Saturday, 6 December 2014

Casual Dining - Lennons at NEXT

If you hadn't heard by now, I am moving to Hong Kong shortly to take up a new and exciting role.  It has put a brand new perspective on my home city of Brisbane.  Not only do I not have a lot of time left before I move to check out all of the new restaurants around, but I'm running out of time to hang out with my mates.  At time of writing this post, I only have about five weekends left in country, then its all new, scary and exciting.  So, I'm trying to combine meeting with great mates and hitting new restaurants at the same time.  Sweet really :)

Another of the annoying but awesome renovations that's been happening in Brisbane of late (following on from my last post here) is the NEXT hotel, which has taken over the old Lennons.  I guess with many of the CBD renovations there is always going to be a new restaurant and doubly so when it's in a hotel.  The Lennons hotel was always a bit of an eyesore, looking tired and frankly, quite weird, the NEXT hotel group have made substantial changes to the site, which now includes a Forever 21 and a shiny new restaurant.

The restaurant is called Lennons, keeping a bit of a link to the past, which is sometimes unusual in Queensland where the past is regularly stricken from sight and eventually memory.  What better place to check out with some of our oldest and dearest friends, DruBoy and Thommo.  SC and Thommo had arranged for one of their regular Jack Sims Ghost Tours, so DruBoy and I had arranged for our own little get together at new hot spot, Bar Pacino (post coming soon).  After hanging out for a bit and shooting the shit, we made our way up the Queen Street Mall and into the swanky new NEXT hotel.  In an interesting case of timing, Thommo and SC were already on the rather long escalator, just beating us to the restaurant.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but our buddy DruBoy is an internationally recognised and award winning designer, who does a bit of work with Jamie Olivar's Ministry of Food.  I mention this because he has a bit of an eye for design and he was rather taken with the interior of the restaurant. As we walked through the front bar area to the regular dining area that overlooked the mall, DruBoy was almost gushing in his admiration for the fit out of Lennons.  To my untrained eye, it did look pretty cool and just a little bit industrial but with a green edge.

We were given our menus, which, like most of the restaurant, were also pretty cool, each menu cover was a phrase with whimsical comment.  The menu itself was quite an eclectic and covered a wide range of cuisines - Modern Australian, Italian and Middle Eastern were all there.  With such a wide ranging menu, it looked as if the hotel and restaurant were trying to cater to a broad spectrum of hotel guests, which is not a bad idea for hotel dining....  As long as the food is up to the mark.

Executive Chef Todd Adams was the man tasked with making sure that the food at Lennons was on the money and with a background that included some of my favourite restaurants, I had high hopes! With stints at two hatted restaurants the Stokehouse and Urbane as well as Urbane's one hatted little brother The Euro, there was huge potential with the menu.  I'd noticed that there was a whole section on the menu from the Parilla Grill, so I'd expected some pretty good meaty options.

I've probably mentioned it before, but DruBoy is a pescatarian and doesn't eat meat (I keep telling him he is missing out), so went for the shucked oysters with a shallot and chardonnay vinegar 'mignonette' with fresh lemon.  His three oysters looked as plump as they come and with a little sprinkle of the mignonette and a squeeze of lemon, were quickly devoured.

SC's choice of the wagyu beef carpaccio, with parmesan custard, capers and 'cres came on the biggest plate I've ever seen (hyperbole, obviously).  The plate was so big that the carpaccio was only presented on two thirds of the plate, and frankly, looked a little unbalanced.  I'd much rather have seen a smaller plate with a little symmetry.  The wagyu beef was sliced incredibly thin, it almost looked painted on, and was unbelievably tender as a consequence, but maybe lost just a little bit too much texture as well.  The capers and garlic crisps were nice with the beef and the parmesan custard was interesting and provided a little extra punch.

I thought I was on a winner when my Hervey Bay scallops with morcilla, cauliflower and pea puree was presented, it looked really appetising.  On this occasion, I thought the monster plate worked well, giving the feeling of space.  My scallops were a little on the small side, but really well cooked with a nice caramelisation and nice flavour.  They worked particularly well with morcilla (blood sausage) and the crispy pork crackling, classic combinations.  The scallops should have also worked really well with the pea puree and the cauliflower puree, but I found them to be completely over worked and lacking in any texture or flavour.  Upon eating, I found that there were too many ingredients competing with each other, its as if every classic scallop combo was thrown on the plate.

It was time for mains and SC and DruBoy both chose the Mooloolaba spanner crab linguini with chilli, garlic, tomatoes and fresh linguini.  It was an interesting dish that had some highlights, especially the fresh crab chunks and the perfectly cooked pasta, but also has some misses.  The balance of flavours was not right, with a little too much chilli and garlic, so much so that by the time they were halfway through the dish, all they could taste was chilli and garlic.  The beautiful fresh taste of the crab was completely lost by the end of the meal.

Thommo's main was the Stradbroke Island beer battered whiting and chips with tartare sauce and lemon.  Unfortunately, Thommo had misread the menu and didn't realise that the whiting came battered and spent much of the meal peeling off the batter to get to the whiting.  It was a generous plate of fish and while Thommo quite liked her fish, she did try to offload pieces to the rest of us! We were not sure about the chips that came with the fish (as as a side with my steak dish), they had a weird taste that came from a spice we just couldn't place - yeah, we left most of the chips.

My order was from the parilla grill section and I'd gone for the wagyu roastbiff, a cut that I'd not really heard of before.  I'd done a search on Google to find out what cut it was and only got back Norwegian references to 'roast beef'.  I asked our waiter for clarification and was informed it was the prime cut of fillet?!  Anyway, I asked for roastbiff to come as medium rare and was happy enough with my massive cut of waygu beef that was probably just a little over done.  The wagyu was tender and reasonably tasty, not quite as robust as a rump, but with a little more flavour than a normal fillet. The beef was accompanied by a half of a roasted garlic, that was not quite roasted enough, so still had a harsh garlic flavour - I tried one clove but didn't follow through and eat the rest.

DruBoy opted out of dessert, but the rest of us were keen to check out the menu, in particular the mascarpone cheesecake with oat biscuits and seasonal berries.  The deconstructed cheesecake looked pretty impressive on the plate with the cheesecake piped on the plate and the berries, meringue and edible flowers adding to the presentation.  The oat biscuits were also deconstructed with piles sitting either end of the plate.  Look, the dish had the potential to be great, the flavours were good and the combination of berries complimenting the mascarpone cheesecake.  The key issue was the texture of the cheesecake, which was grainy and not very pleasant in your mouth.

Thommo didn't fare much better with her choice of the classic vanilla bean creme brûlée with compressed mandarin and Spanish shortbread.  The creme brûlée came with a mess of ingredients sitting atop the sugar glaze, negating the beautiful crack of sugar when you first break into a burlee. There was also too many ingredients on top, including mango, which didn't really work with the rest of the ingredients.  Worst of all was the brûlée itself, which was very eggy and a little bit too runny in places (this could have happened once the juices from the mango hit the bottom of the dessert).  It was far from a classic creme brûlée and I'd suggest that Lennons keep it simple and remove the fruits from the top.

It had been a bit of a mixed bag for our visit to Lennons, we couldn't quite make up our minds about the meal.  We'd had some OK food, but on the whole, it left us feeling a little disappointed, mainly on the back of the desserts - it's really important to finish a meal on a high.  I could see where the menu was going, but it just didn't reach the heights that it was aiming for.

We also had a few issues with service, I mean the staff were friendly enough, but there seemed to be a lack of structure and order around the place.  Sure, it was a busy Saturday night, but DruBoy had to ask numerous times for his beer to arrive and not just one beer, every time he ordered a beer, it got 'lost'.  At least the restaurant acknowledged this one time by taking the once of the 'really badly lost' beers off the price of the menu (although, we didn't check that on the bill).

There are now quite a few hotel restaurants around in Brisbane, a couple of them (Vintaged and Prive249) are even hatted, so if NEXT is wanting to compete with those guys, there will need to be a bit more attention to detail applied.  I'm guessing that they will, especially with the quality of chef that they've hired.  Maybe it was just the stuff we ordered (it happens sometimes), because we'd noticed some awesome looking dishes going out to other tables.  Still, it shouldn't matter what is ordered, consistency is where a restaurant wins, or loses.


Our table was quite compact and when all of our food was on the table, it was a bit of a squeeze.
The chips had a strange flavour -  we didn't like them at all
The texture of the cheesecake was a bit weird - really grainy and it was distracting
The hotel kitchen was huge - I guess it needs to cater to the whole hotel!
There was a modern and funky feel to the dining area
each of the menu covers had a new whimsical comment
Some were a bit weird

Lennon's Restaurant & Bar on UrbanspoonLennons Bar & Restaurant

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