Category Archives: Bar Hopping

10 William Street, Paddington

10 William StreetIt would be easy enough to walk right past 10 William Street and this part of what I like about it. It’s got a very particular appeal, so when I read a review in a major publication last week I frowned slightly. It’s the kind of place that seeks approval from no-one and doesn’t depend on mass popularity.

I first visited at the urging of a couple of friends in the wine industry, who clearly have me pegged. The next weekend I was back with a clutch of mates, and if I lived closer we’d be up to a couple of dozen visits I’d say. Instead I’m dreaming and scheming about one day opening a place just like it – though it might be less messy (and cheaper) to move to Paddington.

Just off Oxford Street, and over the road from the Paddington Inn, it sits in a row of appealingly shabby terraces, just a little darker and handsome than its neighbours. Look up and there’s chalkboard scrawl on the balcony, it’s a sign. On paper it’s a bar that serves food. Also, it’s Italian, like it’s owners brothers Giovanni and Enrico Paradiso and Marco Ambrosino. But that undersells it.

Italian restaurants are often written about in such a stereotype-ridden, hackneyed way. Writers can fall into the trap of convenient catchalls, portraying ‘Italian’ venues as run by a rosy cheeked mamma and papa with their progeny cooking and serving bucolic and hearty meals brimming with garlic, sugo and olives and washed down with Chianti. The ‘unification’ of Italy is a relatively modern development and it’s food and people are in reality regional, former countries in fact, each with nuances and outright differences. 10 William Street has nothing to do with stereotypes. Forget them.

To begin, there’s a smouldering and attractive insouciance to the service here. In fact, wine aside, the atmosphere can be intoxicating. It’s a small space that doesn’t pretend to be bigger, no architectural trickery. That seat at the bar that looks implausibly small is perfectly adequate and gets you closer to the action. Menu and wine list are scrawled in chalk on a wall and there’s a lengthier wine list bracketed into an appropriate logic if you want to peruse it. Order something by the glass to get started, ask what’s good and let the staff direct your vinous journey from there. Don’t expect to find anything even vaguely mainstream here, rather an idiosyncratic mix of wine imported by the owners and their friends and sake imported by manager, Matt Young, also proprietor of Black Market Sake. There’s wine from some of the more exciting Australian producers too. There was no sneering when a lady beside us asked for Sauvignon Blanc, but rather a deft redirection towards an Italian Chardonnay which drew compliments.

For its undeniable wine focus, the food is by no means the understudy here. It’s as exciting and dynamic as the wine without fighting for attention. PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke’s ‘This Mess We’re In’ rather than and Britney’s ‘Scream and Shout’. A salad of tomatoes, beetroot and burrata and plate of osso bucco with handmade flat pasta studded with bone marrow are the kind of food you revel in, rather than simply eat. Chef Daniel Pepperell now helms the kitchen and with stints at Attica, Oscillate Wildly and Momofuku Ssam Bar there’s a sense that the food is morphing into something shades more daring and inventive, without losing its underlying simplicity.

There’s a quiet magic to the quality of light in this place and it’s as much a feature of the decor as the wine-inspired marker pen scrawlings that meander around the walls and tiled bar, some evidence of late night efforts censored with patches painted over. As the sun dips, the light is low and the mood of the place changes, or is that because we’ve now moved onto a Barolo? You have another bottle you think we should try? Yes please.

Upstairs, there’s a (relatively) larger dining area better suited to dining with a group of friends or with someone you’d like to give your attention to. Downstairs it’s all about losing yourself in the wine, the food and being but a player in the show.

10 William Street Wine Bar and Restaurant

10 William Street, Paddington NSW

Open Monday to Thursday 5pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday midday to midnight.

Phone: 02 9360 3310


Short Order – West End

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.

The Burrow
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.

King Ahiram
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.

The End
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.

Brisbane’s Dumpling Wars

In the last couple of month’s there’s been a rash of dumpling houses open in Brisbane city.  No, not at Sunnybank, and not by Asian families expanding their established businesses.  All three of these new dumpling restaurants are backed by Westerners who have spotted an opportunity to provide sociable, snacky and tasty dumplings until the wee small hours.

Brunswick Social (Fortitude Valley) and Dragonfly both got on the dumpling train a little earlier with Harajuku Gyoza (Fortitude Valley) having just opened.

All do their own take of the dumpling house, running from the nightclub feel of Dragonfly to the ‘Japanese McDonalds’ feel of Harajuku Gyoza.  As I’m yet to eat at Brunswick Social (even the most dedicated eater cannot live on dumplings alone) I’ll leave further commentary for another time, other than to say the word on the street is that it has great cocktails.


Opposite Queens Plaza, you descend the stairs between Rowes Arcade and Breadtop to the expansive and moodily lit dining and bar area.  It’s quite a change from its previous guise as a venue for metal and emo bands with sticky carpet and an aura of unattractive decay.  It’s a very different kind of patron lining the pavement on Edward Street now, with well groomed guys and girls replacing the goths and bikies.

Chef Josh Clunas is young, French trained and cares deeply about making great dumplings.  The venue is owned by a pub group, and while this could be a problem, there’s enough team members with a fine dining background to ensure the service is nicely balanced between attentive and informal.  The dumplings are hand made and well flavoured, with fillings and construction based on Shanghainese cuisine.

My picks are pork sui mai (pork, prawn and goji berry), pork and peanut and the sweet and succulent steamed prawn dumplings.  The menu also extends to soups, salads, pork buns and more.  The drinks list seems a little out of kilter with the food, and mostly features big brands and heavier wines, perhaps a reflection of its ownership.  Hopefully this will be tweaked with time to provide better matches for the food.

The décor and lighting provides a textured and exotic setting, where everyone looks just a little more beautiful.  All in all, it’s a very smart package and there’s also plenty of good people watching on offer as well as a DJs, regular discounts and events.

Harajuku Gyoza

On the site that formerly hosted Mint Indian Cuisine, Harajuku Gyoza is compact, bright and the brainchild of a couple of talented former advertising executives.  It’s clear that a lot of thought, research and capital has gone into its development with clever branding and details evident in the décor, marketing, menu and drinks.  I’d heard about the queues, so we arrived right on opening time for lunch.  Within 10 minutes, the place was full of couples, groups, young families and one table of Ma and Pa with their awkward hipster daughter.  Floor staff seem to be mostly Japanese and service is polite and friendly even if some cultural cues are missed or minor misunderstandings occur.

The menu is short with grilled and poached gyoza and a couple of sterotypical Japanese ‘izakaya’ dishes like agedashi tofu, pork katsu, beef gyudon and edamame.  The cooking of the gyoza seems a little variable, with some overcooked and others lacking construction robust enough to contain their fillings.  Whole prawn gyoza seem a little strange and are certainly difficult to eat with dignity, but the package of good Japanese beers, warm, filling dumplings and an atmosphere of fun make it worth a visit, if perhaps not a 30 minute wait in a queue at dinner time.  Details like the mix your own sauce condiment containers, Japanese pop art printed flatware and a mix of jazz and J-pop and relentlessly excitable staff add up to make Harajuku Gyoza an appealing package, and I suspect, a package that can be replicated across a number of locations.

The drinks list, while brief, deftly lists good value and Japanese food friendly beers & wines that make sense for the menu, service and likely patrons, without being condescending.

I’m keen for thoughts on how Brunswick Social compares and look forward to completing my dumpling trilogy soon.


235 Edward Street, Brisbane

Phone: 07 3220 1477

Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday, kitchen open until 10pm.

Harajuku Gyoza

394 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley

Open 7 days, midday until late.

No bookings

The Brunswick Social

367 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley

Phone:  07 3252 3234

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 4pm until late

Spring, Stokehouse & the New Wave of Small Brisbane Bars

It’s a busy time for restaurant openings in Brisbane with a brace of new venues at Riverbend, the new South Bank restaurant precinct as well as in the CBD.

Spring (Cnr Felix & Mary Streets, Brisbane)

One of the most anticipated openings, for me anyway, is Spring, opposite Waterfront Place and near Urbane and The Euro.  With Lizzie Loel, former restaurant critic, chef and more recently consultant to John Kilroy’s restaurant group as general manager, its fair to say there’s a keen interest from city workers and industry types alike in seeing what Spring delivers.

Spring brings together a bistro, cooking school, wine store, retail and a ‘market table’ for quick but high quality lunches and breakfasts.  I was lucky enough to have a quick tour from Lizzie prior to opening and to find out about the philosophy and intent of Spring.  Owner Sarah Hancock is a Queenslander with evident passion for interiors and design who has put together a high calibre team, with chef Andrew Clarke, formerly of Poole’s Rock Winery in the Hunter Valley heading up the kitchen and sommelier and Brisbane hospitality industry figure Peter Marchant announced this week as Spring’s Fine Wine Manager.

In its various guises, Spring will provide regional and seasonal food in a comfortable setting, designed to evoke the ambiance of a gracious country home, with chef Andrew Clarke keen to continue his use of sustainable and organic ingredients in dishes with simple, bold flavours at the fore.  As you walk towards Spring, you’ll notice the rotisserie on display through the corner glass windows which will be used to produce roast meats for market table lunches.  In another show of Spring’s philosophy of sourcing high quality products unique to Brisbane, Spring will serve Niccolo coffee, roasted in Melbourne under the direction of former Illy master, Manuel Terzi.  The blend of mostly arabica and some robusta beans is a flat white drinker’s dream.  Pastries from young Brisbane pastry chef Matt Tierney (formerly of Brew Bakers and Aria) are excellent.  Spring’s market table is open for trade from 7am for breakfast, lunch and in between snacks.

The retail offer includes homewares, condiments and both new and vintage cookbooks.  With Marchant now onboard to steer the wine offer and sommelier/consultant Liz Carey (MoVida, Universal) having laid the foundations with a  focus on organic and biodynamic wines, I’m looking forward seeing how Spring evolves as the bistro and retail components open for trade at the end of the month.  The cooking school should be popular with corporate groups and Lizzie says they plan to mix it up with local talent and producers rather than just rely on big name chefs.

Stokehouse & Stoke Bar (South Bank)

The first Brisbane foray for the Melbourne based Van Haandel Group, Stokehouse Brisbane occupies the top spot in the new Riverbend precinct and includes a fine dining restaurant and a bar.  It’s great to see more venues on the river, and as a big fan of the Stokehouse in St Kilda I’m looking forward to trying Stokehouse.  A quick peek at the bar and its menu and drinks list shows plenty of promise.

Cove Bar and Dining (South Bank)

Just along from Stokehouse, I think this is the pick of the Riverbend precinct for views and pure relaxation.  The décor is simple with seats at the bar, a scattering of banquettes, stools and tables and a contender for best view in Brisbane.  Cocktails are excellent and the wine list, while small, is well conceived with smart options by the glass.  A selection of oysters served 10 ways and a promising menu with items like charred goat ribs with black garlic, scallops with black pudding crumble and vanilla pea puree & cocoa dusted quail with ajo blanco look worthy of further exploration.

Burnett Lane Bars (CBD)

Joining Brew in the CBD’s Burnett Lane (running from around the corner from Rocking Horse Records and back up to George Street) are new bars Super Whatnot and The Survey Company Bar and Bistro.  I know little more about Super Whatnot than its hidden away location and whacky name but how can it not be good with a name like that?

Survey on the other hand has been well publicised and owner Simon Livingstone  is no stranger to operating bars and bistros with Piaf and Sardine Tin at South Brisbane both well loved and established venues.  I hope these three venues do a great job of proving beyond doubt that small bars are both supported and viable in Brisbane.  Both are close to opening – watch this space.

There’s plenty of other new places opening and it will be interesting to see them evolve and how they land with Brisbane’s sometimes novelty seeking dining public. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these new venues and which ones you’ve tried or are looking foward to trying.

Adventures: Eating in the City of Brotherly Love

So I’ll admit it. I love the US East Coast.

In contrast with Australia, there’s a palpable sense of history, cultural evolution, fascinating architecture and galleries and museums that never fail to blow my mind. The density of population can sustain specialist retail ventures in a way that Australia just can’t do. Year round Christmas shops may not be the pinnacle of human achievement but they illustrate my point.

Boston and New York are great cities, but Philadelphia is pretty special too, and I’m lucky enough that it’s the annual destination for a business conference I participate in. Perhaps by design, it coincided with Philly Beer Week, where Philly’s many craft beer venues turn their massive beer love up to 11. After flying from Brisbane to LA, then from LA to New York, then driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and onto Philly, I still got excited to see our hotel’s bar was in on the craft beer action. After a Walt Wit, a Yuengling Amber Lager and a Flying Fish Belgian Abbey Dubbel, we were relaxed and settled in for the week ahead.

Staying on the Delaware River on the edge of Old City, we’d been curious about an imposing Greek Revival building with red velvet curtains in the windows set amongst restaurants and bars. National Mechanics turns out to be one of the best places to sample craft beers and features a style of cuisine we’d probably call Dude Food. To complement the architecture, the interiors take Victorian and Steampunk elements to create at atmosphere where its 1am 24/7. You can also visit their webpage and queue up tunes to play while you choose your next beer. It’s easy to get comfortable – we started our session at around 3pm and stayed until the end of open mic night. Everyone is more talented, more attractive and more amusing after a dozen craft beers.

Keen to avoid the hotel buffet, we headed out the next morning and discovered Fork Etc., a more casual version of Fork, its fine dining sister venue right next door. Selected more for its prominent espresso machine than much else, Fork features local produce, quality ingredients and artisan bread. While breakfast menus in the US continue to confound me, the food was good enough that we immediately planned a visit to its big sister Fork. The conversation of PR people, wine distributors and restaurateurs at the next able was an unexpected bonus.

Thanks to a tip off from Brisbane art gallery manager Chris Hassall, we ditched a visit to the Italian Markets in favour of a tour of Philadelphia Art Museum. This is an incredible gallery and a testament to the wealth and generosity of some of Philly’s founding families. There’s an impressive collection of classics, modern art and sculpture – but what really amazed me was the extensive collection of armory and gallery after gallery of complete, reconstructed rooms displaying the finest examples of European interior architecture over a span of the last 250 years. I’m keen to return next year and spend more time viewing these amazing collections. A little footsore, we slipped into the overstuffed upholstery of the Art Museum’s elegant Granite Hill restaurant. Beautiful food and some very East Coast flavours, with a chef’s table appetiser comprising seafood, smoked trout, roast meats, cheeses and salads. With such excellent food on offer, we also ordered a main each. My simple rag pasta with pesto and heirloom tomatoes was generous in size and flavours, and provided sufficient ballast to tour a few more galleries.

On our last free day before our conference started, we returned to Fork for lunch. For me, the highlight of East Coast dining is the abundance of crab, lobster and oysters available on even the most humble of menus. The crab cake sandwich was an easy choice, and Fork’s version was perfection. Wholegrain bread, sweet succulent crab meat, tangy whole egg mayo and hand cut french fries. The preceding charcuterie plate also deserves a mention, representing a cross section of cured meats of different cultures, in keeping with Philly’s heritage. And in a smart move approved by the young sommelier we chose a Mas Martinet 2007 Priorat Menut to have with our lunch. My tip for Aussie diners is to stick to European wine while in the US. More satisfying and the prices are good too.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Philly without a cheesesteak, and while I’m unsure the ones on offer at the conference were authentic, they were good enough that I went back for seconds.

And it wouldn’t be a blog post about Philly without some original gansta rap from Schoolly D.

Semillon, Garden Gnomes and Jellied Eels

Just as there are fashions in food, clothes, shoes and hairstyles, so there are fashions in wine as well.  Some in the wine industry view Semillon as having all the curious appeal of ‘a garden gnome, or…jellied eels’ and others praise it’s versatility and ability to pair with foods we love, like seafood.  Who to trust? Is Semillon really the ugly ducking some would have us believe?

If the name seems familiar, its probably because you’ve seen Semillon used to blend with Sauvignon Blanc in bright and cheery easy drinking wines readily available in most Australian bottle-o’s.  More than just a curiousity, others see Hunter Valley Semillon as ‘Australia’s gift to the world’. Why so divisive?  And ultimately, is it safe to punt your own money on a bottle or two?

This month’s SwirlSniffSpit tasting brings together a dozen expressions of Semillon, demonstrating its versatility and showing why it should be in your fridge this summer.  Join us at Era on Tuesday 18 November and RSVP by replying on Twitter

Bracket 1 – Sparkling

Bimbadgen Estate NV Sparkling, Hunter Valley @bimbadgen

St Agouant 1999 Brut Blanc de Blanc, Bordeaux @TheTruffleManOz

Bracket 2 – Young Semillon

Scarborough Wine Green Label Semillon 2011, Hunter Valley @ScarboroughWine

Murray Street Vineyards Semillon 2010, Barossa Valley @MSVWine

Bracket 3 – South Burnet, Queensland

Clovely Estate Left Field Semillon 2010 @ClovelyWine

Barambah Estate Semillon 2008 @BarambahWines

Bracket 4 – Aged Semillon

Meerea Park 2005 Alexander Munro Semillon, Hunter Valley @MeereaPark

Peter Lehmann Wines Margaret Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley @PLWines

Bracket 5 – Off-Dry & Barrel Fermented

Thomas Wines 6 Degrees Semillon 2010, Hunter Valley @ThomasWines

Juniper Estate Semillon 2009, Margaret River

Bracket 6 – Dessert Wines

De Bortoli Wines Black Noble @DeBortoliWines

Punt Road Botrytis Semillon 2010, Yarra Valley @PuntRdWines

SwirlSniffSpit is a free, guided and informal tasting held at Era Bistro on the 3rd Tuesday of each month.  For more information visit

A Table For One

Depending on your viewpoint, dining solo is an awkward necessity or a cherished luxury.   We so often hear platitudes like ‘food, wine and friends’ and ‘good food, good company’.  Fair enough too.  But that’s not to say that a table for one doesn’t have its charms.

In another time in my life I did quite a bit of solo dining.  I travelled for work, sometimes day trips, sometimes further afield.  Not always glamorous locations.  Having a glass of wine and a plate of something delicious on your own is a pleasure, once you get comfortable with the idea.  I love sitting up at the bar in a foreign city, without any pressure or expectation from dining companions.  Eat what you like, drink what you like and savour every flavour and texture.   It’s the perfect opportunity to experiment a little with the menu, have a conversation with someone you’d not normally talk at length with and eavesdrop on conversations around you.  And don’t underestimate the opportunities you’ll have to indulge in a session of people watching.

I don’t eat alone so often these days, and when I do its by choice, not necessity.  Nowadays its usually at lunch time and as I’m always trying to cram more into each moment, I usually have my Kindle or smart phone in one hand and a fork or chopsticks in the other.

So if you find yourself dining solo, where should you go?  Restaurants with bars are a good choice, particularly if you’re dining early or need a bite a little later, perhaps after a cocktail function without any substantial food.  Provided you’re there either side of the rush of diners, you’ll find most bar keeps admirable companions in conversation.

Some cities do solo dining better than others.  When I was in Melbourne for business, Il Solito Posto was my table for one of choice,  interesting wine by the glass and many an overheard gem.  With plenty of small bars, Melbourne is one of the best cities to be in for a table for one.  But with the Brisbane dining scene maturing, there’s no better time to venture out alone.

What makes a good table for one?  Here’s a few of my favourites.

Lonesome Lunching

Taro’s Ramen

My love of Taro’s is well known and since its over the road from my office I find myself there often.  A solo diner haven.  The focus here is undoubtedly the ramen, made with care and fine ingredients.  Don’t overlook the Japanese curry, which I usually have with vege croquettes or crumbed prawns.  Ramen and contemplative reading work well together.

AJ’s Noodles (CBD)

It’s the size of your living room, but don’t get too comfortable, they’ll need your table back soon.   Pho, rice vermicelli salads with lemongrass chicken, prawn on sugarcane and thinly sliced beef are what you should have.  Keep a serviette handy to wipe the soupy smudges off your phone or Kindle.

Guzman y Gomez

Yes it’s a chain, but the Valley branch is well located for a quick visit between appointments. Burritos are tasty and require only one hand for eating leaving the other free for reading, emailing and other one handed pursuits.  They can be a bit messy and if you’re eating alone no one will question the amount of jalepenos or tabasco you have.

Fresh Fish Co.

Sure, you can comfortably dine alone at any sushi train in town.  But the best sashimi is at Fresh Fish Co. and the parade of yuppies and moneyed housewives keeps things entertaining.

Dinner & Drinks

1889 Enoteca

Both the staff and the wine makes for amiable company here, take a stool at the bar and get lost in this piece of Italy transported to Logan Road, Woolloongabba.  The answer to many of life’s questions lies in the bottom of a glass of Barolo.

The Laneway

Tucked up above Urbane and The Euro, this a great spot for a cocktail, thanks to Pez and the boys.  Tunes are good, silent movies flicker and the burgers and onion rings really satisfy.  Downstairs, there’s also the bar at The Euro, perfect if you’d prefer to chat with the witty and good looking staff and dine on more sophisticated cuisine.

Cru Bar and Cellar

Some say it’s Brisbane’s best spot for people watching.  Even if you don’t agree, the food is reliably good and there’s some pleasing things by the glass or half bottle.  Don’t stay too long though or the cougars might come for you.

Il Centro

A Brisbane institution that still has plenty of appeal, earlier in the week you’ll certainly not feel out of place as business travellers regularly take a table for one here.  With an open kitchen, a view of the passing parade along Eagle Street Pier, and a handy by the glass list of domestic and Italian gems, you’ll wonder why you don’t dine alone more often.


Sit up at the bar and watch the talented Shinichi Maeda at work.  Plenty of small plates, sake flights and polished service along with clever ways with quality local seafood add up to a very pleasant way to dine.



A little dark and feisty like its Fellini film muse, this recently opened Paddington bar gives you plenty to look at both on and off the menu.  The atmosphere is just right for an hour or two sampling small plates, a few of the 50 wines by the glass and the shucked to order oysters.


It’s not often that hotel dining can be recommended, but this new venue at Brisbane’s Hilton offers moody lighting and enough intimacy to nicely cosset a solo diner along with a pleasing menu of simple, classic dishes.


Pull up a timber stool at this Spanish inspired Southbank newcomer and work your way through quality tapas, raciones and a few sherries.  People watching here runs the full gamut of humanity.  Large, dark sunglasses recommended.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on solo dining.  All submissions for your favourite table for one venue gratefully accepted.

Table for One voyeurism.

Short Order – September in Brisbane

I took most of this weekend off and here’s where we ate and drank.

On our circuit of the city and Southbank we checked out progress at the River Bend development. It’s tucked up at the Goodwill Bridge end of Southbank and a tranquil curve has been carved out in the riverbank for 6 – 7 new restaurants and bars. The landscaped amphitheater that’s been created down by the river was a nice spot to catch some sun on a very windy morning. The design by local firm Arkefield makes the most of the riverside location and I’m keen to see what Stokehouse, The Jetty, Cove and others do with the space. Fitouts seem to be in full swing with only the interior of Stokehouse visible from up on Goodwill Bridge.

We decided to try Jeremy’s (Albert Street, City) on our way home. We’ve previously been put off by the rather odd breakfast menu that is divided into two – with one half stating that there may be a wait of up to 20 – 30 minutes for dishes to be served. Anyhow, it’s a lovely room and at least the slightly over earnest menu writing signals that there is effort being made. The coffee was excellent and our choices of turkish style scrambled eggs and savory mince on toast with a poached egg were both delicious and elegantly presented. The coffee is up there with the top 3 I’ve had in the CBD and the bacon is AMAZING. Its thick cut and delicious. The dining room is super stylish and over flowing with lots of interesting bottles. Top that off with very polished service – even at breakfast – and I reckon I’ll be checking out Jeremy’s again soon.

I’d been seeing a bit of a buzz on Twitter about Bitter Suite, a new craft been place in the New Farm. In a somewhat cursed spot in Welsby Street, we dropped in around 4pm but didn’t stay. The staff member who approached us was pretty unwelcoming and seemed in hurry to tell us there was no food available. Bitter Suite seems like a good concept but the space has all the atmosphere of a school cafeteria and is a little hard to navigate. Maybe there are a few teething issues since it is brand spanking new. Since we were after drinks and a snack we wandered up to Teneriffe towards Beccofino.

This place just works. The décor is minimalist, the menu is brief and the service is perfectly tuned to a lazy couple of hours of food and wine. Everything tastes delicious, from the charry thin pizzas with simple flavour combinations and quality ingredients to the specials, on this occasion an generous veal cotoletto and garlicy, briney scampi pasta. There’s plenty of interest on the brief wine list, Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir and prosecco by the glass, some decent Italian reds by the bottle all at democratic prices. The no bookings policy can be a pain, but the kitchen stays open throughout the afternoon which is perfect for the next meal after Sunday brunch.

On Sunday I made the trek out to SuperButcher to stock up for a couple of weeks. I’m not convinced its really as cheap as people would like to believe, but the range is good and if you want to but whole rib fillets, rumps, sides of lamb etc then its definitely the place to go. There’s enough interesting cuts and products to make it worth a trip every now and then. But rug up if you go since the large store is one big cool room. Beef cheeks and the made to order sausages (lamb, fetta, pumpkin; beef, cheese and vegemite; venison) are worth checking out too.

After a few productive hours at the office, we ambled down to the river to check out the $7 Sunday deal we’d seen advertised at Boardwalk Bar & Bistro. It seems as though the management here has changed or at least there’s been a few fresh ideas. This is a huge venue on the river below Kingsleys and out the front of Riparian Plaza. I’ve not been the hugest fan in the past and sometimes queuing up, paying with your order, collecting your drinks from the bar and eating at a communal table or on a stool is not what I’m after, but I’ll punt anything for $7. What does that get you? After 5pm on a Sunday it buys you a pizza about the size of a dinner plate and a schooner of domestic mainstream beer. The pizza is very serviceable and the beer is cold and there’s much worse places to be on a Sunday evening than overlooking the river and Story Bridge. Our total bill came to $33 for a thin, crispy peperoni pizza, good chips, schooner of beer and a further jug of beer. The view on a perfect September night in Brisbane was, as they say, priceless.

Archive Beer Boutique Bistro, West End

This is a very enjoyable venue to spend a few hour sampling some of the finest craft beers Australia has to offer.  A short walk or a bus ride from the CBD, Archive Beer Boutique Bistro has been operating for a year or two now and occupies the large ground floor space over the road from The Hi Fi (formerly The Pavillion) and below Uber in still-a-little-bit-bohemian West End.

I’ve heard people in Brisbane complain that there aren’t as many good wine bars as we ought to have for city of our size.  This makes it even more remarkable that a venue as large as Archive, a craft beer specialist bar, no less, has made it past its first birthday.  It occupies an expansive place, open kitchen facing the deck at the entry, large wrap around bar, seating at the bar, at high stools, on couches, pool tables, dart boards, more pool tables and another function area through the archway.

I don’t know anything about the ownership behind Archive, but given the fact their beer list is long and fiercely independant, you’d have to assume this place is not propped up by rebates and kickbacks from multinational brewers.  There are no soggy bar mats, no corporate sponsored beer posters and coasters and no Lion Nathan/CUB branded uniforms.    The distinct lack of ‘tat’ makes you feel like your having a beer at a really cool mates place, who just happens to have on hand a few pints of really great beer.  The fitout is pitched to match this vibe, and cleverly combines beer crates, retro preloved uphostered couches, newspaper plastered walls and a bar lined in book spines and light shades made of the yellowed book pages.  They bathe the room in a warm beer toned glow, much like the patrons as they contemplate their pale ales and stouts. It adds up to a very clever way to fitout such a large space and a credit to the clever persons who designed it.

The food is a notch or two above your standard pub fare, with some nice tasting plates, soft shell crab, good chips and decent steaks and burgers.  But really, you’re here for the beer and the food’s good enough to compliment it without stealing the show.

My picks on the day were Lord Nelson Three Sheets Natural Ale and Holgate ‘Mt Macedon’ Pale Ale.  The beers are well stored, served in matter befitted the care with which they were created and priced keenly to have you planning your next visit before you’ve finished your first beer.  The staff at Archive will give you as much or as little assistance with choosing a beer to suit your tastes as you need and know their product.  Really a must for a specialist venue like this. 

In light of the recent demise of Platform Bar, you further appreciate the commitment to independant brewers shown by Archive Beer Boutique Bistro.

As an added bonus, you’ll find Next Door Cellars out the back where you can take home some of the beers you’ve sampled, if you’re still in a state to carry them.

Archive Beer Boutique Bistro

100 Boundary Road

West End

Phone: 07 3844 3419

Burns Night Supper – BrisVegas Style

Every year on the 25th of January Scots, descendants of Scots and those who like a dram join together to celebrate the poet Robert Burns.  Regarded as Scotland’s national poet, Burns drew on Scottish tradition and his broad knowledge of classical, biblical and English literature to produce a large body of well loved poems and lyrics on themes as diverse as Scottish culture and tradition, republicanism, gender and class inequalities, poverty, sexuality and of course, whisky.  Even if you care not for poetry or Scottish icons, you’ll no doubt be familiar with ‘Auld Lang Syne’, his best known lyrical work.  John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ borrows its title from Burns’ poem ‘To A Mouse’:

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”.

Burns Night Suppers are held all over the world, and take many forms.  Burns is also associated with Freemasonry and some Masonic temples hold very formal and unsuprisingly ritualised dinners to celebrate the Scottish Poet.  Our impromtu Burns’ Night celebration was a decidedly more free form affair.

Some of our older Whisky Society members gather each year at 5pm at the Burns Statue in Cathedral Place where the traditional Burns’ Day piece ‘Address To A Haggis’ is recited and various flasks and other receptacles of whisky are raised in a toast to Burns.  Local park dwellers join in and after 30 minutes or so the crowd disperses, each heading off in their own directions home.

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm

or in the modern parlance:

Nice seeing your honest, chubby face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Belly, tripe, or links:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

We decided the Saturday before the Tuesday night to have our Burns Supper at The Euro.  Probably an odd choice on the face of it but their Laneway Bar has a great selection of pre-whisky beers, stunning whisky cocktails courtesy of talented bar manager Aiden and importantly a very fine selection of whiskies.  No, Kym Machin hasn’t extended his repetoire to Haggis, but hearty flavours of rabbit, aged eye fillet and pork belly were sufficient fuel for our celebrations.

Over dinner and after several glasses of wine at dinner the Saturday night before, I started practicing to recite ‘Address to a Haggis’.   (Apologies to Shawn Gomes and the Il Centro floor staff).  Come Burns Night, and after several beers and whisky cocktails our little democracy decided that we’d each recite a verse.  Hmmmm.  I’m not sure we really did Burns’ justice.

Perhaps next year we’ll find somewhere with kilts, haggis and someone more qualified to conduct the Burns’ Night formalities.