Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Casual Dining - The Wickham Hotel

If you've visited the Valley over the last twenty years(ish), then you would know about a little corner of the trendy inner city suburb that has an interesting and checkered past.  The Wickham Hotel is well known in the Valley as being a traditional gay venue (LGBTI) since 1996 and it's fair to say a rollicking good time has been had by many an adventurous Brisbanite.  While it's recent past has been dominated by the Big Gay Day and if memory serves me correct, Boy George spinning some tunes on the 'ones and twos', the Hotel has been around for a lot longer.

Originally estabilished in 1885 by famous Brisbane architect Richard Gailey, The Wickham began it's life as the Oriental Hotel and for all intents and purposes was one of the 'grand old pubs' of Brisbane.  It's a pub that SC had spent a bit of time in 'back in the day' when it would be Sunday beers between Ricks Bar and the Wickham Hotel.  The hotel has been ever changing and if you frequent the Valley or drive down Wickham Terrace, you would have noticed that the next incarnation of the hotel has been underway.

We were pretty excited to be invited along with a number of Brisbane bloggers to check out the renovations and get a peek of the new renovations.  Given that the Valley is a short walk for us, we'd taken the opportunity to have a nice easy walk into the Valley for our Wickham experience.  We'd entered through the new 'car park' area, which used to be the Wickham's car park but was not an outdoor dining area.  It was a large space with lots of share dining tables spaced about, as well as some group seating around different sized cable 'barrels'.  It wasn't until we walked through to the main part of the pub that we saw the magic.

It was like a blast from the past for SC, who immediately started to reminisce about her formative years, down at the Wickham, beer in hand and enjoying a non threatening Sunday afternoon. She may have even mentioned a time where there was a pool table in the corner and of frivolous times dancing on said pool table!  I'd never been inside the Wickham before but the renovations looked great, with the inside of the main pub area brought back to life with a mix of the traditional and new. The style was mostly dark wood that gave a very stylish look, which was enhanced by the deep leather chesterfield chairs that screamed out 'sit in me'.  Then there was the juxtaposition of the wall art, which was a clear throwback to the Wickham's much more colourful history!

As we sat in the main pub area, our dining companions for the evening started to arrive.  It was really interesting talking to some of the younger bloggers, who'd never stepped into the Wickham before. While I'd never stepped inside myself, I'd heard the tales from SC, who found it particularly interesting to watch the reaction of our table as she regaled them with stories of her distant past and that of the Wickham. It was also an opportunity to look over the new menu, which in itself represented the new vision of the future of the old time pub.

The menu said it all really, The Wickham (EST. 1885) - Welcome to the Evolution.

At times reading like a traditional pub menu, the Wickham has mixed it up completely by incorporating dishes from around the world to provide a completely eclectic and contemporary feel. With many share plates, pizza and 'solo' options, there is plenty of options on the menu for practically everyone.  The pub has even taken a contemporary approach to building it's kitchen, which is an industrial shipping container - which is pretty cool.  

After getting to know each other, it was time to move outside to the 'car park' dining area, so we could get into the new menu.  What better way to test out a new menu with a bunch of new and old friends than to do it banquet style and the food came out of the kitchen thick and fast.  There were many wonderful treats for us munch away on, but my my favourites on the night were.....

The chorizo, chats, lemon and rosemary, sprinkled with pink salt.  I was always going to gravitate towards the chorizo dish, especially one that looked as amazing as this one.  The grilled chorizo had a beautiful caramelisation that brought out the Spanish sausage's natural sweetness and combined with the salty chats, the dish was a clear winner.  I'd never had a squeeze of lemon with chorizo before but the acidity of the lemon was a wonderful foil for the sweet chorizo and the hint of rosemary really worked with the potato.  Yum!

Everyone loves sliders, right?  Well, the oriental pulled duck sliders with pickled cucumber and hosin sauce were sensational.  We are big fans of duck and never get tired of trying it in different ways, and of course, the sliders turned out to be winners.  The duck was sweet, especially with a hint of hosin sauce and the pickled cucumber provided a bit of crunch and acidity.  It was hard to remember that we had to share with the rest of the table, cause we could have munched on them all night long!

The salt and pepper squid with lemon and black garlic aioli were also sensational.  The golden brown coating had just the right amount of crunch and the perfect mix of salt and pepper.  The calamari was nicely cooked, with just a little bit of chewiness to let you know that you were eating. The aioli was well put together and was a pleasure to eat with the calamari and a squeeze of lemon helped set the dish alight.

Have you ever had pork belly fritters?  Well, I hadn't either and the maple and bourbon glassed pork belly that came with pickled chilli and radish was another winning plate of food.  The pork belly was soft and jelly like under the sweet golden glaze that came with a lovely sticky sauce.  I wasn't game to try a pickled chilli but the pickled radish provided a great balance to the very sweet and sticky pork belly.

Perhaps we saved the best for last (although I think I went for the best dish first) with the Texas grilled sirloin steak, cooked medium rare and sliced and served with red pickle and a chipotle sauce.  The beef was extremely tender and had a lovely and sweet layer of fat that brought out the intense flavours of the meat.  It was helped along by a spicy rub made and went a little ballistic once you dipped the meat into the chipotle sauce.

Throughout the night we were assaulted by course after course of well cooked and tasty food. There was something for everyone with the diverse range of cuisines that spanned the globe.  It's always fun attending a bloggers dinner, just about everyone knows the rules - no eating until the photos are taken. It was fun observing one of the plus ones, who'd never been to a blogger dinner before, watch in amazement as the night unfolded (I secretly think it will only be a matter of time before she starts her own blog!)

The whole idea behind the renovation of the Wickham was to make the grand old pub more accessible, while maintaining it's most recent heritage.  I think the balance is just about right, sure, there are some confronting (for some) pieces of art on the walls, but you're not going to be too shocked if you know even a little of the history of the place.  There is still a night club element for the 'traditionalist' Wickham crew upstairs that I'm sure would get a little wild on a Saturday night but there is a real maturing of the venue.  

We really enjoyed the dinner and the vibe of the new Wickham, there is enough of the 'old girl' for those with fond memories of it's recent past to hold onto.  There's also a feeling of transformation, that the hotel is ready for the next phase of it's journey. 


** I was an invited guest of the Wickham Hotel for this event

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