97 Haig rd
Walking down a leafy street to get a breakfast made by people that love their work is infinitely preferable to driving in traffic to Westfield to eat some hideous slurry from a culinary graveyard like Shingle Inn or Coffee Club.
This is why I love the way that hip little breakfast spots are cropping up in the ‘burbs – they may all be kinda playing from the same songbook of ‘cute and wholesome and vintagey’ but they do it pretty well, and it’s a much-needed change. Today I checked out the shiny-new Café Auchenflower, and concluded that every few blocks in suburbia needs a place like this.
After a long hard look at the rather sparse menu, I went out on a limb and risked my first ‘bolognaise on toast’ lunch item for brekkie. I’ve seen a few menus offer this and always thought it a bit daggy. Mince on toast from yesterday’s spag bol is classic bachelor chow in my books. Maybe it was the tag of ‘gran’s secret recipe’ helped me shed my prejudices, and I’m glad I did. The addition of a basil leaf and quality sourdough helped decouple this dish from my memories of single living, instead reminding me of how comforting this dish can be. Although filling and tasty, I found nana’s recipe a bit on the sweet side and lacking in onion, but I recognise that tastes can really differ on bolognaise recipes.
The mistress opted for something a bit more erudite: prosciutto, basil and fontina cheese with fig, in a toasted sandwich. It tasted awesome – the flavours were wildly complimentary, and the textures worked together too. The Auchenflower certainly knows how to toast stuff to perfection. The mistress found that a bit of tomato or greenery might’ve helped balance the saltiness of the dish, though I thought the fig did a lot of that. A bit of rocket or even a touch more basil would’ve taken this one from ‘good’ to ‘exceptional’ for me.
I dig this place, and it’s not even for the food. They impressed me, but I wasn’t blown away; the ingredients were good quality and well-composed, but lacked the ‘wow factor’ that Brisbane’s best can offer. The coffee (supplied by West End roasters, BlackStar) was satisfying, but not memorable. In spite of this, I left smiling, and realised that decent food and coffee are not the only drawcard here. As Dennis Denuto said, ‘it’s the vibe of the thing’. Pleasant décor, happy owner-managers and the novel experience of finding something to do in backstreet suburbia make this an ideal spot for catching up with mates on the west side, or a lazy late breakfast on hungover weekends.
The Chelsea (at the Barracks, Roma st)
Muesli, I love you but you’re fired. Cold weather demands hot, calorific goodness, especially at breakfast. Relatedly, Sunday was fucking cold.
This was even more awesome than it looks. In fact, it was borderline erotic. The addition of a side of haloumi to the most perfectly herbed roast tomatoes was a masterstroke that you should totally emulate. It had that charcoal-grilled taste, very rare but amazingly well-done (pun not intended). The feta also now haunts my dreams with its soft creaminess. The coriander scrambled eggs with chorizo were a bit more psychedelic, but in a good way – the mix of cumin, coriander and chorizo had me tasting the rainbow and smelling the universe. Although, maybe part of the wonder of the experience was, well, relief…
The slight downside of our visit was how that adjectival cold weather really nailed us. The Barracks is a bit of a wind tunnel and while dining on the street is usually good times, it’s just hit that point where waiting an hour for breakfast is painful unless you’ve brought a good jacket. The wind is strong enough that it made the heaters useless. I think they were short-staffed too, so things took quite a while to come out. In between my epic breakfast chats and shivering, I failed to notice this:
Yep, a pile of fuzzy warm blankets for diners to use. Keep an eye out for these.
My recommendation is simple: DO go to this place and receive your sensual breakfast reward, but remember to grab a jacket, and your most interesting friend(s). The wait pays off bigtime; this is quite possibly Brisbane’s best breakfast this side of a Smokey Breakfast Lager.
Brio – 36 Vernon Terrace
Food – 6.5/10
Coffee and Juice – 9/10
Celebrating the invasion of Australia requires some truly exhausting partying, and produces an even more exhausting clean-up job. When we’d finally cleaned up every puddle of cooking sherry and got the pig entrails out of the jacaranda trees, it was close to eleven and even my hangover headache had fled in the wake of the horrors I witnessed that morning. Replacing it came a dull dryness in the mouth, eyeballs like saltpans and a surging hunger that gushed over me like goon poured from atop a ‘straya day hill’s hoist.
Fortunately life outside house Philistine was largely fine, and life in Teneriffe was very fine, as it always seems to make such a point of being. Depending on where you stand, the heritage-lined streets in that area are either achingly picturesque or the truest embodiment of exclusive inner-city snottiness. I love it, though I’ve met people who find it really repressive. Right at the heart of this rather divisive stretch of town is Brio Espresso and Juice, just at the base of one of the big apartment blocks on Vernon Street.
It’s a spacious spot and even with quite a number of diners grabbing late breakfasts it was easy to find seats, and we were quickly brought excellent coffees made with their Genovese espresso, which is very strong and tasty. Food prices turned out to be pretty modest, with most of the breakfast standards present. Juice is less affordable, but really worth a look. They’re very serious about the juice aspect of things, with all kinds of interesting combinations on offer for a slightly hefty $7 a pop. I went with the ‘Summer Fruit Slush’, a combination of lime, orange and berries. Highly recommended.
Interestingly, you can get a shot of booze in your juice for an extra $5.50 – a nice option to help lunch transform into early-afternoon boozing, albeit on the expensive side at over $12 for a single 40ml shot of alcohol per drink. Cooking sherry it ain’t.
The Mistress opted for the generously-sized ‘vege-out’ breakfast, drawn by a list of roughly every good thing that a vegetarian could hope for in a breakfast: avo, beans, rosti, poached eggs, asparagus, haloumi, mushrooms and grilled tomato.
My stomach had at this point become a hangover-abyss, and screamed for something more stodgy. I went for a breakfast that is also served at the German Club as a dinner: rissoles with smashed potato. The rissoles at the German Club are greasy, glistening orbs, each massive enough to have its own gravitational field; Brio’s guys came out looking a bit more like burger patties and mercifully free of sauerkraut or any other cabbage-based food item. Very kindly, the staff offered an alternative to the accompanying eggs, so mine came with avocado instead. Nice touch.
Sadly both dishes only did the trick – they didn’t wow us. As with the Deli, they were generously sized and well made, but lacked that finesse that really sets good apart from great. Blandness was a particular frustration for a number of food items, including the mushy rosti, herb-barren rissoles and cool, floury smashed potato. For a dish that offers both avocado and haloumi, the omission of lemon from the veg-out breakfast was particularly egregious, especially in a shop that is consistently full of fruit. To their credit the eggs were perfectly poached and the asparagus deliciously crunchy, but these were the highpoints of an otherwise rather tame meal.
Is this the spot for a breakfast adventure? I’m not sure. It’s a safe bet given its large portions and solid quality, but certainly doesn’t offer anything approaching culinary excitement. However, breakfast was never Brio’s selling point – the full name is ‘Brio Espresso and Juice’ and they do a kick-arse job at both of these things. If I were to return for anything more than coffee, it’d be to try the lunchtime burgers, possibly with a vodka-laced juice or three. Maybe you should too.
Bitter Suite – 9/10
75 Welsby Street, New Farm
Archive used to be cool.
There, I said it. I remember the days when it was incredibly cool, and in my heart of hearts I still love visiting it about half the time. It’s just the other 50% of the time that it’s either ridiculously full, or frothing with tragically ruffled 90s hobo-chic bicycle courier dickheads. Plus, the menu has utterly gone to the dogs, with a number of mates reporting food poisoning as an added insult to their generally average meals. This is doubly sad given how good their steak menu once was.
Fortunately, as with all cool things that eventually get co-opted by jerks, Archive had its moment of glory where it set some precedents. These precedents inspired further innovation, and we’re seeing that now as places like Kerbside, The Scratch and Bitter Suite crop up offering tasty craft beers in more virginal suburban spots, each with a pleasant twist. Bring on the new.
Of the new emergent tasty craft beer spots, Bitter Suite remains my favourite for summer afternoon drinks. Not far from the Powerhouse is a corner restaurant which has changed hands a few times in recent years; it’s a bit out of the way. Since Bitter Suite set up there late last year it’s finally got a bit of buzz and I’m really hoping this lasts for years to come, for two reasons. Firstly, it is probably the best place to drink good beer outdoors in Brisbane at the moment. Secondly, it seems to be attracting a pretty mellow crowd, and is often busy but never crowded. Other perks include decent live music that isn’t turned up too loud, plus regular ‘meet the brewer’ beer tastings and the awesomely friendly owners, who seem to have ditched professional life to live the dream.
And what a dream it is. Bitter Suite is in a pretty spot with plentiful outdoor seating and occasional table service. It hosts a solid selection of interesting beers, mostly from Australia and New Zealand but also some great offerings from as far afield as Denmark and the US. While it is possible to run into the occasional lousy beer amongst the gems, there are enough fun things on offer that you’ll definitely find something worthwhile, and the standard Stone & Wood Pacific Ale is a delicious mainstay for those feeling like a steady, sessionable beer. Price-wise the beer menu is moderate, ranging between about $7 and $11. I’m told the wine selection is also decent and the food menu, while not mindblowing, has become a lot more consistent and tasty over time (contrary to the Archive trend). They do bowls of onion rings which literally drip tastiness, especially after a couple of pints.
Also worth dabbling in is the range of beer-ish things that are not technically beer. Crabbie’s Ginger Ale was a discovery for the mistress, who generally spurns anything that has been brewed except Rogers and, well, tea. Also exciting is the upcoming release of a Hibiscus Ale from the local Bacchus Breweries in Capalaba, which neatly straddles the boundary between cider and beer.
If you live anywhere near the Valley/New Farm area or have any reason to be at the Powerhouse (there are many), I can’t recommend Bitter Suite enough as a spot for chilled social drinking, especially on warm afternoons. Get in while it lasts; I am eternally optimistic that this place will stick around but if it goes the way of past businesses, you’ll definitely regret missing it.
I usually detest the word ‘meh’. It is the ultimate communicative cop-out; an expression of apathy, of being so disengaged that even explaining one’s indifference is like, so not worth it. So I find myself a bit baffled that right now, for the first time, it’s the perfect thing to say.
On the topic of having breakfast at Anouk: ‘meh’.
There, I said it. I even gave my hair a little swish, as if to push my nonexistent fringe away from my eyes.
Anouk has deserved this term not by being good, not by being bad, but by being so surprisingly unremarkable. In spite of a creative menu (which apparently changes constantly) and plenty of hype, the best thing about my meal by far was the interesting conversation in between bites. Anouk left me with nothing to remember it by, and I left with food still on my plate.
The food is clever, but lacks flair. The coffee is, well, okay. The interior is comfortable, but comes with nothing to recommend it, though the large furry things on the walls (huge sheepskins?) make for a decent talking point. Service is like the furtive mating of panda bears: loving and attentive but slow to get going. Prices are on the steep side, yet punters were out in droves (literally queueing out the door) to cough up for the meals on offer. Even the logo is a bit confused: a font like the one used in those ironic sailor tatts that hipsters get on their chests, but in the loopy cursive form that bogan females like to get on their wrists or lower backs.
Strange times. Here’s some specifics on the food. To its credit, it was excellently presented.
These are the ‘Beignets’ (basically savoury dougnuts) made out of sweet potato, sage and Gruyere (a kind of Swiss cheese). Surprisingly these were quite bland, lacking a strong flavour of herbs, cheese or even sweet potato. The Hollandaise was pretty acidic, and the overall impression was one of eating fried mash covered in lemony mayo. It’s clear a lot of inspiration goes into coming up with these meals which made the pretty mild taste quite surprising. The Mistress was pretty pleased, though.
Baklava french toast. This was a pretty awesome idea indeed, yet it didn’t have anyone crying out for more. Anouk avoided the cardinal sin of french toast, which is having it a bit too wet in the middle; they get kudos for this. Sadly, the toast was on the other end of the spectrum – almost dry bread except for a milimetre of batter on either side. Pistachio walnut crumble is exactly as good as it sounds though.
Our other guests had various egg dishes that had them pretty happy but didn’t quite seem to bring on the ‘wow’ moment – this is what I kept waiting for. It never came, until we came upon this ridiculous dog that we found outside the cafe, pissing (sweating?) blithely in the spring sunshine. Wow.
I’m starting to develop a theory that restaurants can reach a point of hype that even with un-amazing food, the sheer social momentum of word-of-mouth is enough to keep everyone in love with a place regardless. If that’s what’s happening here, it all makes sense.
Otherwise, well… meh.
Man, I don’t know anything about eating in France. Maybe Brisbane’s handful of French-ish eateries are in fact a lot like the ones in Paris; perhaps the people of Lyon enjoy the same privilege of queuing for overpriced meals that local punters at Cirque do. Perhaps creaky suburban bookshops in Reims serve coffee in bowls just like in our own cafe Bouqiniste.
However, if French dining is anything like the experiences portrayed in Woody Allen’s rather flopworthy recent film, ‘Midnight in Paris’, then Brisbane remains resolutely Brisbane-ish in its provision of foreign experiences. Unlike the cobblestones and nostalgia and faint kitsch of Allen’s France, eating at Australian restaurants is mostly still a very Australian experience.
Case in point: Saturday morning. There are reasons Chouquette draws crowds, but instead of spacious café quaintness and bubbling French debate, the crowd occupies what feels like a large corridor, and the man sitting next to us is telling his daughters how he’s likely to ‘get shitfaced and spew his guts up’ tonight. Key entertainment is watching local millionaires try to parallel-park their luxury German sedans. Chouquette’s urban setting might best be described as ‘roadside’, with an ambiance that seems about as French as a box of Marlboro cigarettes.
Sometimes, a place has food so good that none of this matters, and this is absolutely the case with Chouquette. I have never before enjoyed a sandwich quite so much as I did yesterday. The Merlo-brand coffee is strong (if not the smoothest, still good quality potent stuff) and the baguettes are absolutely superb.
The croissants are also quite possibly the best in Brisbane, being fresh and rich and beautifully crunchy. Even the macarons, which usually repulse me, are quite irresistible. In spite of the way this spot seems to attract the wealthy, it is one of those rare places where you can get breakfast for two for less than $30 and still feel pretty spoilt.
If the standard breakfasts are not enough to leave you exhausted with culinary pleasure, the assorted pastries and desserts are also pretty incredible. We splurged $6.50 on the ‘Mont Blanc’, a soft yoghurt cheesecake on a rich berry-and-almond base, topped by beautifully fresh raspberries and coulis. Making cheesecake out of yoghurt means it’s much lighter than normal cheese-based versions. This enabled the flavour of raspberry to come through without being overpowered or diluted in the way that stodgier cakes might so. The Mont Blanc was a sublime end to an already impressive meal, and was so beautifully presented that we had neighbouring diners staring over at it longingly.
It seems that the common factor in Chouquette’s consistently brilliant food is quality. No corner appears to have been cut in making each dish. The ingredients are top-class, with immense skill and care going into each construction. Accessing this level of quality may require you to briefly cohabit with Gazza and overhear his weekend plans while he coddles his shih-tzu, but the first bite of your baguette will make it all worthwhile.
Vine – New Farm
New Farm yields constant surprises – even after having lived here for some time, I still wander into experiences that feel like they’d be unlikely in other parts of Brisvegas. Stumbling on Vine was one of these; you’d never expect to find such a decent breakfast spot tucked away somewhere so quiet.
Vine nestles on a small commercial island in a sea of suburbia, down a quiet end of Merthyr road. In spite of the particularly high concentration of sportscars and handbag-sized dogs, this is a surprisingly affordable location. Quiet too, except for the bizarre moment where a passing Ferrari gunned its engine in a roar of executive angst, leaving dogs yapping and little fingers wagging. Definitely my first Ferrari-bogan experience, in a day that turned out to be rife with firsts.
The next first was the start of our meal. My standard experience with breakfasts in Brisbane is consistently friendly service, good coffee and then wildly varying qualities of food. Not so this time; our waitress treated us with a distant frostiness that was almost refreshing, while the coffee was a distinctly unpleasant novelty. Perhaps their Barista had gone home for the day, because my latte showed all the hallmarks of being made by a dented campus vending machine: overheated milk, bitter coffee and almost zero froth (or texture at all really). Not the best start but in such a chilled setting it didn’t ruin anyone’s day.
Fortunately, the breakfast itself more than made up for the rather dire liquid experience that Vine offers. In a third round of novelty, our food arrived entirely devoid of greenery. This place is the haute-cuisine equivalent of getting your Subway sub with just sauce, cheese and meat- but in a good way. The Mistress opted for a carnivorous delight involving two kinds of delicious meat, somewhat resembling the fry-up that they do at the Little Larder, but with much tastier sausage and excellent bacon. Unlike the roadhouse horrors I experienced at Jam Jar, these dudes had some properly spicy, flavourful chorizo that had me rudely snagging a second taste off my partner’s plate.
However, my real highlight was the ‘mushroom bruschetta’ – sometimes simplicity really does win out. This has to be the most sublime fungus-based dish I’ve had in recent memory. I think the trick was bloody good ingredients; high-quality feta, perfect mushrooms and fresh crunchy bread. That was all it took.
Perhaps it was the exceptionally rich breakfast, perhaps it was the spring sunshine, but eating here put me in a contented daze that lasted well into the afternoon. Grab your labraspoodle, hop in your Porsche and get yourself down here – there were quite a few other menu items that showed great promise. Just remember to stick to OJ when the drinks order comes round.
PS – If you’re coming sans car, there are a couple of extra perks nearby: