Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Coda

We knew that we'd be on our food safari in Melbourne one one of the worst possible days to book into a restaurant, Valentine's Day.  I'd actually forgotten we would be down for arguably the most romantic day of the year when I went to book into Vue De Monde for dinner, only to be told that it was a special Valentine's Day menu.  I backed out of that pretty quickly and ended up at Vue De Monde on the day before (see post here).  I've a personal view that Valentine's Day is the worst day for seasoned diners to go out for dinner as restaurants are booked out by 'loved-up' couples who want to be treated special.  What was worse was that Valentine's Day fell on a Friday this year, so restaurants would be even more packed than usual.

The plan was to skip the restaurant booking merry-go-round and head for a restaurant that had a no bookings policy and then just wait in the queue to get in.  Mamasita was that restaurant.  I'd heard of some pretty horrendous wait times at Mamasita at the best of times, so we thought we'd get in quickly by hitting the queue at 5:30pm and hopefully be in by 6pm.......  Wrong!  The madness that is Valentine's Day had taken over Mamasita and they'd, for some strange reason, taken bookings for the day, which left only a few tables for walk ins.   Even though we were there early and queued right at the bottom of the stairs, we were told it would be a one hour and thirty minute wait!  Well, we were there and thought we would see it through, but after thirty minutes of waiting with still no movement we decided to 'blow that popsicle stand' and go somewhere else.

You might be thinking that it would be lunacy to look for another dining spot at 6pm on a Friday night in Melbourne that just happened to be Valentine's Day!  Well, believe it or not, we lucked out and got straight into Coda, albeit sitting at the bar, but we were in!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Huxtaburger Collingwood

I'm always on the lookout for a great burger.  With something as simple as a hamburger, you would think that they would be easy to make, but it doesn't work out that way.  I mean, how hard can it be to combine a meat patty with some salad and a bun?  Plenty hard, especially when I try to make a good burger at home!  I've been trying to find the best burger around and recently found a brilliant one in Brisbane (see post here) and a seriously good burger in Perth last year when I was there for Eat Drink Blog 4.  Knowing that Melbourne sees itself as the food mecca of the country, I was sure I'd be able to find a great burger on my Melbourne food safari - but I only had time to fit one burger joint in, so it had to be a good one.

I had pretty much every step of our food safari worked out, except the burger place.  Looking around online and trying to get a handle on where we should have visited was a little more difficult that seeking out a fine dining restaurant.  We'd just been to visit the James Bond exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, which had been super, so we were in the north east of the CBD and Collingwood was nearby.  Feeling pumped from looking at the gadgets and gizmos of Bond, James Bond we decided to go for a walk around from the museum and having never been to Collingwood before, thought that Huxtaburger could be the go.

Melbourne series - The European

Melbourne is my second favourite city in Australia, right behind Brisbane, and I try to get down  at least once a year and twice if it's a good year.  There are a couple of reasons why Brisbane is my favourite city, mainly due to the weather and the fact that I moved away from a southern state because I hate those long and cold winters.  Another key reason is because Brisbane is improving as a food destination and while it's not in the league of Sydney and Melbourne yet, it's definitely getting there.  One key area of food that Brisbane kicks butt with is it's breakfast culture, which combined with the amazing climate, is second to none in the country.

I've tried quite a few breakfast spots over the years in Melbourne with mixed success, and mainly leaving me a little disappointed.  There is one breakfast spot that I go to every single time I am in Melbourne and it's my 'go to' place for breakfast when I am in the food capital of Australia.  The European in Spring Street produces the best breakfast in Melbourne in my opinion and I wouldn't miss a visit when in town.

We'd a pretty big day planned for our second day in Melbourne, which would start off at the European for a hearty breakfast.  As a bonus, the European is just a short walk to the Melbourne Museum and in her mind, SC's primary reason for visiting Melbourne in the first place, the James Bond exhibition.  I have to admit that while it was not front and centre in my mind so far in our planning, not that the big day had arrived, I was starting to get a little excited.  SC and I love James Bond and see every film the second it's out and will always watch a Bond movie on TV over anything else.  We've also got the entire book collection, which we also read a lot!  It's quite a thing between us, whenever we see a Bond reference, we will start to sing that famous song (check this out Bond).

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Vue de Monde

In my first post about our Melbourne food safari (see post here), I talked about our thought process and planning to get down to Australia's food capital. What I should have mentioned was that there was a completely different script going through SC's mind, and it was a little different to what was going on in my mind.  As soon as I heard about a possible trip to Melbourne, I was instantly fantasising about the great food I'd get to eat.  What SC was actually thinking about was visiting the James Bond exhibition at the Melbourne Museum!  I'll admit that I was a little bit excited about this when she first mentioned it, but once the planning for the trip started, it was all about the food and I quickly forgot about James Bond.

No food safari to Melbourne would be complete without going to arguably the country's best restaurant with, in many minds, Australia's most innovative chef - Shannon Bennet.  I'd been so keen to get to Vue de Monde for many years and I almost got there a couple of years ago when I was flying solo in Melbourne for work.  I'd even called up and arranged a table for one but at the last moment decided that this was an experience best shared, then opted for another iconic Melbourne restaurant in Grossi Florentino (before I was blogging, so no post).

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little giddy at the prospect of getting in and trying the incredibly inventive food of Shannon Bennet.  There was no restaurant in the country that I wanted to check out more, and that includes Sydney restaurants like Quay.  While currently not sitting at the top of the restaurant awards tree, Vue de Monde has it all, three hats with the Australian Good Food Guide and the Age Good Food Guide along with three stars from the Gourmet Traveller and ranked number seven on the top one hundred list from the same magazine.  It simply does not get much better than that for a restaurant, well maybe being included in the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants in the world might be pretty good too...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Chin Chin

We were sitting around at home one day thinking about where we could go to eat, which is a pretty normal activity for us.  As we worked through the list of places we felt like visiting, the talk turned to some of the restaurants we hadn't visited in Melbourne yet.  The talk intensified and before I new it, we were at the computer booking some flights down to Melbourne and had mapped out a clear line of attack.  Four days in Melbourne and each and every meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner mapped out for the entirety of our trip.  Sweet plan.

We'd picked an early flight, one that would get us to Tullamarine airport with enough time to get into the CBD for lunch, but not so early that we had to get up at 4am.  I called it our 'goldilocks' flight as it was juuuuuust right!  The big question when going to the airport is do we drive and park short term (hoping that the car is still there) or cab it, with our eventual decision to cab being the smart move.  There are lots of stories about flights being delayed and baggage being lost, but this is not such a story, in fact we arrived in Melbourne right on time with baggage in tow.

After jumping in a cab and taking a seriously different route to our hotel, we deposited our bags in our huge hotel room and hoofed it towards Flinders Lane, one of the coolest streets in Melbourne and our final destination.  I'd been dying (not literally) to get to Chin Chin for a long time.  Not only is Chin Chin one of the most popular restaurants in the country, it's also over a wicked little bar called the GoGo Bar, a place that I had in fact been to a couple of times.  Amazingly it was much easier to get into the GoGo Bar than Chin Chin, with each time I'd visited the bar noting the ridiculously long queues and absolutely pumping vibe at Chin Chin.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

E'cco Bistro - sharing the love with friends

What can I tell ya, I'm a sucker for the classics!  I'd been heading down to check out Philip Johnson's pop-up burger place, Howzat Burgers (see post here), so often that I got it into my head that I needed to take it one step further and try the latest E'cco Bistro menu.  Not that eating at E'cco bistro is much of a chore, it's been one of Brisbane's best restaurants for as long as I can remember and it's been one of my favourites ever since I ate there my first time.

I've had many memorable meals at E'cco but had a surprising time trying to convince my mate to come along with us for a double date.  CI recanted how he'd been disappointed with the size of the meals and the price of mains the last time he'd been to E'cco, which he also admitted had been a long time ago. Sensing that I'd have better luck with TB, I asked CI to check in with his more culinary adventurous other half, which turned out to be a masterstroke.  TB had never been to E'cco before and had been keen to check it out for a long time, so it was a lock, we were heading over to E'cco Bistro for dinner.

There was just one problem, I'd left it pretty late on a Saturday afternoon to get into one of the most popular restaurants in Brisbane, pretty silly really.  Luckily though the restaurant was able to squeeze us into an earlier sitting (thanks Philip), as long as we got along by 6:30, we were going to be sweet.  SC and I were pretty happy with this earlier starting time but TB and CI found it a bit early, but were just really happy the we'd been able to score a seat.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cheap Eats - Little Saigon Grill

For years I've been buying my lunch, usually a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich and a box of vegetables, and sitting in Rowes Arcade in the city while scanning the paper.  It became a ritual for me, so much so that I've been out of sorts ever since Rowes Arcade shut down to be completely remodelled.

While sitting there eating my lunch and reading the sports pages, I would always look across the way and see a little Vietnamese shop doing a roaring trade and think to myself that I should get over and check it out.  Being such a creature of habit though (especially for lunch), I never got the chance to go and get some tasty Vietnamese for lunch before the arcade's closure.

What I never really thought too much about was the shop owners in Rowes Arcade that had to shut up shop and move due to the remodelling.  It wasn't until I saw that Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie's Kitchen' was moving into the arcade that I thought that those little shops might not come back.  With a spot like Jamie's Italian around, rent is likely to be just too expensive.

I was contacted out of the blue by one of my long term followers, who has luck would have it was the owner of that very same little Vietnamese shop that I sat across from every day and wondered about, Little Saigon Grill.  Thanh Tran had taken the move out of Rowes Arcade as a sign that there were bigger opportunities available and Little Saigon Grill had moved to bigger premises in Albert Street.  As a small business owner with limited budgets for marketing, Tranh asked me if I would be happy to come down and check out her new spot and it would be even better if I could bring along some food blogger friends to check out and provide feedback about her new venture.  I was only too happy to help a long time follower and helped arrange a bloggers get together!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Alfred & Constance - A change of seasons and a change of menu!

Not just satisfied with changing the Valley forever by introducing some of the coolest spots to eat in Brisbane, the team behind Alfred and Constance continue to evolve and stay fresh. Damian Griffiths and his team know they are onto a winner with the very funky Gastro Pub on the corner of Constance and Alfred Streets in the Valley, but never rest on their laurels.  

For those of you who haven't checked out Alfred and Constance, it's probably about time you thought about it.  A&C is known as a Gastro Pub serving tasty and down to earth food, but it's also so much more.  After lovingly restoring two old Queenslanders, Damien and his team set about creating a series of spaces that so completely fit into the vibe of Fortitude Valley, you would be surprised to know the place has only been open since November 2012.  Since opening, A&C has become a favourite drinking spot in its Tiki bar and a favourite local to hit your sweet tooth with its late night dessert cafe. 

Knowing that you need to evolve to stay ahead in Brisbane's ultra competitive casual dining scene, Damien, along with Patron Chef Jocelyn Hancock have again made some tweaks to the A&C menu.  As we move away from Summer (Noooooooo) and head into Autumn, its no surprise that the new Autumn A&C menu takes on a more earthy feel, yet still adhering to their basic principles of honest, full flavoured food.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Gordita - a different take on Spanish cuisine

All the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place at one of Brisbane's newest dining hotspots, the awesome M&A Lane in the Valley.  Gordita is the latest funky restaurant to open up in what is quickly becoming a killer dining destination, one of many in a rapidly expanding Brisbane dining scene.

As seems to be the case lately, we were walking to James Street to do our usual weekend shop, when we noticed that Gordita had opened its doors.  I'd known that Gordita was opening soon, in fact I'd been invited along to check out the menu at a sit down lunch, but the moment I saw that the spot had opened, there was no way I could wait a week to check it out.  In fact, we waited exactly one day before the lure of the shiny shiny had us booked in to sample some lovely Spanish nosh!

Gordita is part of an ever expanding empire of restaurants form Jamie Webb, who also runs Spanish Tapas joint Peasant at the Barracks (see post here) as well as Oyster Bar Cabiria and Lefty's old time music hall. Drawing on his experiences running restaurants in New York and Sydney, Jamie has put together a southern Spanish style restaurant that is very different from the more traditional cuisine at Peasant.  Amazingly, he's also been able to lure Alfonso Ales to consult on the menu, who brings his experiences in working in Spain's best restaurant in recent years ,(now closed) elBulli.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Restaurant Two - a perfect spot to end an era

Just over a week ago we were hit with the staggering news that our General Manager would be moving on after seven years on the job.  We all knew that this day would come, sure, but when it finally happens it's still a shock to the system.  Our last day together as a full leadership team was superb, we were able to sign off many of the strategic goals our team wanted to achieve and then finish off the day with a celebratory dinner.  When it comes to picking a location for dinner, obviously I've got a few ideas but was really happy to let MK get on and choose the spot for us to celebrate and commiserate before the start of a new era.

We needed to hit one of the special destination spots around the CBD and while there are a few that we all love going to, the one that was booked was Restaurant Two.  A lot has been said and written about David Pugh's award winning restaurant on the corner of Edward and Alice Streets down by the Botanical Gardens, and for good reason.  Restaurant Two has been around for well over a decade and producing food of the highest quality.  David is also well known around town as a campaigner for local businesses, in particular the changes to parking conditions in the CBD (but that's another story).  I've written about Restaurant Two before (see post here) and over the I've had some amazing meals there, and some so-so meals, so I wondered which I'd get this time.

GOMA Restaurant - Refined food in the perfect setting

When I think about the transformation of Brisbane from the little sleepy town it was when I moved here in 1992, I feel immensely proud.  Admittedly I moved from Adelaide, but at the time I thought I'd moved from a relatively cosmopolitan city to a very big country town.  In 2014, Brisbane was called by some the 'New World City' and while that might be a little bit of a stretch, it's certainly one of the best cities around and one I'm proud to call home.  The last five years or so have seen a complete transformation in the food scene but it's other areas that have really helped Brisbane's transformation.  One of the most significant in my opinion was the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art, GOMA, which rivals many of the great Modern Art Buildings in the world including the Tate Modern and MoMA.

One of the most dramatic exhibitions held at GOMA in recent times was the 'Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth' piece, which we'd recently seen many Instagram photos being posted.  We often talk about getting over to see the exhibitions at GOMA and then realise that we've missed them by the time we get around to wandering over, but we really didn't want to miss this one.  To help incentivise and motivate us to get across, I thought we would make a day of it and book into the GOMA restaurant, which had recently picked up it's first chef's hat in the Australian Good Food Guide.

I'd known that GOMA had a restaurant, but not much more than that, so when the 2014 AGFG list of Brisbane's best restaurants came out and the GOMA restaurant had made the list, it was inevitable that I would visit. The Executive Chef at GOMA is Josue Lopez, who has worked at some pretty impressive restaurants.  While Josue has spent time in well regarded restaurants like Moda and Two Small Rooms, it's his time in some of the best restaurants in the world that are eye catching.  Josue spent time in Gordon Ramsay's London restaurant Maze but he lists is time at Rene Redzepi's Noma in Denmark as his most influential.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Sydney Series - The Cut Bar and Grill

I recently found myself in Sydney overnight after a whirlwind visit to the harbour city for work.  I wasn't sure if I would be able to get away for a nice dinner but decided I'd hit twitter to get some suggestions, just in case I had a few hours spare.  Asking where my followers would go for a meal in Sydney if they were only there for a night, I was expecting to suggestions like Quay, Rockpool, Est and some of the fancier dining spots around.  While I did get the odd Longrain and Momofuku, I was surprised and delighted with the less well known and clearly more personal dining spots suggested, Wildfire, Portento Fratelli Paradiso, just to name a few.

One suggestion that I got, which was also a recommendation from my lovely partner SC, was The Cut, which as it turned out was just a hundred metres or so from my hotel.  After a very early start and a very busy day, I was able to plant a few suggestion to my travelling companions throughout our meetings that led us in the direction of The Cut.  By the time we had finished and it was time to unwind and have a few drinks, we 'found' ourselves at the The Argyle, which as luck would have it is right at the back of The Cut!

A few drinks later and it was time for us to start thinking about food, it was the easiest thing in the world to just walk a few metres and descend some steps and enter The Cut.  We didn't know how we would go without a reservation at 8pm on a Wednesday in Sydney but we were offered some seats at a communal table or to wait at the bar for a table to free up.  The choice was easy for the lads, who were all too happy to have another beer before dinner started, so it was beer and fries for about thirty minutes until we were shown to our table.


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