Curiously, people who visit Brisbane seem to enjoy Esquire.
Ryan Squires, a chef who began his career in Brisbane, having worked at French Laundry, Per Se, El Bulli, WD-50, Urbane, Buffalo Club etc has chosen to return to Brisbane to open his almost-eponymous restaurant on the Brisbane River on the CBD site once occupied by Daniel’s Steakhouse.
Esquire comprises a casual dining/bar area opening onto a balcony perched above the river and a dining room, a calm space and quietly appointed in tones of Danish furniture, polished concrete and glass. Nothing that would distract your attention from what’s on the plate. And each plate is hand spun earthenware, anchoring your view on the food and its origins.
Our waiter introduces herself and explains the degustation menu options and the matched wines. Wines to match but not with every course. Fair enough. We choose the shorter of the two degustation menus with 8 courses and choose our own wine, since we know nothing of the reputation of the sommelier. The staff, while excellent thus far seem to be of an age barely graduated from goon bags and luridly coloured vodka drinks. They approve of our choices of Torbreck Rousanne Viognier Marsanne and a ‘natural wine’ from a well known Australian producer. They don’t have the natural wine any more, too many faulty bottles that couldn’t be poured. So we go with an Oregon Pinot. Each wine was around $45.
The menu is sparingly written, which is ideal for this format of dining. The arches of my feet twitch with the excitement and adventure of what’s to come. Describing each course in detail would seem futile, since the food is highly seasonal and changeable.
Here’s a selection from the menu on the night we visited:
Scallops -Sorrel and Buttermilk
Ike Jime Coral Trout – Perilla and Wasabi
Cod Belly – Yoghurt and Nori
Pineapple – Sage and Parmesan
Campari – Orange, Curds and Whey
Before we begin, we are presented with an envelope bearing a super fine sandwich of wagyu beef. I wonder if there is a way I can eat this more regularly, the concentration of flavour is fantastic and the texture is fascinating.
The sorrel in our first course is in the form of a granita and is fresh and cleansing with the scallops cloaked in the granita and buttermilk, served in a chilled heavy earthenware bowl. I haven’t eaten sorrel since I was a kid and the memories this evokes are pleasant. Our waiter does a lovely job of explaining this dish and each ensuing dish. She seems genuinely excited about her role as our guide for the night. It’s a pretty cool gig.
Ike Jime refers to the method of preparing the fish, a Japanese technique which Chef Squires explains via an iPad video. I’m fascinated by the texture of the fish, which is quite unlike what you experience with most sashimi. Other more squeamish diners squirm and cringe. I like that the food and the format puts less artifice between me and the food, so the video makes sense for me. The wasabi is the coating of a wedge of avocado. This course is delicious and harmoniously combines some of my favourite flavours.
I can’t clearly recall the Cod Belly course, but it was studded with garlic flowers. A punchy flavour bomb that creeps up then smacks you between the eyes. An additional course of dehydrated cod belly, a sort of cod jerky with chive flowers is intriguing and delicious. It made me think about my parents vegetable garden when I was growing up, garlic flowers and chive flowers. We ate borage flowers with our salad but not these. Why not? Where have they been all my life?
You may not think that a degustation menu would be a vehicle for tapping such a seam of memory and emotions. But the food at Esquire is transporting. The format and the venue somehow focusses the senses and in doing so, your emotions and memories become joined to the experience.
The final course of Campari, orange, curds and whey was a highlight, some of the flavours I love the most. However the most eyebrow raising, sit up straight moment was the Concord grape sorbet in an additional course.
The focus and inventiveness displayed by the Esquire team is without parallel in Brisbane. This is food to get you thinking, to challenge your preconceived ideas of what a meal at a restaurant can be. Well, really, what food can be.
But a question remains for me, the curiosity expressed at the outset. Why does it seem that visitors to our city ‘get’ Esquire, but Brisbane locals do not? We embrace GOMA, and some areas of the performing arts, and increasingly we want to believe that we are catching pace with Sydney and Melbourne, but this expression of artistry, each plate, doesn’t seem to have found its audience. I encourage you to make yourself a patron here, the value on offer is frankly astonishing. At least start your journey by having a drink and a snack at the bar. It’s a very nice time of year to perch and enjoy the climate and the view that this talented chef has chosen to pin his career and reputation to.
145 Eagle Street, brisbane
Ph: 3220 2123