It’s Friday night in Brisbane and unusually we have a reservation for dinner.
“How’s 7:30 for you?” I’d asked. “Oh hang on, they only take bookings on the hour, so what about 7?” I was booking online using the restaurants own web based booking system. Ever curious to know whats for dinner, I downloaded the restaurants mobile app and browsed the menu to see what the chefs had devised for the day. My eye was drawn to a main of ling served with grilled fennel, black olives and lemon potatoes. Different, and we hadn’t even got to the restaurant yet. More browsing of the app tells me we can look forward to sustainable fish, seasonal produce, collaboration, more than a restaurant, a gallery, events and a daily changing menu. It’s every ideal a modern hospitality venture could hope to aim for.
Collaboration and contrasts are two words that sum up Depo, a new venture for Erik Van Genderen and Alexander Lotersztain. As proprietor of Gear, a West End hub for bike culture enthusiasts, you might be surprised to see Erik on the other side of the pass at Depo, though it all makes sense once you know that he was chef and partner in Amsterdam’s highly regarded Blauw aan de Wal restaurant (translated, ‘Blue on the Quay’). Erik’s wife’s work led him to Australia around 5 years ago and he followed his passion for bikes and street fashion, stocking items that he had grown to love but hadn’t found in Australia. Argentinean born, Brisbane educated partner Alexander Lotersztain’s name is perhaps more widely familiar as a result of accolades for his work as designer on projects like Limes Hotel and Alfred & Constance. Depo’s inception came out of a serendipitous meeting of minds between Alex and Erik, and Alex’s design studio, Derlot, is perched above with the restaurant taking the ground level warehouse space.
There’s a compelling tension between the necessarily simple cooking and the hyper-detailed interior at Depo, which mixes glamour in textures and soft furnishings with a playful menagerie of bears, buffalo, deer and pigs and a riot of foraged objects. For those familiar with Loterzstain’s work at Alfred and Constance this may sound familiar, though there’s a darker, lusher palette at Depo and it’s offset by the Besser block boundary walls and open beam warehouse ceiling.
Like the interior, the menu has plenty of personality, though thats not to say it relies on culinary trickery or trends. For the most part, the food is simple, with just a few ingredients given a slight twist here and there. Given the changing menu and requirement to respond to seasonal availability, the menu is sensibly brief with an average of four entrees, four mains and four desserts at dinner and share plates for other times. A day time menu is served from 7am to 3pm Tuesday to Sunday. Wherever possible ingredients are sourced from Food Connect, fish markets and independent butchers with excellent bread supplied by Chouquette.
The cucumber soup with heirloom tomatoes and piquant cubes of balsamic jelly and a smear of goats curd bursts with cool, fresh flavours while the addition of watermelon to grilled scallops and smoky chorizo provides a lift to a classic flavour combination. Beef tartare with salmon roe and a potato ‘salad’ seems bland by comparison and lacks for the seasoning this dish requires to make it sing. However the individual ingredients are good, with good quality hand chopped beef and a quail’s egg on top. The potato salad is a departure from the usual accompaniments to this dish and adds visual interest but otherwise seems out of place. We sip on our mineral water and remain defeated in our attempt to catch the attention of the floor staff to take an order for wine. After a mix up, the right bottle of wine arrives, and is served in good quality stemware. The list is eclectic and international, though seemingly draws from a small group of suppliers. It would be nice to see this evolve with time and reflect the personality of the venue more closely. Cocktails and a small list of beer and cider are well chosen.
A combination of a sure hand on the pans and exceptionally fresh fish result in a winning combination with the ling, fennel, olive and lemon potato. This is a dish that makes an excellent case for seasonal, produce driven cooking and delights my dining companions. The duck breast with sugar snap peas, parsnip mash and orange sauce doesn’t scale the same heights, let down by somewhat tough meat and under rendered fat below the skin. The sauce is however delicate and refined and the parsnip mash provides a fitting savoury undertow. There’s quite a buzz in the room by now and the floor staff seem to have found their form.
After generous entrees and mains, I dutifully order dessert, opting for a bavarois with ice cream. Engrossed in conversation, I taste the icecream and wonder for a moment at the unusual flavour. Paired with a goats cheese bavarois drizzled with thyme scented honey, that unusual flavour is balasamic vinegar. It’s unconventional but works, its gentle acidity teaming well with the creamy bavarois and has me tasting and pondering to the last spoonful.
Depo both confounds and delights. It’s an energetic space that engages, though it doesn’t feel forced or uncomfortable. Van Genderen and Loterzstain’s collaboration is in many ways a reflection of their own ideals and vision. It’s original and attractive. Depo’s biggest test however will be in how the high ideals of this venue translate into the ongoing commercial realities of a hospitality business.
16 Horan Street, West End
Phone 07 3846 6537
Tuesday to Wednesday 7am to 4pm
Thursday to Sunday 7am to midnight
This review first appeared in ExtraVirgin Magazine.