spiced cream sauce was not overly thick, which can be the case with cream based sauces, and was not only aromatic but wonderful on the palate.  Most amazing about this dish was the hint of lemon that shone through, almost as an aftertaste that remained on the palate long after the meal finished.  This was a delicious pasta dish and it was quickly devoured.

While SC's dish looked OK and smelled wonderful, my dish of seared loin of venison with celeriac, broad beans, vincotto onions, pear, orange and a mulled wine jus looked simply stunning.  The arrangement of the perfectly seared venison and other accompaniments was almost breathtaking, it was quite literally pretty as a picture.  The venison was incredibly tender and had just the right amount of seasoning but when added to the mulled win jus was taken to a higher plane of cuisine.  The really interesting twist on the plate was the peeled orange pieces, which added some sweet acidity to the dish and added to the complexity of the flavours.  This was an incredibly complex plate of food and to get the balance of flavours just right required the right mix of genius and madness.

It was a little easier for us to decide on desserts as there were only a couple of stand out options, with SC choosing an old favourite the tarte tatin with calvados and raspberry sorbet and whipped vanilla King Island cream.  The presentation of this dessert didn't live up the the promise of the previous courses, a fact that would have been resolved by linking the tarte tatin with the rest of the plate, which was just sitting out there on its own like it was excluded from the 'in crowd'.  Looks aside, it was a lovely and light tarte tatin with crispy pastry and beautifully cooked apple which was enhanced when mixed with the whipped vanilla King Island Cream.

I was really impressed with my warm flour-less chocolate cake with crème fraîche ice cream, butter scotch sauce and honeycomb bits.  The cake looked quite dense on the plate but was unbelievably light with an incredible chocolaty sweetness.  The butter scotch sauce was warm and sticky and worked in harmony with the chocolate cake, which was also warm.  The dessert became complete once the warm and sticky sauce was mixed with the warm cake and cold ice cream, with the mix of textures, flavours and temperatures blending well.  I quite liked the addition of honeycomb, which gave some extra texture but I didn't eat it all, it was just too sticky and chewy, I really feared that I would pull a tooth!

I was really quite gobsmacked by the end of the meal and was struggling to connect the amazing meal that I had just consumed with the entirely forgettable last experience at the Lab Bar and Restaurant.  The meal had hit all the right notes, starting with the promise of an interesting and complete menu which then went on to exceeded that promise and finishing with a creative and lovely dessert.

It was not very busy in the restaurant but there were plenty of friendly staff on hand to serve the half a dozen tables that were filled on the night that we were there.  The timing of the courses was just about perfect, with no extended waits between courses, a fact that was helped by the added amuse bouche and the palate cleanser between entree and main.

We left the Lab Bar and Restaurant feeling satisfied and on quite a bit of a high, mainly from heading out to have a meal with relatively low expectations and then having those expectations blown away.  Its an interesting study in the human psyche, I've been to amazing restaurants with super high expectations and left disappointed even though the meal was still great.  Then you come along with low expectations and get a great meal and walk away on top of the world.....  Interesting.  

The old bar looks quite majestic and dominates the room
Crisp linen and silver service - ahhhh fine dining
The salt came on its own little paddle
The ambient light from the large arched windows 
Room to sit at the bar for a drink before dinner
The Lab Bar and Restaurant is quite large and long inside.  I love the arched windows everywhere
The acrylic artwork on the walls was very modern

The Lab Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoonthe lab bar + restaurant

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