Saturday, 18 January 2014

Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar - a great spot to sit and watch the world go by

A friend from Yelp recently asked a twitter question about what was the current 'it' food in Brisbane and with the question came an assortment of responses from the twitter-verse. Predictably most of the responses were for American or Mexican cuisine.  There is no doubt that American is all the rage at the moment with recent openings of the Mighty Mighty (see post here), Papa Jacks and the Southside Diner, but I think there's another contender as well.

Italian cuisine has also had a pretty decent 2103 and while it doesn't seem to have had the same amount of press as American style cooking, there have been some great Italian diners open up, adding the the already flourishing Italian restaurants around Brisbane.  The new M&A Lane seems to be a litmus test for hip new restaurants and amongst the two new American style restaurants is also one of the latest Italian diners, Locanda Osteria and Bar (see post here)

While not the newest kid on the the block, Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar is one of the newer Italian restaurants in Brisbane and one I had been meaning to get to for some time.  Popolo is located over at the impressive River Quay dining precinct at Southbank and sits amongst some amazing restaurants with the Stokehouse (see post here) and Aquitaine (see post here) a couple of my favourites.

In our nomadic wandering around Brisbane, SC and I have walked past Popolo many times and apart from having one of the best views across the river of the Brisbane CBD, it's always completely packed.  We decided that a Sunday night walk over to Southbank and a hearty Italian meal would be the perfect way to finish off the weekend. By the time we arrived at Popolo, there were still some vestiges of daylight left and we were able to secure a small table right out the front with unobstructed views of the CBD.

Our waitress for the night brought over some menus and asked if we'd been to Popolo before.  SC had been for a work function so knew the drill but as it was my first time, we were given the run down of the restaurant's approach.  Popolo is all about share dining in the traditional Italian way, in fact their philosophy is that 'food is the link that brings family and friends together'.  Almost all of the food at Popolo is designed to share so we set about the task of narrowing down our dinner selection over the massive menu with way too many options. In the end we chose a cross selection from the entrees to share, pizza and mains to share.

We figured we were ordering a heap of food so went for one of the lightest starters on the menu in the Carpaccio di manzo affumicata arpaccio di manzo affumicata - smoked eye fillet with liliput capers, mustard cress and vinaigrette.  It was quite a large plate of carpaccio, which you would expect as a share plate but was appreciated because it was really tasty.  The smoked fillet was so thin it was almost translucent, in fact it was so thin the meat almost dissolved once you placed it in your mouth.  There were great contrasting flavours on the plate with the sweetness of the meat offset with the saltiness of the capers and the acidity for the vinaigrette.  It was so good we wished we had ordered one each, I mean sharing is great but it was duelling forks for the last couple of bites!

We had debated over which pizza to order.  I had wanted the margherita and SC had wanted anything but, so we ended up meeting mid way with the funghi with wild mushrooms, tallegio and truffle.  I'm normally OK with mushroom pizza but was a little bit dismayed when it turned out to be a pizza bianca, or white pizza.  It had no tomato sauce!  SC quite often orders pizza this way, so she was happy with the crispy base with heaps of earthy mushroom that was not smothered in mozzarella cheese.  I on the other hand didn't really like it, for me pizza is all about a rich tomato sauce with plenty of chewy mozzarella.  It would have been good if it was noted on the menu as a bianca pizza so I could have more strongly argued my case, oh well.

We wondered what a share plate of risotto ai funghi isotto ai funghi - wild mushroom risotto, black truffle and porcini cream would look like.  As we suspected it was large, very large.  The risotto looked pretty good in the bowl, with large chunks of mushrooms of various types and shapes interspersed through the rice that was perfectly cooked.  We spooned a large amount each onto our individual plates and were staggered with how much was left in the bowl, not sure how we would get through it all.  After our first taste of the risotto, we thought that there was something missing, a depth or punch of flavour that you often get with a great mushroom risotto.  We left the risotto to sit for a while and tackled our next share main and, as is often the case with risotto, the flavour matured as it sat and was actually quite tasty.

Our last main to share was the Gamberi con finocchi amberi con finocchi - four tiger prawns cooked in white wine, garlic with fennel and herbs.  We were a bit concerned when we ordered the dish that four prawns would not be enough but after the large risotto were glad there were only four.  The prawns were expertly cooked and presented in a bowl covered in herbs and big chunks of fennel.  The fennel and white wine worked well together and the prawns were lovely but we thought the dish was a little over priced.

We purposefully didn't eat all of our risotto because we wanted to leave room for dessert and again had to negotiate to see who would end up with the crostata ai fichi Crostata ai fichi - fig and frangipane tart with vanilla mascarpone and Queensland honey.  SC ended up with the dessert, which came presented like a little pizza as opposed to the a traditional tart.  It was actually quite cute with the fig sliced to look a little like pepperoni.  This was an incredibly sweet dessert with a very sugary tart base and sweet fig with a drizzle of really sweet honey.  SC struggled to get through all of the sweetness on the plate and we thought that it either needed something to contrast and tone down the sweetness or remove the honey.  It had some good flavours that were lost after a few bites.

I fared quite a bit better with my semifreddo all’amarena - amareno cherry parfait and praline with pannetone and vin santo.  The dessert was presented in a little terracotta pot and covered in nuts and praline chunks, cherries and a huge dollop of double cream.  The semifreddo tasted strongly of cherry and had quite a few cherry pieces as little flavour bombs throughout.  It was really sweet but the sourness of the cherries helped contrast the sweetness.  Even though I love cherries and quite enjoyed the dessert, I struggled to get through it all as well.

I can't think of too many other spots in Brisbane that have a better view of the Brisbane CBD than River Quay at Southbank and our seat at Popolo was right up with the best for ambiance and view.  The tables out the front of the restaurant are mostly little two seaters with the chairs all facing outwards so diners can sit, relax, enjoy some food and watch the world walk by.  It's a great spot, no doubt.

We found the service to be excellent too, with all of the waiters that helped us through the evening being friendly and approachable.  I liked that they had little mobile devices to take down orders and while not a foolproof approach gives me a level of comfort that the orders get through to the kitchen quickly and efficiently.

We'd had a pretty good night watching the sun set and the lights of the city take over the skyline while people watching and eating some decent Italian fare.  While I didn't necessarily enjoy everything that was placed in front of me (mostly the pizza), everything was cooked well.

Italian might not necessarily be the 'it' cuisine at the moment, American might just get that title, but it sure is one of the most popular styles of cooking at the moment.  Something I don't see changing in the foreseeable future.


The mains took up the whole table with a massive bowl of risotto.
It's quite cozy inside the main dining area dominated by the orange glow of the Popolo neon sign
The natural light outside is a little easier on the eye!
The kitchen and bar are at the back of the restaurant with the team hard at work
A great spot to watch the sun set and the lights of the city take over
Popolo is a top spot to people watch 
I love our river city and with views like this to walk home to, who wouldn't?
Popolo on UrbanspoonPopolo

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