Saturday, 22 March 2014

Harvey's Bar and Bistro - Celebrating Autumn on James

I don't know about you, but there are big Hollywood movies that come out that everyone raves about but for some reason, I just never get around to see. All the buzz and all the general chit chat kind of gets me excited, but when push comes to shove, I just never get around to seeing those movies. However, every now and then, I do see such movie, often by accident and then get what everyone was talking about and wonder why I never went and saw it in the first place.

There's a few restaurants around Brisbane where I fall into that same apathy, people rave about them and I often think 'yeah, I'll get there soon' and just never do.  Just like with the movies, if I get to one of these restaurants by 'accident', I almost always feel the same way - why didn't I come here sooner? Mondo Organics was one such restaurant where this happened (see post here) and recently I had the opportunity to get along to another such restaurant.

A little while ago I received an invitation in the mail to the launch of the Southern Queensland Country launch of Autumn on James.  The event was to celebrate the abundance of amazing produce in the South East of Queensland, including the Granite Belt, Southern Downs, Darling Downs, Toowoomba, South Burnett and the Western Country.  With the buzz about 'Paddock to Plate', the aim of the Autumn on James event was to transform James Street into an Autumn wonderland showcasing the produce through cooking demonstrations, 'farm gate' stalls and wine tasting as well as signature dishes from some of the James Street restaurants.

The whole event was to kick off with a launch party and dinner at acclaimed Valley restaurant, Harvey's Bar and Bistro, a restaurant that is the favourite of many Brisbanites, but one that I'd never been to!  Harvey's is the home of award winning chef and owner PJ McMillan, who spent time as head chef at Phillip Johnson's E'cco Bistro during a time when it was considered by Australian Gourmet to be the best restaurant in the country.  After leaving E'cco, PJ decided it was time to set up his own restaurant and created Arc Bistro, which went on to secure it's own series of accolades.   Eventually PJ moved on from Arc and after spending some time doing other things, bought a little delicatessen in the Valley called Harvey's - which has evolved to the current AGFG award winning restaurant that so many people know and love.

I was pretty excited about the invite to the Autumn on James, I'd finally get to visit a restaurant that I'd not been to before (and much loved by everyone) and I'd get to celebrate all things food in Southern Queensland with a bunch of other passionate foodies.  When I arrived at Harveys' for the event, I could see that James Street had begun it's transformation for the weekend's event, with fresh produce in abundance and huge pots with deciduous trees potted around the street, to give that real Autumn feel.  There was the general milling around and meeting new people before the event started and I met some amazing foodies, which is always fun.  Before too long though, it was time to kick off the event, so we found our way to our seats and listened to a short speech from the Minister and the event organisers.

The idea of the dinner was to highlight all the best that Southern Queensland has to offer, and what better way to do so than with a five course degustation by one of Queensland's most loved chefs.  Our first course for the night was a tea smoked barnyard quail with corn, lemongrass and double chicken broth.  The chicken broth was quite punchy and full of flavour that could possibly have taken over the subtle flavours of the tea smoked quail, but instead balanced out the flavours nicely.  You could definitely get the smoky flavour of the quail and subtle hints of lemongrass.

My favourite dish of the night came next with some amazing flavours combining well with the roasted Jerusalem artichoke with soft egg, crispy zucchini flower and truffle dressing.  Individually, the ricotta filled zucchini flower was wonderful, as was the roasted artichoke but when combined the flavours worked really well.  Of course, everything tastes a little better when truffle is included and the earthy flavour of the truffle dressing just added a little extra to the dish.  I'd been expecting a soft boiled quail's egg when looking over the menu, so was a little surprised to see a tiny little fried egg, but the yolk was still gooey and once it was added to the mix, the creamy texture helped bind the dish together.

There was a little bit of a story behind the Tamworth pork with capers, mustard, Sutton's Farm apples with pickle and toast.  Tamworth was the breed of pig and not the location that the pig was sourced from, which dispelled any notions that we were eating produce from outside of the Southern Queensland Country region.  I loved the colour on the plate with some pickled red onion and the red mustard which contrasted with the white of the apples.  The pork was delicious and full flavoured but there were a couple of really intense flavours with the pickles quite literally taking my breath away....  wow, they packed a punch.

Reflecting back on the menu, the next dish was never going to be my favourite, there were too many ingredients on the plate that I usually try to avoid.  The Mallow organic lamb shoulder with pumpkin, quinoa and harissa was probably not a dish I would order in a restaurant.  I'm a big fan of lamb but quinoa and pumpkin?  Not so much.  I poked around at the edges of this one and ate the lamb, which had a nice slightly sweet flavour, but that was pretty much all I ate on the plate.  Looking around at others at my table, I was in the minority with clean plates in abundance.

It was time for dessert I loved the sound of the Apthorpe Farm rhubarb and custard with ginger and Kingaroy creme fraiche.  By the time my plate had been delivered some of the ice cream had started to melt, so I knew it would be vitally important to dig right in - well after the obligatory photos!  The ginger cake was lovely and moist but didn't have that overpowering flavour that can come with poorly executed ginger cake.  The rhubarb was cooked beautifully and had any bitterness cooked out, which left it nice and soft and quite tasty.  The best part of the dessert for me was the lemon curd quenelle that I saved for last and then slowly savoured.

It had been a lovely meal and an amazing night, with about sixty of Brisbane's foodies, journalists and local business people all getting together to enjoy the best that our region has to offer.  The Southern Queensland Country might not get the same recognition as some of the other food regions around the country, but it's only a matter of time, especially with the launch of the Autumn on James event.  It's really important for Queenslanders to remember that we have our own food belt and it's a beauty!

I'd quite enjoyed hearing from the local producers throughout the night, as well as from PJ himself, who clearly has an affinity for local produce.  I'd also enjoyed the five courses on display from Harvey's Bar and Bistro and while there were a couple that I'd probably not order on a typical menu, it gave me the opportunity to see one of Queensland's favourite chefs in action.

I've never been able to pin down when a touch of apathy kicks in, be it for movies, or restaurants or some of the other areas of my life when I've not done something that just about everyone else has done.  All I know is that it sometimes it gets in the way of me enjoying something new, and it kind of mystifies me.  Well, at least I've finally been able to get to Harvey's Bar and Bistro and now that I've been, I'm almost certain I'll be back soon - I know SC's already added Harvey's to her list of places we need to visit....  Perhaps for one of their famous breakfasts!

Harvey's has a large outdoor dining area that is packed for Breakfast on Saturday mornings
A bar and bistro has to have a well stocked bar!
It's a wrap!  A great evening of food and produce 
James Street was starting to transform for the Autumn on James event

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