Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Deer Duck Bistro - New Chef and new styling

I always find it intriguing how a restaurant will survive with the loss of a venerated and successful chef. Will it dive, survive or thrive? Urbane is a great example of not only surviving when a chef leaves, but thriving to whole new levels - think of the chain there - Ryan Squires to Kym Machin to Alejandro Cancino.  All award winning chefs and all able to keep Urbane one of the most relevant and successful restaurants in Australia (currently number 12 on the Gourmet Traveller list of top 100 restaurants and two BT Good Food Guide chefs hats).

One of the edgier restaurants in Brisbane over the last few years has been Milton's Deer Duck Bistro, a suburban bistro with an interesting edge (see post here).  It's unusual to find such an eclectic and interesting restaurant in the 'burbs, but Deer Duck Bistro had managed to find its footing and thrive, all thanks to creative owner Nicholas Cooper and his equally creative head chef Minh Le.  Minh, with huge aspirations of his own, had left Deer Duck to make the big step from chef to owner-chef with his (now) award winning restaurant The Foraging Quail (see post here).

Minh moving on from Deer Duck had left a hole that would be hard to fill, but with change comes opportunity and owner Nicholas Cooper grasped that opportunity by securing new head chef Chris Hagen.  With two and a half years under his belt as sous chef at Urbane, Chris had developed a style learning from some of the best chefs that Brisbane has seen with an aim of taking that learning to produce technically brilliant and highly flavoursome food.

It'd been a little while since our last visit to Deer Duck and there had been some changes to the layout and entrance to the restaurant.  Having secured the corner store right next to Deer Duck, Nicholas and the team had turned it into a cool little bar that doubled as the entrance to the dining room.  The bar was followed a similar theme to the restaurant was provided an eclectic yet homely entrance to the restaurant - albeit after traversing a maze of corridors behind the scenes.  We eventually wound our way to our corner table with very comfortable chairs and were given a couple of menus to look over.

Staying true to the restaurant's philosophy of fresh ingredients and incredibly creative menus, Chris has put together a weekend degustation menu, including a shorter five course menu and the full eight course chef's menu.  Interestingly for a restaurant with game in its title, Deer Duck had succumbed to the current health and ethical movement and delivered a vegetarian version of the degustation menu (something Chris had picked up at Urbane).  While it was great to see the vegetarian version of the menu, we were always going to choose the standard eight course chef's menu.

Before the first course of the degustation, our waitress presented a couple of pre-dego treats, which included some fresh warm bread and some smokey, salted butter along with a cup of dashi.  The warm bread came in an interesting shape that looked a lot like a tooth and SC, thinking she was funny, pretended to have two massive teeth hanging from her mouth (alright, it was a little funny).  The smokey butter was right on the edge and was helped by the flakes of salt.   The dashi was lovely and was poured at the table from a beautiful looking pot.  As good as the dashi was, it was outdone by the simple rice cracker that accompanied it, which was covered with a shallot puree and shallot salt.

Like many degustations, the names of each of the courses were simple, but the dishes backing them up were anything but.  The mackerel, kipfler and paprika first course was a great example, sure, each of those ingredients were on the plate, but there was so much more.  The white mackerel was ceviche and then layered on a black plate for contrast, then contrasting orange from paprika salted crisps and granita finished off with green leaf.  The plate looked beautiful.  It was a stunning dish with fresh and inviting flavours but given we're in the depths of winter, probably more suited on a summer menu.

The beautiful presentation continued with the second course of prawn, carrot, toffee and passionfruit but again, I felt that the dish was better suited for a summer menu.  The expertly cooked prawn was covered in a slight toffee, just enough to give it a little crunch but not enough to be visible to the naked eye, it was clever cooking.  The candied carrot was quite delicious as well but the most intriguing flavour on the plate was from the passionfruit and I couldn't quite work out where it was coming from. 

Pushing for my favourite course of the evening was the egg yolk, smoked almond and rocket, which came presented on an earthy looking bowl that just worked.  The slow cooked confit egg yolk burst under knife and oozed out over the plate and mingled with the pureed rocket and almond foam.  Some saltiness came from the parmesan crisps and additional texture from some pine nuts.  I loved the silky creaminess and natural sweetness from the yolk before being surprised with a hidden bonus of some fergola.  

Chris had done a wonderful job with the plating and the next course of kangaroo, red cabbage and pain d'epice didn't disappoint in presentation department.  The perfectly rare kangaroo was the centrepiece and focal point on the plate, but the eye was drawn away with the razor straight line of red cabbage puree, with seemingly randomly placed potato and beetroot cubes and contrasting potato and turnip spheres.  The kangaroo was coated in coffee flavoured pain d'epice (a spiced french gingerbread) and was tender, full of flavour and before long.... gone.  This was SC's favourite dish of the night by some distance.

Our last savoury dish before the cheese and dessert courses commenced was the perfect wintery dish. The pork cheek, wheat beer and parsnip looked wonderfully understated at first glance but upon further inspection, was actually quite complex. The pork cheek was sitting in an onion puree and surrounded by parsnip chips and burnt onion, parsnip chips and wheat beer foam.  I loved the earthy flavours and the sweetness from the onion puree and the slightly burnt flavour from the caramelised vegetables.  I thought that the pork cheek could have been a little softer, so it fell apart under the knife instead of cutting, but it didn't detract from the sweet porky taste.

Never a fan of cheese courses in degustations and waiting for the day that they're banished for good (I know that I'm in the minority here), I didn't love the goats curd, truffle and granola.  Each of the ingredients were fine and the crispy granola with the soft goats curd was a good idea, I just didn't enjoy the flavour so much and if it wasn't for the truffled honey, I might not have finished.  On the other hand, SC quite liked the cheese course.

After a pre dessert palate cleanser of compressed cucumber and grapefruit, which I didn't particularly enjoy, it was time for desserts.  It was interesting, after such a lovely presented and well thought out degustation to date, it fell away slightly for dessert.  Up first was strawberry, basil and rhubarb, which incorporated strawberry parfait, crispy basil leaf with basil pearls, rhubarb strips, fresh strawberry and strawberry foam.  I found the flavours to be quite classic and enjoyable but the components seemed disconnected on the plate and a little messy.  

The last dessert of the night also had classic flavours with chocolate, mandarin and coriander, but suffered from the same plating issues.  I loved the flavour profile of the mandarin done three ways and the flour-less chocolate cake with the mandarin curd really hitting my sweet spot.  The dehydrated mandarin sat alongside the fresh mandarin to provide contrasting textures but I felt the coriander sorbet was a step too far....  that was until I mixed it in with the mandarin curd and levelled out some of the harshness of the flavour.  It was quite delicious but just not very pretty.

That's the way it goes sometimes, amazing savoury dishes that impress and then dessert that doesn't live up to the same standard.  Creating amazing looking desserts can't be easy and while the Deer Duck Bistro desserts didn't look spectacular, they were at least classic flavour combinations.

We'd arrived quite early with only one other table occupied (that we could see) but saw that the dining room filled up over the night and by the time we left, the restaurant was humming.  It's quite hard to tell how many diners were in the restaurant because there are so many nooks and crannies and side rooms. We could hear lots of frivolity, but couldn't see it.  We really love the fit-out of Deer Duck Bistro, which is both plush and eclectic at the same time, with lots of mismatched furniture and cutlery.  While the cutlery was mismatched, each of the plates married perfectly with each of the courses, with some of the plates being jaw dropping.

Service was excellent and our waitress professional and friendly and very, very precise with her descriptions of the food as it came out.  SC's preferred wine on the night was not available, but suggested replacement was wonderful (according to SC) and went down very easily.

It's hard to compare one chef to another, and I won't do so here but we did enjoy the degustation from Chris Hagen, and even though it was very different from Minh Le's, it was very much in alignment with the Deer Duck Bistro philosophy.  We had a fantastic night and didn't even notice the passing of time, and three hours after arriving, walked out happy and content.

The fresh bread looked just like a tooth (use your imagination) and the burnt salted butter was lovely, but close to the edge
The palate cleanser stripped me clean, the compressed cucumber was OK but the grapefruit was really harsh
The stunning plate design with the pork cheeks
The room at Deer Duck is eclectic and in some way reminds of a Gentleman's club of old
Why hello the George
Plush and quite secluded seating 
One of the dining rooms, there were others we couldn't see but could hear

Hello little duck
The assortment of knives and forks were hodgepodge and very cute

Deer Duck Bistro on UrbanspoonDeer Duck Bistro

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