Friday, 5 December 2014

Casual Dining - TooBirds

Living in the CBD has it's ups and downs, mostly ups I have to say, but one of the only real problems is the constant noise.  It's noisy in the city - All.The.Time.  It means that since moving into the CBD, I've taken to wearing ear plugs, just to be able to sleep at night.  It's seems to have become more of a problem over the last few years with city streets seemingly requiring being repetitively dug up!  It's sometimes so bad, that I look forward to coming into work and being far removed from the noise. 

That was until my CBD building underwent severe renovations this year.  Look, I'm not averse to old things getting a make over and looking all shiny-shiny, but I'm not a fan when I'm in the middle of a construction zone.  This is what happened; excavation machines arrive; jack-hammering starts; jack-hammering ceases four months later (it might have seemed longer than it was, OK). The facade of my building got the make over to end all make overs and while there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth during the renovations (yeah, my office was right over the jack-hammering), I have to say the end result has been spectacular.

The team behind well known CBD cafe Sparrow and Finch (see post here) have evolved from their light CBD lunch-spot and created a full blown CBD bistro and bar.  Interestingly named TooBirds, which seems to be a play on words from the aforementioned Sparrow and Finch, TooBirds caused a stir in my workplace....  Some people just couldn't get their heads around the spelling of too - why not TwoBirds they would say!

Owner Paul Limberios likes to do things a little differently, which no doubt accounts for the unique spelling of his new Bistro.  Looking to do something a little different from the usual lunch spot in the CBD, Paul engaged the services of top chef Jamie Pearce, who has worked at some of Australia's most recognised restaurants, including a few years at Peter Gilmore's three hatted Quay.  Jamie also spent time at one of my all time favourite restaurants Brents (now 85 Miskin Street) under Brent Farrell before becoming head chef over at Cross Town Eating House - some seriously good restaurants.

It's interesting watching the birth of a restaurant, in the case of TooBirds, I had a front row seat for every stage of the renovations.  It was hard to imagine that the space would transform so radically, with the final dining room looking contemporary with some lovely little touches.  There are a couple of dining areas at TooBirds that includes high tables for breakfast and evening 'beer o'clock'; standard tables and chairs and a set of massive booths for those group gatherings.  TooBirds has a massive and well stocked bar and a partially open kitchen running along the back wall.  Overall, it’s an impressive space that is large and can cater to about 120 diners at once.

I have to admit that I have dined at TooBirds a lot since it opened and have tried many of the menu items, I mean c’mon, it's downstairs and easy to get to!  While I've eaten a few meals at TooBirds, I did wait a few weeks before going in with the sole intent of doing a blog post.  I was catching up with sometimes lunch buddy EC, who having moved countries a few times himself, was able to fill me in on the highs and pitfalls of my impending move to Hong Kong.

I know the menu pretty well at TooBirds, it's an contemporary mix of options ranging from burgers, salads, mains and share plates.  There's even a separate vegetarian section, but I've pretty much ignored that!  We kicked off our meal with one of the share plates of grilled haloumi with salsa verde and fresh lemon.  The three pieces of thick haloumi came thickly covered with the salsa verde and the contrasting colours of the yellow/brown haloumi and the green salsa were quite visually appealing. The haloumi was really nice, beautifully cooked and of obvious high quality, it paired nicely with the salsa verde.  For me, the salsa verde was just a little too thick, so I ended up scraping a little away.

It was onto mains and EC opted for the 300g Kilcoy grass fed rump steak 26 with chopped house salad, french fries and horseradish butter.  The huge steak was presented on top of the chips and salad, which I don't really like, it makes the chips soggy and hard to get to, as well as contaminating the salad.  I think I'd rather have seen the steak and chips on the plate with the chips on the side. Presentation aside, the steak was lovely, cooked a perfect medium and being the rump was full of meaty flavour.  The salad, although quite simple, was nice and included corn and radish slices to get a little extra taste and colour.

My choice of main was the pan seared rump of Junee Gold lamb with heirloom carrots, Dutch cream rosemary potatoes and sour cream mustard.  I really liked the look of my lamb, which was beautifully cooked and incredibly tender and was superb with the Dutch cream sauce.  The combination of the sweet lamb and the creamy sauce worked well but there was a bit of an issue. The protein was again placed on top of the accompaniments, so the crispy potatoes and heirloom carrots were overly soggy, especially the carrots.  Again, the flavours were wonderful but the presentation was not quite there.

A quick look and EC and I silently agreed that desserts were a go.  There were a few decent looking options but EC decided on the Valencia orange tart with raspberry sorbet and I immediately came down with a case of food envy (alright, it was outright jealousy).  Not only did the plate look spectacular with the sharp edges of the tart and the contrasting colours of the raspberry sorbet, but it tasted superb.  The sweet and creamy orange tart was brilliant but needed the raspberry to soften the sweetness a little and the combo of flavours, orange and raspberry, were genuinely divine.  Yeah, it was a winner (and I've subsequently had the tart for myself).

I didn't miss out myself though, while the tart was special, my white chocolate panacotta with fresh strawberries and a strawberry syrup was also amazing.  The perfectly set pannacotta was delicious, and being white chocolate instead of vanilla, had a slightly chocolaty flavour.  I really loved the strawberry syrup, which had just enough in the bowl to last until the sweet desert was completely devoured.

I actually really like TooBirds and have been back many times in the few weeks it’s been open, and yes, it is easy to get to (being at the base of my workplace) but the food is tasty and keeps me coming back.  It's also a really popular spot for many of the people working in my building, who pop down for a spot of lunch or a beer on the way home from work.

I spoke to Paul on one of my many visits about how quickly TooBirds has picked up a regular client base.  It's completely surprised Paul, who has not really had to do any marketing and finds himself with a full dining room most Fridays.  It's presented a bit of a problem (a nice problem) that his new bistro and bar is far busier than anticipated, but on busy days there are a shortage of chefs and wait staff, so wait times have been a little longer than you'd like.  An issue with Paul has rapidly looked to rectify with new staff commencing shortly.

Look, there are a few teething problems that happen with any new restaurant but for me, it's all about the food and the flavours.  With a chef as good as Jamie Pearce, it's no wonder that the food is really, really tasty, but it is a little surprising to me about the presentation of the meat dishes.  Presentation is not the be-all-end-all in a bistro, but it's the first thing that you notice when a plate is presented.  Flavour, on the other hand, is vitally important and Chef Jamie's food is certainly tasty, so tasty in fact, I keep going back for more.  

Freshly squeezed orange juice was a wonderful start to the meal
The haloumi was thick and well cooked, totally delicious but maybe a bit too much salsa verde
The proteins were well cooked and tasted wonderful, but the meats were placed on top of the accompaniments
Winner!  The tart was incredible
The pannacotta was pretty darn good too
Quite a funky layout
TooBirds is a bar as well as a bistro and there was a lot on offer
beer on tap
The kitchen in action

Toobirds on UrbanspoonToobirds

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