Despite jokes about my being unwilling to travel outside of the CBD, I do go through spurts of catching the 199 bus to visit places in New Farm, Teneriffe and West End. I know, hardly the sorts of destinations that require a map and compass (or satnav) but with around 100 places to eat and drink accessible from a single bus route, there’s plenty of scope for adventure.
The last few weeks has seen me mostly heading to the West End part of the route. Here’s some newish places and some old faithfuls I enjoyed.
I remember when I first moved to Brisbane and lived in the outer suburbs and my seemingly sophisticated friends used to love going to The Three Monkeys. So bohemian, milky coffee served in bowls and nachos. Huge slices of cake with cream and ice cream. Posters for all the cool gigs pinned up on the walls near where you ordered. Concert posters signed by Peter Allen and Julie Anthony, well they were less cool.
Sort of like that somehow yet not at all like that is newcomer The Burrow. Its right over the road from The Three Monkeys, and is also under a Queenslander. I visited late on a Sunday morning and loved the atmosphere. A real mixed bag of patrons enjoying the Mexican inspired breakfast menu and good coffee. There’s a comfortable mix of communal forest furniture tables and café tables closer to the front. You order at the counter and drinks are quickly brought to your table or even made as your order is taken. There’s more seating up stairs, so it’s a good option if you’re not keen on queuing at the Gun Shop Café. Few things in life are so good that I’m willing to queue and breakfast isn’t one of them.
There’s quiet quirk to the décor here, enjoyable details at every turn. Comics pasted up as wall paper, Aqua Teen Hunger Force voiced sign on the front counter, an espresso machine group handle repurposed as the door handle for the bathrooms and a variety of novelty salt and pepper shakers on the tables. But somehow avoiding that try hard hipster aesthetic that often plagues inner city cafes with reclaimed furniture. It doesn’t feel forced.
I was pretty damn happy with my breakfast ‘El Desparados Tacos’ – featuring two chipotle pulled pork filled tacos, tangy sinus clearing pico de gallo, fresh chopped salsa, poached egg and Mexican style beans with a salted lime wedge. Lots of complex flavour on the plate and quality, fresh ingredients. If you want to turn it up there’s an optional hot sauce. “Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can’t?” the menu asks. Today I can’t. Maybe next time. No boring breakfasts here, there’s cider braised pork belly with celeriac puree, fried egg and poached pear; beef cheek with mushroom duxelles and poached egg and Pepe Saya butter served with your toast and other tasty options.
A great place to do breakfast at your own pace, on your own or with a group of variously hungover mates.
37 Mollison Street, West End
Ph 07 3846 0030
Open Tuesday to Thursday 8:30am to late, Friday to Sunday 7am to late, closed Monday. Licensed.
I liked this place so much I’ve visited a few times recently, including that time I went for breakfast and stayed for lunch. It’s not that hard to do. There’s a small bar area just inside off the street, but the place to be if you want to get comfy and graze is the courtyard out the back. As you pass the kitchen, through the narrow hall to the courtyard check out the works by local artists. ‘Courtyard’ seems an insufficient term to describe the space that greets you – stencil art, veejays, fanlight windows, souvenir teaspoons and bone handled knives and The Cramps moaning gently in the background create a kind of West End ‘mood board’. But it’s a comfortable one, and the service is smartly pitched between familiar and knowledgeable, for you to engage with at whatever level suits you.
JamJar is now the partnership of Jamie Simmonds and chef Damien Styles, back from a stint at Pope Joan and Charcoal Lane in Melbourne. Jamie and his mum Robyn look after the floor, the beer, wine and cocktails and Damien has full control of the food. If you’re yet to have the pleasure, Damien’s food at JamJar is above and beyond any other casual offering in Brisbane. Highly original and expertly realised, the dish you must try is the pink lake salt cured kingfish with sardine fossils. Salt cured kingfish finely cubed and showered with bonito flakes made on the premises combine for maximum texture and flavour with sardine crisp staligmites and nori punctuating this genre-defying signature dish. If you’re look for safer ground, there’s a dead good burger with new potato chips at lunch time, and a tasting plate to give you a feel for what the food here is all about. Pristine, ozone fresh oysters say a lot about the quality of ingredients in play. The menu is structured into ‘Smalls’ ‘Middle’ and ‘End’. You’ll get the most enjoyment here by picking a few things from each group and sharing them. The kingfish grabs your attention, but the dish of toasted dark rye, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sprout & shoots, poached duck egg, vegetable flakes and parmesan crumbs rivals its originality and textural interplay. Damien has very dark rye bread baked specifically for the dish and while it might read like some macrobiotic hippy concoction, there’s a sure hand at work here. You’ll thank me.
The wine list may be brief but you can see that everything there appears for a reason and cleverly matches the food. Beer avoids the tired selections you’ll find at neighbouring establishments and there’s proper cocktails on offer too. Interestingly, the wine list leans towards well priced imports and smaller producers.
Besides the knockout food and drink, JamJar is also astonishingly good value. Get yourself there.
138 Boundary Street, West End
Ph 07 3844 3395
Open Monday 7pm to midnight. Wed, Thurs, Fri 10:30am to 3pm; 5pm to midnight. Saturday & Sunday 8am to midnight. Closed Tuesday.
A West End original, still bearing a sign with a seven-digit phone number, King Ahiram’s quietly churns out some of the best Lebanese food in town. I’ve heard there’s some place at Red Hill that does it better, but I have made my allegiance, and its to the vegetarian deluxe platter on a cheap vinyl chair under fluoro lights on Vulture Street. It’s one of the places that still links West End to it’s ethnic past, along with Mick’s Nuts and George’s Seafood, that place with giant octopuses hanging in the window.
Smoky baba ganoush, garlicy smooth hommus, dolmades that aren’t out of a tin and warm flat bread are the foundation. Fresh zingy tabouli and authentic felafel are the feature. If he died with this felafel in his hand, then it’d be a pretty good way to go. There’s a deluxe meat platter too, also good, but Lebanese is one of the greatest cuisines to go for as a vegetarian, they know how to maximise flavour without adding meat. It’s worth noting that King Ahiram is BYO, though you may wish to pack your own glassware. Or your own disposable cups, I’m not sure what would suit best.
This is a great place to fill up before you head out for drinks or to a gig at The HiFi, and its great value. The family who run the place have been going for years, and its thankfully untouched by innovation. The bags of grout stacked at the back of the dining room in readiness for a renovation have been there for a few years now, and I’m almost relieved to find them unopened each time I visit.
Make room for a baklava or rosewater rich Turkish delight to finish your meal. If you don’t like garlic or gluttony, King Ahirams may not be for you.
88 Vulture Street, West End
Ph 07 3846 1678
Opening seemingly 7 days a week from around 11am to when people stop coming.
My next stop after King Ahirams, a bit further up the street in the old Trash Video premises, a few doors up from the Vietnamese bakery. It took a family outing to get me through the door, and I’ve got no idea why I resisted. The End is run by a couple of young blokes having a go and getting it right. There’s more of that reclaimed, repurposed thing happening with the décor but again it works. Rather than being a Frankie magazine style pastiche, lines are simple and uncluttered, there’s some overstuffed leather lounges, and some long bar tables made from work benches, with vices still attached and some lumpen stuffed coffee sacks that make it more likely you’ll forego sitting to get up and dance after a few drinks. The mark of a good bar for me? I could get very comfortable here and the music is good. There’s no apparent dress code, and no hipster attitude. These guys believe in good beers, decent cocktails and tunes that veer more in the direction of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground than LMFAO and PSY.
I don’t know if they do food, but I rate the Blackstar Coffee Porter if you’re looking for something a little chewier. A divine marriage of two of the world’s great beverages with a distinct West End twist. There’s usually a few house brews on tap, and a changing roster of bottled craft beers too. A smattering of reasonable wines and a well thought out yacht/resort wear kind of cocktail list. If you go on the right night, there’s handsome DJs spinning quality old time vinyl.
Given its away from other West End bars and clubs, it has a kind of independent streak you can’t help but be attracted to.
73 Vulture Street, West End
07 3846 7271
7 nights a week from 3pm to midnight.
Capacity: 100 people ie. tiny. If you are claustrophobic, go early.