Friday, 27 June 2014

Habitat Restaurant and Bar - West Ends got a new hangout

OK, I'll start this blog by declaring my interest right up front.  I've been a big fan of restaurateurs and all round great guys Malcolm Watts and Scott Higginbotham for some time.  I remember the first time I met Malcolm when checking out his new Tarragindi cafe Leaf Espresso Bar (see post here) and being struck by what a down to earth guy he was.  You know what it's like, right, when you meet someone and theres a connection and you know you've made a friend for life.

I kept in contact with Malcolm and was pretty excited to learn that he'd planned a new cafe, this time a little closer to the city.  This time Scott and Malcolm had created a funky little cafe at the 'Gabba, named after Malcolm's two dogs, and I was again invited in to check the place out (see post here and here).  With a name like Moose and Gibson, the funky little 'Gabba cafe was hard to forget, especially with one of the more amazing light fittings in Brisbane.  I'd also had one of my favourite breakfasts of 2013 from head chef Luke Tye and even met Malcolm's cool dad for the first time.

I was really excited when Malcolm gave me a heads up that he was creating something bigger and bolder than he'd ever done before.  Given the progress from his first little suburban espresso bar to a much more funky and sophisticated 'Gabba cafe, I was intrigued by Malcolm's bold statement.  I was even happier when I found out that he'd taken a step closer and was opening up his bold new restaurant in West End.  Of course it was a natural progression from espresso bar, to cafe to full blown restaurant.... and what a restaurant.

The moment I first laid eyes on Habitat Restaurant and Bar, I knew that Malcolm and Scott had been holding back.  Habitat was not only a fully fledged restaurant, but it was an incredibly modern looking building that inhabited a corner spot on Melbourne Street in West End.  My first impression of walking up to Habitat was 'whoa'.  It was a cold and windy night but Habitat looked incredibly inviting, especially with a couple of pyramid heaters with flames that lit up its facade.  As I walked through the door, I spotted Malcolm having a beer with his dad and when we shook hands, I could see the pride in his eyes that was well warranted.

I was joining a group of fellow bloggers and Brisbane foodies for a test of the menu but before I made my way to our table, Malcolm gave me a tour of the dining room, which finished off at the bar that held a live ant farm (ant habitat).  There was a synergy in the restaurant that at once made it feel natural and modern at the same time.  I was particularly impressed with some of the sturdy looking wooden tables and found out from Malcolm that the wood actually came from a bridge originally.

It was time to catch up with my dining companions for the evening, which was a mix of old friends and Instagram followers that I'd never met in person (until that night).  Head Chef Luke Tye, who'd moved from Moose and Gibson for the new restaurant, sat down with us for a bit and explained his menu.  His vision had been to use fresh ingredients from locations that he knew and could name, further explaining that it was important the he knew where the food came from.  Where possible the food would be local , organic and always fresh.  I'd been following Chef Luke for a while and could see that given the freedom of a full restaurant kitchen to play in, he'd managed to do amazing things with the menu.  I couldn't wait to get stuck in!

With lots of lovely looking share plates with a very earthy feel, I decided that I'd check out the Queensland prawns with a radish, celery and chive salad with salsa verde and parley chips.  The three large prawns were presented in quite a rustic fashion and were expertly cooked.  The sweet flesh of the prawns worked quite well with the slightly acidic salsa verde, which added a little zing to the palate.  The salad was quite fresh and had good texture, but for me, the star of the show was the prawns and I had no trouble devouring them in quick time.

The mains selections on the Habitat menu included quite a few options that fit into the restaurants theme, including kangaroo and wild duck breast.  I'd seriously considering the cheeky but aptly named tongue and cheek (beef tongue and beef cheek) for my main but in the end sanity prevailed and I opted for the 5+ score wagyu sirloin, which was cooked sous vide and served with potato fondant, broccolini and pickled grapes.  My wagyu was delivered as promised a perfect medium rare and was just delicious, with a full meaty flavour that was enhanced by the bordelaise sauce.  I'm a big fan of potato fondant and loved the butter bathed potato but found the serving to be way to big and I wasted most of it.  

I'd been pretty happy with my starter and main but the best surprise was left for dessert.  Shortly after we'd finished our mains, a procession of delectable looking desserts started to be delivered to our table.  Each of the desserts looked amazing but my favourite, by a mile, was the warm valrhona chocolate cake with apple chips, milk chocolat, ginger mousse and raspberry coulis.  The warm chocolate cake had melted chocolate dripping onto the plate and then was sprinkled by dehydrated raspberry bits.  I really liked the addition of apple chips, which gave some texture and bitter sweetness to the super chocolaty valrhona cake.  Yum and double yum.

Throughout the night, I went over and continued to chat to Malcolm and Luke, asking asking them about the restaurant and it's almost instantaneous success.  The restaurant had only been open a short while, with almost every night exceeding the Habitat team's expectations and putting the kitchen team to the test.  Given it was a mid week meal, I'd been completely surprised by the full house and had heard that it was hard to get a table at times over the weekends.

We were of course treated really well on the night as guests of the restaurant, but I'd been keeping an eye on the rest of the diners and could see that the extremely friendly and proficient wait staff were all over the service.  There were certainly lots of smiles and there was a great vibe in the main dining room.

There is no doubt that I am a little biased about this restaurant and the team behind it, but it's not only because they are a great bunch of guys, they really believe in what they are doing and want to deliver a great experience.  I had a really good time hanging out at Habitat and was impressed with the food, which was definitely on the earthy and rustic side, but so appropriate for the setting and fit-out.  I know there were lots of happy campers at our table, none more so than when the ridiculously great desserts came out.  But don't take it from me... Get in and test it out for yourself, but a word of advice, if you're going in on a Saturday night, better book in advance.


**I was a guest of Habitat for this meal

Blood orange tea jelly in freshly shucked oysters
Wagyu beef skirt with pepperberry sauce and bush tomato dumpling
Roasted duck breast, crisp baby radish, lemon balm and freeka with a lemon myrtle scented broth    
Rare roatsed Kangaroo fillet with fried beetroot, potato cake and a eschallot, cashew, watercress salad finished with a confit cherry tomato dressing. 
Crisp pork belly, baby beetroot, rocket, Spanish onion and goats cheese salad durif grape jus     
Red wine poached pear with a vanilla bean ice cream and honeycomb crunch
Rocky road plate
The main dining room with the ant farm at the front of the bar
Malcolm Watts enjoying the fruits of his labour - a beer!
The kitchen in action with Luke overseeing the organised chaos
The pass with lots of great food ready to go
Awesome and rustic tables made from wood from a bridge
There are a couple of different Zones in Habitat with a more relaxed area 
Malcolm and the team always go for the cool art.  Is this on a wall or the ceiling?
Head Chef Luke Tye, if you see him, go give him a big hug!
It was too cold to open this up but there is alfresco dining too

Habitat Restaurant & Bar on UrbanspoonHabitat Restaurant & Bar

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