Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Oliver & Co, South Brisbane

The urban renewal of South Brisbane and West End continues apace and Oliver and Co is the second incarnation of a deli/cafe/restaurant space within the SW1 development which also houses Era.  It started as Fresh on Melbourne, which failed to find an audience in South Brisbane, possibly due to the lack of residential density within walking distance.  Give it a few more years.  Oliver and Co offers a deli items, pizza, cafe style lunches and breakfasts, coffee and a few other bits and bobs as well as Queensland wines from Jimbour Station.

This is a good place to perch and watch the passing parade on weekends and I’m told it does great burgers, but only on weekdays.  We visited for breakfast on a couple of occasions.  Coffee is Espresso Di Manfredi, but the technique of the barista adds nothing to what is a well balanced blend.  Breakfasts of eggs benedicts (sic), omelettes and other standards are good rather than great.  Oliver & Co is comfortable enough but is let down by irritations like cheap bendy cutlery, under-seasoned food and confused service – is it table service or do you order at the counter – we couldn’t get a straight answer.  Simply plated, unfussy breakfasts use good quality eggs, smallgoods and artisan bread although bizarrely it appears to be pre-toasted which has the affect of making it seem stale.  If you want salt, pepper or butter then you’ll need to hunt them down yourself, they’re not offered when your meals are delivered, and neither is water.

The footpath dining area has well spaced tables and the atmosphere is undemanding.  If you’re looking for somewhere shady to spread out the papers and graze on weekends, then Oliver & Co is a good choice.  Prices are low, consistent with the lack of service.  It could be so much more with just a little bit of care and effort.

Oliver & Co Gourmet Groceries & Deli

104 Melbourne Street

South Brisbane

Walking distance from South Brisbane Station and plenty of parking downstairs.

Restaurant Review: The Chelsea, Paddington

The well written menu is an underappreciated art form.   Service can be absent, the décor pedestrian but a great menu takes you into the chefs world and allows you to share the quality of their produce, their technique and their passion with you the diner.  A great one will leave you flummoxed as to the best dishes to choose and politely salivating in anticipation of what’s to come.  A poor menu – such as one I read recently with more than 65 unappetising dishes, and not even near Chinatown – will see you downing your first drink and hightailing it outta there. 

Lunch at The Chelsea was an entirely spontaneous decision, and as such there were no real expectations.  The Chelsea offers the casual diner a sun dappled outdoor dining terrace and a bistro style dining room.  A very talented designer is responsible for the interiors which combine a quartz veined dark marble bar, bevelled mirrors, brass cornice rails, bentwood stools. bottle green leather banquettes with cork topped tables and large flower arrangements.  It works because while every detail is considered, it doesn’t seek to follow trends and complements the Victorian era building in which it resides, rather than mimicking it. 

The menu works too.  It’s approachable, concise and deliciously well constructed.  You’ll want to order one of everything, starting with the excellent Leavain bread served with pistachio dukkah, lemon and olive oil.  Seasonal and local produce is the star of the menu at The Chelsea with a pork belly and squid salad studded with cashews, golden shallots, nham jim, coconut shavings and Darra’s finest coriander sitting comfortably with reginette pasta with roasted asparagus pesto and lemon and a full flavoured Darling Downs sirloin.  A roast onion tart served with watercress and goat curd made a great starter and was all the better for the goats curd not being truffled as described on the menu.

The wine list here is concise but fits The Chelsea perfectly, again designed by someone with talent.  Given the underutilised stools at the marble bar and enjoyable casual atmosphere, I’d like to see more wines by the glass.  The house branded The Chelsea by Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc and The Chelsea by Teusner Barossa Shiraz are a cut about your average ‘house wines’ and the whisky list by Queensland Malt Whisky Society life member Lance Currie offers a neat selection of Scotland’s finest.

The informal but professional service is well judged to suit the mix of patrons and menu is both appealing and unpretentious.   The Chelsea offers seemingly effortlessly good food, looks and service, thereby achieving the holy trinity of casual dining in Brisbane.

The Chelsea

Shop, 61 Petrie Terrace

‘The Barracks’


Phone:  07 3367 1288

Tuesday to Saturday 7am til late

Sunday and Monday 7am til 4pm

Restaurant Review: The Euro, Brisbane

Before it was The Euro, this space was Serengeti, an odd mish mash of Singaporean-Chinese chefs doing a pasta and foccacia cafe menu with authentic mee goreng available to those in the know.  The fitout was left over from a chain cafe and featured stained glass and cheap prints of Paris.  Noisy and bustling, and was a great place to grab a quick meal and gossip, provided you understood how to navigate the schizophrenic menu.

In the same amount of space next door was Urbane MKI, even in its original incarnation one of the sexiest restaurants in Brisbane.  I was lucky enough to thoroughly enjoy a degustation and matched wines on its last night before the builders were called in.  What has emerged from these combined spaces is a very special group of venues.

The Euro is a brasserie which even if it served porridge would be remarkable for its exciting and cohesive design.  Warm timbers, exposed heritage brickwork and angular, coloured lighting and glass provide a sophisticated back drop for a drink at the bar, a meal and a glass of wine or extended culinary adventures.  The sophistication extends to small details – stemware and cutlery well above ‘brasserie’ standards, well orchestrated service and an impressively stocked bar and bar staff to do it justice.  The wine list steers clear of safe expense account options, but rewards with some interesting and judiciously priced wines. 

One of the principles of the venue was to source great produce, including whole carcasses from top producers, organic and heirloom vegetables and handmade smallgoods.  Bespoke 56 day dry aged AACO wagyu beef  and organic yearling is at the centre of a menu that manages to be unfussy and innovative at the same time.  Kym Machin’s passion and technique is evident in dishes like a deconstructed chicken pot au feu and the quality of the produce matches this in dishes like carpaccio of wagyu bresaola with slow cooked pullet egg, truffled potato and parmesan and milk fed veal, served simply with lemon, aioli and slaw.  Past hits have included a very enjoyable bolognaise, mulloway pastie with almond mayo and a risotto of roast pumpkin and gorgonzola.  The menu is seasonal and changes regularly.  Kym’s passion doesn’t appear to lagging as each new menu is even more appealing.

Desserts here are a must.  I’ve just spotted a chocolate and px sherry trifle with chewy pumpkin seed caramel on the new menu, reminding me of one of the best things about The Euro.  Pastry chef Shaun Quade was recently nominated for Gourmet Traveller’s Best New Talent award and even if you have no room for dessert, at least order the petit fours.

One of the things that makes The Euro special is the sure hand of Andy Buchanan, one of the venue’s owners, along with Drew Patten who presides of Urbane’s dining room.  Along with Kym Machin, they have created four very special venues – Urbane, The Euro, Laneway Bar and private dining room SubUrbane.  Whilst they’ve clearly surrounded themselves with a talented team you can’t help but admire their focus and daring.  That the patrons are loving it signals a new maturity in the Brisbane dining scene.

The Euro

179 Mary Street, Brisbane

Phone:  07 3229 3686

Restaurant Review: South Bank Surf Club, Brisbane

Warm sun on your back, a gentle breeze, great company and a cold beer in your hand.  The stuff the great Aussie weekend is made of.  Myth or reality?  The statisticians reckon we work longer hours than any other nation in the developed world.  Perhaps a permanent Great Aussie Weekend is what we’re all working for?

South Bank Surf Club is built on this Aussie weekend myth – and allows you to experience that feeling in bite sized chunks, manageable by even the most solid workaholic. 

Like South Bank itself, South Bank Surf Club is a fairly inorganic venture – TV Chef meets Night Club Operator on the site of a former vendor of cheap hotdogs and cinnamon donuts overlooking a public swimming pool.  There’s no surf, except for when a fat kid jumps into the deep end.  For the record, the consulting chef is Ben O’Donoghue (Surfing the Menu, etc – at least he’s not pimping a supermarket) and the backers are Karatzyna Group (Family, Cloudland, The Press Club etc) and South Bank was once the business centre of Brisbane before being left to rot as cheap industrial space, a fish market and a place to acquire an STD.

Despite this unholy marriage, South Bank Surf Club has claimed one of the best locations at South Bank and elevated the standard of dining available in this tourism precinct.  I’ve often been mortified to think that visitors to the city might leave thinking that the ‘cuisine’ offered at South Bank was indicative of what Brisbane offers.  The prices here are just high enough to keep the rabble out without being unfair.  They also allow the kitchen to source quality ingredients with a focus on freshness and simplicity.

I’ve now visited South Bank Surf Club at least ten times, mostly because its is at the mid point of the six kilometre walking circuit I try to complete daily.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  But still, I choose to stop at this venue over the many other eateries for good reason.  The venue offers a great mix – fresh, vibrant food that suits local produce, well sourced local seafood, beachside basics like oysters, fish and chips and steak sandwiches, cold beer on tap and a short but well compiled wine list.  Coffee is by Campos and staff are friendly and welcoming if perhaps lacking a good floor manager to get things humming along.

Today I sampled vanilla and vodka cured ocean trout which glistened with tiny bursts of lemon, capers, fennel and dill and some delicate olive oil.  A winner at $12.50 with a glass of 2009 Mitchell Watervale Riesling at $9.50.  Fish and chips featured a couple of beer battered fresh Mulloway fillets with chips and tartare sauce.  This dish is better than pub fare and good value at $21.50, but let down slightly by food factory chips.  Big Helga beer is available on tap at the moment for $5 – certainly better than a XXXX at the pub.  A Caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes, buffalo curd and herbs rounded out our meal. The steak sandwich with bearnaise sauce, Hervey Bay scallops, salt and pepper calamari with crisp curry leaves and lime mayo and chicken ‘snizzer’ have all been great of previous visits.  Some of the portion sizes are a little mean, I’d personally prefer to pay a couple of bucks more and leave truly satisfied. 

This is also a great place to have a leisurely breakfast on the weekend.  Again, freshness is at the fore and there are a few unconventional but winning combinations like the Surf Club Classic featuring grilled Gold Coast tiger prawns, quality bacon, a corn and herb hotcake, a deep fried free range egg, oyster sauce and some fresh red chilli for $18.50.  It would be great to also see a more conventional ‘man meal’ breakfast option on the menu.   The small selection of desserts are also good and indulgent and the cheese platter I sampled on a visit for dinner was one of the best I’ve had anywhere.  Queensland wines from the Granite Belt and South Burnett also make an appearance along with a good list of cocktails.

Given the fitout of this venue took many months, it’s clear a lot of money has been sunk into the venture.  The downstairs bar is well kitted out and my guess would be that there are 150 seats in the venue between the piazza area at bar level, a wrap-around verandah cum private room at the rear and the upstairs terrace.  From what I’ve observed, it’s not quite getting the rousing reception you hope for as a restaurant owner.  Possible reasons are that it’s a little out of sync with the average South Bank visitor in terms of menu and price point and its up about a dozen stairs.  The multi-level dining and bar areas mean there’s no ‘threshold’ to cross into the venue and often no-one immediately greeting and seating patrons.  I think South Bank Surf Club misses a trick here as I’ve observed a high bounce rate of patrons having a look, starting up the stairs and then leaving.  I do hope some of the creases at this venue are ironed out so that it can find the loyal audience it needs to be a permanent fixture at South Bank.

Restaurant Review: Taro’s Ramen and Cafe, Brisbane

Here in Brisbane, Japanese food has become ubiquitous, the go-to ethnic food for when you’re after something tasty and relatively inexpensive.  Sushi places are in every food court and in the CBD there’s at least one for every city block, often more.   At the ‘fine dining’ end of the market there’s Sono, Oshin and very soon Shaun Presland’s Sake which will open at Eagle Street Pier in the next few months.  Shinichi Maeda, formerly of Wasabi at Noosa (and Sunshine Beach before that) will be head chef at this new location.

The Brisbane CBD generally suffers from a lack of choice when it comes to mid-priced, casual restaurants.  The sort of ‘come as you are’ place with a short menu of simple unfussy food, a good wine list covering the basics and warm, friendly staff.  The stuff of my fantasies.  And oddly, the stuff that neighbourhood restaurants in Japanese cities are all about.  Which is why Taro’s is my new favourite place.

Every claim Chef Taro makes about his food is spot on.  They really do have the best Japanese curry in Brisbane.  And that’s not even the main event.  The tonkotsu ramen is made with an amazing stock, lovingly made by simmering Bangalow pork bones for 16 hours.  Taro’s handmade noodles are delicate with just the right amount of bite.  And it doesn’t stop there.  There are five ramen dishes with variations on stock, sweet bangalow pork slices, beautiful organic nori that crackles and sparks with iodine, house made char sui, pickled ginger and mustard greens, perfect soy eggs and crunchy bamboo shoots.  The deeply earthy and smoky chilli oil is also highly recommended. 

For a mere $1.20 more than the food court, you can try ‘the best chicken curry in town’.  Chef Taro delivers.  Again, Bangalow pork bone stock forms the base, the curry sauce is deep and complex without the acid after taste you’ll find in the food court version.  It is accompanied by expertly prepared japanese rice and your choice of chicken, pork, veggie croquettes or prawns and a topping of sweet lotus root pickles.

For now I’m addicted to the ramen, but I’m keen to grab a few friends for Chef Taro’s sweet pork shabu shabu.  After a long wait Taro’s now has a liquor license and small but well considered list.  For example, you can have an Asahi for $6.80 or a bottle of Bridgewater Mill 2008 Chardonnay for $33.

The casual dining area is comfortable and one of the CBD’s best kept secrets, stretching out onto a cool and private outdoor terrace.  Even the way the tables are set and the beautiful Japanese handpainted bowls and spoons demonstrate Taro’s passion and attention to detail.  Staff are friendly and welcoming and as Taro points out, paid at or above the Award.  Yet another point of difference over the food court ‘competition’.

Taro’s is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.  For just over $20 you could do worse that a cold Asahi and a bowl of Taro’s beautiful ramen.

Adventures: The Breslin, New York

On a trip to New York a few years back, a friend of a friend did his best to get us a table at The Spotted Pig, at the time something highly exciting for New York – a gastropub.  With April Bloomfield in the kitchen, at the time this was the hot ticket in Manhattan and the place was heaving.  Although it makes no sense to me, its relatively common for a hot restaurant in New York to have a no bookings policy.  One day soon I know a restaurateur is going to offer me a credible explanation for this, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

Our generous friend, a Kiwi living in upstate New Jersey and representing Australian and NZ lamb to Americans, grabbed us a round of pints at the bar, Speckled Hen if I remember correctly.   We casted around for diners about to depart, but the situation was bleak.  A Hollywood starlet and her group of at least 30 occupied half the dining area.  Heath Ledger was not in the building.  So we finished our pint and grabbed a few coasters and headed out on the street to regroup and put into operation our Plan B.  One of The Spotted Pig’s coasters is on my desk as I type. 

Not so fun fact – It was on the site of The Spotted Pig that Welsh poet Dylan Thomas died.  It shares its location with The Whitehorse Tavern, also a favourite of Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Anaïs Nin, Hunter S Thompson and Jack Kerouac.  Funny how celebrity culture has overtaken creativity.  Anyhow, I digress.

Having been denied a visit to The Spotted Pig, I was a tiny bit excited to realise that April Bloomfield’s newest venture, The Breslin, was a short walk from our hotel when we were visiting New York a couple of months ago.  April has some great names under her belt having spent time at Chez Panisse and River Cafe before opening The Spotted Pig.  Her partner-in-crime Ken Friedman has excelled himself with the interior, which is a quirky yet well conceived English pub/club hybrid.  Think dark wood panelling, antler chandeliers, tin mirrors and oiled floorboards with a a nice collection of low brow art.  Located on the ground level of the achingly hip Ace Hotel in Chelsea, we were all set to have dinner and drinks there, but got rained in.  In any event, we had already spent most of the day eating and pretty much ruined our appetite.  So we ventured out into a steamy New York summer day for breakast the next morning determined to try out The Breslin. 

A sucker for cheese and a lover of a good Croque Monsieur we went with the Grilled 3 Cheese Sandwich with house smoked ham with an egg and a full English breakfast of house made pork sausage, fried egg, tomato, mushroom and bacon with a side of Home Fries just to keep with the overeating theme.  The ubiquitous Amercian breakfast staple of home fries was in fact potatoes roasted in duck fat with caramelised onions and a scattering of flat leaf parsely.  If only all hotel buffets shared this same definition of home fries!  The 3 Cheese Sandwich was as big as my head with sweet flaky pork goodness and excellent sourdough.  Clearly, Chef Bloomfield knows how to source the finest porky treats as the sausage and bacon were also amazing.  Despite being entirely full to the point of bursting, I couldn’t leave any of the ‘home fries’ behind.  Wow – so good.  I also enjoyed pretty much the best flat white I’ve ever had, anywhere. 

Special mention to the staffer who chooses the music.  Over the course of breakfast we were treated to Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’, an anonymous rendition of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ with some Hot Chip, Guns N’ Roses and Motown classics thrown in just to keep us guessing. 

It’s probably one of the more expensive ways to eat breakfast in New York and there were only a handful of diners when we visited at around 9:30am.  However, I heartily recommend it if you are visiting New York.  Dinner features a pigs foot dinner for two as well as a dry aged 28 day rib eye for two and a full ‘pudding’ menu with trifle, syllabub and buttermilk pie.  East Coast craft beers and hand pumped house beers are also a specialty.

Next visit I hope to make it to The Spotted Pig and get some more coasters.

Restaurant Review: Crosstown Eating House, Brisbane

Winter in Brisbane is a beautiful time.  T-shirt weather during the day and crisp, clear evenings make it a great time to get out and explore the city.  So it was that we ventured to Woolloongabba to the Logan Road antiques/restaurant precinct for a weekend lunch.  With street scaping and gentrification of this once shabby strip now complete, you’ll find 1889 Enoteca, Bistrot Bistro, Pearl Cafe and Crosstown Eating House all within walking distance of the Woolloongabba bus terminal and the Gabba itself.

After several laps to check out our options and duck into one of the antiques dealers to get a closer look at a set of samurai kikou (Japanese armour) we decided to try out Crosstown Eating House.  Now, I’d heard good things about this place, rave reviews even.  Fabulous food in funky casual surroundings was the common theme.  Someone really liked the olives.  Others liked the share plates.  So I’d been curious, and hated to think I was missing out on a good thing.  Plenty of patrons were headed through the double door entry so in we went.

Things were a little off from the minute we crossed the transom.  Staff were of the awkwardly cool variety and we are just regular 30 somethings.  Somewhat reluctantly, a young waitress greeted us and seated us in a corridor at a highish table on what seemed to be science lab stools.  Perfectly good tables with actual chairs remained empty.  The decor shrieks ‘whimsy’ but doesn’t quite pull it all together.  A nautically themed collection of faded & wrinkled prints, long stitch and even a hologram of a cutter ship decorate the walls.  The bar is lined with limed pressed metal and the staff are all lumberjack checks, small florals, thick rimmed glasses, combed down haircuts, beards and cardigans.

I love a menu where every dish sounds amazing and you change your mind about what to order a dozen times before a waiter arrives and finally puts you out of your misery by asking you to make a decision.  This did not happen at Crosstown.  The menu is divided into ‘Tasty Bites’, shared starters, mains and sides.  There are just 5 mains with very minimalist descriptions.  Given that the chefs are attempting some less than obvious combinations of ingredients, this style of menu doesn’t really work.   

Feeling a little unwelcome and uninspired by the menu we skipped the starters and chose a main each – chicken mini roast with baby carrots, potato balls, cauliflower and peas and snapper fillet with oxtail potsticker, sugarloaf and lardons, each $29.  Neither of these mains were bad, however the chicken mini roast was in reality part of a small chicken maryland that would appear to have been pan fried then possibly finished off with a short burst in an oven.  The peas were like bullets and the cauliflower was a puree sitting in a puddle of chicken juices.  It could have been a great example of classic comfort food with better ingredients and technique.   The snapper was better, a nice succulent flavoursome fillet atop sautéed sugarloaf cabbage and bacon lardons, but again would have been elevated by a little more attention to detail.  The oxtail potsticker had a few dried out shreds of meat encased in something like a dried out ravioli.  The cabbage was just on the wrong side of cooked and a little limp and the lardons needed a bit more heat to caramelise and really bring out the sweetness that would have tied all the ingredients together.  I am never one to complain about serving sizes, however these were really too small to be called mains.

We found the service and tone of this place confused.  For example, there is a thoughtful if somewhat pedestrian wine list with lovely little tasting notes written in an approachable style that makes them really useful to the diner.  However, the bottle of Monte Antico 2006 Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot we ordered was plonked down on the table unopened along with two glasses.  Apparently cracking a screw cap and pouring a couple of glasses is not part of the job description.  Rather disappointingly, this wine was actually described as Sangiovese on the wine list, quite different to the blend they actually served us.  The wine was nice enough, but if you are going to go to the trouble of writing tasting notes then really this is Wine List 101. 

The staff don’t seem at all engaged with the patrons and our plates were cleared without even a simple enquiry about how we enjoyed our meals.  Dessert and coffee weren’t offered and it turns out they don’t even have a coffee machine.

Crosstown Eating House has such promise, but seems to lack the warm welcome and attention to detail that could make it a real winner.

Restaurant Review: Jellyfish, Brisbane CBD

For a city defined by a river, Brisbane’s always been short on waterfront dining.  Eagle Street Pier was it for many years with a sprinkling of other venues such as Oxleys, Watt and some very forgettable places at South Bank.  More recently the Portside development at Hamilton has added some good contenders too.

The latest venue on the river is Jellyfish.  Trading for around six months now, Jellyfish is helmed by John Kilroy who many will recognise from Cha Cha Char.  Essentially Kilroy has taken the idea of produce with provenance and applied his winning ways with beef to seafood, more specifically line caught fresh fish.  Making good use of space borrowed from the Riverside Centre car park, Jellyfish sees a long, narrow space originally earmarked for a tunnel turned into a relaxed yet elegant dining room, mixing avant garde felt ‘jellyfish’ light shades with limewashed bentwood chairs, dark finishes and a long mirrored wall.  The dining area spills out onto a terrace which gives dinners a great view of the Brisbane River, Kangaroo Point and the Story Bridge. 

The menu features a selection of 8 – 12 sorts of fish, each flown in that day to arrive on your plate in tip top condition.  Each one has a recommended cooking style and sauce as well as the location where it was caught.  Everything is done simply to let the freshness of the produce speak for itself.  Selections include Whole Silver Bream, Flathead, Swordfish and the more unusual Hiramasa King and Butterfish.  In keeping with the theme of simplicity a 200 g portion is $29 with two fillets available for a very reasonable $39.50.  A full a la carte menu and extensive selection of sides and salads are also available. 

We visited on successive Wednesday nights and on both occasions the heaving dining room showed no signs of the global financial crisis with most tables being turned over at least once throughout the evening.  The staff at Jellyfish are very passionate about the menu and take the time to answer questions and explain the options. 

We settled on entrees of plump Sydney rock oysters and melt in the mouth tuna sashimi along with a glass of G. Laurent Perrier Rose Champagne.  Good quality sourdough and herbed butter is also available.  The tough decisions when it came to choose mains and eventually we both settled on the line caught fish – the hiramasa king with olive, lemon & caper sauce, the butterfish grilled with chermoula emulsion and the gold band snapper tempura with Vietnamese dipping sauce.

The sides show off quality vine ripened heirloom tomatoes in a number of guises as well as that other great accompaniment to fish – potatoes.  Our tomato and mozzarella salad and potato bake were outstanding and large enough to be a meal on their own.  From the lengthy and well-priced wine list, a bottle of the Scotchmans Hill ‘Cornelius’ Pinot Gris was a nice match for the meal.

In the event your dining companions prove to be less than entertaining, a rather surreal video of marine life on the barrier reef plays on flat screen TVs dotted around the dining room and there’s certainly plenty of people watching and blind date speculation to be had.  The dining room is comfortably noisy and tables are well spaced without losing the buzzy atmosphere.  Jellyfish also includes a very stylish bar, worthy of a separate visit.

Jellyfish provides a fantastic, unpretentious dining experience and prices are very good given the overall quality of the dining experience.  After almost half a dozen visits, I haven’t stopped raving about the place!  It truly offers something you won’t find anywhere else in Brisbane.  The quality and consistency of the food – particularly the fish – is a standout.

Restaurant Review: Barolo Restaurant, Brisbane CBD

Mid Wednesday afternoon in an otherwise ordinary week and a message pops up on my monitor ‘find a restaurant for dinner tonight, it’s time we got out more’.  So much travel during this year that the last few months we’ve been doing alot of eating in lately.  I’d walked past Barolo a couple of times, and been curious about what chef/owner Russell Armstrong (previously of Seasalt @ Armstrongs (Inchcolm Hotel), Ciao Bella (Albion) and various others) had come up with on the former Felix on Felix site.

Already tarted up from its original incarnation as Vroom, Felix on Felix was a restaurant with an identity crisis.  Not quite cafe, not quite fine dining, it provided serviceable food and service but never really fired.   Barolo sees the busy corner location between Eagle Street Pier and the Belgian morph into a sophisticated and seductive fine diner, a fantastic addition to the inner city restaurant scene.  It strikes an excellent balance between a place to pull out all the stops and spend up big whilst allowing the diner to be equally comfortable dropping in for a quick bite and a glass of wine.

The menu offers Italian flavours with a modern twist, with entrees, mains and an excellent selection of house made pastas.  We were seated and served an excellent sourdough along with Joseph olive oil.  Although I’d read the menu on line when I made the reservation, it didn’t make it any easier to decide from the many delicious sounding options on the menu.  After some deliberation, we started with half a dozen pacific oysters doused with salt water vinaigrette, citrus and extra virgin olive oil and an excellent risotto of sautéed chanterelles, shaved Western Australian truffles and creme fraiche.  The oysters were plump and smelt of the sea, the best I’ve tasted in a long time.  The risotto was generously dressed with shaved truffles with a lovely balance of earthy flavours.  We treated ourselves to glass each of the R’ De Ruinart, a fitting accompaniment to the excellent entrees. 

Sitting on at a banquette table under the plush retro orchid wallpaper and mood lighting, we were surprised by the lone female diners to either side of us, one busily texting between mouthfuls of steak and the other ducking out between courses for a quick smoke.  Barolo doesn’t have the pretensions of some of its neighbours and seems equally welcoming to groups, couples or those just looking for some where reliable to eat when they’re visiting on business.

Pasta dishes are available as entrees and mains, and given that all pasta is freshly made on the premises each day I settled on the hand rolled ribbon pasta with chilli, garlic, lemon, crabmeat and Qld scallops.  This dish did not disappoint and along with the roast rump of Victorian lamb served with polenta, ratatouille and roast garlic jus further demonstrated the assured work of Armstrong and his team.  Given the restaurant’s name, we thought it would be remiss not to try the Nebbiolo blends on offer.  With 6 to choose from this is possibly the largest selection of Nebbiolo on any wine list in Brisbane.  We settled on the 2003 Elio Altare Barolo la Marra from Piedmont, a nice example of the style with cherry and cinnamon flavours and a finish as smooth as silk.

Service at Barolo is earnest but not quite as refined as you might expect given the otherwise high standard.  Staff were friendly, but lacking confidence and a little awkward.   Credit to the Sommelier who seemed genuinely excited to have patrons who turned straight to the Nebbiolo section of the wine list.  Overall, the wine list shows a nice balance of Australian and European wines and mark ups are quite reasonable. 

Desserts merit a return visit, but on this occasion we rounded out the meal with ripe brie presented with slices of nashi pear, crackers and dried white figs.  A wider selection of whisky would be nice to see but probably saved further damage to the nights bill.

Barolo is a confident, calm and welcoming space serving beautiful food without fuss and we will definitely be back.

Barolo Restaurant
Modern Mediterranean
Cnr Felix & Mary Street, Brisbane CBD
Phone 3211 7101
Open for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Espresso
Monday to Saturday

Barolo website


Restaurant Review: Fifth Element, South Brisbane

I was keen to try Fifth Element after watching the fitout progress for a few weeks.  The anticipation was heightened when I heard that they would be first place in Queensland to install Enomatic machines.  I’d read about Enomatic’s wine dispensing technology years ago in Wired magazine and marvelled at the concept of allowing customers to use a prepaid card to taste dozens of wines.  A neat idea but possibly the kind of technology that might detract away from your tasting experience.  These machines use inert gas to allow wine to be dispensed in a taste, half glass or full glass, without the wine becoming oxidised through prolonged exposure to oxygen. 

Fifth Element has been put together by the ambitious people who brought us Byblos at Portside Wharf, Hamilton.  An altogether more streamlined venue it combines bistro, bar and bottleshop in a atmospheric inside/outside setting at one end of South Bank’s Little Stanley Street lifestyle precinct.  Blinged out with a highly polished pot still and cascading water feature behind the bar, an open kitchen and four Enomatic machines its already making an impression, with around 40 diners at various stages of drinks, tapas and dinner when we visited on a Sunday night. 

We headed straight for the bottle shop which is lined with floor to ceiling matt black wine storage dotted with the Enomatic machines we were so anxious to check out.  Two chilled machines for whites and two circular freestanding units for reds although one of the reds machines was experiencing technical difficulties of leaking gas variety on our visit and so was out of commission.  There’s also an impressive range of unusual imported beers and ciders from the US, Canada, Belgium and beyond as well as some interesting and rare spirits.

We charged our card with $50, found the cabinets of quality stemware and set about trying the merlots, shiraz and other tannic varietals.  Staff are on hand to talk you through the selection but are good enough to leave you to it once you’ve grasped the finer details of how to redeem your wine.  We restrained ourselves and tasted various merlots, cab savs and the Elephant Hill Syrah from Marlborough NZ before trying the Grange Hermitage 88 and 2007 respectively.  Even at $35 a taste this is still a more manageable way to try arguably Australian’s most revered wine.  A vintage from Hill of Grace is also available.  There’s even some tasty Lebanese reds, reflecting the heritage of Fifth Element’s backers.  Let’s just say it wasn’t long before we were recharging our Enomatic card!

It might have been the wine or maybe just the attractive dining area attached to the bar but we decided to grab a table and settle in for a light dinner.  The menu offers an interesting selection of tapas, entrees, mains, deserts and cheeses along with a wine list reflecting most of what’s available in the Enomatic machines along with a good cocktail list.  We sampled a tangy Thai style flash fried salt and pepper calamari, sand crab tomato and avocado bruschetta and fresh figs stuffed with soft cheese and wrapped in prosciutto.  All were good without being amazing but nicely complemented the Elephant Hill Syrah we were drinking by that stage.  We found it a bit hard to get the attention of wait staff to actually order the food, possibly due to the fact that having come from the wine tasting area with glasses in hand and no wait staff to greet us we had seated ourselves.  It would appear some fine tuning of service is still needed.

The inside outside vibe of Fifth Element is really great and makes grazing, drinking and lounging very comfortable.  I could see myself visiting for a drink mid-afternoon with friends and staying on for dinner and dessert. With plenty of transport options available at South Bank it makes the decision to have one more a little easier.

Fifth Element Bar & Cellar

Shop 1b, 188 Grey Street
South Brisbane
Phone: 07 3846 5584

Fifth Element website