Sunday, 16 March 2014

Casual Dining - Chester Street Bakery & Bar menu reboot

The Valley has been hotbed of new and exciting restaurants and cafes opening, which, judging by the many new developments still in the pipeline and nearing completion, is not going to let up.  This is pretty exciting when you think about it, Brisbane is really coming of age and developing a dining scene to rival Melbourne and Sydney.  But what does it mean for the existing pool of restaurants that are currently doing a pretty good job of feeding Brisbanites?  Will a rush of even newer and shinier restaurants spell trouble?  It's possible.

With the influx of new restaurants, it means that those remaining need to remain fresh and relevant or find a niche that makes them unique.  Damien Griffiths and his team have a vested interest in making sure his stable of restaurants remains at the forefront of the dining public's imagination and, with an ever increasing portfolio of restaurants and cafes, that gets a little harder.  One approach that seems to be working well for Damien is to regularly refresh and re-launch the menus then invite a heap of bloggers, media and the local business community to come in a test out the menu.  

The Chester Street Bakery and Bar was the latest dining spot to get a menu make over and I was invited along to check it out.  I've been to Chester Street a couple of times now and in fact was lucky enough to get a pre-opening showing of the development of the site (see post here).  The central focal point of Chester Street is the massive blue wood fired baking oven that is used to cook much of the food, breads and pastries that Chester Street is becoming so well known for.

We'd gathered to check out the new mid-summer menu which in a twist of fortune was being launched in the first couple of days of autumn, with many of the new menu items much more suited to nights that start to get a little cooler.  Patron chef Jocelyn Hancock was on hand to talk about her inspiration for the new menu items which was unsurprisingly about focusing on seasonal produce and the fresh flavours of a new season.  I also chatted to Jocelyn about the similarities in some of the dessert menu items between the stable of Damien Griffiths restaurants and was surprised to note that most of the desserts are cooked on premises in the Chester Street Bakery.

The events that Damien puts on are quite fun affairs, you're sitting down at a table with other passionate foodies and often there are new people to meet and share experiences with.  While we were chatting and looking over some of the new menu items, the first the many plates of food to sample arrived.  The grilled squid with hummus, smokey paprika and natural almonds looked very rustic and in line with the wholesome food I've come to expect from Chester Street.  The squid was expertly cooked and was easy to bite through, yet retained a slight chewiness that gave it texture.  I loved the hint of smokiness that came from the paprika and as a flavour, it worked well with the subtle taste of the sea that came from the squid.

Next up was the Chester Street version of KFC, only much nicer!  The lemon and thyme chicken wings with fattoush and Chester Street pita bread were lovely and crunchy and the taste the thyme came through nicely. There are a few ways to eat chicken and sure, a knife and fork is one of them, but I prefer to pick it up and use my fingers, which I did to great effect!  The well cooked chicken was still moist and full of flavour, even through it had been deep fried, which is a good sign.  The pita bread was sliced into little pizza slices and was a nice way to keep munching away until the next dish arrived.

I've never been a huge fan of croquettes, but I will try them when they come along.  It's something about the texture that doesn't sit well on my palate.  The sweet corn with creamed leek and fresh herb croquettes with a lime mayo were OK and had that lovely golden crunch that is a requirement.  I had a little taste of SC's and could pick up the sweet corn and leek flavour but left it at that.  SC assured me that they were great croquettes and that I was missing out!  Well, that may be but I left more for the rest of the table, who seemed to be really enjoying theirs.

Starters were out of the way and the main courses started to head over to the table, and the first main was the pan seared Cone Bay barramundi with lemon caper dressing, cracked wheat & mint.  The barra was perfectly cooked,which meant a wonderful crispy and salty skin covering the moist yet still firm flesh.  It was presented in a very rustic way, which was in keeping with the rest of the dishes enjoyed so far on the night. I am a big fan of barra when it's done well, and the Chester Street variety was right up there.  

My favourite dish of the night had to be the rack of lamb with honey, coriander and mint rub with butter beans and sugar snaps.  Lamb is my second favourite protein behind beef and when it's cooked well, it's something to behold.  Damien and the crew must have access to some of the sweetest lamb in Queensland because this was amazing and much better that the cutlets I've been getting and cooking on my BBQ.  I really loved the soft sweet flesh of the cutlets which had an amazing flavour coming from the honey glaze and just a subtle hint of mint.  My major problem with the lamb was that there was not enough and I wanted a whole pile more!

Chester Street is known for its wonderful desserts, which as I'd found out earlier were made on premises and then transported to Damien's other venues (Alfred & Constance and Alfredo's Pizza), both of which I've eaten a lot of.  So there were no real surprises on the menu for the night, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the lemon and almond tart with limoncello sorbet and my personal favourite the banoffee pie with banana, caramel, chocolate and whipped cream.  The lemon tart was nice and short with the filling having the right mix of tartness and sweetness, but really, it's hard to go past the sugar hit that is that banoffee pie!

The team at Chester Street put on another lovely spread for the night that really showcased what the little cafe and bar is all about, fresh and rustic flavours that pack a punch.  The place is definitely a labour of love for Damien and the team, which does come through in the food.  Of course, as a guest on the night, it's hard to assess the service because we always get taken care of, but the team seem genuinely interested in providing a great experience for the diners.

Chester Street is a little off the traditional track in the James Street precinct but it's definitely worth wandering to and checking out.  It's very casual and the type of spot where you can just hang out for a while on a Saturday morning after breakfast or equally great on a Friday night for drinks and a casual bite to eat.

There is a heap of competition in the Valley and with more coming, it's a pretty tough market to crack and then stay ahead of the pack.  The Chester Street Bakery and Bar does a great job in mixing up the menu and keeping it interesting and given it's a bar and bakery, there's a good chance this place is here to stay.


** I was a guest of Lucid Media and Chester Street Kitchen for this meal

A salad of wild rice with cumin and cashew roasted pumpkin, asparagus, mint, labna and pomegranate dressing 
A salad of quinoa, shaved fennel, currants, celery heart toasted pepitas and burnt orange dressing
There are lots of cakes and pastries in the bakery section
Lots and lots of cakes
Its a pretty well stocked bar too
Time to enjoy and share
It was a rainy night so not much action outside
I love the cobalt blue 

Chester Street on UrbanspoonChester Street Kitchen Bakery & Bar

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