Monday, 24 November 2014

Deer Duck Bistro - the Interstate Chef Series

I was having a bit of a Facebook chat with an online buddy one day, just shooting the shit about Brisbane restaurants and the Queensland food scene.  While we were chatting, we were joined by a mutual friend, who just happens to run of of Brisbane's edgier restaurants, Nicholas Cooper from Deer Duck Bistro (see post here).  By way of jumping into the conversation, Nicholas just dumped a list of names and asked us what they all had in common.  Sure, I though, I'll bite.  Jumping on Google, it soon became apparent that all the names on the list were from Chefs and they appeared to all be from Melbourne. My guess back to Nicholas?  That they were all Collingwood supporters.

Of course I was wrong, although it did elicit a bit of a chuckle (in the form of LOL).  The list was of course chefs, well known chefs from interstate, but what Nicholas had in fact given us was a list of chefs that he was inviting up to his Brisbane suburban bistro for guest stints.  It was the early stages of the planning for his "Interstate Celebrity: Chefs Dinner Series" - Friends of the Duck.  At the time I thought it was a great idea.  Well, the Friends of the Duck celebrity chefs dinner kicked off recently and Nicholas invited me along to check out the first one.  Sweet!

Nicholas himself is a talented chef from way back, and along with his very talented head chef Chris Hagen would be kicking off the series with talented Melbourne chef Mathew Macartney.  Mathew has an amazing history that includes working for some incredible Australian chefs, as well as spending time overseas in Fiji, New Zealand and Dubai.  Mathew has also won the title of Australia's best Sous Chef, a title where the prize was a six week appointment in any restaurant in the world.  Choosing (at the time) three michelin starred New York restaurant, Daniel, the gig gave Mathew, in his own words,  'a unique opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture within one of the worlds most awarded restaurants' (see post on Daniel here).

A holder of an Age Good Food Guide Chefs Hat for over seven years in his Melbourne restaurant Eleonores, Mathew has also picked up numerous other awards including Best Modern Australian Restaurant (regional), National Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year (2011) and the Victorian Regional Restaurant of the Year (2012).  Apart from the amazing array of awards, Mathew had also trained some of the countries best chefs, including multi award winning Brisbane boy Jake Nicholson from Blackbird.

It was fair to say that I was looking forward to the dinner.

We arrived at Deer Duck a little early, which was pretty surprising given the complete gridlock from one of Brisbane's more memorable thunder storms.  It gave us a bit of an opportunity to have a chat to Nicholas about the dinner and the series.  Obviously excited, Nicholas talked about the challenges of a suburban bistro, as well as the joy and pride in bringing together a series of incredible interstate chefs.

We made our way into the eclectic dining area, which is quite different from any restaurant you will see in Brisbane, and were shown to our seats (which was our usual Deer Duck table).  On the table was a block that held the menu for the evening's meal, which was to be a cook off between Eleonores and Deer Duck bistro - each chef bringing an appetiser, entree, main and dessert that would ultimately make an eight course degustation.

Our first appetiser was from Eleonores and was a petite looking veal tendon cracker and tuna mayonnaise presented in one corner of a purpose made slate.  It was an interesting presentation, using only one corner of the slate gave the dish a very artistic look.  While SC used her knife and fork to eat the veal tendon, I just scooped the lot up with my fingers and devoured the lot in one bite.  The crunchy texture of the veal tendon was in harmony with the creamy mayonnaise and there was a meaty and slightly salty flavour that contrasted with the slightly fishy tuna mayonnaise. It was delicious but ultimately, was so small, it just whet the appetite.

Out next was the Deer Duck heirloom tomato with mozzarella and black olive, presented in a unique looking bowl that was rectangular and not circular.  I was a bit worried about the dish, I really hate black olive (I mean, really hate it).  The soft yellow tomato was almost hidden in a foamy mozzarella concoction and thankfully I couldn't see the black olive.  Using a spoon to scoop up the tomato and foam, I found the black olive underneath.  Thankfully, I didn't get too much of it, so it didn't overpower the subtle flavours of the tomato and foam, which to my mind didn't need the extra saltiness.  Mozzarella and tomato are such a classic combination, the flavours were wonderful and the different texture (the foam) added a new dimension.

Deer Duck was next with the textures of asparagus with buckwheat, buttermilk and egg puree, with the entree coming in a lovely textured black bowl.  The stark green of the asparagus contrasted wonderfully with the black of the bowl and the white of the buttermilk and egg puree.  Thrown almost casually, but with care, on the plate were crunchy pieces of buckwheat, providing texture along with the freshness.  Simple ingredients put together with care and delivering on flavour.

One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Moreton Bay bug with avocado, chicken dashi and kombu from Mathew's Eleonores.  This was almost a fusion dish, successfully combining the fresh flavours of  the Australian bugs with the flavours of Japan.  The bug flesh was supremely cooked and played nicely with the chicken dashi, even playfully.  Rounding off the dish was the texture from the kombu chip and the avocado mousse.  My only minor issue with the dish was the amount of avocado, which was a little unbalanced..... I'd have loved to have seen just a little less, which would have made it the perfect starter.

Yum and double yum is all I could say about our main courses, both of them spectacular.  We kicked off with the Deer Duck North Queensland barramundi with sweet corn, beach banana and miso caramel.  Not only was the barramundi expertly cooked, but it was paired with the most unusual of ingredients - caramel coated popped corn and a miso caramel sauce.  Not in a hundred years would I have thought to put the ingredients together, but it was a real treat, especially the salty and very crispy barra skin.  It was just delightful.

Not to be out done, the Eleonores main was a hay roasted Grimaud duck with celeriac, nashi, peanut and yuzu.  Thin slices of nashi pear provided a textural base to the dish that had the creamiest of celeriac puree and a supremely cooked slice of duck breast.  The duck fat was rendered to perfection that allowed the duck breast to sing on the plate.  A peanut paste accompanied some peanut chunks for texture and when combined each of the components on the plate worked in complete and utter harmony.

With two sensational main courses, I though it difficult for our chefs for the night to continue to build and better the mains, and, to a certain degree, the mains were the highlight of the evening. Our first dessert from Deer Duck was the poached peach with match, honey and black sesame meringue.  My initial thought when the dessert was presented was a lack of connection between the two clear elements on the plate.  With peach and granita on one side of the plate and black sesame meringue on the other, it really looked like two desserts instead of one.  I also found each of the 'halves' to be quite incredible on their own but didn't enjoy them so much when combining, I just didn't think the blended.

Mathew's dessert of goats milk ice cream with caramelised white chocolate, walnuts, sunflower and citrus sponge was almost the opposite.  It looked pretty amazing on the plate, contemporary and pretty, but there were elements that I didn't connect with either.  Individual elements were well made, especially the caramelised white chocolate (yummo) but the whole just didn't connect.  I think it may have been the quite savoury citrus cake and goats milk that made the dessert a bit too savoury for my tastes and even the extremely sweet white chocolate couldn't bring it together for me.

We'd come to the end of another sensational Deer Duck Bistro meal, only this time, it had been a collaborative meal with Melbourne's Mathew Macartney.  What struck us most about the meal was how in sync the chefs were on the night, with a well though out and extremely tasty menu prepared. We really appreciated the styling of both Mathew and Chris and the vision of Nicholas to bring the whole meal together.

It was a full house too, with every nook and cranny of the dining room filled with happy customers who, like us, had just experienced something special.  Service on the night was brilliant and we'd noted one of our favourite waitresses from Urbane on hand for the night helping out.  Great to see the Brisbane hospitality teams pulling together to help out!

Given that the Eleonores / Deer Duck Bistro was the first of the Interstate Chefs Series, it was pulled together, seemingly without a hitch.  I say seemingly mainly because when Mathew came out to chat with the diners, there was a sheen of sweat still on his brow...  There will be more to come in the Interstate Chef Series, so I suggest you get onto the site and keep an eye out for the next one.  I'm thinking its going to be a winner too!

** We were guests of Nicholas Cooper and Deer Duck Bistro for this meal

Each plate on the night seemed perfect for its matching food
A cute little rectangular bowl held the mozzarella foam
The stark contrast of colours of the asparagus dish
The earthy bowl for the asparagus and Moreton Bay bug
The highlights of yellow matching the pop corn and caramel sauce 
Each plate was different and unique - much like Deer Duck itslf
Lots of strange shapes in the eclectic Deer Duck
Mathew Marartney schmoozing the room
I love the odd paintings throughout
There does seem to be an abundance of buts in the paintings :)
Nicholas unwinding after a big night

Deer Duck Bistro on UrbanspoonDeer Duck Bistro

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