+81 6 6213 8806
Day two of my Japan trip saw me take an early morning bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, the city that many consider the Melbourne of Japan. By the time I almost managed to miss my train by hopping on the wrong platform, got lost wandering through all the stops at Umeda Station and got into an argument about bag storage at the capsule hotel I was staying at (yes, capsule hotel), I had worked up an appetite.
Without knowing where to go for a feed, I decided to get my senses direct me. Just around the corner from my hotel was a busy takoyaki-slash-okonomiyaki bar with men cooking takoyaki (octopus balls) out the front and tables filled with happy diners inside – I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
It took me a while to work out what this place was called (I used Google maps to trace my steps back from the hotel) but I finally got there in the end; Ganso Ajiho was what it was called. You can’t miss it – it’s decked with red lanterns and takes up two shops, whereas most places in this little enclave are tiny.
I was seated in a tiny table at the back, right next to a table topped with dirty plates and empty beer glasses – presumably because there was no room in the kitchen to store all the dirty dishes.
I started with some big fat octopus balls (giggles), a steal at approximately AUD3 and a large bottle of lager (another steal at ¥500, so less than AUD5). The balls were squishy and soft (har-har-har) and the filling much more gooey than what I’m used to back home. I’m not sure whether this was legit as was the surprising lack of octopus but at that price, I didn’t complain. I was also surprised that it didn’t come drizzled in sauce and topped with bonito like I’d come to expect in Australia (rather, a light citrus-y broth was provided for dipping). Again, maybe that was the legit way of eating them.
I was told that there would be a twenty minute wait for the okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake), which was totally fine with me – it’s not like I had anywhere else to be seeing as check-in wasn’t for another two hours or so. Like the octopus balls, the okonomiyaki was massive and definitely filled me up. The sauce to dough ratio was great and the whole thing was nice enough; however, there was something missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Was it depth? Character? Did those dirty dishes put my senses off? I had no idea.
There are hundreds of places that do okonomiyaki and takoyaki in Osaka and even the ‘bad’ ones will do a decent job by Australian standards. I wasn’t in a hurry to rush back to Ganso Ajiho, especially after a life-altering okonomiyaki experience at Tres Bon across the road later that night.
Koto 135-0016, Tokyo
+81 3 5677 5176
My first meal in Japan was a comforting and insanely delicious bowl of ramen that sent me walking back to my hotel with change for AUD9. After a very long bus ride from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo followed by two subway trips to Shirakawa, I finally checked into my hotel two hours after my feet touched Japanese soil.
I don’t know why I booked a hotel at a random slightly-out-of-nowhere district on my first night in Tokyo as opposed to the more popular Shibuya, Ginza or Shinjuku districts. In saying that, at least I was forced to learn Tokyo’s initially confusing subway system very quickly. Plus, staying in a relatively quiet district meant that I would be forced to sleep early rather than get distracted by lights, bars, restaurants and cheap whisky bars.
Despite my hotel being on a quiet street, there was no shortage of eateries within walking distance – as was the case almost everywhere in Japan. It was a bit chilly that night so when I came across a ramen restaurant, I knew that a steaming bowl of noodles would hit the spot.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Ramen Yamagoya is a ramen franchise famous all over Asia and I just happened to walk into one of Japan’s many branches. It was close to 11PM but the place was still happenin’ with a few solo diners polishing off the last dregs of their ramen. I was nervous because this would be the first time I’d be ordering food in Japan but thank goodness for menus with photos and English translations, hey.
Mukashi ramen ¥870
I ordered the default ramen, with the barest of trimmings – sliced chashu (roast pork), boiled egg, dried seaweed and pickled bamboo shoots.
The word ‘mukashi’ means ‘old school’ in Japanese and the menu described the pork bone broth as being ‘nostalgic-style’ – whatever that meant. Regardless, this simple bowl of ramen was amazing. It might have been a chain restaurant ramen but it certainly beat any ramen I’ve tasted in Melbourne; the broth was teaming with so much flavour and depth and the noodles beautifully chewy. Everything was perfect, from the buttery slices of roast pork to the gooey egg. Best of all, it was the perfect portion size to stave off my massive hunger pangs (after all, I flew Jetstar and didn’t bring enough food for the entire flight – silly me).
I never got to visit another Ramen Yamagoya in Japan but that was fine because I got to try heaps of other wonderful ramen places. Best of all, there are Ramen Yamagoya restaurants in Jakarta so I know where I’ll be getting my fix when I’m there in just over two weeks’ time.
Happy New Year, folks!
I trust that you also had an aiight Christmas and were sensible enough not to drink too much.
I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions but one of my goals for 2015 is to see more of the world. Of course, achieving this goal is going to be a challenge because 1) booking international flights out of Gold Coast is a pain in the arse and 2) I’m trying to save up for a house deposit. Ultimately though, I’m the happiest when I’m away from home and exploring unchartered territory. Plus, who says you can’t travel while you’re saving up for a house? For the next month or two, this blog will move away from Australia and into Asia, more specifically Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
First up: JAPAN.
Just in case you haven’t heard me talk about it enough on social media, during social gathering and in my sleep, I went to Japan for two weeks. And as clichéd as it sounds, it was the best trip of my life (so far); there is no doubt in my mind that I’d happily do it again and again. It goes without saying that Japan is a wonderful country with so much to see and do, however it is also a confusing place for first-timers like myself. With that in mind, here’s just a small sample of the many things I learnt about the beautiful country during my very limited time there.
Night walk along the streets of Gion, Kyoto.
1. Train or plane? If you’re planning to explore a few different cities during your time there, the best way to do so is via Shinkansen (bullet train). It is not cheap; for example, it costs ¥14720 to do the Tokyo to Osaka dash by bullet train (so, roughly AUD$140). Given that domestic flights between the two major cities are cheaper, many people choose to fly instead. However, there’s something cool about admiring the picturesque Japanese countryside while travelling at speeds up to 320km/h and what is three hours on a train compared to the time it takes to commute to and from the airports? Plus, if you’re organised enough to order a JR pass exchange order before you leave for Japan (and swap it for an actual pass once you’re there), you’ll cover a lot of Japan in a relatively economically-efficient way. I paid AUD$300 for my seven-day pass and used it to get me from Tokyo to Osaka and back again, all while seeing Kyoto, Nara, Nagano, Nagoya and Yokohama along the way.
2. Get to know the subway system in Tokyo (this also applies to other major cities such as Kyoto and Osaka). Taxis are ridiculously expensive in Japan (for example, a taxi ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo proper left my friend AUD$240 poorer) so it’s best that you got to know the subway system. For one thing, riding the subway is a lot cheaper and trains run every few minutes (and on time, even during the busy times).
The Tokyo subway system can be initially daunting at first what with all the different colours and criss-crossing lines but it’s easy once you figure it out (plus, signs are everywhere in case you get lost). If you have a smartphone, Google Maps and apps such as HyperDia are your BFFS – not only will they tell you what trains/buses to take to reach your destination, they will also give you a rough fare estimate too.
3. Generally, Japanese people don’t speak English – and this is more apparent the further away you get from the major cities. You don’t have to invest in a yearlong Japanese course to prepare for your holiday but learning a few words will get you a long way. Useful phrases include sumimasen (excuse me), arigato (thank you), arigato gozaimasu (thank you (more formal)), Nihongo ga wakarimasen (sorry, I don’t understand Japanese) and oishii (delicious).
4. Following on from 3, booking restaurants can be hard so it’s advised that you get a Japanese-speaking friend to make bookings for you. If you happen to stay at a hotel though, getting a concierge should do the trick. That said, the concierge at Hilton Tokyo were hopeless (promised they’d make the bookings for me, then heard nothing from them despite repeated follow-up emails). Conversely, Piece Hostel in Kyoto booked me spots at Kikunoi and the Yamazaki whisky distillery tour with no issues. Expensive does not necessarily mean the best service (although the bed sheets and Tokyo city views at Hilton were, to be fair, pretty nice).
Yamazaki whisky distillery
5. One yen coins are a pain in the arse.
6. I found that being an Asian female in Japan can be a good and a bad thing. People assumed I was Japanese which meant that I was able to blend in easily amongst crowds. However, this also meant that I was the ‘go to’ person when someone needed directions or when old men got lonely and wanted to talk to someone. More often than not, a nihongogawakarimasen from me resulted in looks of disappointment/shock/disgust from the other person. An American I met in Osaka said that if you’re in Asian in Japan and can’t speak Japanese, you’re stupid; if you’re a white person in Japan and can speak one line of Japanese, you’re a genius.
7. I normally carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser or baby wipes when I travel anyway but nowhere is this more important than in Japan. A lot of public washrooms (especially in shopping malls and major train stations) surprisingly don’t stock their washrooms with soap and paper towels. This is where a bottle of Dettol or a packet of baby wipes will come in extremely handy. If you’re pressed for luggage space and can ONLY carry one or the other, then I’d recommend the wipes because at least you can wipe your face with it after a night out drinking and you’re too lazy to wash your face completely before crashing into bed (may or may not be speaking from experience(s)).
8. Japan Tinder is full of:
1. Nice and well-meaning but socially awkward and shy Tokyo boys
2. French guys on working visas (either teachers or engineers).
3. Oddball westerners.
4. And downright angry westerners.
9. If you regularly do squats at the gym, you’ll find that using a traditional ‘hole in the ground’ toilet is MUCH easier than if you’re a pleb who just does cardio. Of course, you still have a choice between those and western toilets when you’re in major cities. If you’re at a country train station or pub, however, you’re pretty much screwed so suck it up, princess.
10. I’m a planner and I found that organising most things before I left Australia made things a lot smoother. However, there are some things that you can’t plan for. Things I had not planned for included organising transport from Jigokudani to Yudanaka (forcing myself to hike 10km to civilisation gave me a lot of thinking time and I got to admire the beautiful Japanese forest) and a night at a seedy love hotel (which would not have happened if – long story short – I had not logged onto Tinder the day before and matched with a lovely Sydneysider who I had a fantastic time with in Asakusa’s izakayas and family-run karaoke bars). Those moments were unplanned and undoubtedly the highlights of my Japan trip.
The 10km hike from Jigokudani to Yudanaka took me through the beautiful Kiso Valley.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting reviews of all the restaurants I ate at in Japan. Brace yourself for lots of raw fish, photos of cheap whisky and snide Tinder-related remarks.
28 Logan Road
Woolloongabba QLD 4102
+61 7 3392 3300
It took a fellow Melburnian and, in hindsight, a jerk Tinder date to lead me to my new favourite breakfast spot in Brisbane. After enjoying a night out in Brisvegas with Greg, it was time to soothe my head with a decent breakfast and what I hoped was decent company – at the very least, we former Melburnians would have heaps to talk about.
After an impressive Brisbane progressive crawl, my date then took me to Pearl Café, one of his favourite pre-work breakfast spots. Situated on charming Logan Road and only a short walk from the GABBA, the all day eatery effortlessly conveyed classy euro chic with its mirrors, antique furnishings and wooden bistro-style furniture. I was already in love – and I wasn’t talking about Mr Tinder.
Because we had already consumed our fair share of coffees, we decided to go with teas – I went for a soothing peppermint while he went for camomile. As for the food, Pearl’s offerings are whimsical, rustic and interesting with a smearing of European panache and good quality ingredients. In addition to menu staples such as the pecan financier with maple roasted pear and the house smoked trout with poached eggs, dandelion and homemade pumpkin sourdough with a dash of horseradish, a daily specials list also tempts.
Special: omelette with caramelised leek and fennel on homemade sourdough
My date had one of the specials, the omelette with caramelised leek and fennel. I didn’t get a chance to try any of his food but going by the way he happily wolfed it down, it must have been great.
Wild forest mushrooms, stone ground organic polenta, pecorino, hen’s yolk ($19)
Meanwhile, I opted for one of Pearl’s heartier dishes. The predictable but delicious combination of earthy mushrooms, gooey egg and rich polenta worked beautifully, both taste-wise and texturally. It was a dish that was more suited to Melbourne’s friggin’ cold winters rather than Brisbane at any time of the year but hey, I’d happily take it.
I never saw the Tinder guy again but his breakfast venue left a positive lasting impression on me. Pearl Café has become one of the few places I recommend to Brisbane visitors in addition to big guns such as Gerard’s Bistro, ARIA and GOMA. And given that it’s so close to the GABBA, it’ll be my pre-cricket breakfast venue for when I’m at the cricket next.
368 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3195 1040
When a white Tinder match recommends a quasi-hipster dumpling restaurant in Fortitude Valley, I’m not normally one to pay attention. Bitch please, dumpling restaurants are meant to be cheap and nasty (in an endearing way, of course) and if I have to pay more than $10 for twelve dumplings, then we have a problem! However, this particular match seemed to know a fair bit about food so I decided to add Fat Dumpling to my list of places to visit in Brisbane.
I had not plan to go there the last time I was in Brisbane, but Greg and I had been drinking a fair bit after dinner and soon we were hungry again. We just so happened to be in the ‘Valley so I suggested we try out the dumpling eatery – after all, we’re both suckers for a good plate of dumplings.
Fat Dumpling’s name reminds me of that SBS show from the late 90s/early noughties, Fat Pizza. I’m not sure Habib and Claudia McPherson’s antics was what the owners of Fat Dumpling had in mind when they went about naming their northern Chinese restaurant. But whatever, it worked. Throw in a diminutive yet refined space in the heart of Fortitude Valley (but slightly away from the riff raff) and you have a place that’s packed to the rafters even at 9PM on a Saturday night. Thankfully, Greg and I were able to squeeze into a table, but not without some curious glances from the predominantly western clientele – we were the only two Asians in the entire place.
I don’t know why the chopsticks instructions are printed in Cyrillic…
Pan-fried pork dumplings (six for $7.50)
We ordered a few plates of dumplings to share. First up, the ubiquitous pan-fried pork dumplings. Like the restaurant’s name suggests, the dumplings here are massive in size. They were also big on flavour too – the beautifully crispy pork dumplings had a ridiculously tasty filling thanks to the generous doses of garlic, ginger and chives in it.
Poached fish dumplings (six for $8)
The poached fish dumplings were filled with minced white fish, chives and ginger, making them a bit more delicate than the moreish pork dumplings yet nevertheless still tasty as hell.
Xiao long bao (eight for $11.80)
The XLBs were nice, but paled in comparison to the first two dumplings. For one thing, the broth-meat ratio was a bit of a miss at times – some dumplings held sufficient broth while others held no broth at all! We were also not given spoons to hold each dumpling with so eating them was an exercise in all manners of awkwardness. The skins were also a tad on the thick side. One good thing about these? At least the pork filling was delicious.
We were tempted to try mains such as the seemingly popular soy poached pork belly and more adventurous dumpling dishes such as the chicken and asparagus dumplings but our inelastic stomachs stopped us. We were happy with our meals and promised to return again. Yes, Fat Dumpling does cater to a more western demographic and yes, the price points for the dumplings are a bit dearer ($7.50 could get you twice the amount of dumplings at a cheap dumpling joint in Melbourne) but I’ve yet to find a place in Brisbane that make dumplings on par with these babies. Until that day comes, I’ll keep coming here for my dumpling fix when I’m in Queensland.
Level 1, TCB Centre
315 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3252 8888
Disclaimer: Wagaya gave Greg and me $70 to spend on food, the remainder of the bill was paid by myself.
These days, I’m not big on loitering around Fortitude Valley’s Brunswick Street with all the riff-raff (what am I, old?). A Saturday night in Queensland for me involves going to a mate’s house to chill on the couch, having a few beers by the beach or staying in with SBS on Demand and a glass or two (or five) of wine. As luck would have had it though, I needed to be in Brisbane several weekends ago and so I decided to kill two birds with one stone by doing a catch-up with my Brisbane friend, Greg.
Now, I was originally invited to have dinner at Wagaya down in Melbourne a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend – luckily for me, there happens to be a Wagaya in Brisbane so I timed my errands with a dinner booking there for two on a Saturday evening.
The place was a pain the arse to get to: Google told us that it was located on the first floor of the TCB Centre on Brunswick Street. I entered the centre via Brunswick Street, got on the lift, pressed the button to go to level 1 – and ended up in some random dodgy alley full of stinky bins. It turns out the restaurant’s entrance was on Duncan Street. Yeah okay, made sense.
Things were smooth sailing once we were in, though. We were lead through the modern timber-lined dining room, filled with private dining booths.
Each booth had a touchscreen menu where we could make our selections throughout the course of the meal as well as signal for service. The aim of dining at Wagaya is to try as many different dishes as you possibly can. There are plenty of dishes to chose from – udon, sushi, sashimi, skewers and so on – and there is not one dish that Wagaya specialises in, at least none that I can see.
We ordered a shitload of stuff.
Crab chawanmushi ($6.90)
First up, the delicate warm savoury egg custard. I was expecting the custard to reveal perhaps one or two pieces of artificial crabstick, however I was surprised to find that it had REAL crab in it. Drizzled with dashi broth, the chawanmushi was delicious and a perfect starter.
Assorted sashimi platter ($36.80)
The assorted sashimi platter didn’t just have your standard tuna, salmon and kingfish slices (though they were there). Rather, they introduced a mix of things you wouldn’t expect to find on a sashimi platter at a casual restaurant – we’re talking fresh Pacific oysters, tender octopus bits, oily mackerel, prawns and even uni (sea urchin). All of it was ridiculously fresh and delicious.
Assorted tempura with udon soup ($13.90)
While I can’t really give mad props for the tempura (the battered bits of prawn and vegetables were too oily and they weren’t crispy enough), we both loved the udon soup – the broth was delicate yet full of umami goodness and the slippery noodles were delightfully chewy.
Assorted skewers ($13.80)
The assorted skewer plate was a great way to suss out how well these guys can do a kushikatsu (grilled meat skewer). We got a king prawn, salmon, chicken and beef skewer. Drizzled with a teeny bit of teriyaki sauce, they were all nice enough but lacked the lovely smokiness I’ve since been used to after eating quite a few of these in Japan.
We probably could have stopped there but we were greedy and wanted to try some octopus balls so we selected that as our final order. I was impressed by the size of the balls (lol) and how generous they were when it came to creaming them (double lol) with lots of octopus bits. Thus, it was a shame that they erred on the soggy side. Bummer.
We loved the variety of food on offer at Wagaya and the service was fantastic (friendly and quick – we didn’t have to wait too long for our food to arrive), but we thought the food was a bit of a hit and miss. The good stuff was done really well while the not-so-good stuff were meh but by no means terrible. Wagaya is a great place if you want to go somewhere fun with your mates and if you want to introduce some noobs to an array of Japanese food – but not if you want to go somewhere with more substance.
Eagle Street Pier
45 Eagle Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
+61 7 3233 2555
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. I LIKED IT. Who would have thought…
When it came to organising dinner with Canberra girls 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
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.
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)
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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. And the service? Oh man, the service. It was some of the best I’ve experienced for a long time – the waiters were attentive, helpful and friendly. Plus, little touches such as the complimentary champagne cocktail and take-home macarons really made a world of difference. 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.
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)
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.
Oh look, this place even had its own chicken!
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.
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)
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.
14/15 James Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3852 3822
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
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)
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)
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)
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
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.
Gallery of Modern Art
South Brisbane QLD 4101
+61 7 3842 9916
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.
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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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?’
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
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
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.