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.
Somewhere, someone is still drinking VB.
Yes, in spite of the wide proliferation of tasty microbrewery beer, there are enough stalwart punters still choosing VB’s industrial tang and fermenty, sour finish that the brand survives. And yet, surely the moment will come where even the most snaggle-toothed and alcoholic of greyhound racers will have had a go at something nicer than VB. Will this be the beginning of the end for this brand?
Probably not. I think the end has already begun for those guys, and they know it (although, being just one of the of beers in the Fosters/SAB-Miller paddock, the end isn’t really an end as much as the loss of one sheep from a flock of hundreds). Like the toppling of obscure dictators in sandy places, I am sure the end will be a drawn-out and ultimately pretty embarrassing affair. Perhaps, on some distant night, an angry mob will fire kalashnikovs into a secluded foxhole outside Geelong to destroy the final carton of VB; there will be riotous partying in the streets for days afterwards.
The first signs that VB suspected impending doom came a couple of years back, when they trotted out ‘VB RAW’, which tasted a bit like Becks or Stella Artois but liked to spruik its purity. The marketing (which had a seemingly bottomless budget) gave me a sense they were going for a kinda macho, aspirational vibe – as if to say, ‘this is healthy and tasty yet VERY manly; drinking this doesn’t make you a poof’. RAW wasn’t bad, just a bit forgettable, and it disappeared off the shelves without fanfare within a few months of release. Here’s a shot of this extinct beast, in all its maxtreme glory.
The quiet failure of RAW left CUB with the problem of those rather tasty non-VB beers threatening the ol’ ‘Bitter market share. Presumably the guys who came up with RAW went back to the drawing board, and after much hard work have come up with a second shot at propping up the brand. I think they must’ve learnt a few lessons: the lycra crowd drinks San Pellegrino and protein shakes, and Corona in a pinch, so they’ve wisely opted not to go for another shot at that market.
Instead they’ve made a beer that tastes a bit like VB again, but made it mildly better with some crisp hop flavours and a lot less of the sour hobo-breath aroma that makes the original so infamous. It does go down pretty easily – Victoria Pale isn’t complex but it also isn’t offensive. This slight uppng of the ante won’t shatter the VB stigma, but then, the bottle doesn’t even say VB on it. Not only has it dodged that particular albatross, it also looks pretty fantastic – dumpy and retro, ditching the front label in favour of clever embossed text right on the glass.
It’s a bit sad that this is the only thing that will help this beer stand out. Going on flavour alone, I would bet that this beer fades into the annals of history much like the RAW before it. But hey, people have to see beer before they buy it – and this pretty midrange offering has the old-school visual appeal that James Squire tries so desparately to achieve (but doesn’t). Perhaps that’ll keep it in the game – after all, when your baseline is VB, everything is an improvement.
Next up: the dumpling craze.
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.
It’s a cool Sunday morning in New Farm. You stroll down Merthyr road, way past the shops and into what feels like suburbia, when suddenly you find an old run-down cafe. Outside, a man who is wearing peach-coloured shorts and loafers without socks drinks a cup of coffee and stares distractedly into the distance. The cafe is filled with old books and has a french-sounding name. The food is excellent, the street is quiet. You talk with a friend for hours. All is well.
This hackneyed tableau could be the pulled straight from the plot of some dire ‘slice-of-life’ fiction, but really cafe Bouqiniste just is that quaint, and visiting it is an entirely uncontrived experience. The books are actually for a sale, the guy in peach shorts just likes peach shorts, and the owner looks and talks like she genuinely is bookish (I believe Bouquiniste means ‘bookseller’ in French). This morning’s visit left me with an acute awareness of the difference between authentic, grounded character and the ironic, post-cool schlock that pervades modern fashion. Although everyone tries, you can’t fake the ‘loved’ feel of a place that’s had real effort put into it.
The food is a similar mix of character without pretense – the meals are fairly simple and modestly sized, relying on quality ingredients and complementary flavours rather than anything too elaborate. Still, the Bouquiniste breakfast ($10) might be the cheapest full breakie in New Farm and what it lacks in flashiness it certainly makes up for as tasty comfort food. Perhaps the ‘best bit’ is the ham, which really is a lot like bacon except it’s slightly thicker and juicier. This is topped with a bean ratatouille and served on fresh ciabatta, along with a perfectly ripe side of avocado and tomato.
This was a much needed healthy counterpoint to last night’s dessicated servo pie and burger rings, but the real reviver was the coffee. I reckon mine came in a muesli bowl – I’ve seen bowls of coffee before but generally they are small bowls designed to hold lattes. This bowl was born for purposes other than hot drinks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it amounted to about two mugs worth of the house blend. Not bad for five bucks, both in terms of quality and volume. I’m told the chai isn’t quite as good, though it does come with flowers and a mini milk bottle.
I’ve eaten at Bouquiniste before and it seems that the simple menu doesn’t change a lot, but I encourage you to explore the range of meals on offer – I can certainly recommend the turkish bread for any vegetarians considering a visit. With summer coming on, this spot is only going to get better for those lazy weekend mornings. Hopefully the outdoor seating doesn’t rust away before then.
Henninger Lager – available most places
In spite of how our ever-endearing poltical leaders ceaselessly remind us that we are Doing it Tough, Australians actually got wealthier this year. Prices definitely did go up a bit, but what tends to be forgotten is that our incomes grew even faster. Net effect: more money in the average pocket. We’re not Doing it Tough, we’re one of the richest nations on earth. We suffer a totally different condition: consumerism, possibly best referred to as Believing Adverts and Buying Too Much Expensive Stuff. Classic examples of this plague on our fine nation include expensive iPhones and broadband, electricity-guzzling plasma screens and… premium beer.
This review is for Working Families that feel that they are Doing it Tough. Also, anyone a bit curious about how beer that comes at $30 a carton tastes.
The simple answer is: surprisingly good, when it’s a proper German bier. I have no idea how beer from Frankfurt is cheaper than beer from Milton, but that doesn’t mean it tastes cheaper. Henninger Lager is definitely not up to the standard of our smaller domestic producers (like Matilda Bay or Little Creatures, with ales around $60 per carton) but compares well with the standard local lagers (around $40/carton on a good day).
If anything, I’d say the closest comparison is stuff like Heineken and Becks – though it’s slightly sweeter than both. Henninger comes onto the palate quite sweet and malty (with a good bit of carbonation) and leaves with a gentle hop bitterness that, although not particularly complex, is pleasant. It’s not quite as nice as Becks on the finish nor as subtle as Heineken in the first mouthful, but it fits the bill very well for a basic lager: easy drinking and satisfying, provided you keep it cold. This is a beer that makes you feel a bit full, so I’m not sure if I’d enjoy drinking 8 of these, but I daresay the hangover would be relatively mild given that Henninger follows the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law) which stipulates that the beer must have three ingredients: water, malt and hops. I wonder if the ol’ Vois Bois (VB) offers that kind of nurturing care?
My suggestion? Reach into your pocket, grab all the shrapnel you have and go try some.