Category Archives: Bar Hopping

Restaurant Review: Bavarian Bier Cafe, Brisbane

Eagle Street Pier is Brisbane’s original and arguably most successful restaurant precinct.  It’s now been trading for almost 20 years, but in the last five it seemed to lose its way.   Pier Nine, the premier spot for seafood and high class fish and chips closed its doors as the Hill-Smith family focussed on winemaking and other interests.  City Rowers became Jade Buddha and Ted Stewart’s Vino’s restaurant and function centre closed after several years of inconsistent trading.  With new owners Stockland coming on board there was talk of a substantial redevelopment of the site which created uncertainty for traders.  Then the ‘global financial crisis’ came and everything got a little quiet and the rumours died down.  Throughout this Andy & Marcia George’s Il Centro and John Kilroy’s Cha Cha Char carried on offering calm and consistency at the centre of the storm.

The opening of Aria by celebrity chef Matt Moran in mid 2009 created renewed optimism for the precinct and now as 2010 draws to a close there is a rash of new venues opening their doors.  I’ll leave it for Stockland’s PR machine to list them all out, but some highlights are the contemporary Japanese Sake Restaurant and Hamptons styled Jude Café, both of which are in soft opening mode.  It’s got to be a difficult time to open a new restaurant with chronic staff shortages affecting many operators.

Let’s get this out of the way:  Bavarian Bier Café is part of a chain.  There’s already a bunch of them trading in Sydney along with Lowenbrau Kellen at the Rocks.  The formula is great German beer, a menu with something to please everyone and young female waitresses with plenty of cleavage on display, without straying into Hooters territory.  If you’re blond haired and blue-eyed, then so much the better. 

The Brisbane venue occupies the plum spot at Eagle Street Pier, upstairs with a 180 degree view of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge.  There’s a number of distinct dining areas with long bench seating for groups, high stools for boozy afternoons or Parisienne style tables for two lining the bottom tier of the indoor dining area with even more bench seating on the wrap around verandah.  A large bar curves around the central atrium with suspended glass racks reflecting light into the indoor dining area.  It’s not quite as spectacular as when 90′s night spot Grand Orbit occupied the premises but it’s a successful design that make the most of the dramatic curves and expansive multi-level space.

Obviously you’ll want to try the beer and schnitzel.  We polished off several Lowenbrau and Hofbrau steins (300ml, 500ml and 1 L all on offer) along with Franziskaner Hefe Weissbier Hell and bottled Paulaner Hefe Weissbier and Franziskaner Kristall Weissbier.  The ‘ladies beer’, a Weissbier with a choice of cherry, peach, banana or lychee flavouring didn’t appeal and the wine list was pretty pedestrian, but it hardly matters since the beer is so good.  Ordering wine here would be like ordering a Thai chicken pasta at the pub.

We chose a pretzel, beef schnitzel and Nurnberger sausages with mash, sauerkraut, onion rings and Lowenbrau jus for lunch along with french fries.  Everything was competently cooked and made with quality ingredients.  I revelled in the flavours of my youth, remembering stealing forkfuls of sauerkraut from the fridge as a kid and the deli next to the fruiterers where my sister and I were given cheese kransky and German sausages to snack on.  The schnitzel filled the plate and was adorned with nothing more than a lemon wedge.  The fries turned out to be chips but they were cooked just the way I like them.   The menu is pretty extensive with salads, starters, schnitzel, mains, house specialties and dessert as well as platters and pizzas.  Pizzas topped with German sausages will no doubt appeal to blokes drinking with other blokes after work who enjoy watching ladies sampling the cocktails and ‘ladies beers’.

Service was a little scattered but then the staff are still settling in.  There was a more than adequate staff to patron ratio when we visited on a wet Saturday afternoon, but getting the bill was close to mission impossible.  After our second failed attempt to get the bill, we got up to pay only to be led on a full circuit of the dining area back to a station metres from our table. 

I’ve already heard someone make comparisons to the venerable German Club opposite the Gabba, and whilst both offer German beers, schnitzel and pork knuckle, they’re two very different animals.  Yes the food is cheaper at the German Club and the beer selection isn’t restricted to stuff made by Anheuser-Busch.  However, the Bavarian Bier Café has great views and a concept that will appeal to tourists, locals and families alike.   As it’s two blocks from my house and has a kitchen that stays open until 10pm every night of the week, I reckon I’ll be back.

Bavarian Bier Cafe

Level 1, Eagle Street Pier

45 Eagle Street, Brisbane

07 3339 0900

Adventures: Eulogy, Philadelphia

When I visit a new city my routine is to ask the bartender ‘whats the local beer?’.  Especially in the US, my most frequent international destination, its also an excellent way to avoid watery, flavourless mass-produced beers and get a little of the local flavour.  Bartenders know stuff you see.  So in preparation for a conference trip to Philadelphia, I’d asked my good mate and conference co-convenor that same question.  Not only did Bob introduce us to the Coopers of Philly – a perfectly respectable lager called Yuengling - he took us to Eulogy Belgian Tavern, a charmingly ramshackle place only a local could know about. 

We were lucky to get a table, perhaps the waiter noticed the excited glow on our faces as he whipped away a ‘reserved’ sign and led us to a chrome and formica table wedged next to the second bar on the upper level.  After welcoming us warmly and providing us with thick spiral bound beer lists/menus we were left awestruck to ponder our preference from a list of over 400 different beers.  Its still got me beat how they accommodate so many different beers in such a pocket hankerchief sized place, but they do.  Nothing was too much trouble and even our most obscure selections were available.

Philadelphia and the surrounding area have a strong German heritage, which perhaps explains the profusion of small breweries in the area.  We started out with some great US craft brewers such as Founders (Michigan), DogFish Head (Delaware) and Victory Brewing Company (Pennsylvania) along with some more widely known Belgian beers from Duvel and Chimay.  This gargantuan list was arranged alphabetically by brewery name with notes on style, location and alcohol volume.  Our waiter was extremely knowledgable and helped some of the less adventurous and more overwhelmed members of our party find something to suit their taste.  The beers arrived perfectly chilled, poured at the table into glassware to suit each selection.

So with a beer in hand, we turned our attention to the menu which offers an excellent range of dishes from the usual Belgian favourites of mussels and frites to innovative mains like lavender roasted chicken with roast vegetables, to a selection of burgers from US hotel standard to the gourmet.  Two of us ordered the house made sausage plate with pork, venison and wild boar and two of us ordered mussels and frites, available four ways.  After much vascilating I went with the lavender roasted chicken.  Good choice.  Mussels and frites were also fantastic.  The presentation of the meals wasn’t fancy, served on household sized flatware best suited to the cosy quarters, however it is clear the chefs know their stuff.  And they deftly deliver a beer friendly menu with something to suit everyone. 

My beer drinking highlight was the Hitachino Nest Classic IPA, brewed in Japan and matured in cedar sake casks with packaging to die for.  This was a really unusual beer.  The cedar flavours were noticeable but nicely balanced with creamy malt and and some spiciness.  It was a nice match for the fragrant lavender roasted chicken maryland. 

Due to our somewhat grueling conference schedule (seven days straight in a dimly lit room, death by powerpoint, with added jetlag anyone?) we didn’t get through anywhere near as much as the list of 400 as I would have liked.  If you are visiting Philly, and I highly recommend you do, then Eulogy should be on your ‘must dine’ list.   And for Aussies feeling homesick, you’ll find Coopers Sparkling Ale and Coopers Vintage Ale at a bargain $5 a glass.  The owners were excited to hear that craft brewing in Australia is producing some great brews and were keen for suggestions on what they could add to their list. 

A fantastic night, and gratitude to Bob Penland for introducing us to Eulogy.

Bar Hopping: Era Bar, South Brisbane

I’m lucky enough to live in the Brisbane CBD with many bars and restaurants within easy walking distance.  It’s just over 20 years since Expo 88, and since then South Bank has changed and evolved along with South Brisbane itself.  Its starting to reach critical mass as a great dining and drinking destination with a range of casual dining options through to smart bistros stretching the length of Grey Street, through to Melbourne Street at the western end and Tribune Street to the east.

At the edge of South Bank, but nudging towards West End is Era, a venue with incorporates a fine dining room, bar, bottleshop and cafe and manages to do all four well.  Owned by Bob and Brad Hamilton (formerly of Circa), breakfast at the cafe is good, the restaurant outstanding and a fantastic range available in the bottleshop too.  I’d never really thought of going there just for a drink but recently discovered its a great location for a bit of a sunday session.

With a mix of bar tables and cafe tables and the choice of sitting inside close to the bar or outside on a leafy shaded patio area, its a nice place to kick back and work your way through the list of cocktails, wine and beers.  A well constructed tapas menu is also available for grazing.  We were actually in the area on the pretext of taking a walk for exercise so we limited outselves to a small sample of what Era has to offer. 

The Era Summer Punch really hit the spot with a nicely balanced fruity mix of gin, aperol, mandarin and blood orange juice served in a tall glass over ice.  Amongst the usual mix of domestic and imported regulars, we sampled the Meantime Pale Ale from Greenwich UK which went down rather well on a still warm March afternoon.  Beautifully packaged, this hoppy, bottle conditioned beer is starting to sneak its way into better bottle shops and bars with raspberry, chocolate and coffee beers also part of the Meantime range.  To accompany our drinks we snacked on Era’s version of fish and chips, the ‘seafood cone’.  This is a large paper cone filled with moreton bay bug meat, scallops, sweet prawns, salmon chunks and chips accompanied by a dill sauce and green salad.  At around $19, it makes a substantial snack for two or a greedy feast of delicious seafood for one.

Despite the staff seeming a little to keen to prepare for closing time (we visited around 4:30 pm) they were friendly and efficient as well as knowledgable about the drinks on offer.  Era Bar is certainly in keeping with the high standard elsewhere at Era and I’m looking forward to heading back to the bar again soon.

Era Bar102 Melbourne St (Cnr Merivale St), South Brisbane (directly opposite the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre)
100 undercover parking spaces available, entry via the laneway immediately behind Era

 Open 7 days from 11am

Tapas available all day from midday and evenings until 10.30pm Monday to Saturday and 6pm on Sunday. 

Era Bar


Bar Hopping: Something Brewing In The Neighbourhood

I’m lucky enough to live within stumbling distance of the excellent Grand Central Hotel, which I fondly regard as my local.  The public bar is passable for a cheap feed, a pint, a punt and a chance to rub shoulders with the old guard of Queensland’s public servants.  Located directly below Queensland Rail HQ and Brisbane’s Central Station, opposite the Anzac Square Shrine of Remembrance, the site has an interesting history.  In the golden age of railway, ‘refreshment rooms’ where built on the site, a place for passengers to quench the thirst of their long journey and by 1965 had morphed into Fihelly’s Arms Hotel, a pub serving cold beer in the great Australian tradition.  Today’s patrons are a slightly more complex lot, and the Drinx hotel group has responded to the influx of city residents and the tastes of corporate types by creating a small contemporary bar and dining area ‘Platform’, which cleverly wraps itself around Central Station’s Ann Street facade, a pedestrian tunnel and railway platforms.  Rather than feeling confined, Platform succeeds at being both inviting and intimate. 
Grand Central Hotel today, and pre 1965 when it housed ‘Refreshment Rooms’ for weary rail travellers
For a few years now Platform has done great trade for corporate functions and the like but hasn’t solidly packed them in the way you’d expect given its transport oriented location.  Enter Matt Coorey, a man on a mission to bring craft beers to the increasingly discerning drinkers of Brisbane.  Matt has cleverly transformed Platform from just another bar to the place to try something new whilst you drink away the stresses of the day and catch up with your mates.  With over 50 craft beers on offer, each endorsed with the Rubber Stamp Hand Crafted Beer Excellence mark, you could spend many a merry session working your way through the list.  A decent wine list and fully stocked bar are there if you ever get tired of the endless variety that is craft beer.

Matt comes from a family of publicans with his family operating the much awarded Spotted Cow Hotel at Toowoomba, and has pulled a pint or two at a number of top pubs around the country.  The staff at Platform share Matt’s passion for all things hopped, malted and brewed with ‘beer lists’ proffered to drinkers, expert knowledge of their product and many beers served in suitably matched glassware. 
After a few rounds, you’ll probably be in no hurry to leave.  And with two menus are available at Platform and the adjoining Dining Car there’s no reason not to hang around.  A simple menu of bar food offers perfectly cooked chips, salt and pepper calamari, oysters, bollywood pizza and bruschetta and a more substantial menu offers honest dishes like lamb shanks, juicy steaks, fresh fish and salad and is available at lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.  The adjoining bottle-o offers many of the beers available at Platform, along with a selection of wines that encourages lengthy browsing.  This unassuming hole-in-the-wall also stocks a wide range of whiskys and an extensive range of Barossa Valley wines and uncommon varietals.

Platform sure makes a great local. 

Grand Central Hotel
270 Ann St
Brisbane QLD 4000
(07) 3220 2061

Open Monday - Saturday