Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sydney Series - Rockpool

Neil Perry is one of Australia's most recognisable chefs and restauranteurs.  With his TV shows and chain of multi award winning restaurants, it's clear that Neil is one of the rock stars of the culinary world.  I've been to a number of restaurants in the Neil Perry stable, including both the Sydney and Melbourne Rockpool Bar and Grills (see post here) as well as the very cool Spice Temple in Sydney (see post here).  The one restaurant that I've been dying to check out was the original, Rockpool Sydney.

I was in Sydney recently for a flying-stop-over, flying down to attend the taping of the SBS program, Insight (yep, as a guest), staying overnight and then flying back to work the next morning.  I was pretty excited to have been invited by Insight to speak as an expert in my Industry and I'm pretty sure I will get a bit of air time (will find out in February).  Anyway, I digress.  With one night in Sydney, I had to choose between Quay, Sepia and Rockpool as my destination. Quay was booked out, Sepia didn't answer their phone and Rockpool had a spot - phew!

I've been to Sydney a heap of times and walked by Rockpool often, but if I was hoping to get along to the original George Street location at the Rocks, I was to be disappointed.  Rockpool had moved recently into larger digs, so it was the new Bridge Street location that I set out to find (well, I gave the taxi driver the address - good enough!).  Dropped off across the street from the new digs, I could see that Rockpool was in a cool old sandstone building with the only features identifying the new restaurant being a couple of plaques with Rockpool engraved in simple script.

85 Miskin Street - the Degustation and the friends

There was a moment when time stood still.  It was only for a few seconds, but in those precious moments, the world around me disappeared. 

I’d just read an article, one of my favourite restaurants, run by one of the city’s nicest blokes was shutting down……  How could this be possible, Brent’s was my go-to special occasion spot, a place to spend birthdays and anniversaries!  As I read on, the details became clear, not closing, just changing – a new look and a new feel.  The world swam back into focus and I was able to breath again.

Brent’s became 85 Miskin Street, with head chef Brent Farrell deciding that a change was in order.  No longer a white linen fine dining restaurant, 85 Miskin Street became more than a special occasion place – it transformed into one of my regulars.  Not surprising though, Brent’s been cheffing for about twenty years and in that time, he’s learnt a trick or three.  With a plan to make his well-known restaurant a little more accessible, the risk paid off when Brent was rewarded with a 2015 Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat.

Now, I have to make a confession here.  In the last twelve months, I’ve eaten at 85 Miskin Street so often that Brent and I have become friends.   I’m unashamedly a fan of his cooking and rate a number of his dishes as the best I’ve eaten anywhere in the world.  In fact, three of my all time top ten meals were eaten at Brent’s and 85 Miskin Street! 

As a consequence, I’ve been banging on about the place for so long, some friends finally took the hint and joined me for dinner.  What transpired was a degustation for the ages.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Deer Duck Bistro - the Interstate Chef Series

I was having a bit of a Facebook chat with an online buddy one day, just shooting the shit about Brisbane restaurants and the Queensland food scene.  While we were chatting, we were joined by a mutual friend, who just happens to run of of Brisbane's edgier restaurants, Nicholas Cooper from Deer Duck Bistro (see post here).  By way of jumping into the conversation, Nicholas just dumped a list of names and asked us what they all had in common.  Sure, I though, I'll bite.  Jumping on Google, it soon became apparent that all the names on the list were from Chefs and they appeared to all be from Melbourne. My guess back to Nicholas?  That they were all Collingwood supporters.

Of course I was wrong, although it did elicit a bit of a chuckle (in the form of LOL).  The list was of course chefs, well known chefs from interstate, but what Nicholas had in fact given us was a list of chefs that he was inviting up to his Brisbane suburban bistro for guest stints.  It was the early stages of the planning for his "Interstate Celebrity: Chefs Dinner Series" - Friends of the Duck.  At the time I thought it was a great idea.  Well, the Friends of the Duck celebrity chefs dinner kicked off recently and Nicholas invited me along to check out the first one.  Sweet!

Nicholas himself is a talented chef from way back, and along with his very talented head chef Chris Hagen would be kicking off the series with talented Melbourne chef Mathew Macartney.  Mathew has an amazing history that includes working for some incredible Australian chefs, as well as spending time overseas in Fiji, New Zealand and Dubai.  Mathew has also won the title of Australia's best Sous Chef, a title where the prize was a six week appointment in any restaurant in the world.  Choosing (at the time) three michelin starred New York restaurant, Daniel, the gig gave Mathew, in his own words,  'a unique opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture within one of the worlds most awarded restaurants' (see post on Daniel here).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Prive249 - The chef and the challenge


That’s what I’m chasing and I think it’s what you’re chasing too…

There are a lot of great restaurants around our fair city of Brisbane but as great as our restaurants are, there are very few unique dining experiences or UDX.  As much as it pains me to admit, there can sometimes be a little bit of sameness in our restaurants, especially when you eat out a lot.  Every now and then, something comes along to excite and tantalise the tastebuds, but after a while, even the exciting becomes the norm.

Whether it’s catering to a mass market or just not feeling inspired to try something new, I think our chefs have the inspirational spark to do the amazing, if only they are given the chance.

At least one chef in Brisbane is looking to shake off the shackles and try something new.  Prive249 is one of Brisbane’s few Hatted Restaurants and it’s an incredible white linen and silver service fine diner.  Chef de Cuisine and culinary wiz Josh Okorn is responsible for producing beautiful and award winning food that was good enough for European dignitaries during the recent G20.  He’s also a man in chains, just waiting to break out!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

G20 Global Flavours - Il Centro

Well, the G20 has been and gone and it went of without a hitch, pretty much.

It was interesting living in the CBD and watching the city clear out and on the Friday and Saturday of the event, Brisbane was indeed much like a ghost town....  During the day. At night, the city came alive with all of the dignitaries and city dwellers out and about seeing what was going on.

However, there was more to the G20 event than the leaders of the world coming to our fair city to discuss, well I'm not really that interested in what they discussed, but there was more going on than met the eye.  Given that the eyes of the world were on Brisbane, it's was (and still is) a huge opportunity for us to showcase our fair city and all that it has to offer.

In conjunction with Brisbane Marketing, many of Brisbane's best restaurants have joined the party by participating in a month of foodie celebrations.  Global Flavours is the culinary celebration of Brisbane's international-standard cuisine and local produce.  I'd been asked to help promote this once in a lifetime event by doing the tough job of visiting some of the restaurants that are involved - yeah, I know, but someone's gotta do it.  You can also get involved by visiting one of the city's participating restaurants and enjoying the best that Brisbane has to offer during the month of November.  See the complete list here.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Breakfast Series - Chow House

Another Saturday morning rolled around, but this one was a little different.  An early personal training session meant there was time for leisurely breakfast, a treat that normally is deferred to Sunday mornings (often depriving us of choices).  With the world at our feet, figuratively not literally, we decided to head into the Valley for a breakfast at the Chow House.

One of the funkier looking venus on James Street, Chow House is the Phoenix 'rising from the ashes' of the James Street Bistro.  Not that there were new owners, but more of a strategic move to freshen up a spot that hadn't really changed in a long time.  A move that seems to have paid off considerably! I'd never been to the previous incarnation, although I'd often wondered about it, and thought it was finally time to check out the space.

The Chow House is a fairly informal dining experience and is inspired by the street stalls of all exotic parts of the world, but mostly the Asian continent.  The menu reflects the use of the finest local seasonal produce and is prone to regular changes but regardless of how often, the menu always reflects its Asian inspiration.  

Feeling a little pooped from her PT session, we drove the short distance from our apartment in the CBD to James Street - yeah, I know, it's not that far to walk but we didn't want to waste any time either.  We were worried about parking, which can be quite unpredictable on a Saturday, but we were in luck, scoring a park (paid unfortunately) just around the corner in Robertson Street - which left us with a walk of only twenty metres - it was a great park!

Casual Dining - Dumpling Republic

I've always been a fan of Japanese dumplings, often called gyoza, with one Harajuku Gyoza being one of my favourite dumpling restaurants in Brisbane (see post here).  It was only recently that I started to see the benefit of other dumpling styles, most notably visiting Din Tai Fung in Singapore earlier this year. For those of you who don't know, Din Tai Fung originated out of Taiwan and specialises in xiaolongbao or soup dumplings....  Oh, Din Tai Fung also has a couple of outlets in Hong Kong that have been awarded Michelin Stars, so they're good!

While I was in Singapore, I developed a bit of a fixation on the xiaolongbao and found myself regularly dining at the Sentosa Island outlet of Din Tai Fung - I just couldn't get enough of those delicious soup dumplings.  They were exquisite, beautifully made and filled with the most amazing soup and highest quality pork.  Most amazing with the dumpling pastry, so thin yet so intricately put together, each one was perfection personified!

I was wandering around the re-developed Wintergarden recently and spied that a new dumpling restaurant had opened up right next to the now closed Wagamama.  Making a mental note to check it out, I decided that a lunchtime excursion would be required and it ended up being the week before Brisbane (essentially) shut down for the G20.  Making my way up the escalators that lead to Grill'd, I made a sharp right and found myself at the entrance to Dumpling Republic.  It was only 11:30am and the restaurant was pretty quiet, so quiet that there was no one at the front desk, so I had to stand around for a bit to try and catch someone's attention.

It didn't take too long before I was spotted and lead to the surprisingly large dining room, which was fitted out in very modern style with hints of Asian influences.  You'd never know how big the restaurant was from the entrance, I initially thought it would be quite small, but walking past the dumpling preparation room and kitchen area was eye opening.  I felt quite lonely at my table in the back of the restaurant with no one else around!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

G20 Global Flavours - Restaurant 2

If you're in Brisbane and you've not heard about the G20, then you've probably been in a deep coma in one of the City's fine hospitals.  For most of us who have been hearing about it non stop, or if you work or live in the city, have been involved in many briefings about the event, it could seem like its big and scary event.  

There is more to the G20 event than the leaders of the world coming to our fair city to discuss, well I'm not really that interested in what they plan on discussing, but there is more going on than meets the eye.  Given that the eyes of the world will be on Brisbane, it's a huge opportunity for us to showcase our fair city and all that it has to offer.

In conjunction with Brisbane Marketing, many of Brisbane's best restaurants have joined the party by participating in a month of foodie celebrations.  Global Flavours the the culinary celebration of Brisbane's international-standard cuisine and local produce.  I've been asked to help promote this once in a lifetime event by doing the tough job of visiting some of the restaurants that are involved - yeah, I know, but someone's gotta do it.  You can also get involved by visiting one of the city's participating restaurants and enjoying the best that Brisbane has to offer during the month of November.  See the complete list here.

My first stop of the #GlobalFlavours trail was one of Brisbane's most iconic dining spots, Restaurant 2 on Edward Street.  The classic fine diner by David Pugh is perhaps one of the best known and most loved restaurants in Brisbane and a restaurant that I've been to many times (see post here).  In one of the most beautiful old buildings on the corner of Edward and Alice Streets, the botanical gardens are the backdrop for the 'Two' dining experience.  With massive windows, reminiscent of New York park dining, Restaurant Two delivers on style and substance.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Stokehouse Brisbane - no better way to spend #SundayFunday

One of the things I love about this hobby of mine is that I get to promote the Brisbane food scene and all the greatness that it has to offer.  I do this in a couple of ways, firstly 'going undercover' and checking out new restaurants and then recounting my experiences back to you.  The other way, which seems to be picking up a bit at the moment, is getting back to places I love and doing a bit of promotion. 

I was recently invited along to the Stokehouse Brisbane, which is not only one of the best restaurants in Queensland with two Good Food Guide hats but is also rated as one of the top 100 restaurants in the country by Gourmet Traveller.  It's definitely a special occasion place and there are many people around town that rate it as their favourite restaurants.  It's a restaurant that I've been to many times over the years (see post here) and for me, it forms a special place in the local dining scene.

A restaurant is often as good as the team running it and General Manager Peter McMahon has a first rate team alongside him, led by award winning head chef Richard Ousby.  If you know your food, you might have known that Richard was formerly the sous chef at arguably the country's best restaurant Quay and won the 2011 Electrolux Appetite for Excellence chef award.  Also in the kitchen is a finalist of the 2014 young chef of the year, Ollie Hansford.  I had the pleasure of tasting Ollie's fantastic entry into the awards at this years Young Chef of the Year dinner (see post here).

There was never any doubt that we were in for a treat and we decided that we'd make it a #SundayFunday by cruising into the Stokehouse for a Sunday lunch.  If you've not been to the Stokehouse, it takes pride of place over at South Bank and has one of the prime positions of any restaurant in Brisbane - it's view of the Brisbane CBD is second to none.  We'd planned a leisurely stroll through the Botanical Gardens and across the Goodwill Bridge, but it turned out to be a beautifully warm day, so we were a little sweaty by the lime we'd traipsed across the bridge.  Luckily, we were a bit early and had the opportunity to cool down before our lunch commenced.

Nikuya - the Japanese Meat Shop

I have to tell you, blink around this town and you're gonna miss a lot. Just when I thought I'd finally checked out all of the restaurants at the Valley hotspot of M&A Lane, a new one opens up to taunt me! We were walking to the Valley last weekend to do some furniture shopping (yep, I bought some cool stuff - see here) and we came across Brisbane's latest Japanese restaurant - Nikuya.  We made a mental note to check it out sometime, but curiosity got the better of us and we made a reservation for later that night.

Now that we're into the warmer months, we're finding ourselves walking around a lot more and even though we'd walked about in the hot sun for most of the day, we took advantage of the lovely evening and wandered into the Valley for dinner.  As we arrived to Nikuya, we got a sense of how big the restaurant was.  Like it's neighbour The Flaming Olive (see post here), Nikuya is a massive space, but unlike it's neighbour, dining is split out over two levels - a more traditional restaurant downstairs and a Japanese BBQ up.

The direct Japanese to English translation for Nikuya is 'butcher' but Owner Patrick Ip uses the more literal translation of 'meat house'.  Some of you might know Patrick Ip's other restaurants Ginga and Bamboo Basket, which are popular dining spots in Brisbane (Ginga seems to be everywhere).  With a name like Meat House, you're going to expect to get some amazing meat and it's something that Nikuya seems pretty proud of.

After arriving, we followed our waitress to the back of the restaurant to a booth that was quite spacious for the two of us.  It seemed like quite a long walk and I was able to check out the interior and decor of the restaurant, which was very modern in appearance.  The dark wood of the tables and chairs were interspersed with circular beach coloured circles that had a bit of a retro feel about them. I also noticed the huge kitchen and bar area - I guess with a space that holds over 200 customers, you're going to need a huge kitchen....

Friday, 7 November 2014

Casual Dining - The Flying Cock

I've been a little surprised that the UK phenomenon, the Gastro Pub, has not really taken off in Brisbane. For a while there, I thought that we were on the verge of a new thing, but it didn't quite eventuate the way that American style foodie establishments have hit town.  If you've been to England, gastro pubs seem to be everywhere - it is after all where the phrase was coined in 1991 when mates David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in London and turned into a pub slash restaurant.  It was a concept that helped reinvigorate the pub culture and British dining.

There have been a couple of Gastro Pubs open in Brisbane over the last couple of years to mixed success.  The Alliance in Spring Hill (see post here) and Statler and Waldorf on Caxton Street (see post here) are a couple that spring to mind, but I'm sure there are a few others out there.  One of the things that I like about the concept of a Gastro Pub, apart from the food, is the great names used - I especially love the name Statler and Waldorf (named after a couple of famous muppets).  I was really interested when I got invited along to check out the new lunchtime menu from Brisbane's latest Gastro Pub - the Flying Cock (what a great name!).

The Flying Cock is located on Brunswick Street and is part of the complex, that for many years housed the Valley's favourite Irish Bar, Dooleys until it closed a few years back.  It was a place I'd frequented 'back-in-the-day' when we wanted a rowdy place to play some eight ball, so I was quite familiar with the spot.  While the location was inhabited by Dooleys for what seemed like forever, when the old Irish gal closed down, a string of forgettable places seem to take it's place, so I was keen to see what the lads had done to the place.

Within easy walking distance of the CBD, we decided that we'd walk into the Valley for a bit of furniture shopping (we bought some really cool replica furniture from Matt Blatt) and then stop into the Flying Cock on the way home.  It was a pretty damn warm day on the Saturday of our visit and by the time we'd finished our shopping and arrived, we were a bit hot and sweaty.  Stepping into the shade of the pub was like stepping out of the Sub-Saharan sun into an oasis of blissful cool - we hoped that it was a good sign of things to come.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Viale Canova - feeling the love of suburban Italian

I've been on a bit of an epic journey over the last few years and I am oh-so-close to achieving a bit of a foodie goal.  If you're a regular visitor to my blog, then it's certainly not a surprise to you that I eat out a bit, well, a lot.  It's also not really going to shock you that I've a preference for the finer side of dining (although I'm still a burger fiend).  You might be asking what the 'epic' journey I've been on and I'm about to tell you.

But first, a little background.  In Queensland there are three main ways that a restaurant can be recognised: the Australian Good Food Guide, which awards 'Hats' to the top restaurants;  the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide, which also gives out 'Hats'; finally, there is Gourmet Traveller, which has a national top 100 restaurant list and also awards 'Stars' to top restaurants.  So, I've taken on a mission to visit each and every hatted or starred restaurant in Brisbane and I'm almost there.... 

Viale Canova is a suburban fine diner and it's the second last restaurant on my list.  Living in the city, I find it a little difficult to get out to the suburbs, but given my mission, I 'bit the bullet' and made the drive up Sandgate Road to Clayfield.  I guess it's not really that far away, but with so many awesome restaurants in the CBD, I just find it more convenient to dine locally.  

As you can probably guess by the name, Viale Canova is an Italian diner and with an AGFG, it's an award winning restaurant.  It was opened by a couple of mates in 2004, who'd dreamed of opening a restaurant when they were growing up in Borso Del Grappa, in provincial Italy.  Lorenzo Spezzamonte is the man in the kitchen, using only the freshest of ingredients to bring an authentic taste of 'home' and Massimo Bortolazzo has created an atmosphere that is both intimate and homely at the same time.  The name Viale Canova is a reference to a sculpture by Antonio Vanova, who was born in 1757, not far away from where Lorenzo and Massimo grew up.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Melbourne Series - Nobu, the Global Japanese

When I am travelling overseas, I have a general rule when thinking about which restaurants I'm going to check out.  If the restaurant has an outlet in Australia that I can easily get to, then I'll pass and eventually get to the Australian version.  So, when I was in New York last year and listing out the restaurants I wanted to check out, the original Nobu was on the list, but quickly discounted.  After all, I was in  Melbourne often enough...

I've walked by Nobu at the Crown complex dozens of times in the last couple of years and each time I've stopped at the front, looked at the menu, thought about walking in, then gone somewhere else. This trip to Melbourne was different, I finally stepped through the front door for that long awaited visit.  It came about after a tweet..  I was in town for a conference and as lunch time approached, I'd sent a text out asking if anyone wanted to come to Nobu for lunch with me and my mate LS jumped at the chance.  I knew LS was up for a great meal as we'd grabbed dinner in Singapore earlier in the year at Jaan (one of Singapore's top restaurants.)

Nobu is recognised as one of the worlds great restaurant chains and was established by renowned Japanese chef Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa.  With two restaurant brands, Nobu and Matsuhisa, Nabuyuki is a chef that is instantly recognisable to millions around the world.  With many incredible accolades, including many Michelin Stars and James Beard Awards, and an AGFG Chefs Hat, Nobuyuki was named one of the 11 Most Influential Chefs of the Decade by Madrid Fusion (2009). Nobu is actually the collaboration between Nobuyuki and Hollywood heavyweight, Robert De Niro with the first Nobu opening in New York City in 1994.

I was pretty excited about finally getting along to dine at Nobu....

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Melbourne Series - Hardware Societe

There is a cafe in Melbourne that seems to be the most popular spot in the universe!  I've been wanting to check out uber cafe, the Hardware Societe, the last two or three times I've been to Melbourne, but alas, its been closed for a while.  You can imagine my excitement then having been told that the cafe had re-opened after a fire had partially destroyed the premises.  I had to get along and check it out.

I only really had one morning available to me on my trip, which was a Friday morning.  When in Melbourne, I normally make my way to The European in Spring Street, which had been my favourite breakfast spot down south (see post here), but I was willing to make an exception. Knowing that Hardware Societe was pretty damn popular, I thought that I'd get up early and make my way over at around 7:15am, a little while before it's opening time of 7:30.  I was pretty glad that I did, there was already a decent queue forming and I managed to join it about twenty people deep.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Melbourne Series - Flower Drum - exquisite Chinese in the heart of Melbourne

Melbourne is a city where the restaurant rules, a place where there is almost a never ending supply of fantastic dining spots to enjoy.  You could literally eat at a new restaurant every night and never need to revisit any.  But it's refreshing to know that in the hotbed of Melbourne eating, there are some stalwarts that almost transcend the dining scene and enter legendary status.  There is a restaurant that has most certainly reached legendary status in Melbourne that I've had on my list for such a long time, one that I've just never been able to get into....  The Flower Drum.

'Flower Drum' is known in China as a traditional dance, famous for its beauty and elegance and it's these traits that have been incorporated in philosophy of the restaurant.  One of only three The Age Good Food Guide three hatted restaurants at the moment, The Flower Drum has pretty much been the major constant in fine dining in Melbourne.  You only have to look at it's history to understand the scale of it's magnificence.  Not only accredited as restaurant of the year by the Good Food Guide from 1999 to 2002 and again in 2004, it topped the Gourmet Traveller restaurant of the year in 2002. Flower Drum also made the world's top 50 list by Restaurant Magazine in England from 2002 to 2005.  And of course its kept either two or three chef's hats for as long as anyone can remember!

The magic of the Flower Drum started when in 1975, Gilbert Lau opened his soon-to-be-famous restaurant in Chinatown on Little Burke Street.  Setting high standards for himself and his team, Gilbert brought Cantonese food to the people of Melbourne and was able to compete with the more established European fine dining establishments.  Looking to capitalise on its popularity, Gilbert moved the Flower Drum to larger premises in Market Lane and appointed Chef Anthony Lui as the restaurant's executive chef.  It was in 2003 that Gilbert sold his beloved restaurant to his three employees,  including Chef Anthony Lui, and they have continued to provide Melbourne with the finest of Cantonese cuisine.


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