Thursday, 25 October 2012

Aria - simply stunning

There is a proliferation of cooking shows on TV now days and with cooking shows comes the concept of the celebrity chef.  To be honest, I have mixed feelings about celebrity chefs; I mean they have usually done really well to be at the top of their game to get the opportunities........  but on the other hand, when going to the restaurant of a celebrity chef, it's really unlikely that they will be there.  Do they need to be?  I think so.

Aria's owner is one of the most recognised names in food and Matt Moran has a reputation for uncompromising quality in his two Aria restaurants (Aria Blue & Red).  Aria is located at Eagle Street in the old Pier Nine building and went through extensive renovations a few years back.  Aria Brisbane is a multi award winning restaurant with two coveted chefs hats from the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide as well as being ranked number 34 in the Gourmet Travellers list of top 100 restaurants.  I still remember the first time I went to Aria on the 18th of August 2009, it was a couple of days after it opened to much fanfare and was my birthday!  I loved it then and each time I have been back since.

There was no special occasion today, just lunch with a mate.  Aria has a pretty amazing deal on for lunches; 1 course for $35, 2 courses for $55 and 3 courses for $70.  This represents amazing value for one of the top restaurants in Brisbane.  The menu for the lunch deal is pretty much the same menu for dinner, with only a few small changes, but has a wide range of fantastic options.  EC and I opted for the 3 course option

Alchemy - turning food into gold?

When was the last time you called to book a restaurant on a Tuesday night in Brisbane, only to be told that they were completely booked out already?  Well, that was my experience this week when looking to book into Alchemy for our weekly outing.  After briefly considering going somewhere else for the night, we quickly set aside our disappointment and made the booking for the following night.

Alchemy, without doubt is physically the closest restaurant in Brisbane to where I live - it is literally just across the road and down some stairs.  Located in a prime spot on the Brisbane river underneath the CUA building or the 'Hopoate building' to the locals, Alchemy is a great place to spend an evening overlooking the river and Story Bridge.  Normally the restaurant is opened up to the elements with the floor to ceiling glass doors open all the way round, tonight it was very cold and windy so the doors were firmly closed.

Alchemy is another of my favourite restaurants and can be relied upon to provide an excellent experience pretty much every time you go. Alchemy is a multi award winning restaurant with a coveted Good Food Guide chefs hat. However, the reason I really like going to Alchemy is that chef and owner Brad Jolly is pretty much always in the kitchen and is passionate about the food that comes out of the kitchen.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Urbane - for a special treat

Where to go for that really special occasion?  Its a question I get asked a lot and one that I have a number of suggestions for.  In this instance the special occasion was a 15th wedding anniversary....... and it was mine!

Of the many great restaurants around Brisbane, there is one that stands out.  That restaurant is Urbane.  SC and I have been a few times, but its not a venue that we frequent as regularly as others, but each time is special.  Urbane is currently listed at number 25 on the Gourmet Traveller's list of top 100 restaurants, only one below Brisbane's top rated restaurant; Esquire.  It also has two prestigious Chefs Hats from the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide.

Over the years, Urbane has had a number of world class chefs in the kitchen.  The first time we went, Ryan Squires (now at Esquire) was the head chef and more recently Kym Machin (now of Spring) was the head chef; both of which have won young chef of the year in various awards.  I had kept a close eye on who would be the next chef through the doors and was quite excited when Argentine-born Alejandro Cancino secured the role.  Alejandro has worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Mugaritz in Spain (currently #3 in the world) and Noma in Denmark (#1 for a few years now)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Spice Temple - A spicy taste of Asia

One of the first things you notice about Spice Temple is how unassuming the location is.  Located in its more famous cousin's building, where Rockpool Bar & Grill is clearly signed and clear for all to see in a lovely art deco building, Spice Temple is around the corner and down some stairs.  What is really cool about the entrance is the massive TV screen in the door that simulates a curtain blowing in the wind to reveal the name.  While waiting out the front for some friends to share lunch with, a few people wandered by the door before realising that it was in fact a door.

Spice Temple is the brainchild of renowned Chef Neil Perry, this multi award winning restaurant is number 47 in the Gourmet Travellers list of top 100 Australian Restaurants and has a coveted chefs hat from the Good Food Guide.  Once you open the door and descend several flights of stairs into the bowels of the building, you are confronted with a very modern and subdued space that is initially dark and brooding, but gives a sense of privacy.  Once seated, a number of spotlights in the ceiling were turned on to illuminate the centre of our table, but not take away from the ambience of the room.

As the name suggests, Spice Temple specialises in the slightly hotter side of Asian cuisine and looking at the menu a large number of the dishes were in red to signify that they were HOT.  There were also a number of other warning signs that our taste-buds were in for a test, with items on the menu such as 'beef fillet in fire water' & 'tingling prawns' & 'hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork'.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

China Doll, Chinese by the waterside

It's very rare that I get to Sydney, I prefer Melbourne as a destination, but recently had to travel down to Sydney to visit the US Consulate to apply for a Visa.  SC and I want to go to New York City for a holiday next year and the hoops we are going through to get a visa, well, its a long story for another time.

One of the benefits of visiting Sydney (or Melbourne for that matter) is meeting some of SC's interstate friends.  I get to meet many of the people that SC knows and also get to check out the many exciting restaurants around the country.  On this occasion we went for a trip down to Woolloomooloo to visit China Doll. 

We were a little early, so we took the opportunity to have a look around Woolloomooloo.  There is not a lot there, just a few decent restaurants and some pubs.  We did see some awesome boats at the marina and had a nice stroll around the headland.  By the time we slowly wandered back to the restaurant it was just starting to move into dusk (I love daylight savings).

China Doll is an award winning traditional Asian influenced restaurant steeply rooted in traditional techniques and flavours.  I has a great reputation and is one of our companions' favourite restaurants.  In the style of many asian restaurants the idea is to order many dishes and share.  As we were the newbies to Chinadoll, we asked them to recommend options from the menu and came up with a fabulous cross selection of entrees and mains

Friday, 12 October 2012

Customs House - a business lunch

Customs House from the River
Each year I am fortunate enough to be invited to the ATA Customer Index presentation &  launch, which is put together for leaders in my industry to get together and get the annual results of the Fifth Quadrant Customer Satisfaction Index.  It's an opportunity to hear the latest results and find out what customers are looking for from Service Delivery in Australia.

This year we went to Customs House.  While I don't normally eat at Customs House, I have usually had pretty good meals there in the past.  I do however get the opportunity to look at the beautifully majestic building on a daily basis from my balcony.  Unfortunately we were not dining in the restaurant but had a private room on the upper floor.  As a bonus, I had never been upstairs at Customs House, so it was a new experience.  The private room was lovely with a large heavy wooden  table and a lovely large chandelier over the table.

Being a private room a set menu was the order of the day.  There was only one entree option available , but quite a good selection available for main course, but no dessert!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Brents at Toowong, a real dining experience

Tuesday night for me is quite often fine dining night, its a night where you can book into a great restaurant in Brisbane within an hour of calling and making a booking.  That's not to say that Brisbane is not rocking it out on a Tuesday night, quite often it is, but its the start of the week for most restaurants and you can be guaranteed of a beautiful meal and great service.

On this wonderfully mild Brisbane spring evening SC and I found ourselves drawn to an old favorite that we had not been to in a while (that and the fact we still had our Entertainment Card to use).  Brent's always seems to the place that you love going to when you are there, but almost always forget that its only a few kilometers out of the city in Toowong.  I will admit that its much easier to wander across the street or down the road to a CBD dinner, but tonight we felt like treating ourselves and hopped in the car for the short drive to Brent's.

Brent's is a fabulous little French fine dining establishment in an old Queenslander with the main room downstairs catering to about 30-40 diners and an upstairs area for larger events.  The room is perfect for a romantic experience and tonight we were seated right at the front with an expansive view of Miskin Street, the view is actually better than it sounds!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Attica, Really high expectations are always hard to meet

I recently flew down to Melbourne for a football (AFL, of course) and food weekend.  It was all part of a annual pilgrimage to visit friends, who for the last few years have secured us MCG members stand tickets and always put on a good show for SC and I.  This year was an added bonus of being my birthday too!

For such a special occasion, we needed a special restaurant.  While there are a number that fit the bill, Attica had caught my eye.  The fact that it has recently confirmed for a second year in the S. Pellegrino worlds best 100 restaurants, number 63, only added to the allure.  It is also a mainstay in the Gourmet Traveller top 100 awards, currently number 8 and of course the Good Food Guide has awarded it three chefs hats

As the weekend away approached, I scoured the internet and read everything I could find about Attica and studied the menu (which was risky, as it changes quite regularly).  I was really excited because I love a good degustation and really look forward to how a great chef constructs a meal that takes the diner on a gastronomical journey.

After an amazing day at the football and a huge win to Carlton (which is great as the host for the day is a big Carlton fan), we made our way back to our hotel to get ready.  Finally, the night arrived and after a short taxi ride to Ripponlea, we met our dinner guests and were seated at a table, right underneath the dessert kitchen area, a view which kept me amused most of the night.  I was really surprised by the layout of Attica, its quite dark and spread out in different rooms.  While it was cool that our table was right under the dessert kitchen area, there were only a few tables in this section of the restaurant, so we were quite isolated from the majority of the other tables and diners.  I'm not sure this is a good thing, as it took a little bit away from the vibe of the room as a whole.

On Saturday nights its the $175 per person degustation only & I was ripped with anticipation of the meal ahead.  Unfortunately, I did not get many photos, so I will do my best to describe the courses.

Art on a plate!
An assortment of breads and amuse-bouche came to the table prior to the meal proper, one in particular stood out, manly due to how pretty it looked on the plate.  We were treated to a visual masterpiece with an intricately painted shell and some bites that represented fruit on a tree.

The first dish of crab and artichoke was the first course.  The flavours for this dish were really subtle and well balanced, you could taste each of the components on the dish.  It was presented quite simply on the plate, which surprised me as I was expecting a little wow factor.

Next was marron, pepperberry and sour petals.  Once again, this was a very simply presented plate of food, yet at the same time elegant.

A theme was starting to become apparent to me with this meal.  While there had obviously been a significant amount of effort putting the dish together, using foraged material from their own garden, there was a subtlety to the flavours coming out of the kitchen

The August Degustation Menu
Next in line was 'a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown'.  I had been looking forward to this dish as it seems to be a bit of a staple on the Attica menu.  Once again, you could see the care in which the meal had been cooked and put together on the plate.  The texture of the potato was soft and luscious and really enjoyable to eat, but I again found myself asking if the flavours were too subtle.....  Something to ponder over.

Next was 'meat from the pearl oyster pinctada maxima with black radish', which while it contrasted with the dark plate upon which it was served.  The textures were interesting with the oyster and the black radish mixing well but again was quite subtle.

The fifth dish on the menu was probably the pick of the dishes of the night from a flavour profile viewpoint, 'kumara, almond and pyengana'.  Kumara is a type of sweet potato and those of you that know me know that this is perhaps my least liked of the root vegetables.  Pyengana is a region in Tasmania well know for it's cheese.  The dish itself had the pyengana melted and poured over the kumara at the table by the waiter and had a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg yolk to mix in.  Of all the dishes on the night, this is the one that stood up and 'slapped' me in the face.  The flavours were strong, but well balanced and complimented each other extremely well.  I really liked this one.

Next was the obligatory meat dish, which was 'Flinders Island wallaby, bunya pine and ground berry'.  At the risk of repeating myself too often, this was a very elegantly plated meal and visually stunning, however the flavours were once again quite subtle.  Every element was cooked to perfection and the wallaby was so tender, but I really wanted more depth of flavour.  Perhaps it was spoiled a little from the previous dish, which had such a strong profile.  I think it may have been a good idea to have this one before the pyengana.

On to desserts and there were two.  The first was quite controversial at our table.  I am a fruit lover and quite like a diverse range of fruits, which is what this plate delivered on.  There were some very unusual tastes on the plate, which I appreciated but was in the minority at the table.  The final dish of the night was fantastic and clearly had a lot of thought and effort put into it.  I had been watching the dessert chefs putting this together all night, so was intrigued with what would eventually be put in front of me.  What appeared before us was a box with complex layering of different textures of honey, pumpkin and shaved ice (maybe sorbet) flavoured with kiwifruit.  Again this polarised the table, with fifty percent of the table loving it and the other fifty percent 'meh'.  I really liked it and would have happily eaten everyone else's at the table.

Finishing up the food was a lovely and delicate 'Pukeko's Egg', which was a beautifully presented (ie, real looking) egg made of chocolate with a really interesting 'yolk' or filling inside.  It was delicate and lovely to eat to finish the meal.

I'm quite conflicted about our Attica experience.  On one hand, you could tell that the meal was immaculately planned and literally 100's of hours worth of planning and effort had gone into constructing a meal as journey.  However, for me, I really wanted more dishes that stood out, that 'grabbed my by the lapel and smacked me in the mouth' and there weren't that many moments in this meal.  I am sure that in a few month's time when thinking about this degustation, I will struggle to remember most of it and this is a real shame.

Don't get me wrong, technically it was a masterpiece, and as befitting a three hat restaurant the service on the night was faultless.  Maybe I was suckered into the hype of some of the previous reviews and its ranking in the S. Pellegrino world list, perhaps my expectations were a tad too high for this one.  When paying $175 per person before drinks, the last thing that you want to hear is that the meal was forgettable.  Of the three hat restaurants I have eaten at around the country, this will be the one least likely to get a revisit.


Attica on Urbanspoon


Saturday, 6 October 2012

Epicurean, Room for Improvement

A little while ago the well known Russell Armstrong restaurant, Seasalt at Armstrongs in the Incholm Hotel closed its doors.  This was a lovely little seafood bistro that always produced great quality meals and was pretty much annually awarded an AGFG chefs hat.

As is the way in Brisbane, when one door closes another opens.  After a relatively significant amount of remodelling inside the Inchcolm a new establishment opened its doors.  Adam Barton is the man behind Epicurean, who also runs Cove Bar & Dining at Southbank & head chef is Adam Herbert.

I was pretty excited about Epicurean and followed the news of its remodelling and opening pretty closely.  I can actually see the Inchcolm Hotel from my desk in the office at work, so there has been a constant reminder for me to get in and try it out.

I ended up booking a lunch with a Work Buddy (henceforth known as WB) and when we arrived at 12:30 it was fairly quiet, with only a few other tables occupied.  We were greeted warmly by the maitre'd / waiter and taken to a table.  After some chatting, I realised that the maitre 'd was in fact the same gentleman who had been front of house for Armstrongs for many years, good to see the continuity!

The menu at Epicurean is fairly basic with a good spread of options for entrees and mains, with mains split between 'Main' and 'Grill' which is a selection of steaks.  There is also an interesting and different list of desserts.  The entrees are all moderately priced between $16 and $21 with mains in the $30 range and grill up to $42.  There is the usual assortment of sides available too.

I selected the Diver Scallops with Black Pudding, Cauliflower Puree & Red Shallot Dressing. Scallops, cauliflower and black pudding is a very classic match and the flavour combination of the dish worked really well.  However, there were some problems with the balance of the dish.  There was an abundance of cauliflower puree that in the end overpowered the subtle flavour of the Scallops.  I was also a little disappointed with the Scallops, as they did not have the lovely caramalisation that you expect with them, and actually seemed to be poached.  Overall though, it was quite tasty.

My WB also wanted the Scallops, but ended up choosing the King Prawn with Young Avocado Slaw & Green Tomato Relish.  The dish looked spectacular in its simplicity and was definitely the dish of the day.  While it was more like a prawn salad, due to the prawns being cold, the flavour combinations worked well.

For the main course, my WB selected the Mary Hill Lamb with Vanilla Parsnip, Vine Tomato and Soft Herb Coulis.  This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day.  You normally would see lamb with a lovely pink hue and expect the lamb to be tender and full of flavour.  Unfortunately, the lamb was murdered, there is no other way to put this.  It was certainly on the other side of well done and was tough and lacked any flavour as a consequence.  My WB was actually unable to eat much of this at all.

My main was Rolled Pork Belly with Jerusalem Artichoke, Belgian Endive and Pedro Ximenez Caramel.  This is certainly a case of studying the menu a little better.  Unfortunately, I had been studying the online menu for too long and had expected to see Pork Belly Roulade with Red Apple & Onion Puree, Belgian Endive and Pedro Ximenez.  Subtle difference, but if you head over to the online menu, you will get a feel for what I was expecting.  Anyway, this was my error and I have never been a fan of rolled Pork Belly, so it was no surprise that I did not really like this dish and left most of it on my plate.  The Jerusalem Artichoke was bitter to the palate and quite unpleasant.

What I like about a new restaurant and Epicurean is no different, is that they are genuinely interested in feedback about the dishes and are keen to hear what you like and don't like.  My WB and I provided at times critical feedback about the mains, but to their credit took this feedback in the spirit in which it was intended.  The chef agreed that the lamb was unacceptably over cooked and was extremely apologetic. As a consequence, we were not charged for the Lamb and the dessert and dessert wine (for WB) was covered free of charge.

 We were both feeling a little deflated from the mains after having quite high expectations but we did opt to take up the offer of free dessert and both chose the Chocolate with white frozen chocolate and caramel paste.  There was something not quite right with this one.  The Chocolate mousse was dense and rich, but too much so.  We were not able to get through even a third of this.  The white chocolate also had a chalky texture to it.  This felt quite disconnected on the plate, with nothing to really bring the elements together.

Overall, I was really disappointed with the meal and combinations selected.  I think the biggest issue for me was the disconnect between what was promised on the internet, both with photos and menu options. So much was promised in these photos at the end of the day, just failed to connect expectations and reality.  The Maitre'd was very apologetic and was genuinely concerned that our experience had not been a good one and asked that we not give up and come back again.  It is possible that I will be back, it will be some time before Epicurean will be at the top of my list.  However, I am always prepared to give Restaurants the benefit of the doubt & I really did love Seasalt in the same location, so we will see about a return visit.


Epicurean on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 October 2012

Confit, Saying goodbye to an old friend is never easy

Last week delivered some extremely sad news, in fact news that has inspired me to write this food blog.  Confit Bistro will close its door permanently on Sunday 30th of September. 

Confit has only been around the Brisbane scene for just over three years, not long enough to become a Brisbane institution, but long enough to develop a small but faithful following.  The brainchild of Jason Peppler, formerly of Isis fame, Confit was a lovely little French bistro in Doggett Street in NewFarm. 

To say its my favourite restaurant is an understatement.  I love this place and SC and I have made it our default place to eat.  We must have been 60 or 70 times in the three years its been open and I will miss it when it's gone.

So, with only a few opportunities to eat at Confit I have booked in for for the final sitting on Sunday.  However, before the final dinner service is breakfast :)


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