Saturday, 5 April 2014

Aqua Linea - Riverside dining at Teneriffe

With so many restaurants in Brisbane to check out, it can be quite a daunting experience to find a dining spot that I've not visited.  Sometimes, it's pretty easy. The bright and shiny new restaurant opens and you just have to check it out - often leading to an amazing experience (see post about Black Bird here).  But as strange as it seems sometimes, there is not a new restaurant opening every week of the year in Brisbane, so at times I need to look for established restaurants that I've missed out on visiting.  My favourite way of picking such a restaurant looking through the latest edition of the Entertainment Book.

The thing I love about the Entertainment Book, and the reason why I spend the $65 dollars on purchasing it each year, is that it's a great way to save money.  All of the restaurants included give some sort of discount, be it a main meal for free or a discount on the entire meal.  That's a pretty sweet deal when you eat out quite a bit!  

We listed out a few restaurants that looked pretty good and then after checking out the restaurant websites, decided upon Aqua Linea, which had a pretty awesome looking menu and some spectacular looking food photos on the site. The first time we'd noticed Aqua Linea was during the first ever Teneriffe Festival when the streets around Teneriffe were closed off and we could walk around and explore the area.  It was also a restaurant that came to my attention when a buddy at work asked for a list of restaurant recommendations, then decided to ignore the list and head over to Aqua Linea instead. 

We drove over to Aqua Linea and were pretty luck to score a park almost directly our the front on Vernon Terrace, which is no mean feat at 6:30pm on a Sunday evening.  The restaurant is set back a little from the street and has some pretty amazing river-front views.  We were greeted at the entrance by what appeared to be the only staff member in the restaurant and after being asked if we had a reservation and a voucher, were taken to the inside dining area.  Our seat inside was pretty nice and being right by the back window, gave us perfect views of the Brisbane river but we did wonder why we were placed inside, when all of the other diners were outside.  

It was a good thing that we had the lovely river views, we had plenty of time to sit there and watch the world float by, with our initial observation about a lone manager at the front of house being spot on.  There was a steady stream of diners coming into the restaurant and our waiter/manager was incredibly busy just getting people seated while bringing out dishes from the kitchen from the steady 'ding' from the kitchen that universally signals there is food to go.  After a while, it was our turn to have our orders placed but not before seeing customer seated after us get their orders taken.....  We really hate that.

Aqua Linea is a seafood restaurant that has been awarded the best informal seafood restaurant in Brisbane for 2011 and 2012 by the restaurant and catering industry.  There was certainly many seafood options on the entree menu and the choice of Hervey Bay scallops with a white bean veloute, fresh peas, first harvest salmon roe and pork floss was an easy one for me.  The dish that was presented was quite pretty with an asymmetrical layout that worked nicely with some lovely vibrant colours, especially from the greet peas and orange salmon roe.  The scallops were sitting in the veloute and while cooked pretty well, didn't have that lovely caramelisation that signifies perfection.  I loved the flavour of the white bean veloute, which was rich and full of flavour, and the saltiness from the roe, which helped balance out the dish well.  What I didn't like was the pork floss, which had no place on the plate and had a very unpleasant texture and flavour.....  It really detracted from the dish.

In keeping with the seafood theme, SC went for the poached Queensland tiger prawns with Marie Rose sauce, and a cucumber and vodka jelly.  It can be quite difficult to present a prawn cocktail well and while there was a utility in the way the dish was presented, it was not really very attractive.  The easy-to-get-to prawns were nicely cooked and seasoned well but didn't really work too well with the vodka jelly, which was kind of hard to eat with the prawns.  When eating prawns, you always want to have a great cocktail sauce to accompany them and the Marie Rose sauce in the dish was quite nice and zingy, but there was just not enough of it to go around.

There were less seafood options available for mains and nothing that really stood out for me, so I decided to try the confit duck with duck fat potatoes, caramelised red cabbage and and a red wine jus.  The duck came presented with two duck legs, one with a little bit of breast meat still attached and were actually confit very well, with the flesh of the duck falling off the bone.  The duck skin was lovely and crispy and without doubt was the best part of the dish, however there were some seasoning problems with the duck and the jus, which were incredibly salty.  The salty flavour was not so bad that the dish was inedible, but it certainly became too much over the course of eating the meal.  I did particularly like the duck fat potato, which had been turned with a clear precision.  This could have been a delicious dish, but was far to heavy handed with the salt.

In a night of similarities, SC also went for the poultry with her main of herb scented chicken breast with mushroom and sage, pistachio puree and a Jamon crumble.  This was a very wintery looking dish that was very rustic, bordering messy on the plate.  The chicken was the star of the dish and was cooked very nicely and was lovely and moist and full of flavour.  Unfortunately, some of the other flavours on the plate were a little confused and while they sounded quite nice on the menu, didn't fulfil their promise, in particular the jamon crumble, which was completely lost on the plate.

It was time for dessert and SC thought that the chocolate marquise with a flour-less chocolate cake, and a candied ginger chantilly cream sounded good.  The dessert was presented in a couple of different geometric shapes that I couldn't work out whether I liked or not.  This was a very, very rich dessert, with too much chocolate on the plate and was really crying out for something to break up the chocolate overload - perhaps some berries.  The ginger in the cream and the marquise was a little bit harsh and SC ended up scraping most of it off the chocolate before giving up halfway through the dessert.

I'd gone with the relatively safe option of the freelance crème brûlée with pistachio biscotti, and a vanilla bean ice cream.  I'd thought safe at the time of ordering but unfortunately the two key components of a crème brûlée, the custard and the brûlée, were not right.  As I went to crack the normally thick coating of caramelised sugar, my spoon went straight through into a soupy custard, which had not set correctly and as a consequence had made it impossible for the sugar to caramelise correctly.  It was a shame really as the flavour of the custard was actually very nice.  As well as not being set correctly, the pistachio biscotti that came along with the dessert was really thick and was more like a piece of toast!  The vanilla bean ice cream was lovely but in reality, you would expect nothing less from ice cream.  

It became clear throughout the dinner why we were asked at the beginning of the meal if we'd come with a voucher as most of the people dining on the had come with a groupon voucher that allowed them a cheaper, pre-set meal.  I'm assuming that it was a pretty common occurrence on a Sunday night because the restaurant became quite full with customers with vouchers.

The problem with this was that there was only one person working both the inside and outside dining areas and as a consequence, the service was very slow.  I'll give our waiter credit, he was very friendly and was certainly hustling along and trying to get to everyone in a timely manner, but it was too much to ask of one person.

There were some elements of our visit to Aqua Linea that were OK but there were a number of key issues throughout the night that screamed of minor mistakes in the kitchen, way too much seasoning in the duck and some confused flavours in the chicken.  The best dish of the night was definitely the scallops, but I'm really at a loss as to the value of the pork floss on the dish.  

My key issue with Aqua Linea was the pricing, which sets an expectation, especially when mains are at that $35 price range, which was simply not met on the night.

With only one waiter on duty for the night, service was a little slow

Aqua Linea on UrbanspoonAqua Linea Restaurant

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