As much as I enjoy cooking, there are times when due to exhaustion when I can barely remember my own name, let alone trust myself with sharp knives and naked flames. But everyone needs to eat, and to be frank, if I’m a little stressed then eating is my safe place.
As I live in the CBD, people often remark ‘you must eat out a lot’, and it’s true that I do eat out more often than I did when I lived in the suburbs, though there’s not as many viable options as you might assume. Firstly, you can strike out soul destroying fluoro-lit foodcourts, café chains and 98 % of sushi places. I’m yet to work out a method of navigating those Korean restaurants in Elizabeth Street (guidance welcome) and regular visits to fine dining establishments quickly becomes financially unviable.
So where to go? Here’s a few of my favourite local places to eat.
Everyone needs a place like this. Unpretentious, food is good, staff are low key and wine list is comfortable and well priced. It doesn’t matter if you eat by yourself or with a group, whatever you’re there for, the guys will get it done for you with minimum fuss. The tables are topped with paper and there’s pots of crayons for your entertainment or to sketch out a business deal. Your choice. Simple Italian dishes are what’s on offer here, along with a Italian wine and beer, rounded out a good selection of Australian things.
Start with salty snacks or ‘stuzzichini’: marinated olives, arancini or crisp fried pigs ears with lemon and perhaps a negroni or Aperol spritz. Then it’s a choice between pizza, pasta and meats. I particularly like the pizza here – thin sourdough bases with just the right amount of char from the stone floor of the pizza oven. The toppings are good quality with options like sopressa, fior di latte, anchovy and prosciutto. The combinations on offer are simple and authentic. Pasta and gnocchi are made in house and the pappardelle con guance manzo or beef cheeks braised in red wine is rich and comforting. Reasonable prices mean there’s no reason to feel guilty about ordering a good bottle of Italian wine from the compact but judiciously chosen list.
Desserts consist of Italian trattoria classics like gelato, panna cotta and tiramisu.
I really like Ciccio’s and reckon it should be more well known. It just works.
471 Adelaide Street, Brisbane
(Opposite Bar Barossa and a short walk downhill from E’cco, or uphill from the Marriott)
07 3831 9499
Open Monday 5:30pm to Late
Lunch and dinner Tuesday to Friday
Saturday 5:30pm to Late Website
I am a big fan of the combination of $2 a head BYO and dumplings. Even better, New Shanghai is under 100 metres from my house. It’s part of a rapidly growing chain of restaurants and is located just outside Coles in Queens Plaza, which had me thinking it might not be any good. But it is. The fitout is very clever and well thought out, managing to create a space separate from the shopping centre environment. There’s a mix of small tables for 2 or 4 and larger communal tables and semi private rooms. You can see that considerable thought has gone into the design and overall concept.
I’m going to say right up front that I like the food, though have no real clue as to the authenticity of the dishes. The menu is printed on a paper placement in Cantonese and English with a number for each dish and it is always busy. If timed poorly, you might spend 10 – 20 minutes in a queue before you can be seated. It’s mostly busy with Asian diners. I have been raised to make the assumption that ethnic restaurants filled with people whose nationality matches the food is a good sign, both of the authenticity of the food and the prices. Is more rigorous testing and research of this theory required? It seems to reliably lead to good food, so I’ll stick with it.
The menu is comprised of a big selection of dumplings, pan fried, soup filled, wontons in soup and otherwise. I’m just working my way through them all. So far my favourite is the shepherd’s purse and pork dumplings served with chilli oil and peanut butter. Shepherd’s purse is a green leafy plant rather than a pig’s testicle as assumed by my less adventurous dining companions. It’s a bit like a combination of spinach and sorrel.
Other favourites include the pork belly slow braised in soy and the rainbow beef. Rainbow beef is deep fried shredded beef with a sticky sweet and sour sauce and sesame seeds. By no means healthy, it’s a ‘sometimes food’. There’s some good vegetable dishes to mitigate such indulgences. The shredded pork with Peking sauce served with steamed buns, cucumber and shallot is also delicious and has green stuff, so must be healthier.
The portions of dumplings and mains are quite large and while the staff will provide you with a takeaway container if you order too much, it’s best to order a few things to share, then order more if you find you still want it. You can easily get out of here contentedly for $20 a head, depending on your appetite.
Interestingly, they’ve recently opened a restaurant in Shanghai, which I guess will be the real test of authenticity.
Lower Level, Queens Plaza
226 Queen Street, Brisbane
07 3108 7652 Website
Don’t let the casino location put you off, there’s a lot to like about Fat Noodle. A partnership between the Treasury Casino and TV chef Luke Nguyen, Fat Noodle focuses on hawker market style asian dishes and is open 7 days a week with extended hours to suit casino hours, nightowls and inner city dwellers. You don’t even have to go through the casino to get in. There’s a door straight off the main steps that face Reddacliff Place, the public square with the globe shaped sculptures that seem to be formed from hundreds of colanders.
The slick yet playful decor and hotel restaurant service do feel at odds with the style of food, though many of the dishes are beautifully presented in handmade ceramic dishes and prices are very reasonable. It’s also fast, around 10 minutes from placing an order to being served your meal . You can opt to sit on a high stool at a communal table near the bar or on the verandah or (sometimes wait for) a table in the dining room. The communal area is a good choice if you’re dining alone or with a friend, but not so handy if there are three or more in your party and you want to converse over your meal. The most expensive dish is $19, and although portions are generous, you’ll probably want to order a few things, simply because everything here is so delicious and fresh. Meals are served as the kitchen gets them ready, eschewing the Western notion of entrée, main and desserts. Spring rolls aren’t something I’d usually go out of my way to order, but Fat Noodle does an excellent version. The duck soup with egg noodles and tamarind sauce was the pick from my first visit, with good clarity to the chicken stock based soup, both in terms of flavour and appearance. Beef pho is also very good, plenty of depth and like many of the dishes is served with a generous amount of fresh herbs.
My one gripe would the rather dull and expensive drinks list. The wines are quite commercial and aren’t well suited to the food. Beers are pedestrian at best, and your safest bet is to go with a Tsing Tao or Tiger beer or stick with tea. Disappointing given the effort that is made with the food to use quality, sustainably sourced seafood and meat. Still, the excellent food and late night trade is sufficient attraction to warrant regular visits.Fat Noodle
Open 7 days a week
Sunday to Thursday 10am to midnight
Friday and Saturday 10am to 3am
No bookings Website