Category Archives: General

Talking About Food Is Like…



I had the pleasure last month of being invited to talk to John Beesley (aka @beeso)  of Lantanaland about food on his weekly podcast. We thought it would be a cool idea to chat over a few beers in a bar and roped in Paw Paw and Picnic Cafe head chef Rory Doyle. Rory, always one for a wry observation commented that talking about food on a podcast reminded him of the oft misattributed quote “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. It turned out that we were both wrong about who first spoke those words.

We talked about a range of subjects, some only tangentially related to food, perhaps more in the spectrum of “food culture”.  We talked about the Brisbane restaurant and bar scene, keeping chooks, whether tomato sauce should be excluded from the diet of children and serious food lovers, hillbilly butchers, and much else besides. Aside from the freefrom nature of the podcast, there were some struggles with the sound owing to our being in a bar with a bit of background noise. Beeso did a great job of cleaning up the sound. However, he was unable to do anything about my sounding rather more nasal and ocker than I sound in my own head. I’m laying the blame squarely on the beers consumed during the making of the podcast. Rory wore a very nice Parquet Courts t-shirt on the day which saw him rocket skywards in my estimation, but Beeso and I still hogged the conversation somewhat. Sorry Rory and sorry listeners. Rory is a pretty interesting person and a damn fine chef, but more on that another day.

You can listen to the podcast here. Thank you to the Mathew and the kind folks at The Gresham for letting us commandeer a corner of their bar for the podcast.




Four Albums, Three Recommendations


One of the things I love about reviewing restaurants and running tastings is sharing recommendations with others and helping people find a good time. Of course, I’m always mindful that everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a good time, which is why good reviewing should provide a sense of the experience and some personal colour, to help the reader sense the pitch and pace and test it’s alignment with their own sense of aesthetics and pleasure.

So it stands to reason that nothing is more valuable to me than a personal recommendation from someone whose taste and experience I trust. Services like Spotify make it easier than ever before to follow through on recommendations for music. Create a playlist now, consume at leisure, never miss the opportunity to explore a recommendation again. Recommendations for books, restaurants, wine and films require a little more commitment and forethought.

A little quiet time on my recent flight from Dallas Fort Worth to Brisbane provided an opportunity to check out a few musical recommendations. If only I could recall who recommended what. An annotation feature on Spotify would be the icing on the cake.

Love Has Come For You – Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

Yes, that Steve Martin. It turns out he’s a more than competent banjo player. Brickell is known to most for her hit song ‘What I Am’ with her band The New Bohemians, though she’s released a number of albums since then. Love Has Come For You mines a seam of soft bluegrass, and conceptually it made me think of the partnership of Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. However, Brickell’s vocal style here is more polished and less raw and emotional than Welch’s. Authenticity levels are probably about equal. The production here has more gloss where a more sparse feel would have done the album great favours. I got the feeling that Martin was concentrating very hard rather than having fun and Brickell was going through the motions at times. Not much sense of interplay between the two, as though perhaps they were not even in the same room.

13 tracks of four square banjo and some plodding material would be too much to bear we’re it not for Martins name in the credits. It’s fine as a curiosity, a simple enjoyment. And perhaps that’s as far as the celebrity bluegrass genre can take you.

I await the difficult second album.

Holy Fire – Foals

I know little about this band other than cool young things about my brother’s age seem to like them. They’re music enthusiasts of the sort that I was at their age, so I figure this I worth a look.

The first track proper ‘Inhaler’ sounds more than a little like Perry Farrell circa Jane’s Addiction. ‘My Number’ is jangly, danceable and has me humming along with some clever rhythm and bass underpinning it all. Lyrically, I think it’s a conversation in a nightclub about, well, giving a chick your digits.

As the album progresses, its mostly synth and sequencers, danceable without straying anywhere too cheesy. I caught myself doing some minor chair dancing on the plane. Fortunately the lights were dimmed. ‘Everytime’ introduces tribal drums mixed with the refrain ‘Every time I see you I want to sail away’. One of those sum of their parts bands, there’s no virtuosos in Foals.

‘Providence’ is the albums only misstep, a messy almost dubstep affair with cellos, sirens, Nick Skitz synths, psychadelic overdubbed cachophony and vaguely southern spiritual lyrics. See if you can last the full 4:08. I couldn’t.

The last two tracks are down tempo, mellow and reflective. The way a danceable album like this should close out.

Overall, Holy Fire is not a too far away from current Australian kings of this genre, Mitzi and Jagwar Ma. (Jagwar Ma’s ‘Howlin’ is my pick of the three.) If none of those names ring a bell for you, the tone of this album is a bit like something by Duran Duran, but with less pyrotechnics, and overlayed with the progressive dance dynamics familiar to anyone between the ages of 45 and 35. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun and hooks you in on the first listen. And you will dance, and that’s a good thing.

Julia With Blue Jeans On - Moonface

A million miles away from Foals, this is a young man, an expensive sounding piano and an intense set of intertwining confessionals and remembrances about a girl we’ll call Julia. Vocally there are shades of Paul Banks (Interpol) at times, though that’s as far as that comparison goes.

This album is immersive. You need to sit down and listen to it a couple of times, in a comfortable chair with headphones. I can’t see myself washing dishes or baking a cake to it. But I can see myself making a completely teary mess of singing along to it, probably on a long drive alone somewhere.

Moonface AKA Spencer Krug was in a band called Wolf Parade that drew a lot of critical praise but which I never got around to listening to. A Canadian and a classically trained pianist, his playing is impeccable and his compositions here are bold and indulgent. Each note stands in clear definition, in the school of the great pianist and fellow Canadian, Glenn Gould.

It’s the lyrical subject matter though which pulls you in. You get the idea of a unevenly devoted love affair, worshipful, destructive. It’s intoxicating. Brilliance clutched from the jaws of insanity. The album concludes, I sit immobile, in silence. I’m wonder what Julia’s doing now. I hope she’s ok.

This album is a must listen. To the person who recommended it – thank you.

Expo 86 – Wolf Parade

The logical step after being blown away by ‘Julia With Blue Jeans On’ was to finally listen to Wolf Parade. I can hear that the vocalist is Spencer Krug but this is a very different use of his instrument.

I can see how he met Julia. This is sexy, swaggering and vital. At times it shares the same slightly overblown tendencies as Julia With Blue Jeans On, but with no piano, cracking syncopation, biting lyrics and tight rhythm section. It’s a pretty straight up combo of guitars, bass, keys and drums. It’s not hard to tell there’s another song writer, Krug’s tracks are easy to pick, but the other half written by bandmate Dan Boeckner are no less compelling.

It seems strange to say it, but it sounds Canadian, sharing stylistically at times with Arcade Fire, though there’s far less focus and at times the songs on Expo 86 suffer for being crammed with too many clever ideas and too many layers. My impression is that the album is a lot of fun but not a cohesive whole, and it turns out this was their last album before an ‘indefinite hiatus’.

Don’t Believe The Hype

Heightened expectation met – and exceeded – can be exhilarating.

How much does the opinion of mainstream critics and the din of social media chatter influence your enjoyment of your dinner? Your wine? What you read? What you watch or listen to?

It could be argued that many diners enjoy a restaurant experience simply because they have been hypnotised into believing they should. Eschewing the wise words of Public Enemy, they believe the hype. Hundreds of thousands of food blogs and the publicists that feed them underline this theory. Eager to be seen to be in the know and hooked in to trends, soundbites, pitches and photo opportunities are regularly warmed over, garnished with a watermark and served up as the opinion of an ‘insider’.

But for those of us secure in our own opinions, what happens when a dining experience is instead discordant and awkward? A flaccid fettuicine here, a taste-free burrito there, a cocktail that fails to rock your world. We put it down to experience and move on. Does every meal have to be the pinnacle of deliciousness? No.

The stakes are higher with fine dining and degustation. Hats and hype aside, it’s a setting that creates expectation. For most people, dining in such a rarefied setting is infrequent for a combination of logistical and financial reasons. We harbour aspirations of the good life. We’re dressed up and we’re demonstrating our good taste. We’ve watched a few episodes of Masterchef and we’ve followed the careers of celebrity chefs. We get this. In the relative anonymity of the dining room, we are, for a few hours, King of the World.

Or are we?

I recently dined with friends who have serious credentials in restaurants, food and wine. We were privileged to secure a table at short notice at a restaurant with a reputation for detailed, exciting and vibrant food, excellent service and an amazing wine list.

Here’s what happened next.

I could detail the series of disappointments that composed our evening, except there is no way to explain without (a) revealing the identity of the restaurant (b) sounding like a whining, privileged snob. Regardless of how much my eyes watered as I signed the credit card chit.

Dining out regularly is a privilege and so is writing and sharing your experiences. It’s about informing and respecting the reader, not amplifying PR. Or ranting in a passive aggressive manner in a public forum because you’re writing about a meal you paid for, not one you were comped.

I’d like to see:

  • more good quality writing about food on digital platforms
  • a new wave of food bloggers with knowledge, integrity and transparency
  • an increase in restaurant reviews that convey a sense of the experience, not just a laundry list of dishes and photos

How about you?

Qualified Opinions

There are many reasons to write a blog and they are a little different for everyone. Given that there are now millions of blogs, the reasons grow more diverse as do the styles and topics they cover.

Being as a blog appears on the world wide web, lets take the first definition that appears in the search results:

Noun: A website on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on regular basis.

On that basis, I’m unsure I can regard myself as a ‘blogger’ as I fail miserably at the regularity qualifier.

As for the motivations to post one’s opinions online, and in particular in the case of food bloggers, many seem to wish to share their experiences with others or feel it is their duty to warn others from venues which don’t meet with their expectations.

Yet others have a more entrepreneurial motivation, setting out to build an audience, attend launches and events, and attract the attention of public relations types and advertisers.

Other bloggers, not just those who write about food, see a blog as a way to record their experiences in a convenient, update-from-anywhere platform. The figure if they are going to write, they might as well share it with others. As a bonus, they get to prolong the pleasure of their experiences a little longer by writing about them.

All of this seems straightforward, and there is certainly no requirement to ‘decide’ what ‘type’ of blogger you want to be when you create your blog. There is no soul searching survey with hard questions when you sign up for Blogger or WordPress or whichever platform. No oath of blogging to swear.

But is blogging without responsibility? Firstly, not all food bloggers review restaurants or products. There are some fantastic blogs about cooking, recipes, produce and some which feature fabulous food photography. I suppose the responsibility there ends at posting recipes that work and perhaps disclosing when recipes feature products you’ve received as samples.

Does reviewing restaurants and cafes or products carry responsibility? For me the answer is yes. There are not that many bloggers who are powerful enough to end the business of a restaurant, but at the same time, behind these businesses are people. Owners and their employees for a start. It would be unusual for a restaurant to set out to serve bad food, though their purpose may not always be to serve the best food. Working in these businesses, particularly at start up is grueling without even looking beyond the physical work to the emotional investment and financial risk. It’s fair to say that some food bloggers fail to understand this and feel that restaurants are fair game for negative or willfully ignorant reviews.

If you are taking the time to set up a food blog, irritate your friends and loved ones by taking photographs of every plate that arrives at the table, pinching forkfuls of their food in the interests of research, and tapping away at your iPhone to make notes, then extend yourself a little and research your subject matter. If you don’t understand modernist cuisine or don’t know what a terrine is, then perhaps you should just enjoy them as a new and exciting experience and share your opinions with your friends, rather than post them on the internet and record your ignorance for all time.

To look at it from another perspective, imagine there was a review website for your profession. All of us have days where we are not performing at our best. Perhaps the work you do is highly specialised or technical and difficult to understand for those that do not work in the same industry. Would people have the right to critique your work in a public forum? If they were disappointed by the work you did or didn’t feel it was good value for money, would you expect them to speak with you about it before committing it to a public record?

Putting the ‘blogging’ aspect aside, do reviewers in mainstream media have the same responsibilities? Should they meet certain food and wine qualifications before their opinions can appear in print? Or is their ability to write in a style designed for a public audience the more important qualifier?

A couple of incidents had me pondering this. From Twitter:

This tweet from a well known chef:

“Oh dear part time bloggers….yes yes yes. lets just concentrate on what you do best. Your full time job!!”

This tweet from a well known restaurateur, a comment on a short review of Tetsuya’s that appeared in the Courier-Mail :

“I think the review of Tetsuya’s in today’s CM Qweekend maybe the strangest review I have ever read.”

Now, I am unsure who the chef is referring to. It could be me, or I could be paranoid. The restaurateur however leaves us in little doubt, since anyone could identify the writer of the review he refers to by checking the byline on the review.

So, my questions to you dear reader: Is the writer in the Courier-Mail more qualified to write about food than a blogger? Or are they both simply writers who happen to utilise different mediums?  Does being published in a mainstream publication bestow the opinion of the writer with credibility? How do you decide whose opinion matters to you?

One of the most outstanding food writers, in my opinion, and one who continues to command respect is Alan Davidson.  Starting from a hobby in his spare time, he went on to compile the Oxford Companion to Food. Was he a ‘trained’ ‘designated’ ‘food writer’ published in mainstream publications?  No, he was a diplomat who loved food and who originally self published his writings on exotic food as a part-time passion. Perhaps if we were starting out today, he’d have a blog.

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.

Event: DiscoverVin ‘Wines of South West France’ Dinner

I have a soft spot for the wines and winemakers of the region where I grew up, and after meeting Craig Underhill of DiscoverVin via Twitter, who is based in my hometown, I was curious about what kind of wine importer would base themselves there.

DiscoverVin import wine from the Bordeaux and South West Regions of France and rather than focusing solely on classified wines, they instead search out wines that they feel offer quality and value for money, many from independent, organic or bio-dynamic producers. They then go one step further and provide very helpful advice on selecting wine to suit your tastes.

On his mission to introduce more people to these fantastic wines, Craig and DiscoverVin are hosting a wine dinner in Brisbane this Thursday 16th at C’est Bon Restaurant in Woolloongabba with a fittingly French menu and matched wines. You can find more details on the DiscoverVin website. There’s still a few spots available and you can contact Craig to book on 02 6020 6016.

You can follow DiscoverVin on Twitter: @DiscoverVin

The Indirect Route to the Appreciation of Simple Things

Like just about every other person in Western society, I entered the New Year with plans to become healthier, wealthier and wiser.  Oh and perhaps a tiny hangover too.

Those that know me will understand the various reasons why health was a key part of my plans for 2011.  I’m interested in the ideas and exploits of Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Workweek fame, and my Kindle buddy had his new tome ‘Four Hour Body’ downloaded faster than you could say “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun”.

So, despite being an avowed foodist and advanced eater and drinker I have now been eating a restricted high protein, slow carb diet for almost a month.  Here’s a typical daily menu:

Breakfast Three scrambled eggs (no milk or cream), herbs, sea salt flakes, smoked salmon, black coffee.

Lunch Braised lentils with tomato, cumin and coriander, chilli con carne, sour cream, guacamole, black olives, fresh coriander, boiled egg.

Dinner Steak, cannellini beans, green vegetables. Glass of dry red wine.

This is far from my usual diet of flat whites, toast, pasta, rice, vegetables, minimal meat and maximal beer, wine and whisky.

Other tenets of the Four Hour Body are short, sharp bursts of exercise and a weekly day long binge.  I’ll let you read the book if you are interested in the philosophy behind this, however I’m happy to say we are on our way to achieving some of our health goals and as an unexpected bonus I am far more mentally alert and focussed than I have been in many years. 

Today being our Binge Day, I headed out to Brewbakers and Chocquette at the crack of dawn to acquire sourdough and pastries.  The Danishes from Chocquette were magnificent. Crispy edges, flaky layers of pastry and exquisite pear/custard and rhubarb/custard fillings with a thin layer of glaze.  The sourdough was just out of the ovens at Brewbakers, and owner and baker Richard Cotton selected one for me, along with some chocolate croissants. 

One interesting side effect for me has been a heightened appreciation of flavour and texture.  As I write this, I’m snacking on Richard’s sourdough, lightly toasted and smeared with French butter and some J. Friend & Co. White Clover Honey from Manuka, NZ.  Granted, I’ve assembled this snack from three very fine component ingredients, but it is just as enjoyable as the myriad fine dishes I’ve eaten in restaurants anywhere in the world.  The flat white I enjoyed at Chocquette this morning was nutty, creamy and delicious.  I savoured it.  Last Saturday I devoured the larger part of a wedge of Cabot clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont, via Black Pearl Epicure, crumbly, earthy and caramel with a just enough sharpness and a properly long finish.  The new-found laser mental focus and expecation means even simple foods are savoured.

Booty from Brewbakers & Chocquette
White Clover Honey on Brewbaker's French Sourdough
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

There’s really nothing ascetic about the Four Hour Body way of eating, because as much as you restrict your diet six days a week, the anticipation and heightening of senses delivered by your weekly free-eating day compensates ten-fold. Any cravings or desires during the week and be jotted down ready for organising into an agenda of indulgence for your binge day.  It’s a way of eating that supports extreme productivity, and for me this in turn supports higher order eating and drinking adventures.  A good result.

The Supertaster. MKII.

My new years resolutions?  I didn’t make any.

However, amongst my long list of  ‘spare time’ projects has been to move my much neglected, sporadic and very word-heavy blog over to a more managable platform.  So here goes nothing…..

There was once photos that accompanied these words, however they have been lost in the mists of the intawebs.  So I can only promise you, dear reader, words AND pictures for all future entries.  Despite the protestation of my dining companions I will endeavour to commit to memory card the delicous things I consume on my travels. 

I’m looking forward to indulging my passion for the edible and sometimes digestible and to having something to do other than run an IT business – my day job.  It continues to be a fine way to fund my passion for eating out, fine wine and adventures and for that I am very thankful. 

Thank you for coming along for the ride.