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.

I'd mentioned that E'cco was one of Brisbane's most popular restaurants but was pretty surprised to see that almost every seat in the place was taken by the time we arrived.  What I always notice about my visit to E'cco is that the clientele of the popular dining spot have aged in line with the restaurant.  I remember when I fist hit it up over sixteen years ago was that it was the super cool spot with the young and hip diners would eat.  Over the years, those same young and hip diners continued to go and as they matured, so did the overall feel of the restaurant.  Nowadays when you go, you still see splattering of young couples out on dates and the such, but the core of the diners seem to be long standing and returning customers.  Now that's a following!

Shortly after being shown our seats and given our menus to look over, we were treated to a glass of Champagne compliments of Philip, which the girls happily took advantage of.  As we set about looking over the menu, there were lot of options that looked great but there were a couple of things that jumped off the page as 'must haves'.  Normally when eating with mates, I try to get them to select different entree and main options, so I can get lots of different flavours to write about, but I knew there was not much chance of that on this occasion!

The first entree that most of us chose was the seared scallops with caramelised carrot puree, wagyu bresaola, watercress with an orange and cumin vinaigrette.  E'cco is well known for producing amazing scallop dishes and I'd had the scallops with caramelised carrot puree once before at an E'cco masterclass (see post here).  As good as previous scallop dishes had been, this one was a cracker and perhaps the best I'd had at E'cco yet. The three huge scallops were perfectly cooked and had a lovely crusty caramelisation that tasted superb.  The carrot puree was sweet and full of intense carrot flavour that was balanced out nicely with the slightly peppery watercress and the zingy vinaigrette.  To add a little saltiness to the starter, there was some incredibly thin dry aged wagyu which also added a different texture.  The three of us who had the scallops were intensely happy with our choices. 

SC was the odd person out but she didn't miss out on choosing another well known E'cco dish, in fact quite possibly the most famous E'cco dish.  Last year there was an article about the six most iconic dishes in Brisbane (see article here) and the field mushrooms with olive toast, rocket, parmesan, truffle oil and lemon made it to the top of the list.  It's pretty much been a constant on the menu and first appeared over 18 years ago, it's likely that Philip Johnson would by lynched if he tried to take it off the menu.  Interestingly, in all the time we'd been visiting E'cco, we'd never tried it before.  Wow, we had been missing out, this was an incredible dish with the earthy flavour of the mushroom combining with the salty olive toast and parmesan to provide a taste sensation.  Once the truffle kicked in, there was no mistaking why this is one of the best dishes in Brisbane.....  Having said that, I think my scallop dish was even better!

After such wonderful starters, we were excited about the mains to come and were not disappointed when our very large main plates were placed in front of us.  CI and SC both decided that the roast duck breast with pear, sour cherry and pine nut tarte tatin with balsamic and braised gem cos was the only way to go for mains. The duck was cooked really well and had beautifully caramelised skin over a coating of delicious and perfectly rendered duck fat.  There were a lot of complimentary flavours and textures on the plate and surprisingly the sour cherry and pine nut flavour did not overpower the dish, which can happen sometimes with bitter cherry.  The tarte tatin was not super obvious to begin with but once you ate some of the duck, you could get the textures and flavours clearly.

After changing her mind a few dozen times, TB finally settled on the lamb shoulder with warm freekeh and dates, lemon, broccolini and a mint yoghurt.  I always find it interesting that certain foods become popular all of a sudden with the freekeh on the plate reminding me of other dishes I had seen around town recently.  It certainly leant a very middle eastern feel to the lamb, with was highlighted with the dates and mint yoghurt. The lamb was super tender, just like it had fallen off the shoulder and very sweet, in that way that lamb can be.  The yoghurt provided a little bit of balance to the sweetness and the lemon really shone through adding some zing and some acidity to the dish, which TB completely devoured.

It was a fish night for me and I followed up my scallops with the atlantic salmon with pommes ecrasees, sautéed asparagus, fennel pollen and a tomato beurre noisette.  I used to eat a lot of salmon, especially on those occasions when I did eat at home, but went off the fish some time ago.  I'm not sure why I ordered the salmon but I was glad I did, it was delicious, with salty and crispy skin that just rocked my world.  What was incredible about the dish was the beurre noisette (brown butter) that can't have been good for me, nothing that tastes that good can be good for a person!  I really loved the sauteed asparagus with the salmon, it gave the dish a little bit of contrasting flavour but I didn't really get the fennel pollen flavour, it seemed to get lost in the dish a little (or maybe my palate just couldn't pick it out).  The pommes ecrasees, or crushed potato didn't really set my world alight and by the time I had all the intense flavours from the rest of the dish, it seemed a little boring and I ended up leaving most of the potato.

It was dessert time and our entrees and mains had been so large that only CI and I were brave enough to attempt the dessert menu.  There were a couple of OK looking options but nothing that really stood out (I was really hoping for a souffle!) but made our choices.  CI went for the mango panna cotta with orange granita, macadamia shortbread and banana ice cream, which was delivered in a large glass with the short bread on the side.  I've mentioned a few times in my blog that I think that panna cotta should be presented traditionally as I think it loses something by being prepared and presented in a glass.  There were some great flavours with the dessert but because of the way it was presented, it seemed a little busy and the flavours interfered with each other a little.  Individually they tasted great, but because of the glass they got mixed in together and just got confused.

My dessert of hazelnut meringue with white chocolate mousse and valrhona ganache was very pretty on the plate with layers of meringue, mouse and ganache clearly visible.  I really loved the flavours of this dessert with the creamy mouse and the rich ganache working wonderfully together.  I thought the hazelnut meringue was extremely well prepared and had a subtle flavour that seemed to enhanced the other tastes on the plate. My only complaint about this dessert was that the top layer of meringue was hard to cut through and squashed the rest of the dessert flat and all over the plate.  I'm not sure if it was a little thicker than intended, therefore harder to cut though but I think that if this was in the middle of the dessert, it may have been just a little easier to eat. 

By the time we had finished our desserts (I say ours because SC scoffed down some of mine and TB had her customary espresso martini) we were completely stuffed.  CI who had expressed reservations about going to E'cco had to eat his words (well, he would have if he wasn't so full) and was completely taken aback by how much he enjoyed the meal.  TI, who had never eaten there before was also super impressed both with the food and the ability for E'cco to pump out very high quality cocktails that were not on the menu.

It had been a really busy Saturday night at E'cco but the service remained impeccable throughout the night with with our waitress all over service and completely friendly and knowledgeable.  There were some big tables in her section on the night and she managed us all brilliantly.  The great service helped contribute to the great vibe of the dining area.  We often go to restaurants on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when its pretty quiet and can sometime forget how a full restaurant with happy customers can be amazing!

I wasn't surprised by how much we enjoyed our meal at E'cco, it's been considered one of the country's best restaurant for almost two decades and that does not happen by accident.  It used to be that we would only go to E'cco for a special occasion like anniversaries or birthdays, but in the last few years I've found that E'cco is one of the restaurants on my regular rotation.  I'm pretty sure I'll be a regular here as long as the place is open but now have an additional reason to head down to E'cco with the advent of Howzat pop-up now confirmed as a permanent fixture the the Brisbane burger scene. It's all good!

It was a busy night at E'cco with people lining up at the bar waiting for a seat
Glasses lining up for the night
The well stocked bar - E'cco was able to mix out cocktails that were not on the menu for TI
There are some pretty decedent desserts in Philip Johnson's book
People were having a really good time in the main dining area
E'cco Bistro on UrbanspoonEcco Bistro

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