Sunday, 29 June 2014

Breakfast Series - Sparrow and Finch

I've kind of started thinking about my foodie life as pre food blog and post food blog.  It's actually quite a large distinction really.  Prior to my life as a food blogger, I used to eat out a lot, but would tend to find a place that I liked and pretty much eat at the same place all the time.  As a food blogger, writing about my food adventures, that might get pretty boring, pretty quickly. So my life eating around Brisbane is much more diverse (although I still stick to a few restaurants for my nights off).

I've mentioned this because there are a few places around Brisbane that I used to go to a fair bit, but have not really visited since I started my blog.  One such cafe is Sparrow and Finch in the CBD, which is a well known lunch spot for CBD professionals and a bit of a Friday night pizza and beer stop.  I have eaten lunch at Sparrow and Finch a fair bit but I really know the place best for its breakfasts for which they're not so well known.

I had a day off recently and thought what better way to spend a cold winter's morning than heading back to Sparrow and Finch for a spot of breakfast.  Now, almost all of the times I'd eaten at Sparrow and Finch for breakfast, it had actually been an early lunch, around 11am and I was always on the cusp of arriving too late and sometimes I'd miss out on their breakfasts, which I quite liked.  There was no fear of that happening, arriving at 7:30 for a bite to eat, I was right in the 'breakfast zone'.

Sparrow and Finch is located on the corner of Adelaide and Creek Street in the CBD and is what I'd call a very casual affair.  It's laid out like a typical CBD cafe, with a kitchen out back, surrounded by a counter at the front but where it deviates is the quality of the fittings, which are pretty sleek with lots of white marble. There is also a bar around the side of Sparrow and Finch and this is where most of the Friday night festivities take place.  There are some seats inside, but most of the seating is alfresco, either on Adelaide Street or Gresham Lane.

Breakfast Series - Little Brew

One of the funkier little cafes in Brisbane city is Brew in Burnett Lane, where I love going from time to time for inner city tapas (see post here).  I particularly love the chorizo that Brew has on offer and whenever I get a hankering for the tasty Spanish treat, I head on into Brew.  I'd known that Brew had opened up an outpost (ha, that sounds like it's miles away) in Paddington and it was developing quite the reputation as a top breakfast spot. So it was time for me to head up the hill to one of my favourite inner city suburbs and check it out.

Since we have a severe aversion to waiting in queues, despite the cold winter's morning, we did our usual thing and got up pretty early one Sunday morning and beat the queues.  Little Brew is located midway up Latrobe Terrace and we managed to find a park right out the front, which is always a bonus, and as we made our way to the cafe, we took a moment out to admire the Brisbane CBD from one of the better vantage points in Brisbane.  It was a fabulous view and reminded me again why I love living in this city.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Casual Dining - Sorellina Pizzeria

There has a lot been posted online in recent times asking 'where is Brisbane's best pizza?'.  Now I've got some pretty good ideas myself but my favourite pizza joint was not listed in an article recently and I was a little perplexed.  I personally think that Beccofino, over at Newstead is far and away the best pizza, especially the margherita pizza.  

Anyway, this post is not about Beccofino but another pizza place that has been getting a lot of press and was recently voted as one of Brisbane's best pizza joints.  I've seen Sorellina mentioned so many times recently as superb pizza that I had to get over and check it out for myself.  Sorellina is in that funky little section of Logan Road at Wooloongabba that has Brisbane institutions Pearl Cafe (see post here), Cross Town Eating House (see post here) and the wonderful 1889 Enotecca (see post here).  

With such amazing eateries nearby, I had high expectations of Sorellina and hoped that there would be another classic spot for people to check out in that little strip.  I knew that there was a no reservations policy at Sorellina, so we decided to head over fairly early on a Sunday evening for dinner.  A double benefit of our timing was that it was super easy to find a park, right out the front in Logan Road.  Now, if you've ever tried to find a park at that little strip when going for dinner, you know how lucky we must have been to score a park straight up.

Singapore Series - Bacchanalia - uber cool dining

I'd been in Singapore a few days and was starting to get a 'lay of the land', in fact, given my normal propensity to get lost in suburban Brisbane, I was on geo-positional fire.  I have to say that my cause was helped by one of the most amazing public Mass Transit Systems I've come across, it's so simple to get around Singapore on their 'MRT'....

The day before, I'd enjoyed a great NYC style burger in db Bistro (see post here) and was given a Gourmet & Travel magazine to read through, which just happened to have the The Peak Annual Restaurant Award winner profiles.  I was looking for some great restaurants to check out and thought it quite serendipitous.  Flipping through the magazine, one restaurant jumped right out at me with its cool and familiar name.  Bacchanalia (similar to our own Bacchus) has just picked up Best New Restaurant for 2014, which meant that it was now on my 'must visit list'.

Suspecting that Bacchanalia might be hard to get into, I called for a reservation and was pretty stoked to get in straight away.  My call to the restaurant had me connected to an expat Aussie and we got to chatting for a while and made a note to catch up with him when I hit the dining room.  A short MRT ride to City Hall, which was the closest MRT station saw me in the heart of old Singapore and brought back memories of my first couple of visits to Singapore more than 20 years earlier.  It didn't seem to have changed as much as other parts of the city that I'd visited so far.  It was a weird experience!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Habitat Restaurant and Bar - West Ends got a new hangout

OK, I'll start this blog by declaring my interest right up front.  I've been a big fan of restaurateurs and all round great guys Malcolm Watts and Scott Higginbotham for some time.  I remember the first time I met Malcolm when checking out his new Tarragindi cafe Leaf Espresso Bar (see post here) and being struck by what a down to earth guy he was.  You know what it's like, right, when you meet someone and theres a connection and you know you've made a friend for life.

I kept in contact with Malcolm and was pretty excited to learn that he'd planned a new cafe, this time a little closer to the city.  This time Scott and Malcolm had created a funky little cafe at the 'Gabba, named after Malcolm's two dogs, and I was again invited in to check the place out (see post here and here).  With a name like Moose and Gibson, the funky little 'Gabba cafe was hard to forget, especially with one of the more amazing light fittings in Brisbane.  I'd also had one of my favourite breakfasts of 2013 from head chef Luke Tye and even met Malcolm's cool dad for the first time.

I was really excited when Malcolm gave me a heads up that he was creating something bigger and bolder than he'd ever done before.  Given the progress from his first little suburban espresso bar to a much more funky and sophisticated 'Gabba cafe, I was intrigued by Malcolm's bold statement.  I was even happier when I found out that he'd taken a step closer and was opening up his bold new restaurant in West End.  Of course it was a natural progression from espresso bar, to cafe to full blown restaurant.... and what a restaurant.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Singapore Series - L'Atelier Joel Robuchon Singapore

One of the major benefits of staying at the Sentosa Resort World on my recent trip to Singapore was the absolute abundance of world class dining within walking distance.  When you're talking about some of the greatest food dynasties in the world at the moment, many people think of Gordon Ramsay or David Chang or Jamie Oliver.  Where people should be going with their thinking is Joel Robuchon, who has a world record 28 Michelin Stars to his name and was titled 'Chef of the Century' by Gault Millau in 1989.

I'd been wanting to visit a Joel Robuchon restaurant for a long time, but given they are all in the Northern Hemisphere, it's been pretty hard to arrange, which is why visiting it was one of my primary objectives while in Singapore.  While Singapore doesn't have the Michelin Star system, the local L'Ateilier de Joel Robuchon has won the the best dining experience category in the Singapore Experience Awards for 2012 and 2013.  I was pretty sure I was going to be in for a treat.

Joel Robuchon had shocked the culinary world when he retired at a relatively young age of 50 but came out of retirement to develop a new concept where chefs can experiment and create while working on new ideas and fusing different concepts at each locale.  Each restaurant in the L'Atelier style is modelled on a dining experience that is immersive and invites guests to be part of the action with little separating diner from chef. The idea is to witness chefs create, prepare and cook innovative dishes right before their eyes - which in turn gives chefs the pleasure of watching guests enjoy their meals.

Sono Portside - tastes of Japanese

I love Japanese cuisine but probably don't indulge as often as I'd like, so when I was offered the opportunity to get in as a guest and check out the six course tasting menu, I accepted with a gleam in my eye.  My last memory of Sono Portside was an extremely positive one (see post here) and I was more than ready to come back for a return visit. Sono at Portside is a little outside of my normal stomping grounds, so I had to jump in the car and scoot over after work.  I was running a bit late but luckily, the traffic was pretty light and I made it on time.

If you've not heard of Sono, then it's possible you are new to Brisbane or possibly living under a rock!  Located over at Portside, Sono has been one of the few authentic Japanese fine dining experiences in Brisbane, which has been recognised by achieving a chefs hat by the Australian Good Food Guide.  It's often thought of as a special occasion dining spot because of it's beautiful and timeless fit out and incredible food, but as I'd find out, its also a regular spot for many locals.

We started off the night in the bar area where I met my dining companions for the night, most of which were foodies I'd not met face to face yet (but had through the social sphere).  We spent a little while getting to know each other over a few drinks while we waited for our full compliment to arrive and once our last guest arrived, we were shown to our table.  On my previous visit to Sono, it had just been a standard table for two, but I was excited to learn that we'd be dining in one of the private rooms which was a traditional low table. It also meant that we had to get our shoes off, so there was a mad scramble while we all bent over (mostly elegantly) and prepared for entry.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Singapore Series - Marina Bay Sands

One of the most imposing and impressive looking buildings I have ever seen has to be the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.  I'm sure you've seen it before, but just in case you haven't, let me paint a picture for you.  Three sky scrapers side by side with an ocean liner sitting atop.  I kid you not, that's precisely what the Marina Bay Sands looks like (see image here).

Not only is the Marina Bay Sands an amazing looking building, its one of the most amazing shopping complexes I've come across as well, with all of the names you would expect in the highest of high end shopping.  While the designer names of the fashion brands were impressive, it was the names behind some of the restaurants in Marina Bay Sands that had me most excited.

I ended up spending a bit of time in the Marina Bay Sands complex on my recent visit to Singapore and was lucky enough to get into some exciting restaurants and check out some amazing food.

Two Small Rooms - rebirth of a restaurant

In what was possibly a sign of things to come, in March 2013 well known and much loved Toowong fine dining restaurant Two Small Rooms announced that it would be shutting it's doors after nearly twenty years of operation.  I was a little sad about this at the time, I'd never been to the Milton Road restaurant but had always meant to go.  I think this was a sentiment from a lot of people once they heard that Two Small Rooms was shutting up shop, if only....  If only more people had moved from thinking about going to actually going there might have been a different outcome....

Fast forward a couple of months and it was announced that Two Small Rooms would be resurrected by enterprising young Chef Josh Lawson, moving into the role of chef-owner for the first time.  Josh has spent some time in some of Brisbane's favourite restaurants, most notably Cha Cha Char, Alfred and Constance and former South Bank French favourite Piaf.  While Two Small Rooms had always been a fine dining restaurant, Josh's plans included making the restaurant a little more accessible, with a more casual approach.

I'd held off on checking out the new Two Small Rooms, looking for just the right opportunity to get along and check it out.  That opportunity presented itself recently when regular dinner buddies CI&TB had a slot available to catch up in their very busy schedules.  It had been over six weeks since I'd seen my bud CI and I was suffering withdrawal symptoms from not catching up with one of my best mates.  We ran through a list of possibilities and all decided that Two Small Rooms would be a great spot to catch up and hang out.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Singapore Series - Ocean by Cat Cora

Who doesn't like travelling?  Even better than travelling is visiting some amazing restaurants while travelling.  Last year I had the opportunity to spend some time in New York and was able to dine at some of the most amazing restaurants in the world (see here).  Recently, I was fortunate enough to travel to Singapore, also recognised as one of the finest foodie destinations in the world.  I was travelling for work for a conference but there was plenty of time after each day had finished to explore the best restaurants that Singapore had to offer.

It had been almost twenty five years since my last visit to Singapore and as you would expect, the city was unrecognisable.  In my mind, it was still the bustling little Asian city from my youth but the reality of my folly became readily apparent on the drive from the airport to my hotel.  Singapore was massive and completely modern, with a simply stunning skyline that was centred around so many tall buildings and the incredible looking Marina Bay Sands (more on that in future posts).

I was booked into stay at Sentosa Island at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was where the conference I was attending was to be held.  In case you're wondering what the conference was about, it was for the regional qualifiers for the world contact centre awards.  I was there to present and hopefully win.

I'd left on a Saturday morning and the travelling took most of the day and by the time I'd reached the hotel, it was getting on in the evening.  What it actually meant for me was that it was dinner time and I needed to find a place to relax and have my first (of many) dinners in Singapore.  Luckily, Sentosa Island is home to quite a number of fantastic restaurants and after a little research and a quick phone call, I was booked into one of the Island's best.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Breakfast Series - Pourboy Espresso

It's really unusual for me to hit up a cafe for breakfast mid week but that's exactly what I did recently, with Pourboy Espresso in the CBD being my destination.  I say that like it's a difficult task, but in reality, it's the easiest thing in the world for me to do...  Pourboy is about twenty five meters from the exit of my apartment.  What were the circumstances that saw me hitting up a cafe for breakfast outside of my usual weekend excursions?  Well, I'd just been through a particularly hard fast day (see five two diet here) and it was the day before heading off to Singapore for work, so I felt like treating myself.

Pourboy Espresso has been the ignored cafe around town for me, which is pretty unusual as I normally hit up new cafes pretty quickly.  It's been open for about three years and I've walked past the cafe every morning on my way to work and and again on the way home, which means that I'd walked past Pourboy about 2,500 times before I finally decided to get in for breakfast.  That's pretty weird.  To be honest, I'd looked at the menu a few times and always held back because I'd never (ever) seen scrambled eggs on the menu, which is my standard breakfast fare.

What was even stranger about my failure to visit Pourboy was the extremely positive reputation that the cafe has built up over the last couple of years.  Located in Wharf Street in the CBD, it's not really in a spot that would be considered highly visible, yet it's steadily built it's reputation on great coffee and an uncompromising approach to food by chef and part owner Mark Bell.  The menu changes regularly and comprises of local, seasonal produce with a French twist that shows off some of Mark's culinary training.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Casual Dining - The Schonell Pizza Cafe

This one might take you back!  We were feeling pretty lazy and in need of some pizza, so immediately set about looking for the latest and greatest pizza places in town.  There were a few contenders, places that we'd not been to before but were starting to get reputations as the pizza joints to check out.  Then it struck me, why not look back, way back to a time when pizza was a mainstay in our diets, a time when getting pizza was the only dining out we did.

Why not go back and check out the Schonell Pizza Cafe!  Genius!

It has been a very, very long time since we'd even thought about the Pizza Cafe and even longer since we'd been.  We were taking a bit of a risk really, when you revisit a memory you need to consider that it might not live up to expectations.  But then I thought about why we stopped getting pizzas from the Schonell and it all came back to me, my last pizza there was literally inedible, in fact it tasted like axle grease.

Undeterred from that last experience, we pressed on and hopped in the car to drive out to the St Lucia campus of the University of Queensland, the home of the Schonell Pizza Cafe.  It's funny how the mind plays tricks on you.  We used to get pizza from the Shonell all of the time, but after we parked our car and went search of the Pizza Cafe, we actually got lost....  We couldn't believe it, lost wandering around UQ looking for pizza, it was quite funny really.  Luckily, we had Google Maps on our phones and soon had ourselves sorted out and before too long we were standing in the food courtyard considering our pizza options.

Casual Dining - Kwan Brothers

How crazy is the Valley dining scene getting?  It seems like week in and week out, there is a new dining venue opening and they all seem pretty cool. Much has been written about the ever expanding number of American (Gringo) style dining spots, so it's pretty refreshing to write about a different type of opening.

There are plenty of Asian style restaurants in the Valley and Sunnybank, but new openings don't normally garner much attention.  That's where Damien Griffith and his team come into their own.  Not afraid to mix things up, Damien is responsible for Valley hot spots Alfred and Constance, Chester Street Kitchen and Alfredo's Pizza, a trio of very different styles of food.  It's now a quartet with the opening of the very funky Kwan Brothers and I was invited along recently to check it out.

Kwan Brothers is located in Alfred Street right next door to Alfredo's Pizza and is nothing like any Asian style restaurant I've been to before.  Equal parts hawker market from Singapore and night markets of Hong Kong it balances out the funkier and seedier sides of Asia style dining establishments and bars.  The interior is polished cement floors and dark walls with bright red neon signs that are unmistakably Asian in their influence and all add to the feel that you've entered a different world.  An exposed kitchen has the sights, sounds and smells that further contribute to the sense of disappearing into the depths of Singapore, Hong Kong or even Tokyo.


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