Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Breakfast Series - Plenty over at West End

I love going out for breakfast and I'm not alone, it seems as if everyone wants to check out the latest Brisbane breakfast hot spot, which seems to change with stark regularity.  One of the hottest places to check out for some time has been Plenty, over in West End and I've been keen to check it out for ages. I'd have gone earlier too, if it wasn't for the fact that Plenty does not open on Sunday mornings, which is our normal morning for breakfast out.  Drats!

You might be thinking, why not just go on a Saturday, damn it!!  And its a good point, except SC has her personal training sessions on a Saturday morning and we almost never get away for breakfast as a consequence.  That all changed unexpectedly over the weekend and SC was not feeling up to the rigours of PT torture, but it did open up a window of opportunity, which was quickly filled with a trip to West End.

It was a rainy and miserable morning, too wet for us to walk the short(ish) distance to West End, so we hopped in the car and cruised on over to look for a park.  For those in the know, this is no easy feat, with the West End markets dominating the area on a Saturday morning, so SC did the usual 'dump-n-run', so I could score a seat.  Located on Montague Road, just around the corner from the start of Stanley Street, Plenty had plenty of seats available once I'd been dumped by the sidewalk near the entrance.  I was able to score a great seat and sat around for some time before SC made her way into the cafe, brolly in hand.  Apparently, she'd had to park quite some way away!

While I'd been waiting for SC, I'd managed to have a decent look around the cafe, which was located in a big warehouse type environment, that looked (purposefully) like an incomplete building site in parts and funky cafe in the middle.  A huge looking kitchen was down at the very rear of the cafe, with extra seating tucked around the corner.  It was a very interesting looking little cafe, with lots of seating spread out over the area, including a second story, that again looked like an incomplete building with exposed wood beams.

Melbourne Series - The Meat and Wine Co

With so many restaurants to choose from and usually being the guy that makes the choices, it was unusual for me to hand over the decision to others to choose a spot for dinner.  I'm not sure if I'd have picked the Meat and Wine Co as an early choice when visiting Melbourne, but it was the last day of a conference I'd been attending and the Meat and Wine Co is where we'd been booked.

I'd not heard of the Meat and Wine Co but quickly got up to speed.  Established in 2000, the Meat and Wine Co was created to create a family friendly steakhouse dining experience.  With a number of outlets around the cooler suburbs around  Sydney and Melbourne, the Meat and Wine Co has adopted an African meets Australian theme inside the restaurant.

We were booked into the Southbank outlet of the M&WC, which was just across the street from the Crown complex.   Our reservation was for 6pm sharp, with express instructions that we had to be out for the second sitting of the night at 8pm.  I was really surprised by this, given it was a Thursday, it was impressive that they could maintain a double sitting on a week night.  I was even more impressed when we finally hit the restaurant and saw how big the dining area was, over several floors.

It was pretty easy to see where the wine section came from in the name, with an extraordinary array of wines on display as we made our way upstairs to our table.  Walking up the stairs, there was a three story high stack of crates, filled with bottles of wine of all descriptions.  Of course, not being a connoisseur of wine, they could have all been ordinary, but visually, the stack was spectacular.  I was keen to see if the meat side of the name would be as impressive.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Melbourne Series - Bistro Guillaume Crown Casino

I'm pretty fortunate in that I get to travel around the country a bit, which allows me to go to some pretty awesome restaurants outside of Queensland.  I was recently in Melbourne for a week and stayed in one of the best foodie complexes in Australia, Crown Casino.  Now I'm not a gambling man and don't really love the concept of gambling in a casino, but Crown sure does know how to put a whole complex together.  Some of the best restaurants in Melbourne are located at the Crown complex, which makes it really easy to get access to great food when staying at one of the Crown hotels.

I was down in Melbourne for a tech conference, which the geeky side of me always finds pretty exciting, but like the saying goes 'all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy'.  So I took the opportunity in between bouts of serious work (well, as serious as you can get at a tech conference) to check out some nice dining spots.

We were in Crown Palladium for the conference, which is coincidentally just a few steps away from some amazing restaurants, including Rockpool Bar and Grill (see post here) and Number 8 (see post here), just to name a few.  I'd been to many others in the complex, but all prior to commencing my blog, so I really wanted to get in to write about one of my favourite little French bistros in Melbourne.  

Bistro Guillaume is one of the many restaurants around the country set up by Guillaume Brahimi and has been awarded an Australian Good Food Guide chefs hat, which is usually a pretty good indicator of quality.   Inspired by many of France's neighbourhood bistros, the restaurant has a very chic and Parisian feel about it, while maintaining a modern edge.  What I really love about Bistro Guillaume is their lunch time special, which comes in at a very special $49 dollars for two courses or $59 for three courses.  The prices are actually pretty unbelievable, considering many of the mains on offer start at $40 dollars anyway.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Breakfast Series - Il Locale - my (not quite) local Italian

For a long long time, one of my favourite breakfast spots in Brisbane was just around the corner from my apartment in the CBD.  Bordering on the City / Valley fringe is a little shopping complex that amongst other things houses the Valley Woolworths as well as a little breakfast spot called Tognini's Trattoria (see post here).  Unfortunately, as was the case once I started blogging about food, I stopped going to my regular spots so often, mainly so I could get out and experience as many restaurants and cafes as possible.

I was petty excited to learn that another restaurant owned by the Togninis had started a breakfast service, so excited that I decided that I had to get across and check it out.  I'd been to Il Locale once before, and that was for the opening launch party (see post here) which had been pretty good, but I'd not been back since.  Located in my old stomping ground in the Rosalie Village (I used to live just around the corner), Il Locale took over from my all time favourite pizza spot - Tomato Brothers, which unfortunately doesn't exist any more.

We'd decided that a breakfast with our very good buddies, Thommo and DruBoy was well overdue and that catching up over a nice breakfast in Rosalie would be a fantastic idea.  Our breakfasts with Thommo and DruBoy have become more frequent in the last twelve months and DruBoy and I have been branching out without the girls lately too, so breakfast is our new thing!  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning when we made our way across to Rosalie and surprisingly found that the whole area was pretty much dead!  It was puzzling to us as we remember the area as being a bustling hive of activity on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The 5th Element - back for a return visit

Wow, it seems like ages since I've sat down to think about and write about food...  I guess getting the flu puts a little bit of a dampener on things and I went over a week without a restaurant meal and didn't have the energy to write!

I'd decided that I would revisit one of the restaurants I had been to last year where I had a pretty ordinary experience, in fact, it was a terrible experience.  I'm talking about my visit to The 5th Element (see post here) from September last year, one that created quite a bit of a response at the time.  It was such a bad experience that you might be wondering why I decided to give it another go, which is a great question.

It was actually during a visit to one of my favourite restaurants that the idea came to me.  I'd been chatting to Jake Nicolson, head chef of Black Bird who'd mentioned that he was taking an active interest in the menu and kitchen at the 5th Element.  While Jake is the Executive Chef at Black Bird, he actually works for the Ghanem Group which owns Byblos in Brisbane and Melbourne as well as the 5th Element at South Bank.  Knowing the exacting standards of Jake, I was hoping that the 5th Element had found a new groove, but there was only one way to find out.

The 5th Element is a bar and a restaurant, so there was no doubt that we'd be heading to dinner with our usual dinner buds and perennial cocktail groupie TB and CI.  I'd actually had a little bit of trouble convincing CI that he should come along, he'd been the previous month and had not had a great experience.  There was no such complication with TI, the cocktail menu at the 5th Element has always been pretty good.  After some assurances that it would be much better than our previous visits, CI agreed to come along for a Saturday night dinner.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Lutece Bistro and Wine Bar - a truffle degustation from the French master

There are not too many foods which evoke a pure sense of indulgence, but for centuries, black truffles have been sought out by chefs for their aromatic, earthy and indulgent flavour.  The French Black Truffle grows in the roots of oak or hazel trees, with the edible portion harvested during the winter months, usually by specially trained dogs or even pigs.  Once the exclusive domain of regional France, Australia now has a very successful black truffle season, which has enabled the once almost inaccessible fungus to have become almost mainstream.

I say almost mainstream because at up to $9000 per kilo, the humble truffle is one of the most expensive food substances on the planet.  In previous years, we'd always take the opportunity to add truffle to a meal when offered - which usually meant a supplementation of fifty dollars a person for a few shavings of the 'black gold'.  Even our most recent visit to Vue De Monde was elevated to our most expensive meal ever due to the inflationary impacts of truffle (see post here).

Even though we've always added truffle to a meal, interestingly, we've never taken the next step of attending one of the many truffle dinners that are invariably offered each year in Brisbane.  Well, that was until recently, when we were invited along to check out the Lutece Bistro seven course truffle degustation dinner by renowned French chef Romain Bapst.  Romain hails from Strasbourg in France but has lived in Australia since 1990, where he has worked in some of Australia's finest restaurants before establishing his little French bistro in Bardon.  Most impressively, Romain is the President of Bocuse D'or Australia, which is perhaps the most quintessentially French and prestigious cooking competitions in the world.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Brisbane Arcade - high tea by candlelight

I'm sure many of you who are regular visitors to the Brisbane CBD and in particular the Queen Street Mall, know it can get pretty hectic at times. After visiting all of the major city Malls around the country, I can safely say that our very own Queen Street is the best and busiest in Australia. It's become particularly crowded since the East West building had been demolished to make way for the new double decker Jimmy's on the Mall.  Amongst all of the craziness that can be the QSM is an oasis of calm and tranquility, yep, I'm talking about the wonderful Brisbane Arcade.

Brisbane Arcade celebrated it's 90th birthday last year, which make it an anachronism in today's increasingly modern and fast paced world.  Originally designed by one of Queensland's most important turn-of-the-century architects, Brisbane Arcade reflects the Edwardian Baroque style made popular in European cities in the late 18th century.  In a city that for decades has torn down the old to replace with the new, it's a miracle that the original terrazzo stairs, balustrades and dado panelling that grace the arcade are still standing, just as they did ninety years ago.

Many of the shops that call Brisbane Arcade home feel as if they are from another era too, one that was reminiscent of a bygone time where style and substance was the order of the day.  Award winning fashion stores mingle with classic timepieces; jewellery stores mix with wonderful gift stores; it's still one of the only places in Brisbane that has a classic millinery shop (that's a hat maker if you didn't know).  What most people don't know, or often forget, is that there are a number of wonderful options to refresh and energise within the arcade.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Cheap Eats - Ben's Burgers

Who knew how polarising pickles could be?  I mean, I just assumed that everyone else hated pickles as much as I did and saw no place for them in hamburgers!  Apparently that's not the case and just as many people like pickles in their burgers as those that don't.  You might be asking why I'd kick off a post with a question like that, but I found out over the weekend just how many people shared my thoughts and how many people thought I was nuts.

But let's start at the beginning. I'd heard about a new burger joint in the Valley that everyone's been talking about.  I've got a few followers who know about my burger fixation and need to find the best burgers in Brisbane and thankfully they've been scouting new places out for me.  Ben's Burgers has taken over the old Flamingo Cafe spot in Winn Lane in Fortitude Valley.  It's a great little spot, just a little out of the way of the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Valley.

We'd actually walked past Ben's Burgers a couple of weeks ago when walking to James Street and even though it was well past 2pm, the place was packed full of hipsters, funksters and some down and outers just enjoying a burger.  At the time I'd decided to make a beeline for a burger the next opportunity, which as it turned out was the following week.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Madame Wu - fine dining Chinese - take two

Fine dining Chinese.  Take a moment to get your head around that statement.  Ever since learning that one of Melbourne's finest restaurants over the last ten years was a fine dining Chinese restaurant, I've thought that it would be a great idea. I've never been to the Flower Drum in Melbourne but I've always wanted to get in and check out the Melbourne three hatted restaurant.  Every time I've been in Melbourne, its been booked out on the nights that I've wanted to go (note to self - plan better for August trip).

I thought we were on to a winner a few years ago when Zen Central opened its doors on the site of the old Rugby Club in the Eagle Street precinct.  Touted as Brisbane's only premium Chinese restaurant, it was to be our Flower Drum equivalent.  Quoting from one review "Its master chefs, direct from Asia, us only the freshest ingredients and first class produce to create delicate dishes..."  I have to say, Zen Central didn't last too long, in fact, it was closed before I could even get in to check it out, but SC did manage to get in there with some work colleagues and her response was a very loud 'Meh'.  Over priced and quality that was reportedly not much better than you're average Valley Chinese, the fine dining Chinese cuisine dream was over before it began.

Intriguing then that only a few short years later I received a cryptic email one day stating that Madame Wu was coming.  It was not a lot of information, but slowly over a couple of months, I was drip fed details and managed to hear rumours that a new attempt at Chinese fine dining was on its way.  I was pretty excited but a little apprehensive that someone was brave enough to have another crack at a concept that had failed in recent memory - and in almost the same location.  I got my first taste of Madame Wu at the formal opening a couple of weeks ago and I have to say that I was impressed, so impressed in fact, I came back to have a full meal as quickly as I could.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Breakfast Series - Soul Bistro Milton

I'm not sure if you've noticed but breakfasts in Brisbane have been creeping up in price.  Slowly but surely, the humble breakfast in our fair city is becoming quite an expensive proposition.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, the quality of breakfast has also risen, to the point that Brisbane is now the centre of the known universe for the weekend breakfast (true story!).

A lot of the cafes and restaurants I've visited for breakfast have been in the mid to high price range, with a recent breakfast hitting seventy bucks for the two of us.  While that might seem a little exorbitant, it was a lovely breakfast..... but it was still seventy bucks.  Our latest breakfast adventure was at the opposite end of the spectrum and was one of the best value breakfasts we've had in a very long time. 

I'd had Soul Bistro on my radar for a little while but we'd never quite got around to visiting, that was until recently.  Located on the corner of busy Milton and Baroona roads, Soul was on of those little spots that you'd normally drive past a thousand times before realising that it was there.  We had a reasonable idea where the cafe was and cruised on over just in time for Soul's 8am opening.  In years gone by, when we lived around the corner in Bardon, we'd seen the little shopfront change hands a heap of times but Soul has been in existence for around six years.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Dell'ugo South Bank - another one bites the dust

I'm not really a sentimental guy.  In fact, I've pretty much been pragmatic about most things in my life and while I sometimes mourn the loss of a restaurant here and there, it's normally a case of the free market in action.  Where I start to feel a touch of outrage is when when my sense of fairness is triggered, which happened recently with the news that South Bank restaurant Dell'ugo would be forced out of its Grey Street home.  You can read the article here, but essentially the Italian fine diner is being moved on because it didn't meet the future mix of traders that South Bank see in the well known restaurant strip's future.  That's ten years of history to be wiped - sorry, you need to go.  Outrage!

While Dell'ugo is not one of my favourite restaurants around, I have been a few times, both to the South Bank restaurant and their older and slightly more traditional establishment over at New Farm (see post here).  Given the news that the restaurant would soon close it's doors, I thought that I'd better get back over to South Bank, check it out and hopefully have a great parting memory.  Oh, and also hopefully, spark just a little outrage about the injustice.

South Bank has not always been a 'happy hunting ground' when it comes to dining out, with about a fifty percent success rate. I've had some amazing meals (Stokehouse) but I've also had some terrible experiences (Fifth Element).  We'd arranged to have a Saturday night meal, which has been one of the common factors in not having a great experience, it seems as if the very high volume of diners pushing through South Bank really does effect the quality on the night.  It had been a cold and rainy Saturday, but the weather cleared enough for us to walk from the CBD to South Bank, a walk we always enjoy.  


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