Tag Archives: Restaurant Review

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

Champ Kitchen and Bar, Southbank

It’s refreshing to see just how much quality dining is now available around Southbank, Brisbane’s tourist focal point. Sure there’s still some shockers within Southbank itself – pizza warmed in a toast conveyor, surimi ‘calamari’ rings, Subway, Max Brenner – but places like Sardine Tin, Beastie Burger, Fifth Element, Bamboo Basket and South Bank Surf Club are lifting the bar.

A recent addition to the Southbank dining scene, Champ Kitchen and Bar looks out from the ground floor of the new ABC building to the Brisbane Eye and sits at the edge of the Cultural Forecourt. Proprietor Justine Whelan has a fine pedigree in casual dining, and you might recognise her from Anouk in Paddington or Gunshop in West End.

The staff do a nice job of greeting and seating all comers promptly and this being Southbank there’s a mixed bag of patrons. The corner space is new and exposed suspended slab ceilings and ducting are softened with giant woven lamp shades and a ripple of reclaimed VJ boards wrap the space and provide warmth. Seating ranges from chairs to couches and the look is fashionable and modern, but in a relaxed and unconceited way.

We dropped in for breakfast on Sunday and enjoyed a fruit salad with passionfruit and mint, three cheese sweet corn and potato hash cakes with salsa verde and pork and beef rissole with fried egg, bacon, mushroom and tomato ragu. There’s plenty of other interesting breakfast options and a few basic ones too for the less adventurous. Breakfast here will set you back around $16 and this puts Champ’s prices a touch below its Southbank counterparts. Quality is high and the dining area large enough that finding a table shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, even at the busiest of times.

Whilst the Merlo coffee is well made, the barista seemed to be operating at half pace during our visit which got things off to a slow start. We ordered a second round of drinks but found they hadn’t been made, since the order wasn’t sent. This was quickly forgiven when I went to pay, as the cashier sought feedback and was genuine in his efforts to search out details of our experience. You can see that Justine and her team are still getting a handle on the ebbs and flows of operating in this location and I’m sure they’ll have problems like this solved in no time.

There’s a handsome selection of cakes, salads and other take away items available if you don’t have time to eat in. Champ would be a great spot to meet for a drink before you take in a show at QPAC or during the Brisbane Festival and I hope they extend their hours a little to take full advantage of this.

Champ Kitchen and Bar is well positioned for success and is a welcome addition to the Southbank set.

Champ Kitchen and Bar
114 Grey Street
South Brisbane
07 3844 4470
Breakfast and lunch 7 days a week
Dinner Thursday to Saturday

Adventures: Easter on the Tweed Coast

You could, like so many do, drive straight from Brisbane to Byron Bay. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people and bizarre people and everything in between. Byron Bay still has its charms but there’s more to the area.

Here’s a taste.

Harvest Newrybar

“Where the hell is Newrybar?” I hear you ask. It’s little more than a siding off the highway these days, so even if you visit Byron Bay regularly you’ll only find it if you go looking. The old highway ran through this small town just inland from Byron Bay and if you visit on a weekend these days, you’ll struggle to find a park. That’s because some very talented people are running Harvest, a café, restaurant, private dining room and a deli too. Arranged across three cream-painted timber clad buildings, you’d love Harvest if it were in a capital city and you’ll love it more for its rural location at the centre of a region known for its produce.

What’s great about Harvest is that they respect the local produce by letting it speak for itself. Flavours are vibrant and plating is unfussy. While ‘local’ and ‘organic’ are terms that are increasingly overplayed, the food at Harvest is what these words really mean. We had a very late breakfast and staff didn’t blink even though they were getting ready to reset for a fully booked lunch. The service here is astonishing, a well oiled machine of young local people who were unflappable despite the Easter crowds. Every one seems to know their job and do it well.

Coffee is from Allpress and expertly made by a deeply tanned barista with impressive dreadlocks. The kitchen is open to the indoor dining area and the team of chefs are as impressive as the floor staff. A verandah wraps around the dining room and its all charmingly un-designed and comfortable. Our breakfasts were delicious – sweet, flaked smoked trout encased in a super fine omlette on sourdough and pork and parsley sausages with poached eggs, grilled cheesy field mushroom and spinach. There’s lots of other delicious options, each given a bit of a twist to best use local ingredients. And to make breakfast here even more civilised there’s sparkling wine and champagne by the glass and Bloody Marys on offer too. A quick glance at the lunch and dinner menus and the wine list makes me keen to return.

The deli has just opened, but a cheese room as well as a selection of smallgoods and cured hams on the bone along with bread baked on site and plenty of other delicious things make it worth a look in it’s own right.

Harvest Cafe

18 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar

02 6687 2644

Fat Belly Kaf, Brunswick Heads

I kept hearing about this place, so since we were in the area I rang to see if we could get a table for dinner.  We did a mid afternoon reccy and my heart sank a tiny bit. But then I was wearing the clothes I’d been in at the beach, with tangled, salty hair and thongs, hardly dressed for a night at the Ritz. It turned out we were made for one another.

Away from the other cafes and restaurants in the central part of Brunswick Heads, Fat Belly Kaf is a few streets over in Tweed Street. It’s next to the fish and chip shop with the Skilltester and the fluoro lights in one of those restaurant-at-the-motel arrangements.

It was a beautiful evening when we visited, the perfect antidote to living the city. We ate at a table outside, with geckos chirping, Jupiter and Venus burning brightly and the other side of the sky lit up by the waning moon right after Passover. At first the Motel’s ‘no vacancy’ sign over our table seemed incongruent but it made a nice light as the night grew darker.

The food at Fat Belly Kaf is a distillation of Greek, Turkish and similar cuisines. Concisely and appealingly described, the menu runs to a couple of pages ranging from small plates, larger share dishes, mains, desserts and sides. The only thing disappointing about what’s on offer is that you need a larger group so you can order all the small plates and share them. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

We started out with a dozen Pacific oysters, a few dressed with pomegranate and shallot. All delicious. Small, sweet and briny, I didn’t ask if they were local but they seemed freshly shucked and could convincingly have come from a little further down the coast. Dressings on oysters seems hard to get right but the pomegranate and shallot was just right, not too acidic and just enough to compliment the oysters instead of consuming them.

A progression of small plates followed, nicely spaced so the table didn’t get crowded and we could appreciate what we were eating. The blue cheese croquettes with honey mayo had a winning interplay of crunchy exterior and yielding gooey interior with the honey mayo a nice counterpoint to the mild blue cheese flavour. Prawns with saganaki and tomato were also a winner, their soft, sweet tails a good indication of their freshness. I’m not usually one for crunching on prawn tails but it would have been blasphemy not to eat these.

After a few more excellent small dishes, our slow cooked lamb shoulder for two was presented on a platter. Fragrant and meltingly tender, it was served with sticky spice roasted pumpkin, roast potatoes and pan juices so good I took to spooning them over my veggies. Hardening of the arteries be damned!

By this stage of the evening we’d met Jake, one of the new owners. Fat Belly Kaf changed hands a few months back, after previous owners Kat and Damian Williams sold the business. Jake knows a thing or two about wine and after a bit of a chat it became clear how this place came to have such a great wine list. It’s not long but it’s clever and individual and a little quirky. Since we were ordering dessert, Jake organised a bottle of the Domain Day Dolcezza, a late harvest Garganega. Usually Garganega is made into Soave, a staple Italian table wine, of the sort drunk in summer by the pool with seafood. This was a sweet though restrained wine with lemony citrus and almond oil flavours well suited to the star dessert on the menu. Not for the easily defeated, it’s a sort of inside-out Greek custard bougatsa. Served in a large pudding bowl, there’s layers of light orange blossom water flavoured cream custard and pastry topped with flaked almonds. You could share it between a couple of people, but I was pleased to have the sublime dark chocolate tart with strega soaked figs to myself. This was faultless, and I don’t think I’ve had as good at more serious restaurants.

Because good Turkish Delight is always too good too pass up, and because its presented to you in a sort of fantasy magic carpet style silver dish with silver tongs for you to select a piece, we tried some of that too. Delicious.

In the interests of a proper evaluation of the menu and wine available at Fat Belly Kaf, I plan to head back soon with a group of friends. I recommend you do the same.

Fat Belly Kaf

Old Pacific Highway (Tweed Street)

02 6685 1100

Tweed River Seafoods, Chinderah

A visit to the area isn’t complete for me without a trip to Tweed River Seafoods at Chinderah, usually for fish and chips and sometimes for prawns and oysters. Chinderah is at the northern end of the Tweed Valley, not far over the border and near the new resorts around Kingscliff, now marketed as Casuarina Beach. But there’s no gentrification here at Tweed River Seafoods, it’s the same as always, good old fashioned service and staff who are pretty comfortable in their white gumboots. Golden, crispy batter and usually good chips, but mostly really fresh fish. You can also buy super fresh prawns, bugs, oysters and a big range of filleted and whole fish here.  Make sure you phone ahead to order prawns at Christmas time if you’re visiting the area. Special mention for the way they wrap the fish and chips.

78 Chinderah Bay Drive, Chinderah

02 6674 1134

There’s lots to love about this area and with the very last bit of the border bypass being completed at the moment, there’s never been a better time to skip the Gold Coast and head for where the beaches are quiet and the food is good.

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


Phone:    07 3832 3530

Web:  www.barbarossa.com.au

Tuesday to Friday:  Lunch and Dinner

Saturday: Dinner until late

Regular winemaker events

Restaurant Review: Mizu, Teneriffe

I have Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman to thank for discovering this place.  Or more specifically Brisbane Transport’s 199 bus.  It took four years of living in the city centre and the introduction of the GoCard system for me to contemplate that taking a bus to dinner might have its advantages.  This route runs from the Teneriffe Ferry through New Farm, Fortitude Valley, CBD, West End, Highgate Hill and Fairfield, passing at least 50 restaurants and cafes along the way.  As I wouldn’t think of dining without drinking or drinking and driving, this has been a boon for my desire to try more Brisbane restaurants more often.

We visited Mizu by chance on a walk to Teneriffe.  We’d spotted it from the 199 bus, busy on a Tuesday night. The atmosphere here is relaxed and unpretentious with welcoming and competent older Japanese staff looking after the floor.  There’s none of the stuffy formality you’ll find at some Japanese restaurants, no tatami mats and no kimonos.  Mizu is all about enjoying Japanese food informed by local ingredients and climate in a neighbourhood restaurant setting. 

The dining area is simple with polished concrete floors, unclothed tables and seating spilling from inside to a covered outdoor area.  Look above the counter and you’ll see sake bottles labelled with the names of regular patrons, in the best Iza kaya tradition.  The selection here effortlessly trumps Brisbane Japanese fine dining venues and so does the food. (Perhaps overtaken in the last few days by the just-opened Sake at Eagle Street Pier).

We snacked on a bowl of edamame as big as your head and enjoyed a couple of Sapporo beers with our entrees. Distinct courses are a Western concept, but the staff at Mizu happily accommodate our habit for entrees and mains.  The sashimi is presented with artistry showcasing a selection of tuna, salmon, kingfish, scallop, prawn, shredded daikon and expertly prepared wasabi.  The fish is fresh and alive with flavour and colour.  The ‘mizupaccio’ is a Mizu’s own interpretation of carpaccio and is prepared using sashimi quality fish, in this case meaty hiramasa kingfish, sliced thinly to showcase its texture and finished with grapeseed oil, shiso flakes and lemon.  The simple but beautiful rough glazed Japanese pottery further enhances our entrees.  The food is complemented by the quiet and friendly service and beautiful Japanese woodcuts.  A light breeze from the river and another Sapporo – I could stay here all summer.

There’s enough interest in the mains offered at Mizu to have you returning regularly with sushi and sashimi, substantial salads, two course bento boxes, agemono and yakimono.   Agemono courses at Japanese restaurants are often greasy Gaijin pleasers, and whilst tonkatsu, tempura and kara-age all feature here, the quality of the ingredients and cooking elevate them to a higher plane.  The simply described ‘prawn and mango’ perfectly sums up Mizu -fresh local sweet prawns cooking in light, crisp tempura batter, expertly seasoned with saikyo miso sauce arranged in a salad of mizuna and ripe mango slices with a judicious slick of Mizu’s own dressing.  Steamed koshihikari rice, real miso and tsukemono pickles complement the menu.

Mizu also offers what may be Brisbane’s only traditional Japanese breakfast.  Okonomiyaki are Japanese style  pancakes which are a favourite for many Aussies who’ve visited Japan and Mizu version doesn’t disappoint.   Loco moco is the Mizu breakfast ‘man meal’ with rough minced wagyu steak, fried egg, sukiyaki sauce, sesame, steamed rice and misu.  The breakfast bento box is a great way to sample the traditional Japanese breakfast constituents with grilled miso marinated black cod, agemono octopus, perfect kare-age chicken with sea salt flakes, sunomono and Japanese pickles, miso and rice.  Quality sencha and genmai-cha green teas are served in traditional Japanese teapots and small cups.  Matcha, a sort of green tea latte, hort blacks, cappuccino and flat white are available too.

Mizu further commends itself to regular visits by welcoming BYO wine at a very reasonable $4 a head corkage.  I reckon you could have alot of fun matching wine with this menu.

After trading successfully for four years and building up great regular patronage, Mizu doesn’t need your support.  But you’d be mad to miss out on its authentic but unpretentious Japanese food.

Mizu Japanese Eats

2 Macquarie Street


07 3254 0488

Lunch and dinner 7 days a week

Breakfast Saturday and Sunday from 8am – 11am

Fully licensed and BYO Wine

Takeaway available

Mizu Sushi Cooking School

Restaurant Review: The Chelsea, Paddington

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

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

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

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

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

The Chelsea


Shop, 61 Petrie Terrace

‘The Barracks’


Phone:  07 3367 1288

Tuesday to Saturday 7am til late

Sunday and Monday 7am til 4pm

Restaurant Review: Crosstown Eating House, Brisbane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures: Lüke, New Orleans

As much as I loved the food in New Orleans, after a week of bad coffee I seized on the excellent french presse style caffeine fix offered at Lüke, located in a former historic Masonic temple in the heart of New Orleans CBD.  Self-described as ‘homage to the grand old Franco-German brasseries that once reigned in New Orleans’ this place is sophisticated yet full of homely and historical details. 

Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything you require in between, I loved our breakfast and I loved the coffee.  While utterly unlike coffee I drink at home in Brisbane, it had incredible body and none of the burnt notes the Americans usually favour.  It was decidedly French, and well suited to the fare. 

We sat at a table that gave us a great view of the kitchen, a well oiled machine with a couple of friendly chefs who signalled to us when they’d received our order and seemed proud that we took such an interest in what they were doing.  The kitchen also had one of the most incredible fire control systems I’ve ever seen – regulations in Louisiana must really be something else.

We’d ordered a Croque Madame – sweet grilled ham, emmental and white corn bread sandwich with an organic fried egg on top, served with hand cut frites.  There must have been slices of ham piled on an inch thick.  Along with this, the New Orlean version of a ‘Man Meal’, a traditional Southern breakfast of two fried eggs, twice smoked bacon, biscuit and creamed white corn grits.  I’d happily return at least a dozen more times to work through the amazing breakfast and brunch menu which features buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, buttermilk pancakes with berry cane syrup, omelet with local crab meat, asparagus, fromage blanc and fries.

Lunch and dinner at Lüke look similarly grand, and dinner is served from 4pm to 11pm each day.  That’s right – 11pm.  Featuring the best local oysters, clams, crawfish, crab and ceviche as well as lobsters, shrimp and Prince Edward Island mussels at the raw bar and a sophisticated a la carte menu, next time I’m in New Orleans I’ll be making a dinner reservation at Lüke.

Some excellent photos of the dining room at Lüke and the food can be found on their website.  I was rather too caffeinated to hold the camera straight!