Sunday, 23 March 2014

Tank Bar & Laneway Dining - a change of direction

There is a part of the city that's about to go through a major renewal, one of which the likes have not been seen since the South Bank development.  The western section of the CBD, which includes much of George and William Streets has some major developments earmarked that will change Brisbane forever.  I'm talking about the Supreme Court site redevelopment and the possible development of George and William streets when a new casino licence is decided upon.  All very exciting!

While this is all about the future, there have been some great developments already completed in this part of town over the last few years, including 400 George Street and just behind, the development of the Santos building.  Right now, there are not a heap of restaurants in this part of the city, but in the near future, there could be a plethora.  There are a couple of great restaurants that have been established in the George Street precinct, a couple of my favourites are Public (see post here) and Tank (see post here), both of which I'd been to many times.

Tank in particular had been a 'go-to' restaurant for me for many occasions, I'd loved the Japanese-Australian fusion food that chef Alastair McLeod was producing.  Even after Alastair had moved on and new head chef Tony Tierny had taken over, the creative menu continued and Tank produced a unique blend of fine dining fusion food.  Last year though, Tank went through even more changes when establishing restauranteur and owner Genny Neilson decided to sell up to and exit the business, leaving partner Ross Nielson in charge.  One of the first changes made by Ross was to move away from the Japanese fine dining fusion style to a more relaxed approach to dining, including new menu with a new focus.

It was my first visit back to Tank since the changes and while SC had been there since the introduction of the new, more relaxed menu, I was keen to see if the restaurant still had that special edge that had given it a Chefs Hat so quickly in it's existence.  I was catching up with a former boss and now friend/mentor, whom I hadn't seen for a while and Tank was close to his work.

Arriving a little before PS, I was shown to my seat inside and my first thought was that the Tank dining room looked exactly the same, with no real changes.  While inside was the same familiar place I remembered, I had noticed that the once closed kitchen area at the front of the restaurant was a little more open and instead of a closed in window, it was now open and being used as an extended bar area.  It was the first sign that things were a little more relaxed at Tank, the second of which was the menu.  Gone was the Japanese focus and introduced was a more eclectic menu, which had shades of Asian influences, with some middle eastern influences thrown in for good measure.  The biggest change was the addition of a pizza menu and a huge new pizza oven.

Once PS arrived, we cracked on with some choices, which unfortunately did not include pizza.  I was doing my usual three course selection with the menu but PS, who has never been big on the whole three course meal thing, just went with a main.

I liked a few of the starter options on the new tank menu but went for something a little lighter to begin with and ordered the chilli salt and pepper calamari with a lime mayo.  The large bowl of calamari was presented and it looked really appetising, with a lovely light batter covering expertly cooked calamari.  The squid was so well cooked that it practically melted in my mouth and required very little effort to eat.  I couldn't really pick out any heat in the starter and wondered if they had left the chilli out of the batter mix.  The calamari also worked really nicely with the lime mayo and with an extra squirt from the lime slice there was a little punch from the acidity (just not the chilli).

With only one dish to choose from, PS went with a pretty safe option for his main and chose the eye fillet of beef with parsnip puree, wild mushrooms, grilled asparagus and pinot jus.  It was a vast move away from the previous Tank menu, which had much more refined food and very rarely (if ever) featured a slab of beef.  The dish actually looked pretty nice, in a rustic kind of way.  It didn't take PS long to get stuck into his beef and declare that it was perfectly cooked and had incredible flavour.  In fact, after sampling everything on the plate, PS mentioned to me that it was the best meal we'd had together and the best restaurant I'd taken him to.  High praise indeed considering some of the dining spots we'd been to.

I struggled a little bit when deciding on my main, with nothing really jumping out at me as a 'pick me' dish but ended up going with the corn fed chicken breast with crushed warm potato, bacon and pine nut salad, dukkah and ranch dressing.  When I'm not sure what to eat on a menu, I often run with chicken as it can be a fairly safe bet - it's pretty hard to stuff it up.  The presentation of my main was again fairly rustic, with the golden brown chicken breast sitting atop the crushed potato and salad.  While the chicken had some nice flavour and the crispy skin was great, the chicken itself was unfortunately a little dry.  Even though it was a little dry, I was easily able to eat the chicken and quite enjoyed the clean flavour of the poultry, but I really struggled with the crushed potato and bacon salad and ended up leaving it on my plate.

By the time we'd finished our mains, Tank was completely packed and had a great little vibe.  We didn't have that much time before we had to head back to work, so I cheekily asked our waitress if we could get a dessert out straight away, especially if I picked one that should be ready to go.  Our waitress sympathised with me and said she would do her best, but it was busy on the floor.  Thankfully my vanilla bean creme brûlée with fresh mango and macadamia nut biscuit came out almost straight away.  After my slightly disappointing main, I was hit with just about the perfect creme brulee, which had a lovely golden crust that was the right thickness and an incredibly creamy vanilla custard underneath.  I managed to polish of the brûlée in record time (even though I wanted to savour it) and finished with the fresh mango, that had a little bit of a brûlée going as well.

I'm not sure what to make of my latest visit to Tank Bar and Laneway dining, there were so many reminders of the restaurant it used to be, it looks the same and the kitchen is just as I remembered it.  However, it's not the same restaurant that I remember, the menu is very different and the approach is much more relaxed and to be honest, accessible to a broader range of people.  But the things that made Tank a place I really loved going to, the fusion cuisine and the sometimes challenging combinations of food, are no longer there.

It's not all bad news though, on the whole the food was pretty tasty and while it was much simpler than the fare under Alastair McLeod, it's still quite enjoyable.  The new Tank has maintained its status as an award winning restaurant by keeping its Australian Good Food Guide chefs hat and the place was really packed, even mid-week for lunch.  The staff were all friendly and there was still a buzz about the place.

The food has moved on from the style that I really love, but in doing so, it's opened up to a much wider customer base and from what I hear the pizzas are pretty damn good.  It's on the wrong edge of the city for me to get to regularly and at the moment there is not a lot of other choices in the area.  I'll be interested to see what happens with Tank once the area transforms over the next couple of years.

It's still the same old Tank from the outside
A slightly different name and a very different take on food
Tank Restaurant & Bar on UrbanspoonTank Bar Brisbane

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