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.)
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.
Mundo Churrasco – 63 McGregor Terrace, Bardon
I have the meat sweats.
No, that isn’t some kind of dire STI. The meat sweats are a morning-after symptom of eating at Mundo Churrasco, unless you’re particularly restrained. When you have consumed as much flesh as I did last night, every exhalation and every hint of perspiration evokes smoky roasted meat. In the better moments, this is excellent and seems worthy of growing a ferocious beard and sourcing a house of concubines. More often, I shudder faintly and wonder if this is a bit like a meat hangover, or possibly the onset of colon cancer.
Consequences aside, eating at Mundo Churrasco is a excitingly carnivorous experience. The restaurant is styled on a Brazilian BBQ – you pay the flat rate of $38.50, sit at your table, and the waitstaff will start to bring huge hunks of sizzling, freshly barbequed meat over. These are colossal cuts of beef, lamb and pork – a few were bigger than my head. Smaller food items like chicken and spiced pineapple are brought out sometimes too, they help space things out. This goes on until you say stop, or until are literally waddling and small blood vessels are starting to burst in your eyes and nostrils. Guess which option I went with.
The Brazilian barbeque format is unusual. This is the first restaurant where tongs have been a standard item alongside knives and forks – they’re there so you can grab hunks of meat as they’re sliced off their skewer. You also get an ‘indicator’ to show if you want more meat, or are having a break. This eating format has a lot of novelty to it and really delighted a lot of people – there is something quite exciting about the arrival of each skewer, sizzling and bovine and immense. The meat is high quality, the service is friendly and the ‘banquet’ feel is conducive to large parties.
Mundo Churrasco does have a few downsides, mostly related to price and ambience, but these aren’t critical to the dining experience. Booze arrangements aren’t ideal if you’re on a budget; at a rate of nearly $40 just for food, BYO would be great but instead there is a bar which offers a range of pretty standard beers and a few Spanish lagers like Alhambra. These are priced fairly but it is a bit alarming how easy it is to spend over $60 on a meal that feels more like a buffet than haute-cuisine. The meat is quite heavily brine-marinated too, which is generally delicious but could bear a bit of innovation. The sides served with the meat are pretty bland and decor and lighting doesn’t add much to the experience at all, though with the general focus on gorging oneself, this is less of an issue than restaurants where you might take it easy and soak up the ambience.
My verdict is that this isn’t a ‘date’ venue unless your relationship is well-established and you both really, really like meat. I’d favour it more for group dining, particularly if you’ve had an afternoon of modest drinking or heavy exercise. Save your pennies, loosen your belt and check it out, but don’t go for the romance.
Yardbird Ale House – 6/24 Martin St, Fortitude Valley
4/10 – Avoid
At some point, every genuine innovation will be imitated poorly, by someone vastly less competent and sincere. For every Nirvana, a Short Stack must eventually follow. Yard Bird Ale House is surely the Short Stack of Brisbane’s bar scene: ugly, cheap and utterly lacking in any genuine conviction other than a desire to make money.
The craft beer emergence across Brisbane has spawned some exciting new bars in the last few months, but it’s also become a bandwagon. Yard Bird clings to it with transparent desparation that is immediately apparent, and had plenty of visitors annoyed when I came through. They spruik their craft beer credentials, yet offer only a few common brews from big breweries like Little Creatures and Monteiths. The decor is a confused mix of Ed Hardy trash, zombie art and low-budget woodland kitsch, including a tatty stuffed pheasant. A number of staff are rude and incompetent, often at the same time. There’s always a queue at the bar. They can’t even get seating right; when it rained, a number of seats under their haphazard temporary gazebos got soaked, and things got cramped quickly.
Worst of all, Yardbird heavily markets ‘specials’ that conveniently run out of stock just as the day gets going. At 1pm we were told ‘we’re not serving food yet’, even as other visitors were already tucking into meals. By 1:30 food might’ve been an option for our hungry group, but ‘oh, we’ve changed the time for the special, it starts at 3pm now’ and then by 2pm the line was ‘yeah, we’ve run out’, delivered with hostility and a total lack of shame or apology. As this was going on, the promised special continued to flow from the kitchen, even as they turned other guests down and ignored the growing queue at the bar. At best this is serious incompetence; at worst it’s a deliberate trick to get people buying more booze and their other (overpriced) menu items.
Avoid this shithole. People have already started drawing cocks on the walls, and I wish I’d brought some paint along to do the same. Yardbird’s best shot at any long-term custom is its cheap alcohol and competitive eating (classy, yeah), and they can be relied on to eventually mess these up too.
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.