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Restaurant Review: Depo


It’s Friday night in Brisbane and unusually we have a reservation for dinner.

“How’s 7:30 for you?” I’d asked. “Oh hang on, they only take bookings on the hour, so what about 7?” I was booking online using the restaurants own web based booking system. Ever curious to know whats for dinner, I downloaded the restaurants mobile app and browsed the menu to see what the chefs had devised for the day. My eye was drawn to a main of ling served with grilled fennel, black olives and lemon potatoes. Different, and we hadn’t even got to the restaurant yet. More browsing of the app tells me we can look forward to sustainable fish, seasonal produce, collaboration, more than a restaurant, a gallery, events and a daily changing menu. It’s every ideal a modern hospitality venture could hope to aim for.

Collaboration and contrasts are two words that sum up Depo, a new venture for Erik Van Genderen and Alexander Lotersztain. As proprietor of Gear, a West End hub for bike culture enthusiasts, you might be surprised to see Erik on the other side of the pass at Depo, though it all makes sense once you know that he was chef and partner in Amsterdam’s highly regarded Blauw aan de Wal restaurant (translated, ‘Blue on the Quay’). Erik’s wife’s work led him to Australia around 5 years ago and he followed his passion for bikes and street fashion, stocking items that he had grown to love but hadn’t found in Australia. Argentinean born, Brisbane educated partner Alexander Lotersztain’s name is perhaps more widely familiar as a result of accolades for his work as designer on projects like Limes Hotel and Alfred & Constance. Depo’s inception came out of a serendipitous meeting of minds between Alex and Erik, and Alex’s design studio, Derlot, is perched above with the restaurant taking the ground level warehouse space.

There’s a compelling tension between the necessarily simple cooking and the hyper-detailed interior at Depo, which mixes glamour in textures and soft furnishings with a playful menagerie of bears, buffalo, deer and pigs and a riot of foraged objects. For those familiar with Loterzstain’s work at Alfred and Constance this may sound familiar, though there’s a darker, lusher palette at Depo and it’s offset by the Besser block boundary walls and open beam warehouse ceiling.

Like the interior, the menu has plenty of personality, though thats not to say it relies on culinary trickery or trends. For the most part, the food is simple, with just a few ingredients given a slight twist here and there. Given the changing menu and requirement to respond to seasonal availability, the menu is sensibly brief with an average of four entrees, four mains and four desserts at dinner and share plates for other times. A day time menu is served from 7am to 3pm Tuesday to Sunday. Wherever possible ingredients are sourced from Food Connect, fish markets and independent butchers with excellent bread supplied by Chouquette.

The cucumber soup with heirloom tomatoes and piquant cubes of balsamic jelly and a smear of goats curd bursts with cool, fresh flavours while the addition of watermelon to grilled scallops and smoky chorizo provides a lift to a classic flavour combination. Beef tartare with salmon roe and a potato ‘salad’ seems bland by comparison and lacks for the seasoning this dish requires to make it sing. However the individual ingredients are good, with good quality hand chopped beef and a quail’s egg on top. The potato salad is a departure from the usual accompaniments to this dish and adds visual interest but otherwise seems out of place. We sip on our mineral water and remain defeated in our attempt to catch the attention of the floor staff to take an order for wine. After a mix up, the right bottle of wine arrives, and is served in good quality stemware. The list is eclectic and international, though seemingly draws from a small group of suppliers. It would be nice to see this evolve with time and reflect the personality of the venue more closely. Cocktails and a small list of beer and cider are well chosen.

A combination of a sure hand on the pans and exceptionally fresh fish result in a winning combination with the ling, fennel, olive and lemon potato. This is a dish that makes an excellent case for seasonal, produce driven cooking and delights my dining companions. The duck breast with sugar snap peas, parsnip mash and orange sauce doesn’t scale the same heights, let down by somewhat tough meat and under rendered fat below the skin. The sauce is however delicate and refined and the parsnip mash provides a fitting savoury undertow. There’s quite a buzz in the room by now and the floor staff seem to have found their form.

After generous entrees and mains, I dutifully order dessert, opting for a bavarois with ice cream. Engrossed in conversation, I taste the icecream and wonder for a moment at the unusual flavour. Paired with a goats cheese bavarois drizzled with thyme scented honey, that unusual flavour is balasamic vinegar. It’s unconventional but works, its gentle acidity teaming well with the creamy bavarois and has me tasting and pondering to the last spoonful.

Depo both confounds and delights. It’s an energetic space that engages, though it doesn’t feel forced or uncomfortable. Van Genderen and Loterzstain’s collaboration is in many ways a reflection of their own ideals and vision. It’s original and attractive. Depo’s biggest test however will be in how the high ideals of this venue translate into the ongoing commercial realities of a hospitality business.

16 Horan Street, West End
Phone 07 3846 6537
Tuesday to Wednesday 7am to 4pm
Thursday to Sunday 7am to midnight



This review first appeared in ExtraVirgin Magazine.

Chow House, Fortitude Valley

As a timid and naïve twenty-something, I had the good fortune of stumbling into a somewhat unusual job. I’d spent several years running a large roster of events for an industry association where I met some fascinating people who were generous in sharing their experience and knowledge. Working 70+ hours a week was part of the job, and in my narrow world, this was just what you did in order to have the opportunity to learn. I reached a point where I felt I’d done all there was to do in that role and began to realise that other people my age didn’t work as much as I did. Some quick sums showed my hourly rate to be about equivalent to a junior fast food worker. Time for a change.  A few missteps, and next thing I’d taken this strange job hybrid – one employer, two jobs. Working for as a legal assistant for a lawyer providing tax and estate planning advice to wealthy Asian families as well as doing marketing, accounts, payroll, etc, etc, etc for a restaurant the lawyer, Bill, co-owned with chef Timmy Kemp. There were many ‘etc’s to the job, as anyone who has worked in a restaurant will understand.

Fast forward 10+ years and Timmy Kemp, Thai born, French trained, long time Brisbane resident is the Chef at Chow House. Previously the site of the unremarkable James Street Bistro, the space at the entry to the Palace Cinema has been reborn as a timber and plant enclosed oasis, a casual restaurant serving ‘street food’ inspired dishes and the aromatic slow braises and duck dishes that Timmy is known for.

While I worked with Timmy, I had the privilege of eating her cooking most days. Having never worked in a restaurant before, I was surprised when on my first day, our head waiter Graham phoned my desk to ask if I was ready for him to deliver my lunch. I nervously stuttered back with a positive reply, then my mind  raced – I hadn’t expected this, what would they serve me? Should I tell them I was a vegetarian? No, that would be an insult – telling the chefs I didn’t want their food. Then – a decision. If one of the best chefs in town was going to cook my lunch and there would be meat in it, perhaps I should just eat it. I had no ethical reason for a meatless diet, simply a preference from childhood that had carried on over the years. A Thai quail salad was served, and as is the norm the small bird had been cut into pieces with a cleaver – sweet meat around what felt like knuckles of splintered bone. A somewhat brutal introduction to a more carnivorous way of eating, but just an entrée into the start of what remains an obsession. What I learnt from my time working with Timmy and Bill is the subject of a whole other discussion, suffice to say my time in their employ continues to be a big influence on my interest in food, wine and the business of restaurants.

I took my mum to lunch with me at Chow House. We were going to go somewhere else but they had just opened and weren’t ready to do a Saturday lunch service yet. So we agreed on Chow House. Mum would sometimes come and eat a late lunch with me at Brasserie Indochine, where I worked with Bill and Timmy, and still fondly recalls a dessert special of plums three ways prepared by pastry chef Amanda (surname escapes me) who had also worked at River Café, as had a number of chefs in Timmy’s brigade.

The kitchen is quite separate from the dining area at Chow House, so I was happy to eat there for the first time without any special treatment from Timmy. Mum zeroed in on a dish that featured Timmy’s trademark chilli peanut jam and chilli coriander bread, served to accompany grilled chicken on lemongrass skewers. The chilli peanut jam is here described as satay sauce, but it was reassuringly the same in flavour as the moreish version I’d first tasted all those years ago at Indochine. I may have closed my eyes and lent back in my chair a little as I tasted it, before quickly moving in to beat mum to eating the rest. I chose the prawn served on sugarcane skewers which are much chunkier than the usual mousse-y Vietnamese version that you sometimes find inside a rice paper roll or as part of a vermicelli noodle dish. There’s also a lot more coriander in these. They came with a little glass bearing a  brightly coloured assortment of quick pickled vegetables and both entrees were polished takes on the sort of street food you might find in an Asian city.

I was so entranced by my main that I didn’t even ask to try mum’s salad of coconut poached chicken with green mango, pickled vegetables with a  lime vinaigrette, but I’m not sure she would have shared. My first choice had been the slow braised beef brisket with aromatic spices. There are insufficient words to describe the heavenly scent and complex flavours of Timmy’s slow braised dishes, but on this occasion it wasn’t available. So I went with caramelised pork belly braised in star anise and served with a salad of lychee, orange segments and watercress with pig’s ear. To be honest, faced with needing to make a quick decision, I’d settled on this because I’m kind of addicted to the salty crispness of fried pig’s ears. Good choice. This dish offers the depth of flavour I’ve only ever experienced in Timmy’s slow braised dishes, cut through with the gentle tang and acid of the orange and lychee salad. The generous baton of pork belly had dense, thickly crisped crackling on top and sweet yielding meat below with the fat between rendered to melting. Sadly the wine list doesn’t scale the same heights as the food, and the accompanying glass of Leo Buring Riesling was flabby and bland. There are however better options by the bottle and a decent list of beers too.

Not everyone will love Chow House as much as I did, since for me it represents more than just ‘that new place on James Street’. I’ve always felt that Timmy’s food is a fantastic match for the climate and the way Brisbane diners like to eat. The menu descriptions of her food often underplay the detail and technique borne of her French training. With all dishes under $30 and many small dishes under $15, this is a great place for a snack and a drink or a casual dinner. There’s also a breakfast menu which offers both conventional egg plus protein plus toast options and Asian inspired dishes like black sticky rice pudding, a confit duck omelette and nasi goreng.

Aside from plotting a series of opportunities to reacquaint myself with Timmy’s cooking, I’m pleased to see a format and menu that gives her the opportunity to share her uniquely delicious food with a new audience.

Chow House
39 James Street, Fortitude Valley (Outside Palace Cinema)
07 3852 5155
Open daily from 7am until late, Breakfast from 7am until noon.

Brisbane’s Dumpling Wars

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Harajuku Gyoza

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

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

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

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


235 Edward Street, Brisbane

Phone: 07 3220 1477

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

Harajuku Gyoza

394 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley

Open 7 days, midday until late.

No bookings

The Brunswick Social

367 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley

Phone:  07 3252 3234

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 4pm until late

Restaurant Review: Wagamama, Brisbane

This is a ‘pan asian’ chain ‘restaurant’ that specialises in noodles and excels at mediocrity. The atmosphere exudes food court but with an Emo rock/Billy Joel/jazz guitar/chill out soundtrack and similarly schizophrenic service.

Your server asks you if you have been to Wagamama before. Yes, people do make return visits. The place was heaving. This question is really to warn you that your meals will come out in whatever order the kitchen gets them ready in, so in some ways not unlike a more authentic Asian restaurant.

So in no particular order we tried ebi gyoza that tasted only of the dirty oil they were cooked in served with a rust coloured hot-ish sauce, a special of zucchini flowers glazed in a sugary syrup served with a daikon and mint salad dressed in a sugary syrup and served with pumpkin and beetroot fried rice, Thai noodle stir fry which had the decency not to call itself the pad thai it is clearly trying to imitate, tasting mostly of tomato paste and served with a thin, dry wedge of lime, calamari fried to resemble popcorn and the Wagamama ramen  - a huge bowl of vaguely flavoured stock with one each prawn, grilled chicken and tofu with a garnish of raw bok choy.

This chain started in the UK before Masterchef and the televisual onslaught of Gordon, Jamie and Hugh began. It’s now in 15 countries around the world.  Mains are between $16 and $21.

Perhaps in another location Wagamama could be viewed as exotic, however there is no excuse to eat at such a poor excuse for Asian cuisine in Brisbane. I wish I’d stayed in and had a ham sandwich.


Wintergarden Shopping Centre

171 – 209 Queen Street Mall