I keep a list at the back of my mind of things that I won’t even TRY cooking at home. ‘Sashimi (fugu)’ tops the list, followed by ‘sashimi (normal)’ and ‘croissants’. I recently added ‘cocktails’ to the list, after an enraging series of failures to get even a basic mojito right – much to the detriment of my duty-free stash of oversized bottles of spirits. I don’t try making cocktails because they’re very hard to do well. Thing is, I can’t make ’em, but nor can half the supposed cocktail barmen I’ve ordered from here in Brisvegas. Getting a cocktail just right requires a lot of skill in balancing complementary flavours, and I only know a couple of places in town (like Bowery) that you can reliably get a good cocktail irrespective of what and when you order.
Thus, I was interested – and a bit apprehensive – when I heard that both Super Whatnot and Laneway had released new winter cocktail menus recently. I love good bars like a one-eyed cat loves its kittens, and I so wanted these two to get it right. Winter’s a great reason to come up with new ways to get drunk, and I’ve already seen mixed results in the beer scene, with Stone and Wood pushing their very hyped, very average ‘Jasper Ale’, and Two Birds releasing a vastly superior ‘Sunset Ale’ just in time for the chilly weather. Those two releases had a clear winner, but I wondered: which of the new menus would be better in the cocktail scene?
In these situations, the only sensible thing to do is put as much of each menu in your belly as you can handle, and let them fight it out. So I did.
I started with Super Whatnot, ordering what looked to be their most interesting menu item – the ‘Cobianchi Treacle’. $20 gets you a mix of rum and two kinds of bitters, mixed through a spiced pineapple reduction. I really should’ve taken a hint from the name…
Cobianchi treacle is served in a glass like the kind that your parents got as a wedding present, which is still around thirty years later both because of its sheer battleship-like construction and your mum’s propensity to actively hide it when guests come around. This also describes the vibe of the cocktail – formidable and about three generations back in flavour. It’s a dad-tastic mix that leads with rich, treacly sugariness but offers no acidity or lightness to ease things up a bit. Instead it continues into a mix of spice and marmalade, and finishes thus, leaving the drinker feeling like they have had had, in our dear departed Kevin07’s words, a fair suck of the syrup bottle. Or something.
I finished the drink slowly, feeling like SW had brought a rusty shiv to a culinary shotgun fight. This saddened me: not only is this an awesome bar, their bathrooms are, like, the best thing in at least Queensland. LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SINK.
I left, wallet hurting, vowing to return and cough up for the next best thing on the list.
I scurried onward to Laneway (linked to culinary heavyweights Urbane and the pleasant Euro bar), which was kind enough to treat me to a sampling of their new menu. Mysteriously, they decided to theme their range around train stations in Brisbane. I’m baffled. Trains are awesome, and they let me get around and drink far more delicious things every night than cars ever did, but they are the LEAST SEXY THING. Here is an actual train station; note the quality art and sensual signage.
Fortuately they do make rail travel feel cooler than it actually is in their smartly-designed menu. The cocktails are quite memorable, albeit definitely not designed to please the daquiri crowd. I sampled three and was happy with two, and respectfully fearful of the other, mainly because of its maritime sparseness and potent abundance of Plymouth Gin. The ‘Eagle Junction’ is a Gimlet-style cocktail, which means it’s essentially a mix of gin and cordial. I’m told this relatively old style of cocktail was traditionally taken by naval officers to ward off scurvy. The use of in-house pineapple and sage cordial certainly makes things interesting, but with the only other ingredient being (abundant) gin, this drop is a rough lover that will kiss you with walrus-like captain’s bristles before handing you the edible flower that nestles at the bottom of each glass. Not quite my thing, but its companions ‘Windsor’ and ‘Ferny Grove’ had far more depth and subtlety.
‘Windsor’ sparkles like sherbet on the lips before blossoming into elderflower on the palate, and finishes like a good home-made lemonade. Complex stuff, and very drinkable. I don’t recall similar experiences at Windsor station though. Ferny Grove was perhaps the most interesting – a ‘Terra Rossa’ cocktail that is apparently bottled. It smells like peaches but is only very subtly fruity and sparkling; the finish is extremely dry and earthy, almost like the smell of raw cinnamon. Must be the Quandong liquer.
I left Laneway feeling happy that most punters would find something on the list to enjoy, at least after a couple of hits and misses. It was time to hit up Super Whatnot again, and hope that round two would be a bit less of a grandpa experience. The ‘Smokin’ Paloma’ jumped out at me, promising a very creative twist on the traditional paloma – they use smoked salt, as well as orange liquer and grapefruit juice in addition to the usual lime and tequila.
This was just the ending to my night that I needed – it had bite, the salt worked well and the addition of complex citrus didn’t disappoint. It’s quite likely that this will beat any margarita you’ve ever sampled, but not because it’s flashy – the salt’s smokiness is very subtle and while the citrus goes down a treat, it doesn’t blow you away with novelty. Instead it’s just a solid, well-balanced cocktail that you won’t regret purchasing.
If you like new and clever things, go for Laneway’s menu – you might struggle through some of the drinks, but you won’t be bored. For me, they were the night’s winner, and definitely worth the trek down Mary street.
With that said, if you like safe and delicious things, go for Super Whatnot, but give serious thought to the (awesome) beer taps unless you’re a hardcore cocktail fundi, and remember: if a drink says ‘treacle’, know that they mean it.
** Editor’s note – Underbelly has sadly, er, gone under since the publication of this post.
Underbelly –371 Queen st, Brisbane (under the Tank Hotel)
It’s probably a bit early to pass final judgement on Brisbane’s newest craft beer joint – the paint is literally still drying on the walls – but here are some first images if you didn’t make it opening night.
How was it, you ask? My first impression of this place is that it’s got a superb selection and friendly service, but falls down a bit on the ambience side. The name ‘Underbelly’ seems to be a reference the pub’s location in a basement rather than any gangster themes (mercifully).
Drinking in a basement doesn’t offer much in the way of sensory pleasure – it’s rather dark and noisy – but for many, the vast selection of beer and cider will make up for it. There are a few bars in Brisbane where you can get a selection this good and a nice ambience, but these are all suburban spots like The Scratch and Bitter Suite; Underbelly is surely the best place to get rare cider and beer in the city. Within the CBD, Super Whatnot and Brew offer vastly better vibes and a few tasty beers, but their selection has nothing on Underbelly’s giant black menus. With the demand for novel beer rising steadily in this city, I won’t be surprised if the punters are prepared to overlook the racket and lame pop art to access offerings from distant brewers like Mikeller and BrewDog.
At this stage, Underbelly is only open Monday to Friday – I suggest you nip in and have a cheeky midweek brew, and see what you think.
EDIT – chatted to a lass last night who was pretty sure that Underbelly’s art is from IKEA…
Super Whatnot – 48 Burnett Lane, Brisbane
Two of my favourite things in this city are, surprisingly, related to bits of government legislation. No, really. The emergence of the Small Bars license and the council’s Vibrant Laneways Program are doing all kinds of great things right now. Critics sneer and whinge that this amounts to some kind of Melbournisation of our city. I suspect Melbourne didn’t invent laneways or small bars, and even if they did, they’re a great invention and their growth in Brisbane is fantastic – and I have proof.
Super Whatnot is the beautiful progeny of two juicy bits of burueacratic goodness; an excellent small bar, hidden in a laneway. Also, it serves the majestic beers of Ross Kenrick (Bacchus Brewing co.) on tap, and is run by a dude who, if he did have a superpower, would choose to be able to shoot clouds out of his hands. Needless to say, Super Whatnot is an interesting place. The decor is a funky mix of high-quality fittings and exposed masonry, and the range of cocktails and wines seems decent. Here’s an interior shots from the bar’s facebook page.
Food is also pretty special here; the newly-released menu riffs on a roughly mexican theme but pulls in clever ingredients to deliver novelty that makes it quite unlike the stuff you’d expect from Guzman y Gomez or Mad Mex. Portions are small but beautifully presented, and prices are modest so if you’re hungry I recommend getting two meals. That said, there are some relatively rich snacks that could be enough to resolve serious peckishness. The cuban sandwich and fried chicken are particularly incredible dishes; flavours are an exciting mix of crispy saltiness, rich manchego cheese and delicious acidity to balance it out. Some at my table found the cheese a bit too, er, ripe but this wasn’t an issue personally.
Now for the negative. My main grumbles with this spot are the product of its own fame, and will probably pass with time. Like Harajuku Gyoza, it is a bit cursed by its own excellence – crowding becomes an issue here from Thursdays onwards, and the clientele are currently heavily characterised by shrill yuppies in suits. I think the heavy customer load wears on the staff a bit – they’re polite, but also rather haggard and laconic. Definitely no joyous clouds will be shot out of hands until shit calms down in this place.
Last night’s visit really underlined how popular small bars can be, but also how much we need more of them – I stepped into SW at 6pm and couldn’t find a place to sit, and all the taps had already been emptied. With no bottled beers under $9 (and many rising well beyond that), we moved on without touching a drink. Missing out on Cunning Ninja (black IPA, delicious, 10%abv) is quite a painful thing; at least the staff seemed to be handling the situation better than I’ve seen in other establishments.
Minor quibbles aside, I have great faith that as this bar settles into the Brisbane bar scene and the swarms subside a bit, it’s going to endure as one of Brisbane’s best bars. If this is the way of the future, bring it on – I can’t wait ’til we have more bars like this in Brisbane’s burgeoning laneway scene. Judging by the punter response, we certainly need them.
Jeremy’s Espresso Bistro (Restaurant)
Albert Street, Brisbane CBD
Exploring Brisbane’s vast culinary options can really loosen one’s grip on reality. Scallops topped with beetroot froth, heuvos rancheros and san choi bao coexist happily in adjacent restaurants, even as Brisbane’s ornery traffic rages and our politicians yap contrived hatred at each other. Brisbane life’s humdrum rhythm stutters ever onward, yet novelty is increasingly abundant and accessible in the city’s menus.
Visiting Jeremy’s turns the novelty trend on its head. Having battled a brutal flu this month, I know what it is like to occasionally crave what one might (rather uncomfortably) call ‘white people food’. Familiar, stodgy, rich, comforting white-people-food. Traditional cuisine. Meat ‘n two veg. In this regard, Jeremy’s delivers handsomely, and without the usual frumpiness and cultural cringe that accompanies normal notions of ‘white people food’ (viz greyish broccoli and semi-burnt snags).
Indeed, if meat ‘n two veg could be considered an art, Jeremy’s is the goddamn Rembrandt of traditional dining. Conservative cooking is something to be proud of when you do it this well. The design of the restaurant helps too – smart but slightly rustic, with just enough exposed brick and clever lighting to feel entirely unlike your mum’s dining room. It feels like a classy experience, but not in the stuffy way that some traditional establishments can feel. The quality of the food and wine (and even beer) is high – though you do pay for what you get. For around $120 you can enjoy two courses and a couple of good glasses of wine.
The first time I ate at Jeremy’s I was so surprised (and hungry, and boozed) that I almost entirely forgot to take photos – by the time I’d guzzled my cut of kingfish, I was satiated enough to remember the camera and snap some dazed shots of the decorative garnish. Alas, garnish is not the stuff of reviews. Like an admirer accidentally-on-purpose leaving things at your house to create a reason to visit again, I used this as an excuse to come back sober and non-ravenous to fully document the meal. My photographic eagerness thoroughly annoyed the maitre ‘d; he became stony-faced and laconic but the food made up for it. Check it out.
Six perfect oysters, served fresh on about a kilo of sea salt. Nice touch.
Each of these is a deliciously plump scallop sitting on a mini pancake, topped with salsa. Rich, buttery and comforting. Also conveniently share-able. The salsa was somewhat forgettable, and the lack of lemon lamentable, but a good mouthful all the same.
OK, so it’s probably trite to show images of wine, since it lacks the visual uniqueness that well-presented food can offer. Check out Langdon’s Shiraz anyway – this was an exceedingly rich, full red which bordered on merlot flavours but without excessive sweetness.
The first time I visited Jeremy’s there was a drunk guy in thongs and a baseball cap eating this dish (lamb cutlets) alone. His groans of carnal pleasure convinced me to try it on my second visit. While I couldn’t quite achieve foodgasm myself, the dukkah coating almost got me there, and the near-rare texture of the meat had all kinds of sensuality going on. Highly recommended.
Having sampled the range of meaty offerings at Jeremy’s (including pork belly, confit duck and kingfish) I must admit that this was probably the lowpoint of the mains menu. While of excellent quality, this beef fillet was nowhere near ‘medium rare’ – closer to medium well – and this dish proved to me that beetroot is shit in even the finest of culinary settings. The truffle mash was superb though.
Jeremy’s is my current #1 venue for safe dates, visiting relatives and comfort dining. Next time you’re having a bit of a sook, make a booking (bypassing their ineffective online booking system) and check it out. You will be cheered up.
And with that, all that remains to be said is: