Bar Barossa, Brisbane CBD

I managed to take a few days off between Christmas and New Year and particularly savoured time spent catching up on hundreds of bookmarked articles I’d gathered in an email folder over the last 9 months or so. I squirrel away all these shiny little gems like a bowerbird, and to extend the metaphor, a few of my treasures turn out to be as exciting as milk bottle lids and bread tags.

One article that provided some food for thought was this short paper from the Social Issues Research Centre on ‘Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective‘. It touches lightly on eating at restaurants and how their role has adapted to societal changes over time. My own relationship with restaurants has gone from a strange and foreign world I found myself working in to a ‘third place’ where I find myself much too frequently. A wardrobe full of size-too-small clothes testifies to this transformation.

As it’s a short walk from my office and home, Bar Barossa is one of a small group of restaurants I visit regularly. Sometimes for a chat with Darren Davis, one of the proprietors, sometimes for a wine dinner, sometimes because I’m exhausted beyond cooking and my partner wants a good steak. I’ve never had a bad meal here, but the extensive Barossa led wine list has always shone brighter than the rest of the restaurant experience. It’s been comfortably good, without being dazzling. But this has all changed.

The menu has had a bit of a rework, something that was long overdue.  Bar Barossa divides their menu into light plates, grazing plates and hearty plates, and servings are generous. There’s now a lot more colour and shade on the menu, without moving too far from the wine friendly fare that is their stock in trade. Flavours are simple and direct, with good quality beef, lamb and pork and fresh briney oysters. I’m more likely to order fish when I eat out as I rarely cook it at home, and the NT barramundi with potato cake, asparagus and beurre blanc I had on Friday night was fantastic. I’d have liked a bit more sauce, but then I mostly eat for sauces. My entrée of Cape Grim beef carpaccio with white anchovies was also excellent, with the beef seared and then sliced into glistening, translucent sheets and dressed with a just right mix of olive oil and lemony acid. A glass of Rockford Alicante Bouchet is a great match for this dish. Desserts aren’t really the strong suit of the kitchen, but the choose your own adventure cheese plate is worth a look, dressed with Barossa preserves and crispbread, as is the broad selection of stickies and fortifieds.

But the food is not the reason why I’d recommend you pay a visit to Bar Barossa. It’s the floor staff. A group of properly enthusiastic professionals, who love what they do and where they work is what elevated our meal at Bar Barossa. They’re hooked into what’s good on the menu, what works from the wine list and what’s happening around town. As Bar Barossa attracts plenty of business and tourist patronage, it’s great to see good ambassadors for our city and our dining scene. Darren was nowhere in sight, and yet service hummed along and the diners around us seemed to be enjoying themselves even more than we did.

Now in its second year of operation, Bar Barossa has hit its straps. Now if they can just squeeze in that mezzanine floor to make room for twice as many tables…..

Bar Barossa

545 Queen Street

Brisbane

Phone:    07 3832 3530

Web:  www.barbarossa.com.au

Tuesday to Friday:  Lunch and Dinner

Saturday: Dinner until late

Regular winemaker events

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.

Dragonfly

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.

Dragonfly

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.

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

Restaurant Review: Wagaya, Fortitude Valley

I’d heard people talking about the touch screen ordering system at new Fortitude Valley Japanese Izakaya style eatery Wagaya, which put me in mind of AA Gill’s review of London restaurant Bob Bob Ricard where much was made of the ‘bring champagne’ button installed at every table. Sadly the review is now very securely on the other side of Uncle Rupert’s paywall. A memorable review in which Bob Bob Ricard received zero points.
I’m not in the habit of awarding points, which is a good thing, because Wagaya would be a tough one to score.
A running total - in four languages
A somewhat cavernous venue, comprising all booth seating for somewhere between 150 – 200, along with private rooms, Wagaya is located upstairs from Chinatown Mall in the long vacant space in the redeveloped TC Beirne building. I give a broad estimate on seats, because how many you can fit in a booth will depend on the sort of arses being accommodated.
There’s some novelty in ordering via touchscreen, and like self checkout at the supermarket, it has some advantages. Food comes quickly and even luddites will soon be caught up in the excitement of pressing buttons to make food come. So its handy to be able to get a subtotal for your spend by just selecting a few menu options, lest you get carried away and blow your budget.
We visited at lunch time and ordered a pork katsu bento box, a teriyaki tofu bento box, tuna sashimi and scampi sushi rolls. Complimentary miso soup was bought to our table in a flash. It is very obviously food prepared to approximate Japanese food without quite so much care and focus on ingredients to be the real deal. As mentioned here, it’s a all a little bit Japanese-by-numbers. But still, its cheap, fun and generally pleasing.
Wagaya's Teriyaki Tofu Bento Box
The teriyaki tofu was flavourful and the accompanying potato salad croquette was excellent, creamy and with a properly crispy panko crumb exterior. One of the hallmarks of a good Japanese food is the rice, and unusually neither of us finished ours, which was overcooked and unseasoned. The tuna sashimi was OK, but lacked freshness and texture. Presentation of the scampi sushi plate was excellent with heads and claws displayed to dramatic effect. Stodgy tempura batter meant the scampi meat was barely recognisable.
I expect Wagaya will be popular with younger patrons and those looking for a fast and inexpensive meal in the Valley. Queues are common at its Sydney sister restaurant. The Brisbane menu offers plenty of choice, particularly at dinner where there are about 100 dishes on offer. Drinks are also ordered via the touch screen system, but alas there is no Champagne, nor a Champagne button. BYO is available at $2.50 per person – via the touchscreen ordering system.
The room screening and brooding décor puts me in mind of Garuva, though the bench seating does at least raise the age of diners who can eat here – or should I say, the age of diners who can stand and depart unassisted after dinner.
Wagaya Restaurant
Level 1, TCB Centre
315 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley
07 3252 8888

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.

Olfactory Journeys To The Past

Fancy Tasmania ApplesThe AM radio hisses, then the signal gets clearer.  ‘You know where I was when this one came out?’ he says as the opening notes of Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely’ play.  ‘I was in Tasmania picking apples’.  This is my dad speaking, who links all his best memories as a young man to the hits of the day.

I’m kind of the same, but for me its not just the tunes, but the smells as well.  My mum’s velvet soap and cammomile Grassroots woolwash mixed with the woollen kilt and jumper that was my school uniform.  Lanolin, mud and straw from my Uncle’s farm and my Grandma’s dusty old coat I wore on winter holidays there. Eucalyptus, fresh cow pats and crisp mountain air in the Alpine Valleys; hops in the sun, malt on the stove and steaming sterilsed beer bottles of Dad’s homebrew production line.  My Nanny’s Yorkshire pud with beef dripping from the pan, mashed parnsips and a spoonful of molasses for each day you stayed over at their house by the Hume Weir.

Access to these sorts of memories via a snatch of a familiar tune or the scent of times, places and people past is a highly personal experience, often difficult to put into words. But the rush of memories can make your pulse quicken and leave you short of breath.

One of the first meals I found truly exciting was my mum’s Osso Bucco.  She didn’t make it really that often, and despite my parents strained relationship, I think it was something my Dad particularly enjoyed too.  Somewhere, I have the page out of her battered Women’s Weekly cook book which was the genesis for this favourite dish.  She served it with ‘smashed’ potatoes – a decidedly plain take on classic mash – made with lumpily mashed greying boiled spuds, powdered skim milk and a small amount of butter, a sort of Depression era style that ensured the meal was cheap to make.  And that’s really what Osso Bucco is, a way to make something luxe and complex from simple ingredients and a cheap cut of meat.

I make a version of this whenever I can buy some veal shin, the cut known in Italian as ‘osso bucco’, or ‘bone with a hole’ owing to the marrow filled bone at the centre of each slice of meat.  Here’s how it goes, approximately.

Ingredients

Olive oil

1 brown onion, finely diced

2 carrots, sliced

2 – 3 sticks of celery, finely diced

5 – 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1.5 kg of veal shin, cut into slices (ask your butcher for Osso Bucco)

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 cup of wine (traditionally white, red is fine too)

2 cups of beef stock

2 tins of Italian tomatoes

3 springs of thyme

3 thick strips of lemon peel

Flour, salt and pepper

For gremolata

Zest of 1 lemon

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 – 3 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped

Method

Combine enough flour, salt and pepper to toss the meat in before cooking.  Heat olive oil over high heat in a heavy pan, like Le Creuset or similar.  Brown the veal in batches on all sides and set aside.

Heat a good glug of olive oil in the same pan, cook the onion, then the garlic, carrot and celery for 5 minutes or until coloured and softening.  Add the some wine to deglaze the pan.  Add stock, tomatoes, wine, thyme and lemon peel and then veal pieces to the pan, taking care to stand them up so the marrow doesn’t fall out.  Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered to 2.5 – 3 hours, or transfer to the oven at around 140 degrees C.  Adjust seasoning as required.

Combine the gremolata ingredients in a bowl. Serve with creamy polenta or mash, and sprinkle gremolata over the Osso Bucco.

The gremolata transforms what could be another boring casserole, lifting the flavours and delivering a fresh acid hit that highlights the complex flavours of the sauce.

Serve with a glass of pinot and imagine there’s a crackling fire and tunes loaded with memories and longing.  Enjoy.

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 http://twitter.com/SwirlSniffSpit

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 www.swirlsniffspit.com

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.

Sake

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.

Newcomers

Cabiria

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.

Vintaged

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.

Olé

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.

A Day in the Granite Belt

I live, work, eat, drink and do most other things within a tight radius of the Brisbane GPO.  If I can’t get to it on foot or on the 199 bus, then I’m almost certainly being paid to go there by a client.

That said, I do love the country and often imagine myself growing vegies and engaging in other rural pursuits.  Even though I’m really a townie, I was lucky enough to grow up with friends and families with farms and spend plenty of weekends and holidays visiting them.

I recently got to visit the Granite Belt with a couple of friends.  It’s a fair hike for a day trip, and whilst accommodation in the area isn’t anything flash, I’d suggest staying at least overnight.  We were somewhat hampered by bad weather with low clouds and rain settling in for the full day.

After the obligatory road trip sausage and egg muffin and hashbrown our first stop was Suttons Farm at  Thulimbah, ten minutes out of Stanthorpe.  The Sutton family make apple juice, cider and run a tea room with apple-y cakes and treats.  I’d heard a bit about Suttons and was expecting something different to what we found.  It’s a pretty basic set up with a small shop and seating area in a corner of one of the old packing sheds.  Juice and cider were great but unfortunately the lady who served us couldn’t have been less passionate about their products and engaging her in any kind of conversation to find out more about the products and processes proved futile.  A shame.

Mmm...Cheese

Next stop was Granite Belt Dairy.  Owners Ross and Karen make farm house cheeses from their herd of 20 something pretty jersey cows.  Ross manages the herd of ‘supermodel ‘ cows and Karen makes the range of seven cheeses, which include an Italian style hard cheese, a double cream brie,  a blue and a cheddar style.  Karen explained that the concept of their dairy shop is to offer all the things you’d need to have a decent picnic.  There’s a huge range of jams, chutneys, relishes, oils, vinegars, wine, bread along with cheese boards, bottle openers and other bits and pieces. It’s a well run tourism business that many more in the region would do well to model from.  Maturing cheeses are also on display at eye level behind the shop counter and Rosco and Karen are happy to have a chat about the region, their cheeses and pretty much anything else.

We’d chosen Robert Channon Wines for lunch and by the time we got there the rain was heavy so we bolted from the car to the fire inside their tasting room, which was full of people with just a single person behind the tasting bench.  So straight to lunch for us.  The menu is an interesting mix of dishes – from home cooked favourites, to French inspired and a few Asian inspired dishes thrown in for good measure.  While the meals were fine, they weren’t up to the same standard as the fantastic wines which are available by the glass or bottle at very reasonable prices.  With a view of a lake and foothills and frolicking calves and water birds providing entertainment, it a top spot to relax and warm up.

As the rain continued to bucket down, we got a little lost trying to take a shortcut to our next destination.  It turns out that smartphone GPS apps don’t work that well without a mobile signal.  The area around Thulimbah is mostly orchards with extensive netting to keep the birds out and the fruit on long enough to set.  So quite by chance we wound up at Heritage Estate Wines, where I’ve been once or twice before.  Staffed by the loveliest lady, we had the place to ourselves and our host talked us through their collection of antiques which includes the cabinet room table from Queensland first parliament, the wines and a bit about the history of the area.  I enjoyed their 2009 Reserve Chardonnay – lovely texture and freshness and well priced at $25.

Smallgoods bonanza at Vincenzo's

With rain still hanging about and a long drive ahead of us, we made a quick pit stop at Vincenzo’s.   This place crams pretty much every food and drink product produced in the region into one store.  The sheer quantity of smallgoods and cheese here rivals anything available in Brisbane.  Good bread, olives, sardines, olive oil and wine are also stacked high and wide.  You can also pick up local fruit, mostly undersized and marked produce rejected by supermarkets but not spoilt by long periods of refrigerated storage or transport.

More cheese

We only scraped the surface of the Granite Belt, and uncovered a couple of gems.  With more time and the right operators and marketing, the region is well placed to grow and attract more visitors and investment.

The Granite Belt region is around 2.5 hours drive from Brisbane and surrounds the country town of Stanthorpe, near the Queensland/New South Wales Border.

More info on the region, accommodation, wines and other attractions here.

Winemaker and wine educator. Food writer in hiatus. Changemaker. Toast lover.