Sunday, 29 December 2013

Esquire - what more can be said? This place is perfection!

If there was one restaurant that defined my dining habits for 2013 it would have to be Esquire in the CBD and to be more precise Esq.  In my first full year of writing about my food experiences, I visited more new restaurants in twelve months than ever before.  While I loved checking out many new restaurants and revisiting many that I hadn't been to for a while, there was a part of me that still liked to be known as a regular somewhere.  That somewhere happened to be just across the road from me and recognised as the best restaurant in town.

I've written about my experiences at Esq and Esquire more than any other restaurant I've been to, and with good reason.  It's just a superb restaurant and dining experience.  Every.  Single.  Time.   Co-owners Ryan Squires and Cameron Murchison along with head chef Ben Devlin make up the team that continue to surpass the expectations of the Brisbane dining scene.  Since I've written so much about the restaurant, I'm going to go straight onto the food, but if you've not heard of Esquire before or want some more info, you can check out my previous posts - here, here and here

Over the last year, it seems as if I have eaten at Esq two or three times a month but upon reflection it had been over twelve months since we had the full degustation dining experience at Esquire.  I thought there would be no better way to see out the year than a full degustation, and since the last night Esquire was open was Christmas Eve, we though it would be a lovely little 'Festivus' present for ourselves.

As usual when going to Esquire, we were greeted very warmly and shown to our table, right up the front of the restaurant with great views of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge.  We were given a copy of our Christmas Eve 2013 menu, which unusually only had one degustation option, which was OK as we would have taken the 'long' option anyway.  Looking over the menu, I could see some old favourites but excitingly there were a heap of new and exciting looking options that I hadn't tried before.

We started our food journey with sorrel with sheep yoghurt and peanut.  All of the dishes at Esquire have simple names that belie the complexity behind putting the dish together.  The sorrel was a prepared as a granita, which was light and strongly flavoured and sat along side the sheep yoghurt that was incredibly light and fluffy, almost like air.  Sprinkled over the top was peanut shards, which gave a third texture to the dish. The bitter sweet sorrel granita was balanced out incredibly well with the sweet yoghurt and as the sorrel granita slowly melted, the flavours somehow intensified.

What I love about Esquire is that your senses are constantly challenged and the second course of berries with pine nut and duck ham certainly challenged normal conventions.  Essentially it was a sweet dessert dish as a second course.  The pine nut milk was beautifully smooth and sweet, which partnered with the contrasting flavours from the blueberries, strawberries and raspberries so well.  And just to completely challenge the palate, shaved duck ham was sprinkled over the top to add some robust saltiness and gamey flavour to the dish.  Challenging to eat?  You bet, but it was also quite delicious and I licked the plate clean (something I would do regularly throughout the evening)

There is beauty in simplicity and the trout toro with perilla and kombu was both.  The trout slices were fresh and wonderfully thin and sat in a soup of perilla, which is usually presented with the Wagyu over at Esq. Perilla is the common name for a herb in the mint family with a culinary variety used in Japanese cooking, called shiso and usually accompanies beef.  To include this with trout was a stroke of genius, with the flavours really combining well to form an incredible pairing with the trout.  Of course at Esquire there is always the extra dimensions and the kombu (seaweed) gave some additional texture to the dish that was just perfect. This was another dish where I licked the bowl clean and threatened to do the same to SC's plate if she didn't.

A regular on the Esquire degustation menu is the blue swimmer crab and coffee, which is very similar to a dish that I've had at Attica in Melbourne.  We were told that the crab had been delivered fresh that morning, which was apparent once the fresh and subtle crab hit the palate.  You would think that with a subtle meat like crab that the coffee would overpower the delicate flavour, but the ratio of coffee to crab was perfect and therefore the balance of the dish was perfect.  While there was a generous amount of blue swimmer crab in the dish, I could easily have eaten much much more.

I love having my senses and tastebuds challenged and the palate cleanser of beetroot, goats milk and carrot did that and a whole lot more.  You would not normally associate carrot and beetroot with icy treats, but that is exactly what we received.  Carrot and beetroot are both very sweet vegetables but really, who would think to combine them to form ice blocks?  The addition of goats milk helped give them an icy treat feeling and the layers of carrot, goats milk and beetroot provided an interesting challenge to eat but were surprisingly yummy.

I've always avoided processed fruit treats, you know the ones that you see the ads for on TV?  Well Esquire has put is own stamp on the children's treat with a version of strawberry straps.  Presented on what looked to be on a termite destroyed block of wood, the straps made a simple statement.  Simple as they looked, the flavour was incredibly strong, there was no mistaking the strong strawberry flavour that sat around on the palate long after the tasty morsel was devoured.

The strawberry strap packed such a strong flavour that I had to drink much water to cleanse my palate before trying the next little bite of wild boar lomo.  Simply presented on a stream smooth boulder, the wild boar lomo was another taste explosion in the mouth, this time of a wild game variety.  Essentially tiny little pieces of dried cured meat, the wild boar was wonderful, with the main issue being such a tantalisingly small serve of the delicacy.  Clearly this was designed for flavour only but I would have loved a wild boar lomo sandwich, with lots of filling.

One of the specialties at Esquire is the slow cooked lamb, which is cooked at a low temperature for around three days, which makes it incredibly tender and so full of flavour.  The lamb with almond and garlic was presented quite differently from previous experiences, with the lamb sliced incredibly thinly and with more of the almond garlic sauce than normal.  I love this dish, which has additional saltiness provided with anchovy essence but I thought there was not enough lamb on the plate.

There is a tendency when eating degustation meals at fine dining restaurants to walk away a bit hungry at the end of the meal.  Sure, there are often up to fifteen courses, but each of the courses can be tiny, so Esquire had added some rye bread with salted butter to the mix.  The rye bread that came out was warm and freshly baked and with the addition of the salted butter is wonderful.  It's a good addition but I can't help but think I would have preferred more of that lovely lamb.

There is usually an amazing cut of meat that you've never head of before when dining at Esquire, but not on this night.  Instead was a piece of corned wagyu beef with pickles and ketchup, which initially left me feeling a little underwhelmed when I saw it on the menu.  I should have had more faith in my favourite restaurant, with the rather simple sounding dish being quite spectacular.  The wagyu was so red it could almost have been alive still, yet was perfectly cooked and tender.  I think the dish was an homage to a hamburger, with the homemade ketchup and horseradish combining with the pickle and meat to provide the flavour of a pretty decent burger.  It was delicious, but I sure could have done with an a la carte sized serving of this as opposed to the degustation version!

It was time to start on desserts, and there were a lot of them on this Christmas Eve version of the Esquire degustation menu.  First up was one of the original classics in the form of the popcorn parfait.  This is now a regular on the Esq menu but has only recently been reintroduced at Esquire.  This time it came in a sealed ice cream packet with a long skinny spoon to help consume the sweet yet very savoury treat.  It's a really unusual dish that challenges the senses when presented in a bowl, but I think it lost a little bit of its wow factor by being served this way.

The challenging of normal conventions continued with the white asparagus with vanilla and citrus.  Was it a savoury dish or was it a dessert?  I'm not sure, but it was delicious.  The white asparagus was so delicately cooked that it looked translucent and when combined with the vanilla ice cream and citrus, it resembled a perfectly cooked poached egg.  This one could easily have passed off as a breakfast but once you shattered the illusion with a spoon, it became quite clear that this was a lovely dessert.  The flavour combination of the citrus and vanilla ice cream worked in complete harmony with the asparagus spear, helped with some additional texture from crumble hidden under the ice cream.

The simply titled chocolate rocks were next, which came with two types of chocolate.  First up was a creamy horseradish white chocolate, that was surprisingly good.  When you normally think of a sweet and creamy dessert, you're not thinking horseradish.  The horseradish flavour lingered around on the palate just long enough for the crumbly cocoa from the chocolate to explode on the palate and provide a completely contrasting flavour.  I'm not sure how Esquire puts the chocolate together, but it starts off really dry in your mouth and then as it breaks down, it becomes moist and full of chocolaty goodness.

The next dish of mango with lavender and macadamia reminded me of the classic Australian treat, the Weis Bar.  There were frozen bits of mango placed carefully on a jet black bowl with macadamia milk and candied macadamia nuts.  There was a slight undercurrent of lavender throughout the dish, but only enough for you to wonder if it was ever there.  The predominant flavours were the mango and a creaminess from the macadamia nut milk that just screamed hot Aussie summers.  

No meal at Esquire would be complete without the Campari with orange, curds and whey, which is the Esquire signature dish and voted recently as one of the six most iconic dishes in Brisbane.  I've had this dish dozens of times and I never get sick of the beautiful balance of creaminess from the curds and whey ice cream.  The freeze dried mandarin is showered with sherbet, and blends beautifully with the orange jelly that sits atop of the quenelle of ice cream.  It's disturbingly good with sublime flavour combinations with the dusting of sherbet bringing back memories of my childhood.  It really hits all the right notes and is well worth visiting Esq or Esquire if you've not had it before.

Our meal finished off with the simply named wagyu fat caramel, which had intrigued us all the way through the meal.  What was delivered was a couple of tiny little squares of wagyu fat sitting in a dried out bone. While the squares were very small, about a centimetre square, the flavour was explosive, rich and decadent. I could understand why the squares were so small, they must have been close to thousand calories it was so dense (not really, but it felt rich).  They were stunning, simply delicious in a way that just can't be good for you.

We had finished yet another triumphant meal at Esquire and were feeling pretty good with the world.  It's hard for me to fault our meal, it was delicious on so many different levels.  There was the complexity of dishes that the team at Esquire are so well known for but there was also the simply stunning flavours that make you want to pick up the plate and lick them clean.

One of the reasons why I love coming back to Esquire is the fabulous service that we always receive when we dine there.  Sure, I eat there a lot and know most of the staff by name (which certainly helps) but I constantly watch the service team treat everyone that comes through the doors like they were long lost cousins.  You do expect this when eating in the best restaurant in town, but it's still great to receive such wonderful service.

There is no doubt that I will be back to Esq and Esquire again many times in the new year.  There is always something new and exciting going on in the kitchen and the food is just too good not to regularly eat.  Thanks to Ryan, Ben, Cameron, Murray and the rest of the team for putting together a restaurant that just makes me want to keep coming back.  Merry Christmas and I hope you have a great 2014.

The 66% cocoa 'business cards' always go down a treat
Ben Devlin was in control of the Kitchen for our visit
The charcoal grill helps produce those lovely flavours
Yeah, I think these are sea urchins but I'm not 100% sure
The rive views of Esquire
Esquire on UrbanspoonEsquire Restaurant

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