Saturday, 29 March 2014

BlackBird Bar & Grill - I fell in love with this place!

It's not too often that I'm completely blown away by a new dining experience but I really love it when it does happen. There have been a few notable restaurants abut Brisbane that I've checked out shortly after opening and have known, just known that they would be come institutions.  

Black Bird Bar and Grill has only just opened it's doors, but it's already gathering a reputation as one of the most exciting new restaurants in a number of years.  I'd been keeping my ear to the ground and heard quite a bit about the old Rugby Club site over at Eagle Street and in particular the hype surrounding the new venture by the Ghanem Group.  Most of the hype revolved around the plush makeover of the site and the acquisition of star executive chef Jake Nicolson, a two Michelin starred chef who had worked at some of London's best restaurants the Ledbury and the Square, not to mention some time at Spain's elBulli.

I'd also been getting the lowdown from one of my work colleagues, JH, who had already been to Black Bird a number of times and seemed to be quite well acquainted with the team.  JH had been quite lavish in her praise of the menu and Executive chef Jake Nicholson.  In fact, by the time we eventually booked a table, I felt as intimately in tune with the Black Bird menu and offering.

We'd booked in for a Tuesday night, not thinking that it would be super busy, but also not willing to take a chance on just rocking up to one of the hottest new restaurants in town without a reservation.  Black Bird is is almost hidden away behind the Pig 'n Whistle and while not too difficult to find given we know the area so well, could be just a little challenging if you didn't know the area well.  Black Bird is upstairs, so once you enter the doorway, there are some stairs that eventually split and give you an option of left or right to ascend to the restaurant's entrance proper.  We took the left option and soon found ourselves at a concierge desk with a black clad waitress looking all so cool, who showed us to our table at the back of the restaurant, which happened to have spectacular views of the Storey Bridge and Brisbane river.

As usual, we had made an early reservation and the dining area was mostly empty, which gave us a good opportunity to look around around the restaurant and take in the completely lavish and almost over-the-top decor.  Everything in the dining area looked amazing, from the plush chairs and glossy tables throughout the dining room, to the plush booths around the walls, the flashy wallpaper and the floor to ceiling windows that gave up that spectacular view of the bridge.  The kitchen area was open to the dining room and from our seat at the back of the restaurant, we could just get glimpses of the kitchen team in action.

We were in for another surprise too once our menus were presented to us by our waiter for the evening.  Our waiter was well known to us from our many years (pre-blog days) of eating at Seasalt at Armstrongs, so we knew that Black Bird had acquired some of the best waitstaff that Brisbane had to offer to work the floor. The surprises kept coming when we looked over the menu and literally could not make up our mind what to order, everything looked delicious.  It took us ten agonising minutes to look over the menu and finally come up with a plan of attack.  As soon as we'd placed our order, so warm crusty bread was provided with the most amazing truffle and porcini butter, which was quickly devoured.

Given it was so difficult to limit myself to one starter, I decided that I would kick off with a reliable old favourite, a beef carpaccio.  The Black Bird version was a wagyu beef carpaccio with sweet burnt leek with black truffle mayonnaise.  The simple naming of the dish belied the intricate and loaded carpaccio that was presented, which also included radish sliced two ways, dried mushrooms, capers and slices of fresh truffle. The wagyu was sliced lovely and thin but the plate itself looked a little too busy, with perhaps one or two too many ingredients.  I really loved the flavour of the wagyu and the black truffle mayonnaise but there was some acidity missing from the plate that would have really lifted the flavours. 

In what would have to be described as a future iconic dish in Brisbane, SC ordered the wild rabbit and black truffle tortellini with garden peas, which went well beyond stunning.  I don't want to underplay how delicious this dish was, but it really was a heavenly piece of cooking.  The tortellini was thin and wonderfully cooked with a beautiful rabbit filling, which can sometimes be lost but in the case of this dish stood up and shouted 'look-at-me'.  There was an incredible creamy sauce with the pasta that was rich and decadent that worked in complete harmony with the wild rabbit tortellini.  There was a risk of the dish being too rich and decadent, especially with the shaved truffle sitting atop, but in a stroke of genius, fresh peas were added to the plate to restore a perfect balance of richness and freshness.  It was incredible and I really regret not ordering the dish, but SC was good enough to give me two forkfuls of the delicious dish.

We were on a high, the tortellini had sent endorphins shooting to our brains and we simply could not wait to see how our mains would turn out.  We didn't have to wait too long before SC's New Zealand venison loin with a sweet potato and bacon fondant, red cabbage marmalade and a pepperberry sauce arrived.  The first thing we noticed was the wonderful colour of the venison, which had been cooked to absolute perfection.  The venison was unbelievably tender and would have yielded easily to a butter knife, but the sharp steak knife made quick work of the succulent meat.  Venison has a very strong gamey flavour, which both SC and I love and this version was perfect.  The every so slightly sticky pepperberry sauce gave a little bite to the dish, which was perfect.  Every flavour on the plate made complete sense, except one...  There were some kale chips with the dish and with the same aversion to kale on any plate, SC left them aside.

Black Bird has a fancy grill for cooking meat and I really contemplated trying one of the specialty steaks, but after my meat starter, I really wanted to check out the fish.  I'd ordered the John Dory with a scallop and lettuce boudin, roasted cauliflower with a black bean vinaigrette but was informed that the Dory was out but there was a blue eyed Travella.  I've had both before and while I do prefer the Dory, the Travella is equally nice. My fish came out quite simply presented and looked quite rustic but the flavours were anything but.  Not only was the fish absolutely perfectly cooked, it was seasoned wonderfully and had intense flavours.  The freshness of the fish was apparent with the flesh flaking away under my knife and it tasted incredible.  As good as the fish was, the scallop and lettuce boudin was even better, with the scallop mousse setting my palate alight.  If you can't tell from my description of the fish, I can assure you it was quite special.

It was time for dessert and we just knew that they were going to be as special as the previous courses had been.  We weren't disappointed when SC's tropical fruit pavlova with lemon balm and vanilla cream was presented.  It looked quite lovely and while it was deconstructed, it was done so in a way that made a lot of sense.  The large chunks of fruit were sweet and perfectly matched to the sweet meringue and the vanilla cream.  The meringue looked a little bit like a beehive and was crunchy on the outside and quite sticky internally and was quickly devoured by SC, with a little help from me!

I was equally impressed with the presentation of my frozen raspberry parfait with white chocolate sorbet and macadamia nut crumble.  Where SC's pavlova was visually stunning in its simplicity, my parfait had a more organic feel to it.  Parfait means perfect in French and this desert lived up to it's title.  The smear of sharp raspberry on the plate contrasted beautifully with the sweet raspberry parfait and the slightly sweeter white chocolate sorbet.  The crumble on the side was ever so slightly sweet but gave the dessert a lovely texture and significantly enhanced the dish.  Both desserts were stunning, but I think I liked my raspberry parfait just a little more than the pavlova.

It hadn't taken long for Black Bird to completely fill up.  We'd arrived at 6:30pm and by 7:30 the place was completely packed, so it was a good thing that we'd made a reservation.  Some restaurants only have a vibe when they are completely packed out and while the feel of Black Bird was amazing full, it also had a certain charm when it was a little quieter too.

Given that Black Bird was into its second or third week, it was clearly firing on all cylinders, with the slick wait staff and even slicker kitchen quite on top of their game.  The service was professional and we never had the feeling that we'd been forgotten, even as the restaurant started to pack out.  The food had been a cut above, really quite spectacular with perhaps the exception of the beef carpaccio, which was good, but not at the same level as the rest of the meal.

Some restaurants hit the ground running but very few hit the ground sprinting toward the finish line.  Black Bird have clearly put a lot of time, energy and money into providing Brisbane with a new dining spot that will surely become one of the greats.  It definitely helps getting a team in the kitchen, led by an amazing and talented chef like Jake Nicholson and having an environment where it feels just right.  There's not too many restaurants around where we are already planning our next visit, but before we'd even left Black Bird for the evening, we were already deciding on which night to head back to try some more wonderful food....  I'd already planned to pick up that rabbit tortellini for myself next time, and I wouldn't be sharing a bite!

That rabbit tortellini was something special - get in and try it
Our desserts were both wonderful and very pretty on the plate
Black Bird at 6:30pm
...and at 7:30pm - blink and you'll miss the crowd coming in
The lavish booths look really comfortable
The inside of Black Bird is quite swanky - with a 1930's speak-easy feel to it
That is quite an interesting looking grill 
Lots of fresh seafood on offer 
and a cabinet of it's own dry aged beef
This bathtub could be the most photographed in Brisbane - it's in the private dining room
There is also a kick ass bar at Black Bird - with stunning views of the story bridge
Black Bird is represented by a humming bird and there are lots of 'flowers' throughout 

BlackBird Bar & Grill on UrbanspoonBlack Bird Bar & Restaurant

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