Tag Archives: Brisbane

Miel Container, Brisbane CBD

MielThere are times when all that will do is a burger. At their best, a good burger is an umami bomb between two halves of a slightly sweet brioche bun. Rare aged beef, sharp cheese, piquant tomato sauce, slivers of pickle, a slice of beefsteak tomato and a slick of tomato ketchup and Dijon mustard. Or maybe you want to Aussie it up with beetroot and a fried egg? Change out the beef for smoky pork belly? Add more salad? Get creative with condiments? Whatever gets your tastebuds going, this city burger cafe has you covered.

Tucked below the awning of a non-descript city office building, Miel is at its core two fire engine red shipping containers back to back. It’s just opened, though there’s no first day at school awkwardness here – smiling service, tasty burgers, beers and a place to sit in the sun while you eat. There’s a few steps to burger bliss – choose from brioche or ciabatta buns made daily for Miel by ex-Chouquette baker Sébastien Pisasale. Next, choose your protein – grass fed beef, chicken, fish or veggie pattie, then salads, cheese, sauce and any extra toppings – like bacon, egg, avocado. Stick to the basics and your grassfeed beef burger with three salad items, cheese and sauce will set you back a wallet friendly $10.50, and that includes chips and aioli. A deadset bargain for good food in the CBD. For the indecisive there’s a menu of five ‘classics’ to choose from – running from beef with the usual to Korean BBQ, Miso Pork Belly, Caprese and Tandoori.

Beers on offer are straightforward commercial brands ranging from XXXX to domestically brewed Asahi (starting at around $6) and there’s San Pellegrino soft drinks to supplement the usual suspects. An expanded range of beers and wine will soon be added. There’s also a selection of snacks like salt and pepper calamari, chilli prawns, onion rings, crumbed flathead, mixed platters and salads if you choose to forgo the burgers.

It’s no real secret that I love a good burger, and after studiously sampling them in many US cities I’m delighted to say that the guys and girls at Miel are onto a winner. Here the burgers are served on a slate with Aussie style chips rather than fries, but the grassfeed beef is tasty and the ingredients are generally good quality without being needlessly gourmet. This is a burger place in a shipping container, after all. Enjoying a good burger is a messy two-handed sauce-on-your-face experience so more sturdy napkins would be welcome.

Of course, its up to you to choose a winning flavour combination to make the beef and buns sing, but you could happily spend many hours sitting on the deck at Miel getting it right. A quality casual dining addition to the CBD that’s sure to be popular.

Miel Container

Premium Handmade Burgers

96 Mary Street (Cnr Albert and Mary), Brisbane City

0423 466 503

Monday to Thursday 11am to 10pm, Friday & Saturday 11am to midnight.

www.facebook.com/MielContainer

The Spaghettihouse Trattoria, West End

I’m always dubious about restaurants with long menus. How can the kitchen possibly cook all of them well? Alarm bells went off as I was handed the menu at The Spaghettihouse Trattoria, a new Italian restaurant on Boundary Street at West End.

A relative newcomer to this restaurant strip, I’d watched the fitout of this place with interest. That they hung their sign while the fitout was still underway signalled that there might be experienced operators behind this place. There’s nothing groundbreakingly or original about Spaghettihouse. As the name suggests, the menu has a strong focus on pasta – with no less than 28 pasta dishes listed on the menu and another 3 or 4 pasta specials scrawled on the gilt framed mirrors that line the narrow dining room. Along with this feast of pasta, there’s some typical trattoria style dishes like fritto misto, veal variously saltimbocca, scalloppine, parmigiana and involtini alla Milanese (stuffed veal bearing spinach and mozzarella and wrapped in pancetta with a marsala cream sauce). Should veal not be your thing, try the pollo alla piccata – that’s chicken Kiev given an Italian accent. By now you’re either hungry or weary. If you’re hungry, then I would commend Spaghettihouse to you.

There’s something about Spaghettihouse that makes you feel a little bit like you’ve entered a time warp. Racks of wine in the windows, raffia-matted pine chairs and European chandeliers. Jazz standards play. Is it Frank Sinatra? And no, that’s not Nat King Cole. Ah, but that is Dean Martin! Sade’s ‘Diamond Life’ is up next, unmistakable as the first track, ‘Smooth Operator’ begins to play. It’s not 1995, but in context, it all seems agreeable enough. There’s no candles in chianti bottles and no red checked table cloths, so a tip of the hat to modernity there, though they’d suit the atmosphere and the style of food. It’s an impressive feat to take a restaurant open for months not years and give it this kind of comfort-worn feeling.

Service here is attentive and charming without being polished or formal. A small troupe of young Italian men in red aprons take care of orders, wine, running plates and peripheral requests. This being West End, there’s a perfectly-audible-at-the-next-table request for a dish to be changed to accommodate the ethics and preferences of a diner. Despite the complexity of the request and the entitled attitude it’s made with, they handle it with aplomb. Back at our own table, when a dish of fried calamari isn’t available due to a technical issue, a substitute dish of grilled fontina with garlic and rosemary served with crusty bread is offered. It’s wickedly good. Service is in the warm and generous vein of Italian hospitality, even if perhaps a combination accents and background noise sometimes lead to a breakdown in communication. Another entrée of eggplant melanzane looks and tastes good, but could have done with a few more minutes under the grill to melt the cheese and colour the eggplant to give it a more pleasing silken texture and sweetness. The tomato sauce its served with is packed with flavour and richness.

It’s worth noting that prices at Spaghettihouse are pretty keen with the most expensive dishes at $26.90, which is for shellfish ‘Pasta Speciale’ dishes. With my ever reliable inclination towards expensive tastes, I opted for the saffron linguine with scampi and a cream seafood bisque. This dish hit all the right notes – just the right amount of garlic, background notes of saffron with the seafood bisque sauce providing plenty of depth of flavour without being rich or cloying. Good value too with three fresh and firm halved scampi arranged atop the nicely al dente linguine. A glass of Soave was a good match for this dish, and there’s a decent selection of Italian, Australian and NZ  red and white wines on offer, as well as some more serious Italian bottles. Each of the Italian wines has a concise and easy to operate tasting note, with prices by the glass starting from $6.50. Wine is served in quality stemless glasses, which suit the casual trattoria feel.

Desserts cleave to the Italian classics of panna cotta, tiramisu and gelato with rather delicious sounding semifreddo of mascarpone, berries and torrone (Italian almond nougat)  for something a little different. Somehow we wound up with a tiramisu being called away and glasses of Averna and limoncello presented by our unfailingly smiley waiter. The tiramisu arrived in a giant martini glass with savoiardi biscuits arranged in a sort of crown around the rim. Retro presentation aside, it tasted good, with plenty of punch from the espresso and Frangelico soaked biscuits.

Spaghettihouse offers the kind of food and hospitality that’s hard not to love. There’s nothing confronting or challenging here, and for this reason I reckon it would be a great place to meet for a family dinner or with the sort of mates who don’t Instagram their food, wine and coffee.

There’s no great heights scaled, but rather a good, solid, bums on seats, plates and glasses full kind of good time vibe to this place.

The Spaghettihouse Trattoria
Shop B, 120 Boundary Street, West End
Phone: 07 3244 4844
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11:30am – 3pm; 5:30pm – 10pm
www.spaghettihouse.com.au

Short Order – West End

Despite jokes about my being unwilling to travel outside of the CBD, I do go through spurts of catching the 199 bus to visit places in New Farm, Teneriffe and West End. I know, hardly the sorts of destinations that require a map and compass (or satnav) but with around 100 places to eat and drink accessible from a single bus route, there’s plenty of scope for adventure.

The last few weeks has seen me mostly heading to the West End part of the route. Here’s some newish places and some old faithfuls I enjoyed.

The Burrow
I remember when I first moved to Brisbane and lived in the outer suburbs and my seemingly sophisticated friends used to love going to The Three Monkeys. So bohemian, milky coffee served in bowls and nachos. Huge slices of cake with cream and ice cream. Posters for all the cool gigs pinned up on the walls near where you ordered. Concert posters signed by Peter Allen and Julie Anthony, well they were less cool.

Sort of like that somehow yet not at all like that is newcomer The Burrow. Its right over the road from The Three Monkeys, and is also under a Queenslander. I visited late on a Sunday morning and loved the atmosphere. A real mixed bag of patrons enjoying the Mexican inspired breakfast menu and good coffee. There’s a comfortable mix of communal forest furniture tables and café tables closer to the front. You order at the counter and drinks are quickly brought to your table or even made as your order is taken. There’s more seating up stairs, so it’s a good option if you’re not keen on queuing at the Gun Shop Café. Few things in life are so good that I’m willing to queue and breakfast isn’t one of them.

There’s quiet quirk to the décor here, enjoyable details at every turn. Comics pasted up as wall paper, Aqua Teen Hunger Force voiced sign on the front counter, an espresso machine group handle repurposed as the door handle for the bathrooms and a variety of novelty salt and pepper shakers on the tables. But somehow avoiding that try hard hipster aesthetic that often plagues inner city cafes with reclaimed furniture. It doesn’t feel forced.

I was pretty damn happy with my breakfast ‘El Desparados Tacos’ – featuring two chipotle pulled pork filled tacos, tangy sinus clearing pico de gallo, fresh chopped salsa, poached egg and Mexican style beans with a salted lime wedge. Lots of complex flavour on the plate and quality, fresh ingredients.  If you want to turn it up there’s an optional hot sauce. “Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can’t?” the menu asks. Today I can’t. Maybe next time. No boring breakfasts here, there’s cider braised pork belly with celeriac puree, fried egg and poached pear; beef cheek with mushroom duxelles and poached egg and Pepe Saya butter served with your toast and other tasty options.

A great place to do breakfast at your own pace, on your own or with a group of variously hungover mates.

www.theburrowwestend.com.au
37 Mollison Street, West End
Ph 07 3846 0030
Open Tuesday to Thursday 8:30am to late, Friday to Sunday 7am to late, closed Monday. Licensed.

JamJar
I liked this place so much I’ve visited a few times recently, including that time I went for breakfast and stayed for lunch. It’s not that hard to do. There’s a small bar area just inside off the street, but the place to be if you want to get comfy and graze is the courtyard out the back. As you pass the kitchen, through the narrow hall to the courtyard check out the works by local artists. ‘Courtyard’ seems an insufficient term to describe the space that greets you – stencil art, veejays, fanlight windows, souvenir teaspoons and bone handled knives and The Cramps moaning gently in the background create a kind of West End ‘mood board’. But it’s a comfortable one, and the service is smartly pitched between familiar and knowledgeable, for you to engage with at whatever level suits you.

JamJar is now the partnership of Jamie Simmonds and chef Damien Styles, back from a stint at Pope Joan and Charcoal Lane in Melbourne. Jamie and his mum Robyn look after the floor, the beer, wine and cocktails and Damien has full control of the food. If you’re yet to have the pleasure, Damien’s food at JamJar is above and beyond any other casual offering in Brisbane. Highly original and expertly realised, the dish you must try is the pink lake salt cured kingfish with sardine fossils. Salt cured kingfish finely cubed and showered with bonito flakes made on the premises combine for maximum texture and flavour with sardine crisp staligmites and nori punctuating this genre-defying signature dish. If you’re look for safer ground, there’s a dead good burger with new potato chips at lunch time, and a tasting plate to give you a feel for what the food here is all about. Pristine, ozone fresh oysters say a lot about the quality of ingredients in play. The menu is structured into ‘Smalls’ ‘Middle’ and ‘End’. You’ll get the most enjoyment here by picking a few things from each group and sharing them. The kingfish grabs your attention, but the dish of toasted dark rye, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sprout & shoots, poached duck egg, vegetable flakes and parmesan crumbs rivals its originality and textural interplay. Damien has very dark rye bread baked specifically for the dish and while it might read like some macrobiotic hippy concoction, there’s a sure hand at work here. You’ll thank me.

The wine list may be brief but you can see that everything there appears for a reason and cleverly matches the food. Beer avoids the tired selections you’ll find at neighbouring establishments and there’s proper cocktails on offer too. Interestingly, the wine list leans towards well priced imports and smaller producers.

Besides the knockout food and drink, JamJar is also astonishingly good value. Get yourself there.

www.jamjarwestend.com
138 Boundary Street, West End
Ph 07 3844 3395
Open Monday 7pm to midnight. Wed, Thurs, Fri 10:30am to 3pm; 5pm to midnight. Saturday & Sunday 8am to midnight. Closed Tuesday.

King Ahiram
A West End original, still bearing a sign with a seven-digit phone number, King Ahiram’s quietly churns out some of the best Lebanese food in town. I’ve heard there’s some place at Red Hill that does it better, but I have made my allegiance, and its to the vegetarian deluxe platter on a cheap vinyl chair under fluoro lights on Vulture Street. It’s one of the places that still links West End to it’s ethnic past, along with Mick’s Nuts and George’s Seafood, that place with giant octopuses hanging in the window.

Smoky baba ganoush, garlicy smooth hommus, dolmades that aren’t out of a tin and warm flat bread are the foundation.  Fresh zingy tabouli and authentic felafel are the feature. If he died with this felafel in his hand, then it’d be a pretty good way to go. There’s a deluxe meat platter too, also good, but Lebanese is one of the greatest cuisines to go for as a vegetarian, they know how to maximise flavour without adding meat. It’s worth noting that King Ahiram is BYO, though you may wish to pack your own glassware. Or your own disposable cups, I’m not sure what would suit best.

This is a great place to fill up before you head out for drinks or to a gig at The HiFi, and its great value. The family who run the place have been going for years, and its thankfully untouched by innovation. The bags of grout stacked at the back of the dining room in readiness for a renovation have been there for a few years now, and I’m almost relieved to find them unopened each time I visit.

Make room for a baklava or rosewater rich Turkish delight to finish your meal. If you don’t like garlic or gluttony, King Ahirams may not be for you.

88 Vulture Street, West End
Ph 07 3846 1678
Opening seemingly 7 days a week from around 11am to when people stop coming.

The End
My next stop after King Ahirams, a bit further up the street in the old Trash Video premises, a few doors up from the Vietnamese bakery. It took a family outing to get me through the door, and I’ve got no idea why I resisted. The End is run by a couple of young blokes having a go and getting it right. There’s more of that reclaimed, repurposed thing happening with the décor but again it works. Rather than being a Frankie magazine style pastiche, lines are simple and uncluttered, there’s some overstuffed leather lounges, and some long bar tables made from work benches, with vices still attached and some lumpen stuffed coffee sacks that make it more likely you’ll forego sitting to get up and dance after a few drinks. The mark of a good bar for me? I could get very comfortable here and the music is good. There’s no apparent dress code, and no hipster attitude. These guys believe in good beers, decent cocktails and tunes that veer more in the direction of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground than LMFAO and PSY.

I don’t know if they do food, but I rate the Blackstar Coffee Porter if you’re looking for something a little chewier. A divine marriage of two of the world’s great beverages with a distinct West End twist. There’s usually a few house brews on tap, and a changing roster of bottled craft beers too. A smattering of reasonable wines and a well thought out yacht/resort wear kind of cocktail list. If you go on the right night, there’s handsome DJs spinning quality old time vinyl.

Given its away from other West End bars and clubs, it has a kind of independent streak you can’t help but be attracted to.

www.73vulture.com
73 Vulture Street, West End
07 3846 7271
7 nights a week from 3pm to midnight.
Capacity: 100 people ie. tiny. If you are claustrophobic, go early.

Short Order – September in Brisbane

I took most of this weekend off and here’s where we ate and drank.

On our circuit of the city and Southbank we checked out progress at the River Bend development. It’s tucked up at the Goodwill Bridge end of Southbank and a tranquil curve has been carved out in the riverbank for 6 – 7 new restaurants and bars. The landscaped amphitheater that’s been created down by the river was a nice spot to catch some sun on a very windy morning. The design by local firm Arkefield makes the most of the riverside location and I’m keen to see what Stokehouse, The Jetty, Cove and others do with the space. Fitouts seem to be in full swing with only the interior of Stokehouse visible from up on Goodwill Bridge.

We decided to try Jeremy’s (Albert Street, City) on our way home. We’ve previously been put off by the rather odd breakfast menu that is divided into two – with one half stating that there may be a wait of up to 20 – 30 minutes for dishes to be served. Anyhow, it’s a lovely room and at least the slightly over earnest menu writing signals that there is effort being made. The coffee was excellent and our choices of turkish style scrambled eggs and savory mince on toast with a poached egg were both delicious and elegantly presented. The coffee is up there with the top 3 I’ve had in the CBD and the bacon is AMAZING. Its thick cut and delicious. The dining room is super stylish and over flowing with lots of interesting bottles. Top that off with very polished service – even at breakfast – and I reckon I’ll be checking out Jeremy’s again soon.

I’d been seeing a bit of a buzz on Twitter about Bitter Suite, a new craft been place in the New Farm. In a somewhat cursed spot in Welsby Street, we dropped in around 4pm but didn’t stay. The staff member who approached us was pretty unwelcoming and seemed in hurry to tell us there was no food available. Bitter Suite seems like a good concept but the space has all the atmosphere of a school cafeteria and is a little hard to navigate. Maybe there are a few teething issues since it is brand spanking new. Since we were after drinks and a snack we wandered up to Teneriffe towards Beccofino.

This place just works. The décor is minimalist, the menu is brief and the service is perfectly tuned to a lazy couple of hours of food and wine. Everything tastes delicious, from the charry thin pizzas with simple flavour combinations and quality ingredients to the specials, on this occasion an generous veal cotoletto and garlicy, briney scampi pasta. There’s plenty of interest on the brief wine list, Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir and prosecco by the glass, some decent Italian reds by the bottle all at democratic prices. The no bookings policy can be a pain, but the kitchen stays open throughout the afternoon which is perfect for the next meal after Sunday brunch.

On Sunday I made the trek out to SuperButcher to stock up for a couple of weeks. I’m not convinced its really as cheap as people would like to believe, but the range is good and if you want to but whole rib fillets, rumps, sides of lamb etc then its definitely the place to go. There’s enough interesting cuts and products to make it worth a trip every now and then. But rug up if you go since the large store is one big cool room. Beef cheeks and the made to order sausages (lamb, fetta, pumpkin; beef, cheese and vegemite; venison) are worth checking out too.

After a few productive hours at the office, we ambled down to the river to check out the $7 Sunday deal we’d seen advertised at Boardwalk Bar & Bistro. It seems as though the management here has changed or at least there’s been a few fresh ideas. This is a huge venue on the river below Kingsleys and out the front of Riparian Plaza. I’ve not been the hugest fan in the past and sometimes queuing up, paying with your order, collecting your drinks from the bar and eating at a communal table or on a stool is not what I’m after, but I’ll punt anything for $7. What does that get you? After 5pm on a Sunday it buys you a pizza about the size of a dinner plate and a schooner of domestic mainstream beer. The pizza is very serviceable and the beer is cold and there’s much worse places to be on a Sunday evening than overlooking the river and Story Bridge. Our total bill came to $33 for a thin, crispy peperoni pizza, good chips, schooner of beer and a further jug of beer. The view on a perfect September night in Brisbane was, as they say, priceless.

Love food, curious about wine?

Do you love food but get a little nervous when confronted with a weighty wine list? Do you find yourself gravitating towards the same two or three ‘safe bet’ wines when you visit the bottle-o? Do imported wines excite but utterly confuse you all at the same time? If so, then Swirl Sniff Spit is for you.

Held on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at the Era in South Brisbane Swirl Sniff Spit is a free tasting that aims educate wine lovers at all levels trough a guided tasting of 10 – 12 wines, generally organised around a theme. Led by Bree Boskov, a certified sommelier and on premise manager for De Bortoli Wines, it’s a fun and informal way to broaden your wine horizons and discover varietals and wine making styles whilst meeting other wine and food appreciators.

This months tasting features a line up of fine Grenache from Australia and overseas.

McLaren Vale Cadenzias
d’Arenberg 2009 The Cadenzia GSM @darenberg
Dogridge Cadenzia Grenache 2007 @dogridge
Maximus Cadenzia GSM 2009 @maximuswines
Oliver’s Taranga Cadenzia Grenache 2009 @OliversTaranga
Samuel’s Gorge Cadenzia 2009 Grenache @SamuelsGorge
Yangarra Cadenzia 2006 @Yangarra

Barossa, Northern Spain and Southern Rhone
Vieux Telegraphe Le Pigeolet des Brunier Vin de Pays 2008

Sons of Eden Kennedy vintage tbc @SonsOfEden
Clovely Left Field GSM 10 @ClovelyWine
Cirillo The Vincent 2009
MDV Eden Valley 2009 @MDVwines
Turkey Flat 2009 @TurkeyFlat
Palacios Remondo ‘La Vendimia’ 2010
Vina Ginesa Rojo 2009

To find out more visit the Swirl Sniff Spit website and to secure your place at the next tasting follow @swirlnsniffspit on Twitter.

Restaurant Review: Pho Hoang Gia, Fortitude Valley

I woke up in the wee small hours this morning, struggling to breath.  A case of strep throat was the cause.  So after several hot lemon drinks, some aspirin and lots of water I took myself down to the Valley for the modern Australian cold and flu cure – Phở

After consulting Twitter, it was decided that ‘the place next to Retravision’ would be our supplier.  Phở Hoang Gia is a cheery and sparklingly clean dining room, popular with Vietnamese families and your typically Valley mix of thirty somethings and intrepid tourists.  We arrived shortly before noon and a number of tables were turned over twice before we left.  It’s busy and bustling with Sponge Bob on the flat screen TV’s and family friendly service on the floor.  Some effort has gone into the decor with vaulted ceilings featuring metropolitan night time scenes.  As Asian restaurant fitouts go, its charmingly inoffensive.

We kept it basic and ordered two large bowls of Phở Tai.  Prices are very cheap here, $7 small, $8 medium and $9 large.  Large is the size of salad bowl, but its not a struggle to finish a bowl of the steaming fragrant phở.  It’s a little sweeter than some of the other phở places out at Inala and Darra, possibly the result of regional differences of their owners.  The thinly sliced rare beef was flavoursome and the Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime and bird’s eye chilli perfectly fresh.  Requests for extra herbs, beansprouts and for one diner, no rice noodles were accommodated without so much as a blink.  We also sampled the chilli garlic squid ($8), succulent and yielding inside, crunchy and crumbly on the outside and served with a tangy chilli garlic sauce and salad.  We also ordered a Vietnamese pork pankcake (banh xeo) which came with mountains of salad and herbs.  It was tasty and the lettuce, cucumber, carrot, vietnamese mint, basil and gai lan were again super fresh.   We couldn’t quite work out whether to put them in the pancake or eat them seperately – a reminder to find someone to give us a few more lessons on Vietnamese cuisine.

Each table bears a small tray of extra sauces and flavourings, chopsticks, cutlery and a box of tissues.  This might seem a little unusual but Phở reliably clears the sinuses, and even more so if you add all of the supplied bird’s eye chilli.  For my preferred sweet/sour/salty punch I added a good glug of fish sauce and a generous squeeze of lime. 

Phở Hoang Gia is BYO and there’s three pages of Vietnamese speciality drinks including that drink of the moment – Bubble tea.  It’s great value, an easy walk from the CBD or Brunswick Street Station and one of the better run restaurants in the Valley.  Just the ticket next time you need some aPhomatherapy! (thanks to @treepiepurr for that one).

Phở Hoang Gia Vietnamese Restaurant

‘So Phở So Good’

146-148 Wickham Street
Fortitude Valley

Phone: 07 3252 8808

Open 7 days from 10am, until approx 9pm each night, except Tuesday (closes 3pm)


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.

Wagamama

Wintergarden Shopping Centre

171 – 209 Queen Street Mall

Brisbane

http://www.wagamama.com.au/locations/showlocation/596

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

www.thechelsea.com.au

Shop, 61 Petrie Terrace

‘The Barracks’

Paddington

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: 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.