Friday, 29 November 2013

Tinderbox Kitchen - a great space in James Street

It's an exciting time in Brisbane, there are new restaurants opening up weekly and there are now more options than ever before to get your dinner fix on. It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep up the the pace of the new dining spaces across Brisbane and I often don't come across a new restaurant until it's not new any more.  In some ways I'm luckier than most, I have a network of fellow bloggers that help me keep in the loop and I occasionally help them out with a new spot I've come across.

One of the reasons why I love writing my blog is to let others know about the cool new spots that are worthy of their dining dollars.  I'm often encouraged by the feedback I get from my readers about how much they enjoy reading my blog and how it's their main source of finding out what's going on around town.  It makes me want to go out and check out more exciting and new spots, just so I can pass it onto my readers.

Just when you thought the James Street precinct couldn't get any more exciting, a new dining spot has sprouted up, and while not off the beaten track, it is tucked a way just a little bit.  The Tinderbox Kitchen has recently opened it's doors just behind it's big brother and perennial James Street favourite Harveys Bar and Bistro.  I first came across the name when one of my Blogger buddies shared on the interweb that she had just had an amazing meal, which of course got me pretty interested.  I certainly love amazing meals.

We decided that we would hit the Tinderbox Kitchen on a Tuesday, which is our preferred dining out night, mainly due to the fact its easier to get a table in just about any restaurant in town. You never know how busy a new restaurant is going to be, so just to be on the safe side we wanted to get over early to secure a table.  Tinderbox has a no reservations policy unless you are booking a table of six or more and with just the two of us, we were confident that we would be able to get a seat.

Thinking that 6:30 would be early enough we drove the short distance from the CBD to James Street and managed to score an off street park just behind Tinderbox.  It was just starting to get dark as we rounded the corner and saw Tinderbox for the first time.  The restaurant itself nicely blends the inside and outside dining areas and we could see the outside table were filling up quick.  The most striking feature we saw as we walked up to the restaurant was the fire red neon Tinderbox sign, which as we got closer looked like a flaming sign, it was pretty cool.  As cool as it was, the sight of the specially made pizza oven inside was even more impressive.  The pizza oven was a clear centrepiece that stretched up to the very high ceilings that gave a very spacious and airy feel inside.  Tinderbox did a really great job of blending the outside with the inside.

Tinderbox Kitchen is the proud new dining spot of PJ McMillan, who knows his way around a kitchen pretty well and was head chef at E'cco when it won the Australian Gourmet best restaurant in 1997.  PJ takes on a much more relaxed approach to food at Tinderbox with the menu focussing on pizza as well as a number of other great looking items cooked in the oven.  The menu is rounded out by a number of share options as well as a comprehensive list of cheeses and some great looking sweets.  After studying the menu for a bit, we made up our minds ordering a little bit from all over the menu.

We started by ordering the grilled buffalo haloumi from the share section of the menu and expected a fairly traditional piece of haloumi on the plate.  What I didn't expect was a completely refined slice of pale haloumi starkly contrasted on a beautiful black bowl.  This was simplicity in both style and presentation but it was an astounding piece of cheese.  I've never come across such a beautiful piece of haloumi, it had an amazingly soft texture and was delightful on the palate.  Best of all was the flavour, which was distinctly haloumi but somehow better, as if it had grown up from a geeky school kid to be the bell of the ball.  We made a huge mistake in sharing this dish, I really wanted the whole lot to myself.

Appetites suitably whet from the haloumi starter, we were raring to go with our main selections.  SC had decided on pizza and chose the funghi, with mozzarella, mushrooms, fontina, onions and oregano.  It wasn't clear on the menu but the funghi pizza was a pizza bianca, or white pizza (no tomato sauce as a base).  Not that it was a huge deal, but it would have been nice to know it was a white pizza when ordering.  The pizza was a medium size pizza that was just a little big for one person and just a little small for two, but this was OK as SC can be a pizza fiend sometimes.  The flavours on the pizza worked well together with some powerful flavours coming from the onion and the chunks of mushroom.  It was a pretty nice pizza, but not a great one and could have been made better if the base was just a little crispier.  There was a moderate amount of mozzarella on the pizza, but I would have liked just a little more but I'm a mozzarella fiend myself, and that's a personal taste thing.

I'd been told by another blogger buddy that had been to Tinderbox at the opening that I had to order the suckling pig, which by all accounts was amazing.  Unfortunately there was no suckling pig on the night we were there but there was a slow cooked Gooralie pork belly with red delicious apple, cabbage slaw and lime. A great pork belly is one of the things I get out of bed for in the morning so I was excited at the prospect of trying the Tinderbox version.  I was quite hopeful when it was presented, the skin looked crispy and the pork flesh had just the right colour.  Look, it was an OK pork belly, but there was some seasoning issues, it was cooked really well with perfect texture but it was a little bland when eating. A great pork belly has heaps of flavour and this one was a flat and no strong flavour at all.  I also would have loved a sauce to accompany the belly, the apple and cabbage was great to cut through the rich fatty pork, but it was a little dry and could have been greatly enhanced with a sticky sauce.

We had heaps of room for dessert after making the tactical error of only ordering one share plate between us to start.  There were only three sweet options available on the menu so it was quite an easy choice.  Our waitress recommended two of the desserts and, after she heard it described, SC couldn't go past the Persian nougat with pistachio, cranberry, orange and roasted fig.  There were a number of nougat squares encircling a dollop of double cream with mixed berries that sat atop the cranberry and orange with a split roasted fig finishing off the plate.  The nougat was incredibly soft and sweet with chunks of pistachio and cranberry bits throughout.  The nougat was really nice but the star on the plate was the roasted fig, which was sweet and delicious.  Ordinarily SC doesn't like raspberries but with the nougat, fig and heaps of double cream, she managed to polish them off, along with everything else on the plate.

I'd opted for an old favourite of mine and was stoked when the beautiful but simply presented lemon curd tart with fresh berries and cream was placed in front of me.  The was filled with bitter sweet curd then piled even higher with mixed berries.  The pastry was perhaps just a little thick and a little over cooked and not quite as crumby as I would have liked, but there was no faulting its flavour.  The curd, pastry and berries mixed together wonderfully and the whole lot was offset by a sweet and incredibly light whipped cream.  I would love to have seen a tart twice it's size on the plate, but that's just being greedy.  It's fair to say that I loved it and was a little sad when I ate my last bite.

We had arrived fairly early to Tinderbox Kitchen and got a seat pretty easily but I was glad we did.  About thirty minutes after we were seated pretty much every seat was taken and people were lining up at the bar waiting for seats.  We were quite amazed at the crowd that were dining on the night, with a real mix of ages. We had a little bit of a debate about what demographic was the major player, with my thoughts on the young and hip with SC thinking an older and more 'established' crowd.  Perhaps were were both right and Tinderbox Kitchen has hit the right note with a broad appeal?

We found our wait staff on the night to be top notch and right on the ball.  For a Tuesday night it was quite busy and they never missed a beat, ready to top up our water or make suggestions for the next course.  We were so happy with the service on the night we left a decent(ish) tip, which we only ever do when we think the service was well above average.

I loved the layout of Tinderbox and the domination of the funky oven stack, which partially hid the kitchen if you were in the wrong seat.  There was a very modern feel to the dining area which resonated quite well with me.  While the food was not without fault, it was still a good meal and we left the restaurant happy little campers.  Given it was such a busy night, it was a good effort all round and I'd be confident that Tinderbox will be a popular little spot for some time to come.  Definitely well worth checking out.

The pizza oven and kitchen 
The restaurant was crazy busy except for this table next to us.  Weird
The amazing pizza oven goes up to the heavens
The Pizza was OK but some should come with a warning - red or white
The pork belly had all the markings of a winner, it just needed a sticky sauce and some seasoning
Starting to get busy with some waiting at the bar.
You can get a reservation for six or more.  I suspect that you could wait a while here on the weekends.
A great outdoor space at Tinderbox

Tinderbox Kitchen on UrbanspoonTinderbox Kitchen

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