Sunday, 27 October 2013

Azafran - a suburban bistro thats worth raving about

One of the things I love about having a food blog is how often I bump into other food bloggers around town at restaurants and events.  There is a shared love of eating and an understanding of what it takes to keep a blog interesting and enjoyable for others to read.  It's amazing how often I will read someones else's food blog to inspire myself to continue writing, even when its quite draining sometimes.  Over the last six months or so a couple of us that regularly bump into each other have been meeting up to have our own little blogger events with no pressure and just to enjoy each other's company.

For our most recent catch up, we had arranged to hit a little Bistro over at New Farm and we were all excited about catching up with some new members to our little group.  A few days before the big get together we were hit with the sad news that our chosen destination was booked out and would not be able to accommodate our visit.  As luck would have it, we were able to get into our back up destination and as it turned out, it was a stroke of genius.

Our gatherings had been gaining steam since our first outing where just the three of us hit Carolina Kitchen (see post here).  Our aim for our get togethers is to try to find a restaurant around Brisbane that none of us had been to before and our first choice definitely fit the bill.  It's actually quite difficult to find a spot where a group of food bloggers have never been before but our eventual destination pretty much fit the bill, I was the only one who had been there before but I had not been back since moving away from the area almost a decade ago.

South Bank Surf Club - New Summer menu 'TweatUp'

I was pretty excited.  We had been invited along to a 'TweatUp' over at the South Bank Surf Club, a restaurant that I had been wanting to check out for a long time.  I say we because SC was invited along to join me for the TweatUp, she normally doesn't get to come along to events like this, so its probably more appropriate to say that we were pretty excited.

South Bank Surf Club opened up to much fanfare a few years back for a couple of reasons, firstly it was celebrity chef Ben O'Donoghue's first restaurant in Brisbane and secondly it's uniqueness of being a Surf Club right in the middle of the CBD.  South Bank may at first seem like an odd location for a Surf Club but when you consider we have a huge man made beach that is as popular as Bondi on a sunny Saturday afternoon, then perhaps it's not really that surprising.

A few things have changed at the South Bank Surf Club in recent times, most notably Ben O'Donoghue parting ways with the diner and moving on to do his own thing.  What has not changed is the gorgeous location of the venue and its amazing views of the Brisbane skyline and proximity to the man made beach and lifeblood of the CBD that is the Brisbane River.  New head chef Tye Higgins has continued the tradition at the South Bank Surf Club and is heavily influenced by fresh local seafood with an eye to sustainable dining.  Tye officially took over the kitchen at the start of the year after working at well known restaurants the Zen Bar and uber fine diner Urbane restaurant.

London Porterhouse - Argentinian BBQ comes to town

No website just yet

Share dining is on the rise.  Well, it's actually been on the rise for a few years now with many menus across the restaurants of Brisbane showing 'bites' or 'small plates' that are designed to be shared amongst friends.  Many cultures around the world around the world have a version of share dining so it's hard to pinpoint where share dining originated, but it's certainly most popular in Latin American and large parts of Western Europe.

When you consider the ever increasing number of restaurants in Brisbane there is actually quite a diversity of cuisines available if you go looking.  Mexican cuisine aside, there is not a large Latin American food scene in Brisbane which is a little surprising given the nature of our move to share dining and the love of communal dining in this part of the world.  Amidst all of the doom and gloom about restaurants closing in Brisbane, a new restaurant has quietly opened with its eyes fairly and squarely on Latin American share dining.

London Porterhouse has it's roots firmly in the Argentinian culture with a view that eating and drinking are there to be enjoyed.  Located at Teneriffe in the converted London woolstore, London Porterhouse joins the stable of cool restaurants in bars that sits below the converted woolstore that makes up the London apartment block.  

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Lutece Bistro & Wine Bar - Canard a la Presse

There is something about French cuisine that is magical.  Of course it has been the most popular and dominant influence on general cuisine for hundreds of years, but there is a little more to it than that.  I've always admired the passion that the French bring to their cooking, it's something that is so European and so all consuming.  You can see the influence in the Brisbane dining scene with many dozens of restaurants showing influence from French cuisine and quite a few that identify solely as French restaurants.

2013 has been a tumultuous year for restaurants with a number closing but it has also seen many new restaurants entering the dining scene.  Bardon is one of my old stomping grounds and I was delighted to see a new French Bistro open its doors in July.  I was actually still touring New York when I found out that Lutece Bistro had opened up not too far away from my old house.

Lutece is the French term for Lutetia which was a Roman city where Paris now stands and is an appropriate name for a French Bistro established by a chef with the first name Romain.  Lutece has been created by Romain Bapst who is well known around Brisbane as the former head chef of Il Centro in the CBD.  While Romain has lived in Australia since 1990 he is thoroughly a French chef who has been classically trained in his native land before his move down under.  Romain has continued his passion for French cuisine as the President of the Bocuse d'Or in Australia as well as being the President of the Academie Culinaire de France in Australia.

Room with Roses - a hidden gem in a hidden gem

There is a tendency in Brisbane for old stuff to get discarded and replaced with shiny shiny new stuff.  You really get a sense for this when you walk down the Queen Street Mall at the moment, there are no less than two major redevelopments happening and a third on the way.  This is on the back of the major redevelopment at the Wintergarden and the tearing down of the Regent Cinema complex.  While I generally love shiny shiny new things, I also have a healthy respect for keeping a city's old buildings and architecture, it's how a city builds character. 

It's an interesting dichotomy that Brisbane has been copying the Melbourne idea that laneways are the coolest things ever and attempting to build a laneway culture, but at the same time are tearing down our own unique spaces.  So it's totally refreshing to know that we have our own slice of laneway history that has not been torn down and recently celebrated its 90th birthday.  

Brisbane Arcade is our version of southern style arcade and runs between the Queen Street Mall and Adelaide Street in the CBD.  The fact that the arcade has reached it's 90th birthday and has not been torn down or completely remodeled is surprising given our propensity for shiny new buildings, and this gives the mall some much needed character.  Nestled away on the first floor in the Brisbane Arcade is one of Brisbane's hidden gems, a cafe that is a sea of tranquility in the hustle and bustle of the CBD. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Ortiga - sunset falls on a Spanish great

What tumultuous time it is with Brisbane restaurants of late.  There has been much movement with many new restaurants opening but sadly some closing as well.  The last few weeks have heralded the news that some of Brisbane's best and most awarded restaurants are closing down.  First was the news that after only a year in operation Bistro One Eleven would shut its doors immediately and then later the same day was the sad news that one of the country's best restaurants would also be shutting its doors.

The news that Ortiga was to shut down hit me hard, it's not only one of the best restaurants in the country, it's one of the most imaginative and creative restaurants I had been to.  Ortiga still seemed so relevant in today's cut throat restaurant industry having risen two places in the Gourmet Traveller Top 100 restaurants to number 28.  It also hit me hard as it was a regular special occasion dining spot and  I was booked in to visit for my wedding anniversary, indeed a special occasion.  While I was incredibly saddened by the news, the one consolation was that Ortiga would continue to operate for a few weeks and that we could still have our special occasion dinner, only now it would also be a farewell dinner.

The partnership between Simon Hill and Pablo Tordesillas had indeed been a special one.  Simon has had the knack of building special partnerships after such a long and successful relationship with Jason Peppler at Isis, ironically in the same location.  Isis was a mainstay of the Brisbane dining scene for around twelve years before it's ultimate transformation from Modern Australian fine diner to Spanish award winner.  It seemed as if the success of Pablo and Simon would continue on for equally as long, but incredibly Ortiga will be closing its doors after five incredibly successful years.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Breakfast Series - The Java Lounge

A long time ago and a lifetime away I used to live in one of Brisbane's best suburbs, Bardon.  We always used to say that the inner west was best and we were only half joking when we said it.  What made it great living in Brisbane's inner west way back in the day was that it was one of the only areas within Brisbane that had a thriving dining culture.  This was when Park Road at Milton was just about the only spot where you could get a meal after 9pm at night -  yeah, it was a while ago.

I've always enjoyed eating out and back when I was younger and SC and I were just starting our life together, we didn't have a heap of money so going out to fine diners was a little bit of a luxury.  Instead of regularly hitting the city's few 'fancy' restaurants we would head off to breakfast as our main way of eating out and the Java Lounge was one of our favourites.

Fast forward a few years, there is a thriving dining scene just about everywhere in Brisbane but it's refreshing to see that some of the old places are still around and doing well.  On a rare Saturday morning where SC didn't have a personal training session, we decided to forgo the Sunday breakfast and go a day earlier.  As we were looking through our options on Urbanspoon, looking at and then discounting some of the hipper and cooler cafes on the list, I spied a name that brought back a flood of memories.  The Java Lounge, of course, it had to be the Java Lounge.  We were up nice and early so didn't bother about booking, we just hoped in the car, set autopilot and drove to our old stomping grounds.

Prive249 - Brisbane's best kept dining secret

It had been a while since our last ultra fine dining experience and I kind of missed it.  I've been visiting lots of bistro style restaurants and breakfast joints of late (Esquire excluded of course) and while they are great, I really missed that experience you get with silver service.  There are a few restaurants around Brisbane that provide that ultra fine dining experience but I had been to most of them and really wanted to try something different.  I had a look through my trusty Entertainment Book and spied a restaurant that I've been meaning to check out and as a bonus met my need for a fine dining meal.

The website for Prive249 is very understated, in fact you could say that it's pretty bland and looks somewhat like a new website may have looked in 1997.  What did stand out on the website was a pretty bold claim that Prive249 was Brisbane's best kept dining secret.  This was a claim that I was keen to check out.... Would it live up to the brash statement and would I love it?

Well to start, Prive249 has some great pedigree, it's part of the Sofitel Group which runs some of the best restaurants in the world, many with coveted Michelin Stars.  Prive249 has also been awarded chefs hats from the Brisbane Times and the Australian Good Food Guide, the Australian equivalent of a Michelin Star.   The restaurant has experienced Chef de Cuisine Josh Okorn at the helm, who like so many chefs nowadays has spent time in Europe perfecting his craft.  Josh's approach in the kitchen is to provide tantalising French inspired Australian cuisine with a touch of flair.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Breakfast Series - Ruby Cafe

What happens when you turn off the alarm on a Sunday morning?  Of course you sleep in!  But when you had plans to head off for breakfast, sleeping in can be quite painful.  We had to decide if we were still going to go for breakfast pretty quickly when we eventually crawled out of bed.  The risk we ran was that everywhere would be packed, we would drive around looking for somewhere that wasn't and then eventually give up and come home for cornflakes.  On the other hand, I didn't want cornflakes, I wanted to be spoiled for breakfast and have someone else do the cooking.

Armed with a list of breakfast spots in the Paddington area we decided to give it a crack and jumped in the car to try our luck.  The plan was we would drive past a place and if it looked OK, I would jump out and score a table while SC went and parked the car.  A simple plan and if executed effectively it could mean the difference between eating out or coming home with our tail between our legs.  First name on our list was Ruby Cafe on Given Terrace and as luck would have it there was no queue.  It was a good start, so I was out of the car and into the cafe in a flash.  Unfortunately, someone else had the same idea and were just in front of me, fortunately there were two tables free and I managed to score one.

It didn't take long for me to have a good look around Ruby Cafe, it's not huge inside but does have two stories with a downstairs section available (which I didn't see) and quite a decent alfresco area on Given Terrace.  The cafe is very simply decorated with exposed lights hanging from the ceiling and little bird motifs in simple frames decorating one wall.  The rest of the cafe is kitchen and serving area where you can watch the shakes and coffees made by the barista.

Watt Restaurant and Bar - the restaurant at the Powerhouse

It's a lovely time of the year.  The warm dry sunny days of Spring are here but the heavy hot rainy days of Summer have not yet arrived.  It's at this time of year that I love getting out and about, checking out all that Brisbane has to offer.  Last month was the annual Brisbane Festival and there were great times to be had, but the great times don't need to end just because the festival has finished.  The Brisbane Powerhouse continues to be a source of endless entertainment and again saw SC and I head over to check out one of the events, this time Grindr - a love story.

The Powerhouse is one of Brisbane's greatest achievements for me, and the conversion of the old electricity powerhouse from a run down and decrepit former glory to a modern and funky performing arts centre was genius.  The powerhouse was originally built in the early 1900's to generate electricity for Brisbane's tramway system and at its peak supplied electricity for the largest tram network in the Southern hemisphere.  Eventually trams were replaced by buses (pretty shortsighted) and the building fell into disrepute after being decommissioned in 1971.

Fast forward to now and the Brisbane Powerhouse is many things to many people, not only is it an amazing performing arts centre with three areas that seat up to 800 people, it's so much more.  The Jan Power markets call the area home and it has to be the most popular spot in Brisbane for wedding photos, you can even learn to be a circus performer there.  It's also the home of a couple of bars and restaurants, which are very popular spots on any given weekend, especially when the sun is shining on a beautiful spring day. 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

New York Series - Cull and Pistol

There are two things you see a lot of in New York, oyster bars and lobster bars, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered a combined lobster and oyster bar when wandering through the Chelsea Markets.  We had been looking to visit an oyster bar for most of the holiday, especially considering how cheap oysters were in New York.  I had been regaled of wondrous tales of oyster bars that had happy hours where the tasty molluscs were a dollar an oyster, but had yet to be in the right place at the right time.

We had been wandering around Manhattan's West Side for a while looking for something to eat for dinner and incredibly, not finding anything that we felt like eating.  The Chelsea Markets had become a bit of a default position during our two week stay in the area, so we decided to head back to the markets and see if we could get into the Lobster Place.  The Lobster Place is a bit of an institution in New York, a place where you can go and pick your own lobster (and most other seafood options) and get it cooked on the spot.  There's no formal dining area in the Lobster Place, it's just benches and standing room only.  Unfortunately, when we arrived the place was packed and doing our usual thing of not wanting to wait we left a little disappointed.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Aquitaine - Southern France on the banks of the Brisbane river

It's amazing how time gets away from you, it seemed like only yesterday that Aquitaine opened up and I promised myself that I would get along and try it out.  In reality, the funky new Southbank diner is not so new anymore and almost a year has passed since it opened.  A year, I know, unbelievable, right?  It wasn't until some good friends beat me to the punch and came away raving that I decided I couldn't wait another day to go.........  As it turns out it was four days before we booked in and got along to Aquitaine, but you get the point! 

Aquitaine is one of the new breed of affordably priced but awesome restaurants down at Soutbank's River Quay, which also includes two hatted restaurant the Stokehouse (see post here).  The restaurant is inspired by the L'Aquitaine region in South West France and has instantly become a favourite of Brisbane diners with it's contemporary French menu based on timeless recipes.  

The head chef at Aquitaine is Damon Porter, who was trained legendary Queensland chef David Rayner, owner of the River House restaurant before spending a few years in Monaco and France.  The time was well spent with Damon developing a keen eye for detail along with a flair for European cooking.  Like most great chefs, Damon has a passion for using quality locally sourced products and has spent time cultivating relationships with some of Queensland's best suppliers to secure some of the freshest produce available in the South East.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Breakfast Series - Atomica Eat Drink

With so many options available for a decent breakfast in Brisbane, it's sometimes hard to pick a place to get over and try, so I was thankful this week when longtime a reader suggest a great spot.  I've been to Atomica heaps of times over the years but hadn't been back for such a long time that it just slipped out of my consciousness.

Atomica Eat Drink is one of the multitude of dining spots over in West End, which seems to have its fair share of well known and well loved restaurants.  West End residents all seem to have their favorite cafes and while Atomica is well loved, but is perhaps a little less well known that some of the other hot spots such as the Gunshop and Lock n Load.

Following our usual thinking that we didn't want to line up for breakfast, we set the alarm for 7am and thought we would get over to score a table before 7:30am.  As it was a Sunday morning, there were the usual grumbles from SC about the things she supports by living with a food blogger.  As we pulled down Boundary Street we were hit with how quiet the area was, there were none of the usual people milling around, even the Gunshop and Lock n Load seemed suspiciously quiet as we drove past.  We easily found a park right out the front of Atomica and wandered into an empty restaurant and as first to arrive picked the best table in the house.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sono Queen Street Mall - tranquility in the heart of the city

I've lost count of how many times over the years I have walked up and down the Queen Street Mall, it literally would be in the tens of thousands.  This may seem like a lot of times, but when you live in the CBD and in Queen Street in particular, the visits to the mall easily add up.  There are not a large number of restaurants in the Mall and the restaurants that are there, generally cater to tourists and are a little over priced. When walking through the mall, it's hard not to notice the stairs that lead up to Sono Japanese restaurant and for many years I resisted the temptation to walk up those stairs and try it out.

It's not as if I don't love Japanese cuisine, I really do.  I've even been out to Portside to visit the Sono sister restaurant, Sono Portside, which is a very lavish affair (see post here).  It's more to do with the fact I visited Sono in the mall a long time ago and didn't think it was very good.

Fast forward a decade and the lure of those steps became stronger and stronger until I decided that I needed to check out Sono in the CBD again.  As I mentioned, it's actually pretty hard to miss Sono in the CBD, the entrance is so brightly lit, it's like a beacon on the mall at night.  The restaurant is in the same historic building as the exclusive mens club Tattersalls, only the restaurant is a little easier to get into, a quick call and a reservation is all it takes.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Casual Dining - Reef Seafood + Sushi

One of the coolest and most anticipated precincts in memory opened up with little fanfare recently but in a very short period of time has become one of my favourite spots around Brisbane.  Gasworks is located over on the river at Newstead that was for many years a mozzie infested eyesore, but always had so much potential being so close to the CBD.  One of the new breeds of 'master-planned' communities that are springing up all around South East Queensland, the precinct is centered around the historic Gasworks site.  

The beautiful and ornate framework of the original Gasometer frame, which has been carefully restored, is the highlight and centrepiece of the whole site.  Most nights you can pull up a bean bag, grab yourself a beer and sit under and around the Gasometer frame and listen to local bands, while the framework is lit up in a beautiful purple haze.  It's a top spot and it's only going to get better over time as more residential and commercial opportunities are realised.

We had tickets to see John Birmingham's 'He died with a felafel in his hand' and wanted somewhere quick and easy for dinner.  While the Gasworks is not on the way to the Powerhouse when walking, it's not too much of a detour, so we put on our walking shoes and headed out shortly after work.  Our plan was to hit the new fish and chip shop, Reef Seafood + Sushi and then continue on to see the play.  As we walked past the lovely Gasometer structure to the main dining area, we noticed a huge crowd milling around.  As we got closer, it was clear that we were not the only ones who thought a quick bit of fish and chips would be a great idea on a Friday night.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Cha Cha Char - redemption tastes so sweet

It's become abundantly clear over the last few years that Brisbane has developed a hyper competitive market for dining.  Where once there were a few dominant restaurants, filled to the brim on most days and nights, now there are many great restaurants, with some struggling to attract the large crowds that once graced their dining areas.  Eagle Street and its range of fine dining spots is a good example of where once upon a time it was next to impossible to get a booking, any day of the week.  With such a competitive market, restaurants just can't afford to have an off night, people won't put up with it any more.

Cha Cha Char is a restaurant that I used to go to a lot, back in the day, but a couple of years but a very poor experience put an end to my regular visits to the Brisbane steak institution.  You might ask what it takes to stop someone from going back to a restaurant they have frequented so often....  It was a case of the restaurant trying to cram so many seats into the dining area that it became uncomfortable.  This was coupled with being seated right by the exit door on a cold, wet and windy night and a failure to be moved to better, and warmer seats, despite repetitively asking.  It was frustrating enough being freezing and seeing a small number of spare tables free, but when the food just didn't measure up, it was time to say 'enough'.  

It's been a few years since that fateful night and while I voted with my feet and my wallet by not going back for a visit, so I thought it was a time for redemption.  Our leadership group had our quarterly lunch and as usual I was tasked with finding a restaurant for us to visit. Cha Cha Char came to mind and I decided to give it another go.


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