The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Queensland Foodie Adventures’ category

Review: ARIA (Brisbane, QLD)

Eagle Street Pier
45 Eagle Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
+61 7 3233 2555
http://www.ariarestaurant.com/brisbane

Brisbane’s dining scene continues to surprise me and so far, no restaurant has surprised me more so than ARIA. Yup, celebrity chef Matt Moran’s Brisbane offshoot that has received a handful of negative to mediocre reviews. Who would have thought…

When it came to organising dinner with Rachi and Natalie on the final evening of the Eat Drink Blog conference weekend, we had a very limited pool of restaurants to choose from. After all, a lot of Brisbane’s upmarket restaurants closed on Sundays. ARIA happened to be one of the very few that we circled and after a bit of disagreeing, we finally settled on ARIA (apologies to Rachi who wasn’t initially down with the idea).

Because we’re approaching old age, we opted for the very early sitting of 5:30PM. When I rang up to make the booking, I was told that this sitting was limited to two hours as there would be another group taking our spot afterwards – essentially, this meant that we weren’t able to order either of the chef’s set course dinner. That was totally fine with us, I had been planning to go a la carte anyway.

ARIA Brisbane ain’t no ARIA Sydney. The Brisbane River may look pretty enough when the sun goes down but it definitely has nothing on the picturesque Sydney Harbour. That said, ARIA Brisbane works with what it’s got – and well too. Like the Sydney restaurant, the space is very elegant and refined yet there was that intrinsic Queensland casualness and charm injected to the package too.

As one would expect from dining at one of the country’s best restaurants (or at least the offshoot of one of Australia’s best), ARIA ain’t cheap. Entrees are in the mid-to-high $30 price range while mains are $50ish. And although I was ready to go entrée and main, I manage to let the girls twist my arm by doing the four-course chef’s tasting menu ($125 per head) with them. Even though the lady on the phone said that the ARIA won’t be able to serve the entire menu within two hours, the waiter assured that he would try his best to do so without rushing us. And so it began.

Squid ink and prawn cracker with chickpea puree and chorizo crisp

Squid ink and prawn cracker with chickpea puree and chorizo crisp

Our amuse bouche was a single squid ink and prawn cracker topped with chickpea puree and two pieces of sliced chorizo crisp. The cracker tasted like an Indonesian prawn cracker (we’re talking those massive crackers made from REAL prawns, not those pink Asian food court pretenders loaded with MSG) but with a lovely earthy kick.

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Free-flowingly warm bread and butter, yew.

I should also mention here that the three of us received a complimentary champagne cocktail, similar to a Kir Royale. Mad props.

Cascina Ghercina Blagheur 2009 Nebbiolo ($25)

Cascina Ghercina Blagheur 2009 Nebbiolo ($25)

ARIA offers a nice selection of wines from all over the world in addition to local wines featuring the usual suspects like Clare Valley Rieslings and Yarra Valley Pinot Noirs. And as a nod to Queensland’s growing wine industry, they even had a Chardonnay from the Granite Belt. To this day, I remain sceptical about Queensland wines so I opted for a Nebbiolo instead.

Scorched king salmon with celery, radish, puffed rice and yuzukosho

Scorched king salmon with celery, radish, puffed rice and yuzukosho

Our first course was the beautifully cooked king salmon. Cooked confit-style before being scorched for a slight crisp, the buttery fish felt and tasted sublime while the yuzukosho added a bit of citrusy tang and the faintest of spice. The celery, radish and puffed rice were all very subtle, allowing the flavour of the salmon to shine through while still providing the dish with a bit of textural contrast.

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Twice cooked sweet pork belly with bacon and mustard relish, nashi pear and palm hearts

Twice cooked sweet pork belly with bacon and mustard relish, nashi pear and palm hearts

The pork belly, unfortunately, was a teeny bit dry (and um, small?). Not sandpaper dry (that would have sucked), but definitely not as soft and juicy as I would expect from an establishment like that. That said, the skin was perfectly crispy and overall, the it was a well-balanced dish in terms of flavours.

Smoked wagyu beef brisket with beetroot and horseradish, jus gras

Smoked wagyu beef brisket with beetroot and horseradish, jus gras

Thankfully, the brisket was much better than the pork. The meat was beautifully tender and smoky (gotta love hickory, hey) and the jus packed with flavour. I also loved that the beetroot and horseradish both gave the rich dish a much-welcomed level of acidity. It was the perfect pairing for my slightly smoky and acidic, and not to mention very aromatic, Nebbiolo.

Blueberry poached pineapple, coconut sorbet and toasted meringue

Blueberry poached pineapple, coconut sorbet and toasted meringue

Our final course was the very retro-inspired dessert that just screamed out ‘QUEENSLAND, BITCHES!’ To a Melburnian like myself, it embodied my adopted state to a tee: simple, no fuss, vibrant, fruity and in some parts, stuck in the 80s (I mean c’mon, pfft meringues). However, it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in quite some time – I loved that it was unpretentious, I loved how fresh the fruits were and I loved how everything just blended together so effortlessly like silicone boobs in Surfers Paradise.

Petit fours: sesame snaps, Turkish delights and mini passionfruit slices

Petit fours: sesame snaps, Turkish delights and mini passionfruit slices

Our tasting menu included coffee, tea and petit fours to which we all said yes. At this stage, we were still way under our allocated two hours and we were almost done. This surprised me because I never felt rushed at all during our meal – it was very well-paced, well-executed and service remained friendly and attentive throughout. Kudos, ARIA Briabane.

But anyway, I ordered a sencha tea that was sweet to the taste with a clean finish – perfect with the petit fours we sampled. As predicted, everything on display tasted great but my favourite had to be the passionfruit slices – so tangy, so bold and so flavoursome.

White chocolate and raspberry macarons

White chocolate and raspberry macarons

Our evening wrapped up just before the two-hour mark with boxes of delectable white chocolate and raspberry macarons to take home, which I enjoyed for morning tea the next day. A lovely touch to what had been a fantastic meal.

People have criticised ARIA Brisbane for being mediocre and expensive for what they offer. Indeed, my friend Raphael once called it an ‘overpriced French bistro.’ True, it’s not cheap and true, it is no ARIA Sydney (and this is where people go wrong, I reckon – because they compare it to the original restaurant) nor does it pretend to be. And while the food isn’t exactly ground breaking (we can’t all be avant-garde Surry Hills chefs cooking sous vide walrus moustaches after all), the dishes are meant to be of high quality yet comforting and accessible. I think if you judge ARIA Brisbane by its own merit, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’ll uncover a dining experience that is polished, refined and honest with a good dose of warm Queensland charm, minus the fake silicone boobs.

Aria Brisbane on Urbanspoon

Review: Little Larder (Brisbane, QLD)

76 Moray Street
New Farm QLD 4005
+61 7 3358 2024

After a wild night out involving Baby Boomer women flashing their saggy tits at a Rick Astley concert and plenty of drinking in various bars in the ‘Valley, I was not feeling at my best the following morning. And despite being a seasoned Fortitude Valley party animal, neither was Brad.

We decided that a hangover breakfast was in order so off we went to Brad’s fave local, The Little Larder. Located just a stone’s throw away from Fortitude Valley, the quiet little neighbourhood café is popular with weekenders wanting a hearty feed before they go about their Saturday. I wasn’t particularly hungry but if I was going to function for the remainder of the day, I knew I had to get some coffee in me.

Fresh juice ($7.90); long macchiato ($3.90)

Fresh juice ($7.90); long macchiato ($3.90)

We grabbed a seat on the high bench outside so we can soak up the warm Brisbane sun. Brad was smart to order a freshly squeeze juice blend of some sort given the heat. Me? I needed caffeine and plus, I’m a Melburnian, mate, so coffee was the way to go. My long macchiato was very chocolate-y with a nice depth to it, but it did have a bit of a burnt aftertaste.

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Oh look, this place even had its own chicken!

Dukkah eggs on rye ($15)

Dukkah eggs on rye ($15)

I don’t normally make a habit of going to ‘avocado and eggs’ type places for brunch because they bore me to death. However, I was pleased to find dishes such as crispy polenta with poached eggs and braised beef cheeks on the breakfast menu. If I had been more hungry and if the weather was 20 degrees cooler, I would have definitely gone for either dish. Instead, I went for the lighter-sounding dukkah eggs on rye.

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So, my dish arrived with beetroot relish, asparagus, red vein sorrel and toast. The poached eggs were a bit on the overcooked side (still passable though) and while everything else tasted great on their own (nothing wrong with the beetroot relish, nothing wrong with the way the asparagus was cooked yada yada yada), there was a lack of cohesiveness. I kicked myself for not ordering bacon on the side but in reality, the guys here should be asking themselves why they couldn’t have added something salty to the dish to tie things together as opposed to bloody sorrel which did nothing.

Big Breakfast: eggs, bacon, chorizo, spinach, roast mushrooms, relish, sourdough toast ($20)

Big Breakfast: eggs, bacon, chorizo, spinach, roast mushrooms, relish, sourdough toast ($20)

Brad is a bloke with a very quick metabolism so I wasn’t surprised to see him order the Big Breakfast. Except that they didn’t give him the right dish to begin with – I can’t remember what dish Brad was given but it was definitely missing half the stuff that the Big Breakfast was meant to have. He was a little bit cranky – we did wait almost 40 minutes for our food to arrive after all. Luckily, his Big Breakfast did arrive only a few minutes later so all was good in the world.

I’m not sure whether I’ll visit Little Larder again. I liked the relaxed vibe of the place and I liked the chicken. However, the food took way too long to arrive and the service was a bit sketchy to begin with – we had to ask for water several times in the beginning and at one stage, we were told that we had to ‘wait a bit’ before they ran out of jugs to put water in (WTF). Um hello, we’re in Queensland! Meanwhile, the food was okay and if I lived in New Farm (or happened to crash at Brad’s after a hectic night again) and couldn’t be arsed making my own breakfast, I’d come back. But as someone who doesn’t live in the area, rarely goes to brunch and has a list of other places I want to check out in Brisbane, it’ll be quite some time before you see me here again.

The Little Larder on Urbanspoon

Review: Gerard’s Bistro (Brisbane, QLD)

14/15 James Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3852 3822
http://www.gerardsbistro.com.au/

I’m really digging Fortitude Valley’s trendy James Street precinct. Not only can I go here to get my Zimmermann and Gorman fixes while I’m in Queensland, I can also find some reliably decent restaurants, bars and cafés. So far, my favourite eatery on James Street is Gerard’s Bistro, a cool and sophisticated bar-slash-restaurant injected with a perfect amount of rusticity and charm.

I had dinner here one Saturday night with a Tinder date, a nice fellow Asian who worked as a doctor by day and rapper by night. Unlike myself, he wasn’t a foodie and had to resort to asking his mates for first date venue advice – luckily, his mates knew a thing or two about food and suggested Gerard’s.

We were there nice and early before the dining room got busy. As soon as we were seated and as soon as all the small talk got out the way (‘How often do you come to Brisbane?’, ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ and ‘Are your Asian parents as tight as mine?’), we ordered a nice selection of dishes from the menu which was all about sharing plates. Even though the restaurant’s name sounded very Francocentric, the Ben William-designed menu dabbles in southern Europe, Middle Eastern and northern African flavours.

Monkfish, confit onions

Monkfish, confit onions

The first dish to arrive was one of the specials, the seared monkfish with radish and confit onions. The flesh was very powerful fishy taste which paired well with the onions and radish – if they had gone for a more delicate fish, the trimmings would have definitely overpowered it. It was a solid start to the meal.

Coal grilled octopus, smoked butter, almonds, chilli, green strawberry ($24)

Coal grilled octopus, smoked butter, almonds, chilli, green strawberry ($24)

The octopus was probably my favourite dish of the evening. The tender octopus pieces were grilled over coal so they subsequently had a lovely smoky taste, blending effortlessly with the creamy smoked butter and nutty almonds. In contrast, the green strawberries barely did anything to enhance the dish’s overall flavour profile.

Smoked bone marrow, salted cod and potato mousseline, burnt bread, sour herbs ($22)

Smoked bone marrow, salted cod and potato mousseline, burnt bread, sour herbs ($22)

The smoked bone marrow was another successful dish. Delicate it wasn’t and I didn’t think my dining companion was a big fan of the velvety rich marrow. I thought the addition of the salted cod would be overkill on such a rich dish but Williamson managed to get the balance down pat right to crispy bit of burnt bread that added a lovely crunch.

Smoked new potatoes, tahini yoghurt, sumac and pork floss ($14)

Smoked new potatoes, tahini yoghurt, sumac and pork floss ($14)

We ordered this dish partly because we wanted to carb load and partly because I get excited over pork floss – and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the richness of the smoky tender pieces of carby goodness against the nutty yoghurt’s creamy and cool texture.

Coal grilled goat loin with eggplant muhammara, pomegranate and walnut crumb

Coal grilled goat loin with eggplant muhammara, pomegranate and walnut crumb

Our final dish was another one from the specials menu, the super juicy grilled goat loin. The dish was Middle Eastern all over and a delicious mix of smoky, spicy and nutty flavours with the slightest hint of heat from the muhammara, a Syrian hot pepper dip.

Gerard’s Bistro was a place that I’d totally be happy ordering dessert at (and you know me, not a dessert person blah blah blah) – especially since they use fresh honey gathered from the beehive just on top of their restaurant. Unfortunately, my companion wasn’t too keen so we called it a night. Next time.

I never saw the guy again but I don’t want to say the same about Gerard’s – the food was fantastic, the ambience just right for either a date night or a gathering among friends and the service was quick, friendly and not intrusive. It’s a place I definitely want to return to, maybe for breakfast – or another dinner that does not involve Tinder.

Gerard's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Review: GOMA (Brisbane, QLD)

Gallery of Modern Art
Stanley Place
South Brisbane QLD 4101
+61 7 3842 9916
http://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/visiting-us/Places_to_Eat

As a self-confessed wanker, two of my favourite things are food and art. So when an army of fellow food bloggers descended upon Brisbane for the annual Eat Drink Blog conference a few months ago, I decided that they would be the perfect victims to accompany me for lunch at GOMA Restaurant, the award-winning restaurant tucked inside the Gallery of Modern Art. Food and art? Together? Oh hell yeah! At that point in time, I had been struggling to find people down on the Gold Coast that would be willing to stray away from dude food and chicken parma (sorry, parmi) AND trek up to Brisbane for ‘wanky food’ so I knew a group of camera-toting and quinoa-appreciating food bloggers would be the perfect people to dine with.

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It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Brisbane. Our table of eight or so bloggers sat by the window in the beautiful contemporary restaurant filled with tables draped with white linen tablecloths. Our view may not have been the best – our table overlooked the Pauls Milk trucks parked beneath Kurilpa Bridge – but given how large our group was, I suppose beggars couldn’t be choosers.

GOMA’s menu, designed by Head Chef Josue Lopez, ‘complements the contemporary artistic surroundings’ of the museum. Essentially what you get are whimsical works of edible art made with local, seasonal and sustainable produce (with a focus on native ingredients) that look like they belong in the walls of GOMA itself. For lunch, an a la carte menu is available as are set menu options of two courses (entrée and main, $50; main and dessert, $45) or three courses ($60 for the trifecta). For each course, there were three dishes to choose from with both gluten-free and vegetarian options available. Most of the table went with two courses; me? I went for three, naturally.

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To kick things off, we dug into some free-flowing warm white bread accompanying by some beautiful house-churned butter topped with a sprinkling of salt.

2013 Mt Langi Cliff Edge Riesling ($13)

2013 Mt Langi Cliff Edge Riesling ($13)

I decided that it was a white wine day so I ordered a glass of Riesling from the Grampians because Victoria represent, yo.

Seared emu loin, native spiced black pudding, smoked potato, Illawarra plums

Seared emu loin, native spiced black pudding, smoked potato, Illawarra plums

I won’t detail what everyone on the table ordered – just the people sitting around me. First up, Teresa ordered the seared emu loin for her entrée. I’ve only had emu once – in sausage form and in Cairns – and didn’t particularly like its extremely gamey taste and the smell it gave off. However, this emu loin definitely changed my mind about the bird. Sure, it was still gamey but the taste was more refined and all the trimmings worked well to complement the bird, especially the smoked potato.

Moreton Bay Bug poached in churned butter, saffron broth, seaweed and broccoli

Moreton Bay Bug poached in churned butter, saffron broth, seaweed and broccoli

I had the Moreton Bay Bug as my entrée. Seriously, I can’t think of a better polygamist marriage than fresh bug meat, butter and seaweed – except maybe Bill Hendrickson and his three or four wives (depending on what season of Big Love you’re watching). The entire dish was refined and delicate, yet still came out strong with the flavours.

Roasted Holmbrae chicken, textures of corn, sorrel, winter leaves

Roasted Holmbrae chicken, textures of corn, sorrel, winter leaves

It was time for our mains. Teresa had the beautifully roasted chicken – crispy light skin enveloped a moist and tender piece of meat with the velvety corn puree complementing it with ease. Chinese chicken and sweet corn soup, you have nothing on this.

Seared Murray cod, potato emulsion, fresh peas, salted lemon myrtle thyme, malt vinegar

Seared Murray cod, potato emulsion, fresh peas, salted lemon myrtle thyme, malt vinegar

In an all seafood affair, I went for the Murray cod for my main. I likened this dish to a modern interpretation of the classic Friday night meal in suburbia: the humble fish and chips. This was another dish where all the elements blended effortlessly while allowing the star of the show, the fish, to shine. I also appreciated the subtle flavours of both the malt vinegar and salted lemon myrtle thyme.

Wattle custard, Daintree chocolate paint, Daintree vanilla curd

Wattle custard, Daintree chocolate paint, Daintree vanilla curd

And then it was time for dessert. Teresa chose what sounded like the most pedestrian dessert of the lot. ‘What is wattle custard?’ she asked the waitress. The waitress simply smiled and gave Teresa a mysterious ‘oh, you’ll see’ response before walking away… and coming back with this.

I had taken a photo of this dessert, posted it on Twitter and had a mate tweet: ‘All I can see is a brown plate, where is the dessert?’

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It turned out the brown plate was, in fact, the dessert itself. A thin layer of Daintree chocolate mist was spray painted onto the plate, meant to represent Aussie desert sand. And when Teresa dug into the ‘sand,’ a gooey stream of wattle custard came out – it had a lovely caramel flavour with a hint of honey. As for the little white dots? They were made from Daintree vanilla curd and paid tribute to indigenous art. Seriously, how cool was this dessert?

Newstead Brewing ‘Johnny’ apple cider porridge, apple sorbet, caramelised milk foam

Newstead Brewing ‘Johnny’ apple cider porridge, apple sorbet, caramelised milk foam

My apple cider porridge did not generate as many ‘such pretty’ and ‘so wows’ around the table, but it was nevertheless delicious all the same. The porridge, a comforting bowl of apple-y goodness, may have been better suited to a Melbourne winter/spring menu but still hit the spot for me. The tangy sorbet injected a bit of refreshing lightness to the dish while the milk foam kept things as pretty as a picture.

Magnum Opus – Valrhona chocolate, violet ice cream, honey comb, cocoa nib

Magnum Opus – Valrhona chocolate, violet ice cream, honey comb, cocoa nib

Ashley had the Magnum Opus, another beautifully presented dessert. It was pretty much a toffed up Magnum ice cream bar, minus the preservatives and the nasty bloating sensation you get from eating one. A smooth layer of rock-hard Valrhona white chocolate covered a slab of violet ice cream. On top were little pieces of broken honey comb and edible flowers, making the dessert almost too beautiful to eat.

In my opinion, this lunch at GOMA was perfect from the word ‘go.’ The food was incredible, the setting was perfect and the service was impeccable – it’s not easy having to deal with a large group of foodies who asked for the bill to be split eight ways nor is it fun having to deal with me ringing the restaurant up several times to add/subtract people, but the team dealt with it with a smile and with grace. Kudos, guys.

In a country where even the best restaurants tend to mirror each other in style, presentation and food offerings, I think that GOMA offers something completely different. Sure, there are many gallery and museum restaurants up and down the eastern coast of Australia but I’ve yet to come across one that celebrates native Australian ingredients and uses both classical and modern cooking techniques to effortlessly present magnificent dishes that deserve to be showcased as art in the gallery it is housed in. Inject a bit of Queensland sunshine and boom, the scene is set for an incredible meal.

Well done, GOMA; this wanker loves you.

GOMA Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review: Chur Burger (Brisbane, QLD)

20 Constance Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 8 3319 7890
http://www.churburger.com.au/brisbane

Brisbane opened its first Chur Burger restaurant with a bit of fanfare. Having been to the Sydney Surry Hills one earlier this year, I was excited to hear all about the opening of the Brisbane branch – it was about time Queenslanders treated themselves to burgers that were not of the Grill’d, McDonalds and Hungry Jacks kind.

I’m pretty lazy these days. If I want to go to Brisbane, I’d do it on a Saturday morning or afternoon; I hardly ever go on a Friday night. After all, who wants to drive from Coolangatta all the way to Brisbane after a hard day’s work (which may or may not include a glass or two of wine after lunch)? However, the lure of Brad’s company along with tickets to see Rick Astley at The Tivoli and a shitload of drinks afterwards proved too tempting for me to say no to. And so off to Brisbane I went for the night.

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Fortitude Valley is known for being grungy and cool, so it came as a surprise to us to find that Chur Burger Brisbane was housed in a clean, modern space – very unlike the ‘Valley and very unlike the Chur Burger in Surry Hills. It was very sterile.

I could also say the same thing about the service. The chick serving us at the counter seemed to be in a grumpy mood – she didn’t smile throughout the entire transaction and did a bit of an eye-roll when I asked for a copy of the receipt. And yeah, I know that she would have probably preferred to be out partying on a Friday night but c’mon!

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That said, our food arrived really quickly. And with bottles of lusciously crisp Hillbilly cider in hand, we got to work.

Chilli salted chips ($6)

Chilli salted chips ($6)

Although the chips could have done with a bit more crisp, they still tasted delicious thanks to the chilli salt that was more addictive than watching BroScienceLife YouTube videos on repeat at work.

Crispy pork belly burger ($10)

Crispy pork belly burger ($10)

Brad loves his pork so he was torn between the pulled pork and pork belly burgers. In the end, he chose the belly burger; the buttery pork belly pieces were slathered in a sticky chilli caramel sauce before being topped with slaw and aioli. I forgot to sneak a bite of it but Brad declared it to be a fantastic burger.

Crumbed fish fillet burger ($10)

Crumbed fish fillet burger ($10)

I had Chur’s hipsterised version of the Filet O’Fish and I have to say that I was disappointed with my burger. The fish really brought the burger down – it was bland as hell and watery. And while I wasn’t expecting the best cut of fish, I did expect something that tasted more exciting than a sponge filled with water. Not even the pickled cucumber, lemon mayo and dill could make up for such a boring burger.

I’m not sure if I’d go back to Chur Brisbane as I wasn’t wooed by it (Rick Astley’s rendition of Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ on the other hand…). It could have been because I ordered the wrong thing because the chips were nice and Brad’s burger was supposedly nice. Still, the crappy service and so-not-Chur-Burger fit-out just made me not want to go back again.

Chur Burger on Urbanspoon

Review: Carolina Kitchen (Brisbane, QLD)

38 Macaulay Street
Coorparoo QLD 4151
+61 7 3847 8227

The depths of Brisbane’s suburbia is not the first place you’d think of when you’re looking for good ol’ honest American food with a whole lot of attitude and soul. Yet Coorparoo’s Carolina Kitchen delivers that and a whole lot more.

I took my friend Greg here for his 30th birthday lunch one overcast Sunday afternoon. It’s a place we’d both been wanting to try for a while – I’d heard about this place from two Melbourne friends who were in Brisbane for a wedding and this was their favourite restaurant of the trip.

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Coorparoo is an odd place to put a diner in; in a suburb full of brick units and weathered Queenslander houses, the diner almost looked out of place. And although I’m not well-versed on Brisbane’s dining scene as yet, I’m pretty sure Coorparoo is nothing like bustling West End, New Farm, Fortitude Valley and all those places people typically go for a good feed. Still, I liked the fact that we had to venture into unknown territory for lunch.

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Carolina Kitchen has pretty much everything you’d want to find in an American diner: wings, burgers, hot dogs, ribs and hoagies in addition to sweet dessert pies and American soft drinks. With Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ playing in the background (and in our head for the next 24 hours), we happily set down to enjoy an all American feast.

Aunty Lilly Mae’s BBQ ribs (regular, $17.95)

Aunty Lilly Mae’s BBQ ribs (regular, $17.95)

The BBQ ribs were finger lickin’ gewwwwd. The regular-sized ribs (so, maybe a third of a rack) were deliciously sticky and sweet with just the right amount of necessary tang. Served with a creamy Southern potato salad, they went down a treat.

New York fries ($7.95)

New York fries ($7.95)

The fries were also fantastic. Topped with cheese, sour cream and chilli sauce (and by that, I meant the hearty meaty kind), they had enough calories to form a complete meal.

Buffalo wings (six, $7.95)

Buffalo wings (six, $7.95)

Our Buffalo wings came out hot and spicy with a slight tang, just the way we Asians love it. They were fine on their own but the blue cheese dipping sauce was also great for a bit of creamy contrast.

Hot dog ($5.95)

Hot dog ($5.95)

We went halfies on a hot dog. The dog instead wasn’t anything special – just a frankfurter in boring white bread. However, all the trimmings made it something worth trying: American mustard, coleslaw, special chilli sauce and red onion. Oh yes.

We also ordered corn bread ($3.95) but unfortunately, it was the most disappointing thing we had all afternoon; it was tough and sweet – and tasted very one-dimensional. That was a shame because everything else was fantastic.

Greg was keen on sampling one of the homemade dessert pies that came in flavours such as pumpkin, cherry, key lime and more. Unfortunately, we were both too full from our feast so we walked away without a sugar fix. Not that we really needed one anyway.

Carolina Kitchen is definitely worth a detour if you feel like honest diner fare in Brisbane without having to pay exorbitant prices and put up with try-hard hipsters at American-themed eateries closer to the city. It’s honest soul food served with a friendly smile and a bit of suburban attitude that makes you wanting to come back for more.

Carolina Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Review: Bucci (Brisbane, QLD)

11/15 James Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3252 7848
http://www.buccirestaurant.com.au/

Every now and then, I’d do day/overnight trips up to Brisbane. In my opinion, Brisbane is a bit of a strange city. It’s the capital city of Australia’s second largest state, yet has this feel of a large country town that hasn’t quite reached the heights of Melbourne or Sydney. Plus, the limited city parking space and lack of sea breeze does my head in, especially during summer.

As for the food scene? Well, I still have my training wheels on but ask me about Brisbane dining in another year or so and I might be able to get you a better answer. For now though, I’ll dedicate the next few posts on my (more likely than not) ignorant thoughts on Brisbane’s cafés and restaurants from an ex-Melburnian and current-Gold Coaster point of view.

First up: Bucci. It’s located amongst the trendy boutiques of James Street in Fortitude Valley which has got to be one of my favourite streets in Brisbane. I was there one weekend to look for a dress for an event I was going to attend in Melbourne and no way I was going to find something at Gold Coast’s Pacific Fair. I wasn’t having any luck so I decided to refuel at Bucci.

Bucci does contemporary Italian using local and seasonal produce. Throw in an extensive wine list (new world Italian with a few varietals from Australia), sleek décor and you pretty much have a recipe for a Brisbane Good Food Guide hat – at least in theory anyway. Bucci gets understandably busy on weekends but because I was dining solo, I was able to walk straight in without reservations.

Oven-baked Moreton Bay bug cannelloni with truffle, lemon and tomatoes ($26)

Oven-baked Moreton Bay bug cannelloni with truffle, lemon and tomatoes ($26)

With a glass of S’Eleme Vermentino di Gallura 2012 ($12) in hand, I attacked my first dish – the entrée-sized bug cannelloni. It was one of the most decadent things I had eaten for quite some time and while it wasn’t bad, it was almost verging on try-hardness. Were truffles really necessary on an already rich dish? And I don’t know, the tomatoes just seemed out of place with all the cream, truffle and bug meat.

Cannelloni; grilled Hervey Bat scallops with garlic aioli and parsley crumbs ($22)

Cannelloni; grilled Hervey Bat scallops with garlic aioli and parsley crumbs ($22)

The waitress told me that the cannelloni alone was not going to fill me up and that I should order one more dish – lies, I was already bloody full after eating one of the cannelloni shells. Admittedly, the scallops were beautiful – even better than the cannelloni. The scallops were sweet, succulent and fresh and I loved how the crumbs added a lovely textural contrast. Next time, I’d probably order this to share with other people though because eating them all myself was a bit of an overkill.

It didn’t look like I ate that much but I walked out $60 poorer and with a food baby that rendered it almost impossible to fit into the Zimmermann dresses I ended up trying immediately after. While I know you’re paying for top ingredients, rent on James Street and better-than-average service, I felt that my meal erred on the ‘yeah nah, not the best value for money’ side. It was nice enough, but not THAT nice. Bucci has potential to be one of Brisbane’s best when it comes to modern Italian food but unfortunately it tries a bit too hard and gets maybe a couple of things right but not the whole package.

Bucci on Urbanspoon

Review: Barefoot Barista (Gold Coast, QLD)

10 Palm Beach Avenue
Palm Beach QLD 4221
+61 7 5598 2774
http://www.barefootbarista.com.au/

Sorry for the three weeks of radio silence on this blog – I’ve been gallivanting around Japan and Singapore and only just got back yesterday (#sorrynotsorry). But now that I’m now semi-settled at home (and not to mention, my funds have dried up), it’s back to regular blogging for me.

So let’s start this post with what is probably the world’s worst kept secret: I moved to the Gold Coast. Yup, I’ve traded my Melbourne blacks, excellent coffees, small bars and world class restaurants for vibrant colours, tans, constant sunshine and terrible Tinder talent[sic]. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t terribly keen about starting a new life in Queensland – I don’t like the beach that much (give me big cities and forests any day) and I prefer AFL over rugby league.

Surprisingly though, I’ve come to enjoy the Gold Coast for what it is. I’ve made some wonderful new friends, my home cooking skills have improved significantly and my skin is not ghastly pale anymore. I’ve even started going for the Maroons in State of Origin.

Over the next few months, you’ll see more and more Gold Coast and Brisbane-centric posts. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t be blogging about Melbourne – after all, I’m there pretty much there every 2-4 weeks and I’ll continue doing the semi-regular weekend dashes to Sydney. With that in mind, here’s a review of Barefoot Barista, a café I hold close to my heart because it was where I went for a quick lunch just before the interview that would ultimately land my current (day) job.

According to those living in the southern states, Queensland isn’t known for its coffee culture. In a state where Merlo and Starbucks reign supreme, it’s often difficult to find a reliably good café. However, they do exist – you just need to do your research.

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Barefoot Barista happens to be one of those places. Its location in the heart of Palm Beach isn’t the best (I used to hold my breath every time my bus drove through it) but if you’re travelling down south in the morning and happen to be going down the highway as opposed to the motorway, then it’s worth a detour.

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The café offers seating inside but I like to sit in the back courtyard to savour the fresh sea breeze wafting in from the east.

Sunday roast salad: chicken breast, sweet roast pumpkin, peas, radicchio, cos and rocket with herb crumbs and mustard dressing ($16)

Sunday roast salad: chicken breast, sweet roast pumpkin, peas, radicchio, cos and rocket with herb crumbs and mustard dressing ($16)

Barefoot Barista do substantial yet healthy breakfasts and lunches, with a focus on quirky salads and burgers. I opted for the Sunday roast salad which was essentially a deconstructed Sunday roast with all the trimmings served cold.

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The chicken was juicy, the roasted pumpkin was beautifully caramelised and the herb crumbs added a lovely crunch. All in all, it was the perfect light lunch that gave me the right amount of energy to get me through an interview but without the heavy and embarrassing bloating spells you (well, I, anyway) get from eating too many carbs at lunchtime.

I also enjoyed a Story Coffee latte ($3.50) on the side; my latte was made with freshly roasted Madman Blend coffee which was chocolaty with the slightest hint of toffee. I’m not sure why they decided to ditch Campos as their original supplier of beans but whatever, they don’t seem to be getting many complaints about the new in-house blends.

Palm Beach isn’t known as the culinary epicentre of the Gold Coast but if you’re passing by on the highway, then Barefoot Barista is highly recommended for a delicious feed and excellent coffee.

Barefoot Barista on Urbanspoon

Review: Champagne CRB (Gold Coast, QLD)

2 Queensland Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5538 3877
http://www.champagnecrb.com.au

A few weeks ago, my boss shouted the office to a Bastille Day dinner at Champagne CRB  in Broadbeach. Wait, WHAT? Broadbeach? Isn’t that on the Gold Coast? What’s going on, Libby?!

Don’t worry, all will be revealed in due course.

For the time being, let’s focus on this dinner. So yes, Bastille Day. Lots of fireworks. Lots of French food. Lots of drinking. Yep, we certainly got all that. Well, maybe not the fireworks – but then again, we can’t always have everything we want in life.

So anyway, my boss who is Belgian but thinks he’s French likes to do nice things for us. In this case, he decided to treat the office to a nice six-course degustation with matching wines on Bastille Day. Not that we really needed an excuse to party. We were going to the restaurant that was formerly called Champagne Brasserie but has now rebranded itself as Champagne CRB (CRB meaning ‘café, restaurant and bar’) to shake off its rather dated image but also extend its services to include breakfast and Parisian café lunches in addition to their normal dinner service.

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Champagne CRB is located underneath the Hi Ho Beach Apartment complex, just a short walk away from the beach. Indeed, it’s a random place to house what could possibly be the ‘Coast most authentic French restaurant.

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Our degustation began with some freshly baked warm bread and a glass of Charles de Cazanove rosé.

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

‘What the hell is a testou?’ we all murmured when we read the menu. I had no idea and a Google search proved fruitless. Hence, it was kind of funny when we were later told that it was a thing that Chef Olivier Burgos made up. The hollowed out egg was filled with a warm truffled egg emulsion and topped with a piece of crouton.

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The testou was well received across the table. I loved the presentation and the fact that something so silky and so delicate can hold so much flavour. (err Libby, you idiot, it’s the TRUFFLES)

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

I wasn’t sure about this dish. On one hand, the scallops were beautifully cooked and oh-so-succulent. On the other hand, I thought the blobs of cocoa dressing were out of place and the orange tuile, which was a bit too sweet, just made the whole thing taste like an orange jaffa party. Bleh. If they served the scallops with just the rocket veloute, then it would have actually been a perfect dish.

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

The third course was rich and decadent – and enough to render half the table full. A cheese soufflé was always going to be a filling course but to also jack it up with a Jerusalem artichoke filling AND truffle shreds on top? Man, they were asking for trouble.

The whole package tasted pretty damn good (I’m a sucker for cheese), but the soufflé’s texture was a bit off. It was too dense – almost like a pudding – and having those rich ingredients and flavours certainly didn’t help. The matching wine for this course was a Gerard Bertrand 2010 Chardonnay. Now, I’m not a Chardonnay drinker but if I’m going to drink Chardonnay, it may as well be a French one and the Gerard Bertrand managed to cut through all the richness beautifully. I’d like to think of it as akin to when a dud Tinder guy matches with a hot Tinder girl and magic happens on their first date.

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

I found our fourth course a bit ‘meh.’ A boudin blanc is a white sausage (no snigger, please) that’s normally stuffed with pork and rice but in this case, Burgos used chicken mousse instead. This dish received mixed reactions from the table: some loved it, while others hated it. I just found the filling a bit bland and the mushrooms a bit sweet while the green lentils were slightly out of place.

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

I did love our final savoury course, though. Steak (yes!) cooked in bacon fat (yes!) served with crispy potatoes (omg yes!). I couldn’t really taste the truffles in the so-called truffle sauce but I didn’t care – the steak was absolutely beautiful and full of flavour and imo, you just can’t go wrong with crispy potato slices.

At this point in the evening, a group of mid-high school girls walked into the dining room in leotards. Music came on and the girls then started to do the can-can and a whole bunch of other dances! I did take photos but I feel like a creep putting photos of young under-aged girls on my blog so I’m not going to. It was a random interlude to what had been a joyous dinner – in fact, it was kind of awkward watching middle-aged men ogling these girls!

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

I was too full to fully appreciate our dessert, a frozen nougat topped with a dove-shaped meringue (though someone on the table thought it was a ghost) surrounded by lots of raspberry coulis. If I had still been hungry, I probably would have had more than the three spoonfuls I did manage to consume. The nougat was lovely but combined with all that sauce, I did find the whole thing overpowering – but that’s just me.

Our Bastille Day dinner was a bit of a hit and miss, however we all had a fun night pretending to be French. Hell, I even wore the French colours: a blue dress and red nail polish. While it’s not the best French I’ve ever had, it definitely makes the top 5 on the Gold Coast. The breakfast and lunch offerings are very different to what they offer during dinner so I will definitely revisit Champagne CRB during the daytime for a croissant or two.

Champagne Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Review: Muso Ramen (Gold Coast, QLD)

Shop 2B/2484 Gold Coast Highway
Mermaid Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5679 3779

If there’s one thing the Gold Coast has over Melbourne, it’d be their ramen restaurants. Oh, and the sun. And the beaches. And the quality guys on Tinder (no, I wasn’t serious with the last one).

Sure, we now have our Mugen and Fukuryu-type places but the Goldie guys have been doing it a lot longer than us with Hakataya and Muso, the subject of this post. While Hakataya is located on the main tourist strip at Surfers, Muso is slightly tucked away on the more residential Mermaid Beach area. However, it’s right on the highway so it’s easily accessible by one of Gold Coast’s many highway buses should you be an interstate or overseas visitor looking for a feed going up from the airport.

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Muso is very cool. The back wall is adorned by Beatles and Hendrix posters, while classic 60s and 70s rock music blare through the speakers as the lady takes your order at the counter.

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

With cold Kirin beers in hand, Marty and I started off with some steamed gyoza. I’m more of a fried gyoza person these days but he was always of the opinion that steamed is better than fried (true in most case but not for dumplings, in my opinion). The steamed pork gyoza were tasty enough but I found the skins a bit too soggy.

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

The fried ones were a lot better (this is why it’s a good idea to listen to me in most cases!). The filling was just as tasty as the steamed ones, but the thin skins had just the right amount of crunch and to me, that made all the difference.

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I had the tonkotsu original ($13) while Marty had the tonkotsu spicy miso ($14), the latter being essentially the same as mine but with a spicy miso sauce drizzled through it, obvs.

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My ramen was amazing, on par with the one I enjoyed at Hakataya Ramen. If you love the milkiness of the Hakata-style broth, you’ll definitely enjoy the ramen at Muso. It was rich, yet clean. It was milky, yet packed with an assortment of flavours ranging from pork to sweet miso to pure awesomeness in one neat little bowl. And it was perfect, oh-so-perfect, from the gooey tea-soaked egg half to the fatty chashu pork to the slippery thin noodles.

It saddens to me think that there are amazing down-to-earth ramen restaurants in Gold Coast, yet Melbourne seems to struggle with producing something even half as good as this. However, I have a feeling that this will all change now that Fukuryu is in the picture. And about time too.

Muso Ramen Noodle & Gyoza Bar on Urbanspoon