Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Locanda osteria and bar - simple Italian fare but with strong flavours

A couple of weeks ago we thought we would check out one of the new restaurants over at the recently completed M&A Lane.  There were a couple of options, with three of the six or so planned planned restaurants already open, but as we walked towards the lane, an incredible smell led us towards the Mighty Mighty (see post here).  While we were sitting and mostly enjoying our southern style BBQ, we sat facing our other option and spent the night wondering if we had made the right choice.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we had a more definitive plan to check out Locanda Osteria and Bar, which as the name suggests is an Italian joint.  It's more than a little interesting that two of the hottest styles of food right now, Italian and Southern BBQ have opened right next door to each other.  In my mind 2103 has been the year of the Italian and American restaurant, with a heap of new dining establishments opening up with a bent in either direction.

They guys that have put Locanda Osteria together certainly know a little bit about what it takes to run a successful Italian restaurant.  Restaurant heavyweights Manny Sakellarakis and Dan Clark have  created arguably Brisbane's best Italian restaurant in 1889 Enoteca at Woolloongabba and have teamed up with Cove Southbank's Adam Barton on this venture.  Combined they have a heap of experience creating successful restaurants and giving people what they really want, top quality nosh.  They've also snared head chef Daniel Jones to man the kitchen, who has worked at some of Brisbane's best Restaurants including Cha Cha Char and Baguette.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Breakfast Series - Ave' Cucina & Coffee Bar

It seems as if I have to travel further and further away from my base in the CBD to check out new and exciting breakfast spots (well, new and exciting for me).  We had been through a particularly difficult 'fast day' on Friday and really needed to re-energise for a tilt at the rest of the weekend.  I had spent a fair amount of time looking up breakfast spots on the interweb that I hadn't visited before and which seemed interesting.  I have to say that looking for breakfast the night of a fast is a really bad idea and all I did was make myself even hungrier.

I'd given up looking on the Friday night and thought that with a good night's sleep, I would have some inspiration and just know where I wanted to head for breakfast.  Nope, that didn't work either and it wasn't until SC reminded me that I had my 'list' and there were some breakfast places that I still wanted to visit that it all came together.  There were two places left on my list that we needed to visit, both on the south side, so we saddled up and hit the road.  First on the list was Lady Marmalade at Stones Corner, which was closed up for the Christmas and New Year break, so we kept on driving.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Esquire - what more can be said? This place is perfection!

If there was one restaurant that defined my dining habits for 2013 it would have to be Esquire in the CBD and to be more precise Esq.  In my first full year of writing about my food experiences, I visited more new restaurants in twelve months than ever before.  While I loved checking out many new restaurants and revisiting many that I hadn't been to for a while, there was a part of me that still liked to be known as a regular somewhere.  That somewhere happened to be just across the road from me and recognised as the best restaurant in town.

I've written about my experiences at Esq and Esquire more than any other restaurant I've been to, and with good reason.  It's just a superb restaurant and dining experience.  Every.  Single.  Time.   Co-owners Ryan Squires and Cameron Murchison along with head chef Ben Devlin make up the team that continue to surpass the expectations of the Brisbane dining scene.  Since I've written so much about the restaurant, I'm going to go straight onto the food, but if you've not heard of Esquire before or want some more info, you can check out my previous posts - here, here and here

Over the last year, it seems as if I have eaten at Esq two or three times a month but upon reflection it had been over twelve months since we had the full degustation dining experience at Esquire.  I thought there would be no better way to see out the year than a full degustation, and since the last night Esquire was open was Christmas Eve, we though it would be a lovely little 'Festivus' present for ourselves.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Reserve Restaurant Milton - Fine dining on the city fringe

It's becoming increasingly difficult for me to try new restaurants in the Brisbane CBD, especially restaurants that are fine dining.  In fact, in the last few years there has been a move away from fine dining into more casually focussed dining.  While there is nothing wrong with high end casual dining, there is a lot to be said about the unique experience that you get from a great fine diner.

It's interesting though, sometimes there are things that literally just 'stare you in the face' and you don't notice.  Reserve at Milton is just such a place.  I've driven down Coronation Drive hundreds of times and said to myself that I must check out Reserve, it looks great.  Time and time again I've sat in my unit struggling to think of somewhere I can go to get a great meal that I have not visited before. Well, this time when it was SC who was in the drivers seat while we were driving past, I bit the bullet and got straight onto my iPad and made a reservation.  Thought into action!

I find it hard to believe it but Reserve at Milton has inhabited the space at the heritage listed Cook Terrace for almost two years.  It really doesn't seem that long ago that Joseph Alexander was the restaurant that I drove past and regularly ignored.  There has been high end restaurants occupying the space on Coronation Drive since 1984 after having a somewhat mixed history since being built in 1888.  Originally a set of Terrace houses, I can only imagine what it would have been like living on the Brisbane river in one of those majestic and massive terrace houses during the 1800's.  If you could have afforded it, I'm sure it would have been quite special.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Breakfast Series - The Corner Store Cafe

A couple of months ago on one of our infrequent forays into the suburbs, we stumbled across a little cafe as we made our way home.  We didn't have time to stop in and check it out but made a mental note to check it out sometime.  As often happens with a 'mental note', it was soon forgotten and the Corner Store Cafe faded quickly from memory.

Fast forward a few months and we had to again go on a field trip to the suburbs, this time to hit our preferred medical centre at Taringa.  I was there to get a blood tests done and had been fasting from the day before, so we thought that grabbing a breakfast out in the 'burbs would be a good idea (I know, its not really that far away from the CBD).  With not much of an idea of where to eat in the western suburbs, I checked out urbanspoon and quickly spotted a name that was familiar, you guessed it the Corner Store Cafe.  

We thought it might be touch and go to get a table, mainly because our trip to the doctor wouldn't finish until about 9:15am, which would have put us right in the peak hour for breakfast.  Our real hope was that we would have been finished with the early risers crowd and not quite yet hit the brunch crew.  As we wound through the back streets of Toowong from our medical centre, I started to have doubts that SC's usual back street approach to driving through the suburbs would actually get us to out destination.   I needn't have worried as SC's internal GPS had us pulling up out the front of the Corner Cafe with nary a wrong turn.  And when I say pulling up out front, I mean right out front, SC managed to score a street park right in front of the cafe!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Mighty Mighty Cue & Brew - a mix of southern style in the big smoke

Every Saturday morning we walk off to get our weekly groceries from James Street Market.  Yeah, yeah, I know that you're thinking 'sure mate, you eat out every night', but I assure you I do eat at home sometimes and when I do I get my groceries from The Standard over at James Street.  But that's not the point of this post, it's more about the journey I take to get to James Street each Saturday morning.  As part of the walk, we wander down McLachlan Street, which has been dominated for some time by construction work.

It's a funny thing when you watch a construction site go up.  At first there is the big mess that is created, usually as a result of someone digging a dirty big hole in the ground.  Not long after the trucks have carried away all the dirt, more trucks start to turn up with building material and things start to take shape.  At first, things happen so slowly you don't notice much change, but as sure as night follows day (or is it the other way round), you start to notice a building take shape.  I couldn't tell you how many times we wandered down McLachlan Street and speculated about the building.  Sure, we could have gone to the web site, but that would have spoilt the fun of our guessing games.

Then one day, you notice it's looking a little different, maybe even a little finished.  Amazingly, this all happened over what seemed to be about eighteen months and one day, there it was, it was finished.  What started out as a hole in the ground became a fully fledged building.  What was better was what lay beneath the building, a shiny new laneway with restaurants and shops, but mostly restaurants.  M&A laneway was born and it was time to finally check it out.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Casual Dining - San Churro Chocolateria

We'd heard about the snazzy new Christmas light show that the Brisbane City Council was putting on in King George Square and thought we would check it out.  After all, as ratepayers, we wanted to see what our $300,000 was being used for and to be honest, we were a bit sceptical about how wisely the 300k had been spent.  So, we formed a loose plan, head down to the Square and then after the show, check out the new San Churro in Charlotte Street.

As we fought the unusually large crowds in the Queen Street Mall and wandered through the even larger crowds streaming down Albert Street, we were surprised with how many families were still in the CBD on a Saturday night.  Once we hit King George Square, we had a bit of an inkling of why the crowds were still about.  City Hall had been transformed into a colourful kaleidoscope of bright light and imagery.  And this was before the show had actually started, it was just the timer counting down to the next show, which was only a minute or so away.  What sweet timing.  If you've not seen the show, I'm not going to spoil if for you, but I will say that it's one of the most spectacular light shows I have ever seen.  Do yourself a favour and get down to see it before it finishes at Christmas.  I know we will go back a few more times just to take in the enormity of the whole show.  BCC, money well spent!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Cheap Eats - DA'Burger

Ever since I came back from New York, I have had a new appreciation for the humble hamburger (see post here). Before I spent time in the US of A, I thought that we had it sorted out here in Brisbane with burgers.  What I came to realise is that we are 'babes in the woods' when it comes to producing great quality and tasty hamburgers.  The Americans really know how to do a good burger, and I don't mean the generic, production line type that has infiltrated our shores already.

Since returning from the States, I've had cravings for the type of wonderful and humble burger that I munched on through my Manhattan journeys, but have come short each time.  I was quite hopeful when walking down Mary Street one day I spied the big red shipping container that housed Miel Burgers.  I'd heard great things about these burgers and one Friday afternoon I went along to check it out, but alas it was not even close.  I was so disappointed with that burger I just walked away after a three or four bites.

While I have not had any luck in Brisbane trying to find that elusive US style burger, I did strike gold when I was in Perth for Eat Drink Blog, the food bloggers conference.  As part of the EDB dinner I came across the Butty's Food Truck (http://buttys.com.au/), which promises and delivers American style burgers.  When I ate my buttys burger and closed my eyes, I was transported back to Manhattan and I was in heaven.  Sigh....

Mecca Bah - when it all goes wrong, when do you pull the plug?

You're out at a restaurant and things are not going well.  At what point do you realise that you've made a huge mistake?  At what point do you move past considering storming out and actually storm out?  I was able to contemplate these and many other similar questions recently when we visited the Mecca Bah over at Emporium in the Valley.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We had had a particularly difficult week at work and were in need of a nice meal to take our minds off our recent long days in the office.  Of course we have our favourite spots that we could have easily visited (Hello Esquire), but being a food blogger, I want to check out new places a lot of the time.  I have a long list of restaurants that I want visit, either for the first time, or go back to because I've not been since starting my blog.

I started down my list which started off with an old favourite of mine, Kingsley's Steak and Crab house, which is just across the street and would have been very easy to get to.  Amazingly, for the second night in a row, there were no tables available until after 8pm.  Scratch that.  Next up was a spot that I had never been to, Byblos over at Hamilton but even more amazingly no one answered their phone and after three attempts, I gave up and moved down my list.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Kabuki - Amazing teppanyaki and a show to remember

Is there anything better than the end of year Christmas lunch for seeing out the working year with a bang?  After eleven and a half months of hard yakka and spending more time with your work mates that you sometimes do with family, it's just great to unwind and have some fun.  When it was time to pick our lunch venue for our Christmas lunch, I decided to take a back seat from the recommendations game and let the team sort out our destination.  I was really happy that the team had picked an old favourite to visit, a restaurant I hadn't visited in about five years.

Kabuki is one of those restaurants that's been a part of the Brisbane dining scene, with little fanfare, for as long as I can remember.  It's such a part of the zeitgeist in Brisbane that it's kind of faded into the background, a place to go for special occasions.  The thing I love most about Kabuki is its style of Japanese cooking called teppanyaki, which uses an iron griddle to cook the food.  Typically the griddle becomes the centre of attention, with highly skilled teppanyaki chefs stealing the show with highly developed knife and cooking skills that need to be seen to be believed.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Casual Dining - Trang Vietnamese Restaurant

It's getting close to Christmas, which means lots of parties and get togethers through a very busy and social time of the year.  We had been invited over to my boss' house with the rest of my team for an afternoon of nibbles, espresso martinis and champagne.  The timing for the get together was from 2pm to 5pm (ish), which is a bit of an awkward time, too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so I knew that I would have to plan carefully to get the most out of our Sunday afternoon.

I wanted to visit somewhere that was local, would have some great food but would be a little different from the cuisine that I had been consuming lately.  I had a list of casual dining places that I wanted to visit over the next couple of months, so it was just a matter of running down the list to see what would take my fancy. About a third of the way down my very rough list I came across Trang Restaurant over at West End, which has a reputation as being one for the most popular Vietnamese restaurants in Brisbane.

Trang restaurant is located on Hardgrave Road at West End and is in a little strip of shops and restaurants right in the middle of a residential part of the suburb.  The strip of shops used to the Rialto cinema a very long time ago, but in the early 1990's it ceased being used for theatre and live gigs and was transformed into shops and restaurants.  The little strip of shops looks a little dodgy nowadays, but it really fits in with the charm of West End, which fortunately has not been completely gentrified.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Little Truffle Dining Room and Bar - A long way to drive for truffle.... but worth it

We really wanted to hang out with our mates on Saturday night and have a nice dinner somewhere, but the plan was thrown askew once we found out that they would be 'baby sitting' on the Gold Coast.  TB's sister had just picked up a new puppy, a French Bulldog, and CITB had agreed to travel down to the coast and look after the little puppy for the weekend.  Not letting this deter us from hanging out and having a nice meal, we agreed to drive down to the coast for the night and have dinner locally.

I don't know too much about the Gold Coast dining scene, so I'd left the selection of restaurant up to TB, who received some advice about where to go from her sister.  We had established some ground rules for dinner though, it had to be close to the new puppy and it had to be a nice restaurant, one that we would be excited to visit.  

There are a handful of hatted restaurants on the coast and after considering and then discounting RockSalt modern dining, TB ended up booking Little Truffle dining room and bar.  I'd not heard of Little Truffle before, but after doing a little research on the interweb, I got quite excited about the choice.  You don't need to convince SC to visit any place where there is the prospect of getting some truffles, it's one her three favourite food groups (also included is duck fat and bacon).  It was on, a day trip to the Gold Coast for dinner!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Spring - Is Brunch really a legitimate meal?

We had a friend coming up from Melbourne to visit.  Well, they were visiting for some client Christmas parties and through it would be great if we could catch up before heading back home.  The idea was that we would catch up for brunch, giving PM a chance to sleep in a little bit after what would be a late night of eating, drinking and merry-making.  The challenge was not to find a great spot to do brunch, but to find a place in the CBD that did great brunch.  This is not as easy as you would think on the weekends, there are very few places that do brunch in the CBD on Saturday or Sunday mornings.

Who really does brunch anyway?  I've always thought the concept of brunch was for rich ladies of leisure, who had nothing better to do with their time.  I'm not sure I can really get to 10:30 for breakfast, I get really 'hangry' when I do and it's a bit early for lunch, and I like to have an early lunch.  So when we arranged a brunch with PM, I was a bit lost as to where to go.

We finally decided on Spring in the CBD, mainly because it's one of the only spots open locally that does brunch but also because it's only a short five minute walk from our apartment.  I have eaten at Spring before and have had mixed experiences, the first time I went I thought it was fairly ordinary but I have been and had some completely amazing food (see post here).  I wondered which Spring would turn up for our brunch, given we were dining with a Melbournian, I really wanted Spring to bring their A game.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Something a little different - Meatcart factory tour


I'm a big fan of meat, in fact, apart from a few exceptions, I eat meat with just about every meal.  One of the problems with eating out at restaurants all the time and buying my meat products from James Street, is that I don't really see where it all comes from.  It's just the final product that I end up seeing, which is usually a lovely piece of wagyu placed in the centre of a plate.

When the opportunity to get along and do a tour of one of Brisbane's biggest meat production facilities, I jumped.  I didn't hurt that there was going to be a massive BBQ at the end of the tour with a heap of different meats and sausages cooked up for everyone to sample, along with some matching beers for those so inclined.

I really wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived, but the Meatcart production facility looked just like any other semi industrial building over at Eagle Farm.  In fact, the only way I could tell it apart from the other buildings in the street was a huge portable meat van and an equally large BBQ.  Knowing I was in the right place I wandered past the entry gate to check it all out.  As usual, I was pretty early and was one of the first of the guests to arrive.  Undeterred, this gave me an opportunity to have a bit of a sticky beak around the facility and get an early start on some of drinks on offer (for me it was a glass of sparkling water)

Cloudland - A nightclub that serves food or a restaurant with a nightclub?

Italian is the new black.  I know it's a pretty unusual thing to say, but I have noticed over the last few years that Italian cuisine is starting to dominate, with a myriad of restaurants having an Italian bent to their menus.  I have to say I'm quite happy about this development, I grew up in one of the southern states where Italian cuisine was very much the norm, it was everywhere and I loved it.

I was recently invited along to check out the new summer menu at Cloudland, which is surprising, mainly because I thought Cloudland was just a super club, a place to get your groove on over the weekend.  It was ever more surprising when I had a look over the menu,  and saw that this was a menu designed by a world class chef in the spirit of true Italian culture, that is a menu that's exclusively designed to be shared in the traditional family style.  If you've ever peen part of or seen a true Italian family style meal, it lots of big plates of food (and I mean lots) on big share plates with everyone digging in.

I'd never been to Cloudland before, my partying days were well behind me before Cloudland opened, but I was extremely intrigued by the idea of a super club in Brisbane.  When I was in my 20's and early 30's, there were no super clubs around, they were generally underground warehouse parties or medium sized venues.  Those were the days before the explosion of electronica across the globe but as I settled into party retirement, I gradually saw the rise to prominence of the style of music so dear to my heart.  This in turn saw the rise of the super club.  So, I'd always been intrigued by Cloudland but no so much that I went a long for a visit.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hatch & Co - Some amazing food in a Brisbane hot spot

Gee, how good is it over at the Gasworks now?  In a very short space of time, the area has exploded with a range of contemporary and exciting restaurant offerings.  It seems like every time I head over, there is a new dining spot to add to my ever increasing list of places to check out.  It's hard to believe that twelve months ago it was still just a construction site and now it's rapidly becoming the first place that many Brisbane dwellers are looking to for a great meal.

With a rash of new openings, I thought it was timely to check out an 'old hand' under the Gasometer, Hatch & Co.  I say 'old hand' with tongue firmly in cheek as it's a relative 'babe in the woods' itself.  I've been keeping an eye on Hatch & Co ever since it first opened a few months back and I was particularly keen to see how the Moubarak clan would handle casual dining.  The Moubarak's are better known for their One Hat restaurant Gerard's Bistro just around the corner in James Street, which has been a favourite of mine for some time (see post here).

The first time I saw Hatch & Co, it seemed a little out of place, it was pretty much the only restaurant open at the Gasworks.  It was weird walking by and seeing a sea of people checking out the diner, with no one else around.  On our visit to Hatch & Co, there was quite a bit more competition around for the dining dollar and when we arrived for our 6:30 reservation, it was still fairly quiet.  I thought to myself that perhaps the addition of half a dozen new eating spots would have a negative impact?  It was a Tuesday night, which can be quite busy for Brisbane diners.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Breakfast Series - Flute Fine Food

I've been hitting the usual breakfast locations of late, especially in the inner city suburbs, so I though about going a little further afield for breakfast this weekend.  There are a few cafes just a little bit further out of the city that are forging really good reputations and I wondered how some of them would compare.  Part of the trick is to figure out which cafe to visit.  This is where Urbanspoon can come in handy, not to mention reading recent bloggers posts.  So after doing my research I decided it would be the southern suburbs and a little diner called Flute Fine Food.

Coorparoo is not really that far away from the CBD, but it is outside of my normal stomping grounds so it was a bit of an adventure to find Flute Fine Food and with the help of Google Maps, we were soon pulling into the car park.  Flute is in a little strip of shops on Cavendish Road and I was quite surprised to see that the car park was full and most of the tables already taken up at 8am.  We've been getting to some of the most popular breakfast joints in Brisbane at this time and very rarely have the cafes had so many people already eating their breakfast.

Flute Fine Food opens up pretty early on the weekends and had clearly been in the swing of things well before we turned up.  While Coorparoo is not really suburbia, there is just enough of the suburban lifestyle that people get up early on Sunday morning and apparently all head over to Flute for breakfast! While I was parking the car, SC rushed over to get a table and took a seat outside the main dining area which was mostly protected from the elements by huge awning and plastic coverings to keep the wind out.  As I joined her, I was surprised to see the location she had chosen as the wind was quite fresh and SC hates the cold.  Choice made, it was too late to change over as the other tables were filling up fast.

Cheap Eats - Kotobuki

For years and years and years we used to get our fish and chips from a little shop in East Brisbane called Fish53, that was before we found out that the Fishmongers Wife was just a few hundred metres down the road.  We used to sit down and eat our fish and chips and wonder about a little Japanese restaurant down the alley next to Fish53.  No matter what time of the day or night we went for fish and chips, this little hole in the wall Japanese restaurant seemed to have queues of people waiting to get in.  Of course we never did anything about checking it out, we were in our fish and chip phase of eating.

Fast forward a few years and my blog dictates that I check out as many new places (to me) as possible and since I've been going through a Japanese phase recently, I thought it would be time to hit Kotobuki in East Brisbane.  Lots of people I know love this little Japanese hot spot, in fact it's one of the most popular eating spots on Urbanspoon.  It never occurred to me that the little hole in the wall Japanese spot next to Fish53 was Kotobuki, that was until I went to my trusty friend Google Maps, then it all fell into place.

We couldn't have picked a worse day to head out for lunch, it was pouring rain and the sky was so overcast and heavy with clouds it seemed like it was early evening, even though it was only 11:30am.  We had a choice, go or not go and my choice was to get out of the apartment for a bit, so we braved the wet conditions and crazy Queensland wet weather drivers and made our way to East Brisbane.  I'd read that parking was a problem around East Brisbane, but now knowing exactly where Kotobuki was, we were confident of scoring a park, and we did, right out front.  The problem was getting out of the car and into the restaurant without getting soaked, the mission was partially successful.


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