Saturday, 11 January 2014

Mondo Organics - fine dining with a very healthy attitide

Quite often, when I am lacking inspiration or simply have no clue where I want to go for dinner, I hop onto one of my favourite resources sites, which normally sets me right.  While I love most food, the style of food that I feel most at home with is fine dining.  There are a couple of resources around to get some inspiration about where to eat out but I constantly find myself coming back to the Australian Good Food & Guide (AGFG).

Each year the AGFG produces a list of the finest restaurants in the country and awards them coveted Hats and then lists out the best restaurants in the country.  If you've ever wondered what the Hats rating system is all about, you can check it out here, but the AGFG takes it's lead from the Michelin standard, where AGFG inspectors are anonymous and their identities kept strictly confidential - this ensures the highest level of integrity when determining who is best.  

The 2014 AGFG list of 'Hatted' restaurants came out just a few weeks ago and Mondo Organics was again awarded with a coveted Hat.

So, during the week I really felt like having a fine dining experience from a restaurant that I'd never been to before, which is getting increasingly difficult in the Brisbane area.  Of the forty five hatted restaurants in  the South East, I've been to most of them but there is one in particular that I've been dying to try for a long time, but have just never made it to.  When I'm looking for a spot to have a nice dinner, I usually make out a list of two or three restaurants and then pick one of them.  For the last few years, Mondo Organics has made that list but never quite made it to the number one spot, until now.

Mondo Organics has been around since 2000 and was established by co-owners Sonja Drexler and chef Brenda Fawdon, who is the visionary behind the restaurant's concept.  Mondo was the first fully-licensed organic restaurant in Australia and specialises in Modern European cuisine using quality organic produce and ingredients.  A core philosophy for Brenda is raising the awareness of healthy eating habits for a sustainable future, something she is so passionate about, she has established a cooking school and provides cooking classes to share her philosophy.

A relatively new addition to the Mondo Organics team is Head Chef Nathan Castles, who knows his way around a kitchen after working in some of the country's best restaurants including now closed but former Top 10 restaurant Becasse in Sydney, Ortiga and New Farm's Anise.

After a quick call to make a booking, we made our way to West End and scored when we found a park right next to Mondo Organics.  If you know West End at all, then you know how hard it can be to get street parking! While it was the first time we had been inside Mondo, we had walked past it countless times over the years, and we noted that there were two dining areas, one completely inside and the other a well sheltered 'outside' dining area.  A mid week booking and an early dinner meant that we were able to choose the best seat in the house, a comfy corner bench in the 'outside' dining area.

We were given our menus and a quick explanation that there were a couple of options, a six course tasting menu or traditional a la carte.  We seriously contemplated the very good value tasting menu before deciding that we really wanted some of the other delicious looking items that were available a la carte (and we each wanted different options!)

The great thing about the Mondo Organics menu is that everything looks really healthy, and the best thing is that it's not vegetarian.  With some tough decisions to make, SC opted for the grilled tiger prawns with baby gem lettuce, roasted garlic and turmeric aioli.  Like most great chefs, Nathan was able to take a simple list of ingredients and turn them into a beautiful looking plate of food, which tasted amazing.  The grilled prawns were expertly cooked and had a lovely colouring and just a little caramelisation of the flesh, and also had a subtle smokey flavour.  The freshness of the prawns was equalled by the freshness of the remaining ingredients on the plate, which complimented the flavour of the prawns nicely.

While SC had a tougher time choosing her starter, not so for me, I immediately zeroed in on the slow cooked octopus with pickled apple, avocado and fennel.  I'm a big fan of octopus, especially when it's cooked well and the Mondo version was cooked superbly.  I really loved the simple and elegant presentation of the octopus, it looked both refined and rustic on the plate at the same time.  Each of the elements on the plate were lovely to eat but this was one of those perfectly balanced plates of food where you wanted a little bit of everything on the fork at the same time.  The creaminess of the avocado contrasted with the crunch of the apple and the subtle bite of the radish slices worked beautifully with the sweet octopus.  It would be an understatement to say that I loved this starter.

There were a number of the lovely looking entrees that doubled up as mains, so SC took advantage of this and ordered the potato and parmesan gnocchi with green asparagus, pine nuts, poached egg with pecorino for her main.  It's often hard to make gnocchi look great on a plate but Mondo Organics certainly managed to balance out the rustic look of gnocchi in quite a refined manner, I think it was the delicately balanced poached egg sitting atop of the dish.  I could also have been the large and extremely well cooked gnocchi interspersed with the asparagus chunks and the tiny little curls from the pecorino cheese.  Looks are important, but it's all about flavour and the dish was spectacular, truly delicious.  The large gnocchi pieces were a little denser than we've had before but this in no way detracted from their texture and flavour.  The soft boiled egg added to the buttery sauce and blended to form a scrumptious liquid that held the plate together nicely.

I was torn for my main, I was torn between the fish of the day, which was mahi mahi and the sous vide pork belly.  When our waitress took my order I was so indecisive I had to ask for her recommendation, which without hesitation was the sous vide pork belly with crushed potato, kale and apple.  I was intrigued to see how the pork would go slow cooked in a vacuum sealed bag in sixty degree water, I normally like my pork belly baked with crispy skin.  I was rewarded by taking on our waitress' selection with a beautiful looking dish that had the softest pork belly imaginable.  There was no crackling (obviously) on the pork but what I had instead was a soft and gel like layer of fat that was incredible.  It was matched by soft and tender pork flesh that when dipped in the sticky jus set my palate alight, it was delicious.  Pork always goes wonderfully with apple and the baked apple helped to bring down the richness of the fatty pork belly.  I really liked the crushed potato that came with the dish, although I didn't eat all of it because I was saving myself (more on that soon). What I didn't get was the kale.  I know it's healthy and all but it's only healthy if you eat it and I just couldn't stomach it.  I personally think kale's time had been and gone and it's time it was taken off menus.

The reason I couldn't eat all of the lovely crushed potato from my main was due to our side order of crunchy potato squares with aioli.  These squares were incredible, more(ish) and easily a contender for the best chips we've ever had.  I strongly suggest you come to Mondo Organics, even if it's just for these potato squares!

It was time for dessert and SC jumped in with her preference of the lemon tart with marscapone, so being the gentleman that I am (haha, some would say otherwise), I decided to choose another dessert for myself.  There was quite a delay from the starters and mains from the desserts, so I have to assume that the tart was made fresh, a fact that was confirmed when the SC cracked into the still warm and incredibly short pastry from the tart.  Normally the curd in a lemon tart is quite firm, but being so freshly made, the lemon tart was a bit runny, which surprisingly added to the charm of the dish.  It was a lovely example of a lemon tart and the bits that SC allowed me to sample had that wonderful sweet yet sour taste that makes lemon tarts so great.

With SC getting my preferred dessert, I again turned to our waitress for a recommendation for dessert and again there was no hesitation in her endorsement of the milk chocolate parfait with caramelised banana and buffalo yoghurt.  It was again an inspired selection which I really enjoyed.  The parfait was presented as a roll and placed upright on the plate with banana pieces, all sitting on some buffalo yoghurt and then sprinkled with some crumble.  The flavour of the sweet parfait and the even sweeter banana matched really well but the sweetness was evened out by the uniquely flavoured buffalo yoghurt.  The dessert was close to perfection for me with the only change that I would make would be to have more caramelisation on the banana, which tasted more stewed.

Why had we not been to Mondo Organics before now?  This is a question that might haunt me for some time.  I loved the place!  The food was ingenious and simple and delicious, all the things that you would expect from a hatted restaurant that specialises in organic produce.  What was better was the extremely reasonable prices, which were at the lower end of the spectrum for a hatted restaurant.  A place that's delicious and amazing value has all the hallmarks of a diner that I will be spending a lot of time in!

We found the service to be very good with staff who knew the menu and I was supremely happy with the recommendation our waitresses made throughout the night.  It was the first night back from Christmas and New Year break for Mondo, so it was noticeably quiet but it was a Wednesday night, so that's probably to be expected too.  I loved the layout and setting of the restaurant, which was casual elegance and I felt really comfortable in our corner seat and didn't mind that dinner took a little longer than usual for a three course meal (it was the delay between mains and desserts).

I'm really happy that Mondo Organics made it to the top of my list and that our meal was superb.  I guess it's to be expected when a restaurant has been around for thirteen years and has won numerous awards over the years.  It now sits firmly as one of my big foodie regrets that I've not been before, especially given it's been on my radar.  Never mind, I know I'll be back soon to make up for lost time.


The 'outside' area isn't really outside but part of a built in dining area next to the main building
I really loved that octopus dish - the balance was perfect and flavour divine 
Inside bar area which is stoked with lovely Australian and New Zealand wines
Inside the main building has fewer seats than outside, but has the benefit of air conditioning 
I've walked by this scene too many times to count - I finally went in

Mondo Organics on UrbanspoonMondo Organics

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