Saturday, 29 November 2014

85 Miskin Street - the Degustation and the friends

There was a moment when time stood still.  It was only for a few seconds, but in those precious moments, the world around me disappeared. 

I’d just read an article, one of my favourite restaurants, run by one of the city’s nicest blokes was shutting down……  How could this be possible, Brent’s was my go-to special occasion spot, a place to spend birthdays and anniversaries!  As I read on, the details became clear, not closing, just changing – a new look and a new feel.  The world swam back into focus and I was able to breath again.

Brent’s became 85 Miskin Street, with head chef Brent Farrell deciding that a change was in order.  No longer a white linen fine dining restaurant, 85 Miskin Street became more than a special occasion place – it transformed into one of my regulars.  Not surprising though, Brent’s been cheffing for about twenty years and in that time, he’s learnt a trick or three.  With a plan to make his well-known restaurant a little more accessible, the risk paid off when Brent was rewarded with a 2015 Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat.

Now, I have to make a confession here.  In the last twelve months, I’ve eaten at 85 Miskin Street so often that Brent and I have become friends.   I’m unashamedly a fan of his cooking and rate a number of his dishes as the best I’ve eaten anywhere in the world.  In fact, three of my all time top ten meals were eaten at Brent’s and 85 Miskin Street! 

As a consequence, I’ve been banging on about the place for so long, some friends finally took the hint and joined me for dinner.  What transpired was a degustation for the ages.

We’d arrived a little while before our dining companions, so we had a chance to catch up with Brent before it got crazy in the kitchen.  As usual, we had a bit of a chuckle, but then Brent let me in on a little secret… He had something special lined up, but wouldn’t spill the beans.

My curiosity was soon put to rest when a special ‘pre-degustation’ treat was presented, and it was very special indeed.  Not only had Brent given us a cup of his fantastical and incredible scallop broth (seriously, the best thing I’ve ever eaten) but also there was a cup of his famous mushroom cappuccino – which he’d retired at the closing of Brent’s.  You can sometimes have too much of a good thing, but we were in raptures with our starters and were left crying for more (I may have had embarrassed myself by giggling too much when sipping my soups).

I could have imagined no better way to kick off a degustation but more powerful flavours came in the form of a duck liver pate with port syrup fig preserve and toasted brioche.  The rich and decadent pate was creamy and wonderful on its own, but when combined with the sticky and sweet fig preserve, the flavours went into overdrive.  With the crunchy texture from the tiny little toasted brioche, it was a wonderful way to continue the meal.

Ever had cooked avocado?  Well, you might want to consider it, especially if its combined with air dried wagyu and bitter cumquats.  It was our next dish and presented on a polished tree log, which really worked with the natural colours of the wagyu and avocado.  Cooking the avocado had enhanced it's natural sweetness and combined with the crisp earthy flavour of the air dried beef and the tang of the cumquat, it was a superbly balanced treat.   While some of my dining companions used a knife and fork, I just stuffed the lot in my mouth in one go.  It was a much more satisfying, and expedient way of dining.

At his creative best, Brent challenged us with his citrus cured salmon with edible ants (yes, real ants), rosehip sorbet, radish and a herb crème fraiche.  It was beautifully presented and subtle to eat, with a hint of rose contrasting with the citrus cured salmon.  The cured salmon was the base for the colourful and creative dish that, not for the last time, would include a sweet sorbet as part of the dish. The rose petals were fragrant some incredibly thin radish added just a hint of heat.  I've often said I draw the line at eating bugs, but the ants on the plate were crunchy and there for mainly for effect, but I ate every last one of them!

I’m not a fan of pumpkin and was nervous about the hay baked pumpkin with paprika smoked almonds, pepitas, sour cream and chives.  Our bowl was presented with a mountain of ingredients and a pumpkin soup poured over the lot.  With a couple of chunks of baked pumpkin in the bowl, I at least tried one of the pieces, but with memories of a childhood spent avoiding roasted pumpkin, it was just too much for me and I scraped the rest of the pumpkin in to SC's bowl.  I was able to finish off the pumpkin soup (because Brent is a master of soups) but it was my least favourite dish of the meal but the rest of our table table loved the sweet taste of pumpkin and thought I was mad.

A little palate cleanser of nitrogen frozen raspberry with rose petals and sorbet quickly cleared my palate of the pumpkin and I was ready to continue the journey.  With clear instructions to crush the frozen raspberry to pieces, with a consequence of a freeze burn to the mouth, we all smashed the sorbet, rose petal and raspberry to pieces.  It was completely interactive and extremely refreshing.

It was around this time that a mysterious brown box was delivered to the table, with instructions not to open until the end of the meal and not to shake, lest we destroy it's contents.  With the group curious as cats, we had to sit around and speculate what the box contained.

Our first main dish was crispy skinned pork belly with apple, fennel, mint, black sausage and Sicilian olives.  Not everyone was a fan of the blood sausage, but my dining companions raved about the beautiful pork and its crispy crackling.  Pork and apple are a classic combination and Brent worked them to perfection.  It was another dish with a sorbet, this time mint and used for it's contrasting temperature, the pork dish was as complex as it was tasty.  Never one to rest only on traditional flavours, Brent also included a soda bottle filled with a ginger drink, which also worked well with the pork.

The last of our savoury dishes had to be my favourite, simply because of the ingredients used. The beautifully cooked venison came with a cauliflower puree, grilled chorizo, blueberries and sorbet.  Again, Brent had collided sweet and savoury together – but blueberry sorbet and chorizo?  Madness of the best kind and a combination that I will never forget!  The venison was a perfect medium rare and tender as tender can be, the chorizo sweet, with an undercurrent of heat and the freshness from the blueberries, divine!

Often beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but our dessert was universally considered a thing of exquisite beauty.  The pistachio with salted chocolate caramel (steaming from a dip in nitrogen) worked wonderfully with the burnt almond crumb and vanilla bean ice cream.  Spun sugar created a halo for a dish that was surely made in heaven.  Unfortunately, when I went to eat the nitrogen dipped treat, I cracked it badly and a large chunk went on the floor and I wore much of the rest (not that I noticed until it was too late).  The dessert had texture from the crumble and sweetness from the ice cream that contrasted with the bitter dark chocolate.  It was perhaps the only time in the evening when no one spoke at all, it was silent contemplation.

At last, we were finished and were able to open our mystery box......  More chocolate, this time, chocolate brownies.  A moan escaped from a few around the table, how could they possibly fit another bite in?  For most, it was a Mr Creosote moment (go on, look it up), but I was able to plough through a couple of the squares!

It had been a meal to challenge and a meal that caused many belts to be loosened a notch, but it was a dinner that will never be forgotten.  I’d converted a group of my friends to the ways of Brent Farrell – they will never be the same again!

Yep, that's right - ants
Ginger soda and old school straws were used with the pork dish
Our dinner took quite some time - by the time the dinner finished, we were the last in the restaurant!
Where the magic happens - 85 Miskin Street kitchen
Brent's bushranger beard is coming along - I suspect it might be gone by the time I see him next :)
Miskin Street is a converted Queenslander

85 Miskin St on Urbanspoon85 Miskin Street

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