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.
The Hideaway – 7.5/10
When you die, supposedly you see a long dark tunnel with a light at the end of it. That theory is probably bogus, but you need not miss out. Fortitude Valley now can offer a similar experience in real life.
Walking down the seedy end of Brunswick Street is a bit like dying. The numerous $1 peep show joints and urine-stained sleepouts are really grim places – but as of late last year there is a light at the end of this rather dark walkway. That light is The Hideaway.
Go towards the light.
The rewards of venturing into the valley’s grubby end are huge. The Hideaway is a café by day, bar by night and it has a pretty unique look; imagine a funk musician decided to renovate your granny’s lounge but kept the furniture, and you’re getting close. You’ll quickly forget Brunswick’s harsher realities in this setting, with a combination of friendly service, good music and very decent beer to carry you through the night.
Tap beers tend to be local craft brews but the selection in the fridges goes well beyond Queensland – the highlight of my visit was a ‘Torpedo’ IPA from Sierra Nevada brewery in California. The ferocious ‘Red Belly Black’ (Imperial Red Ale, 10%) from Bacchus was almost as good, although it put me firmly in hangover territory by my fourth beer.
I didn’t get to sample the coffee or food on my visit (these are daytime things, I think) but the music is certainly taken pretty seriously here. I visited on the opening night of the ‘resonate’ series, currently hosted by country-goth gurus The Westerlies and featuring a series of skilled musicians over the course of the month. The venue works well for music – the acoustics are decent, and the space is deep enough that those close to the stage can be really absorbed in the music but conversations can continue at the other end of the bar.
A glance at the ‘what’s on’ page reveals that all kinds of entertainment goes on in this place, ranging from blues to ska to soul and even a burlesque show this Friday. For those more interested in food and drink, there are occasional tastings earlier in the week, featuring brewers and home-made snacks. Boredom is apparently not on the menu, whatever day you step into this place; I wouldn’t be surprised to find it really quite busy on standard drinking nights.
The Hideaway may be aptly named but it is really is worthwhile to weave your way past the homeless alcoholics and pregnant strippers to give it a look. If you’re a train commuter, it’s even easier – just hop off at Fortitude Valley station, turn right and avoid eye contact for thirty seconds and you’ve arrived.
(Now, go towards the light.)
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.
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.
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.