[Last weekend, an upcoming bar/restaurant place called Alfred and Constance fed my awesome friend Nhi a whole lot of delicious cocktails and she wrote a fantastic review for us. I loved it, hope you do too. Enjoy!]
‘Tiki Bar’ – the very words don’t conjure good thoughts. Not once have I woken up and thought, “Today’s the day I’m going to sit under a cheap straw hut and drink cocktails with tiny umbrellas that are more wasteful than decorative, surrounded by fake wood mask carvings and furniture from Bali at Home.”
Putting aside the fact that there are probably few people who do have these thoughts, it was with these not very positive impressions that I headed to a preview cocktail tasting for Alfred and Constance, a new bar from the team behind Limes set to open in August. Currently under construction next to Limes (aptly on the corner of Alfred and Constance streets), the bar promises to be a one-stop-shop for food and drink. There’ll be a gastro bar with a wood fired oven (to roast whole animals, no less), milk bar, beer garden with more than 30 beers on tap, dessert café, underground wine cellar and yes, a tiki bar. The tiki bar is where the fun, dancing and grass-skirt shaking will happen.
Disclaimer: I have never actually been to a tiki bar – but for good (maybe ill-informed) reason. I know they’re inspired by Polynesian culture and the more kitsch and fun, the better. I’m a big fan of kitsch. But to me, like tribal tattoos on a white guy, they offend rather than romanticise Polynesian culture. At the preview (held at Limes) we were offered to taste six cocktails set to be on the tiki bar menu – I wondered if a tipple would help change my mind.
First up was the classic (trite?) pina colada. Served in a half-pineapple, it was quite frothy and not as sweet and ‘coconut-y’ as pina coladas I’ve tried before. My Plus One agreed and we were both disappointed when our second pina colada came out much the same, in addition to being unpleasantly lukewarm. The head bartender used fresh pineapple juice rather than (usually very sweet) bottled juice – always a plus in my books, but perhaps this crop wasn’t as sweet as it should have been.
My Plus One told me that a popular tiki bar in London called Mahiki serves their pina coladas in whole pineapples. Alfred and Constance need to lift their kitsch-game if they want to play with the best! And it may be this monstrosity that’ll get them there:
Behold the kava bowl cocktail, a drink to be shared between four or five people. I say monstrosity in a good way – who doesn’t love absurdly over-sized things? Served in a ‘volcano bowl’, the cocktail includes rum, house made almond syrup, grenadine and citrus juices (the absence of actual kava didn’t go unnoticed). An extra shot of rum in a half-lime balanced on the volcano bowl’s crater and, when set alight and sprinkled with fresh cinnamon, delightfully replicated a lava explosion. [Ed- be glad it doesn’t have kava in it. Kava tastes like detergent mixed through ditch-water].
The cocktail itself was refreshing, cordial-like and scarily easy to drink thanks to the sweetness from the grenadine and juices. I was starting to understand why those Full Moon Party buckets in Thailand are so popular – drinking from communal bowls is fun.
Heck, even the whole concept of tiki bars was beginning to grow on me. The bartenders and staff at Alfred and Constance showed a genuine passion for all things tiki and cocktails, and this definitely rubbed off – the remaining cocktails we tasted were excellent. They had done their research, seeking out tiki bars around the world, and demonstrated a thorough knowledge of its history. Sure, a white guy invented them and they’re super tacky – but maybe tiki bars are not meant to offend, but rather pay homage, to the culture of our Polynesian neighbours.
Alex Lotersztain, Queensland’s current darling of the design industry, will be doing the interiors of Alfred and Constance. Given that he designed Limes Hotel and a bunch of cool things around Brisbane you never knew you knew, I’m certain he’ll bring a level of taste and maybe even elegance to Brisbane’s first tiki bar.
Alfred and Constance is sure to get everyone excited about at least one of their diverse offerings. With such an eclectic mix, they do run the risk of being a confused jumble of everything, rather than targeting a niche group of patrons. But I’m not too worried – Alfred and Constance’s great reputation precedes them and with a bunch of big restaurant heavyweights behind them (including E’cco Bistro’s chef and Jocelyn Hancock of Jocelyn’s Provisions) they’re sure to add an interesting dimension to Brisbane’s bar and restaurant scene.
Alfred and Constance opens mid-July.
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.)
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.
Harajuku Gyoza – 7/10
I won’t post images for this review, because, on reflection, I realise that eating at Harajuku Gyoza largely isn’t about the food. Indeed, the gyoza (dumplings) are quite forgettable, and the beer is on the pricy side. But the experience is what you should go for – it’s the sights and sounds of your first visit that make it exciting. Harajuku Gyoza is more of a slickly-marketed food theme park than a restaurant.
From the cute little gyoza-pokemon to the engrish menu and excitable, over-the-top Japanese-sounding staff, Harajuku Gyoza is a smooth contrivance that meets a very neatly identified demand: giving white people what they think is a ‘Japan experience’.
Seriously, tune in next time you hear a group talking about Japan and inevitably some expert will chime in the view that the ‘Japanese are f%^&%^ crazy’. Large parts of Japanese society are very conservative and restrained, but the fun eccentric stuff that happens at the fringes tends to get good media attention here, and man does this place ham it up. Every cool, crazy thing that we identify with Japan is exaggerated hugely here. As one friend put it: “This is like being in Cowboy Bebop.” He assured me that on multiple trips to Japan he’d never seen anything like this place. But he was smiling; we all were.
Going to Harajuku Gyoza is fun. The hosts that welcome you do look a bit like the famous, crazily-dressed kids of Harajuku – you’ll be doing double-takes before you even get into the restaurant. And on that note, expect to spend some time waiting to get in, because the marketing gurus that run this place truly know their shit – I have seen queues outside Harajuku Gyoza on most nights, week and weekend, since the place opened. My hot tip to avoid the worst wait is to have a few pre-drinks and nibbles elsewhere, then turn up well after 8pm.
When you get through the door, something exciting will happen. I won’t spoil the surprise, but the way that these guys make you feel welcome will leave you grinning. The decor is the next excitement – a lot of trouble went into converting this place from a clothes clearance house into the ‘look how crazy japan is’ themepark that it is now. DO order some sake, even if you don’t love the stuff – not only is the Sake served here is pretty bearable (less ammonia than I’m used to), but the huge commotion and excitement that ordering sake creates is part of the fun. Also amusing is the bathroom – it’s a crazy, imported electronic bidet that has many mysterious buttons. I wasn’t game to try the functions but there are many kinds of spray hoses and hot air blowers within the toilet, most of which seem to exist solely to dampen nearby walls. Note the expressions of those emerging from the loo; some look surprised, some look a bit pallid and alarmed.
Amidst all this excitement, noise and visual stimulation, the most touted part of the experience (‘dumplings and beer’) is actually a bit of a tame footnote. The beers are pretty ordinary, at $9 a bottle for things that you can largely get here (Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi).To my great delight, duck gyoza can be bought here; sadly they’re pretty bland. The same goes for the other ones too – the pork and prawn, whether steamed or fried, just don’t create the ‘wow’ that you’re led to expect. They’re decent, but not amazing – and you have to eat a great many gyoza to feel full.
If you truly love dumplings, go to the Brunswick Social, one block away, and feast in their tasteful (albeit less flashy) underground establishment. Eating at Brunswick Social is much more of a food-oriented experience, whereas Harajuku gyoza is all sound and lights and novelty. This is why I suspect that the Social will eventually win the dumpling game. Still, I hope that Harajuku Gyoza does stick around after its first wave of novelty fades – while it’s probably only good once or twice, I think it’s doing a bit of important pioneering in Brisbane. I like the idea that dining can be primarily about entertainment rather than just food; I just wish they’d nailed down both ends of that package a bit better.
7/10 (dinner), 8/10 (breakfast)
So, the Story Bridge lit up earlier this year to show us that it was Italian Week.
Early in 2010, Phuket snapped me like a dry twig. It took less than a week for me to go from healthy to totally debauched and almost crippled. I literally hobbled to the airport to get my flight out, having incurred an epic spinal injury on my last day – completing the trifecta alongside my throbbing hangover and mysterious food poisoning. In spite of numerous scams, aging European sex tourists and intense heckling from streetside hawkers, the horror that truly stayed with me from Phuket was the little Italian restaurant under our motel. The owner was as remarkable as the cluttered italo-kitsch he surrounded himself with; he might just have been the ultimate human manifestation of grease, rage and hairiness. I wish I’d taken a photo.
Every morning at about eight he sat glowering across his bistro over one of the ‘classic’ red-and-white checked tablecloths, hair slicked back and glistening, eating a thick roll of salami for breakfast. No cereal, no toast, just a shitload of cured meat on a cutting board, sometimes accompanied by a coffee made of what tasted like condensed milk and Nescafe. Dining there was quite the staredown contest, and we left with shiny skin, the result of equal measures of oily food and adrenalin.
Italian cuisine has the strange honour of being both cheap comfort food and the obsession of many gourmets. Our friend in Thailand clearly had one end of the spectrum down pat, and in a town of $1 beers he probably chose the right niche. Here in Brisvegas, the low end is pretty forgettable and until recently I’d never sampled anything beyond that. While I’ve yet to try the true high-end (expensive) stuff at places like Dell’Ugo, I believe I’ve finally found my happy medium in Italian dining.
Portofino is at the very edge of New Farm and after a wide range of visits (inspired by the statistical robustness of fellow bloggers) it has consistently delivered a classy hint of Italy without touching either of the polar extremes that I’ve come to expect in this genre. Prices are decent for breakfast and bearable for dinner. The service is charming – they seem to have a direct line to Switzerland or Belguim to source all their exchange-student waiters. The owner, on the other hand, seems to be a Kiwi and she reigns over the finest selection of pastries this side of Choquette. While the wine selection didn’t blow me away, the dinners are solid and the breakfasts put a number of local competitors to shame. Alibi Room, I’m looking at you.
I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:
If you’ve checked out the pizzas, do let me know in the comments. If you’ve never been, ignore the slightly offputting sign out front and give Portofino a try.
Guzman Y Gomez
In the world of Mexican food, Guzman and his amigo are like Barack Obama – talented, but also the victim of ridiculously high expectations. Since the franchise first gave signs of interest in Queensland, this place has been talked up as ‘only like totally The Most Amazing Mexican Food Place EVER’, especially by anyone that’s spent time in Sydney. Thanks metros, I’m sure Guzman really loves you dudes.
The result of this incredible reputation is that when you actually go there, you’ll probably be surprised to find a fast food joint. I’m not sure what I was actually expecting to find – maybe mariachis, an outdoor barbeque, drug battles – but I clearly had some pretty vaunted ideas of how authentic this place is. Instead, the setup is a neat, well-lit operation with clever branding and that kinda ‘brushed steel’ look that perfectly complements its setting in the yuppie paradise that is Emporium. Now, I ain’t hatin’ – in some ways it was pretty good to see a place that could serve up decent food without pandering to the standard tired cliches (like the ones I dropped earlier in this paragraph).
In spite of my disappointment that this place is not, in fact, an Aztec food palace, it made for a pretty gratifying experience. It’s just slightly more upmarket than similar operators like Mad Mex and Tuckeria, but not ludicruosly so – you can still get a decent meal for two for around $25, excluding drinks. And on the topic of drinks, they have a frozen margarita machine: crucial. I’m sure those come standard in all Aztec Food Palaces.
Like its competitors, Guzman lets you customise your meal a fair bit. I went for the chipotle steak burrito, lured by the promise of spiciness and smokey flavours. I made the error of getting guacamole too though, which I’m increasingly sure is a bum steer in the world of burritos. My chipotle steak was pretty tasty – not life-changing, but good – and the burrito itself was generous but the double whammy of guac and sour cream makes for a squishy mouthful and you can really miss the steak flavours sometimes. The Mistress had similar views on her chicken burrito, which had really excellent meat but sometimes got drowned out a bit by squishy cold things.
The Australian palate is a mild thing, having developed largely on sauces that come in ‘red’ and ‘brown’ flavour, and I think many places cater to this by not loading up the chillies too much. Even the purported spiciness of the chipotle steak was kinda in line with the Geelong definition of ‘spicy’. Guzman kinda makes up for this by offering free jalapenos and three kinds of tabasco. Fire eaters need not fear total boredom (though Mad Mex is still the best if you like it brutal – their habanero salsa brings the pain in a way that might last into your Sunday morning).
Like our BFF over in the White House, Guzman wins the Philistine seal of approval, but only because we’ve gotten over the hype. If you don’t mind making a slight detour in your valley plans tonight, check this place out. If you close your eyes, you’ll still hear Kelly Clarkson but you might just be able to conjure up that Aztec Food Palace in your mind’s eye.
PS- While you’re on your way through Emporium, be sure to have a chuckle at the dudes eating in Wagamama for me – their ‘Asian’ food is twice the price of your coming burrito and probably made by a guy from Glasgow.
SOLO – Festival of Dance
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 420 Brunswick Street
7.5/10 – individual shows ranged between 5/10 and 9/10
Yep, we stooped to a pun headline. Like prostitution or porn, the pun headline is generally a mutually degrading experience. This is relevant when you consider that to enjoy this rather good show, you’re paying around a dollar a minute and it’s all over just as you start to enjoy it. With just seven solo dances on a standard ticket, each quite brief, a festival it ain’t.
With the time issue aside, I can tell you straight up that this is going to be a novel experience for you if you’re not into dance normally, and that alone might justify coughing up the $25-45 for a ticket. The fact that it focuses on solo dance exclusively makes this particularly good as a way of getting your head into this medium. At least, it worked for me – this was my first experience of modern dance in years, and it opened my eyes a lot.
My first real moment of revelation, in the midst of the first act, was that dance is a bit like food or music or ‘gallery’ art: dance can convey thigns beyond just the ballet cliches of ‘pretty’ and ‘sweet’. ‘Strange” and ‘violent’ and ‘painful’ all feature in this show, but in interesting ways. Like the spectrum of tastes or sounds, SOLO gives the viewer a decent selection of the things that can be conveyed through physical movement. Unlike the worst kinds of annoying contemporary art, dancers cannot rely on a litany of fap-tastic essays to justify weak performance – it’s visceral stuff and each piece will either work for you or not, and relating to it that way is probably OK. The lack of a binding narrative or story to keep things together makes it even more this way – each act must stand on its merits in five(ish) minutes, then be over and move to the next thing.
The show starts with what I felt might’ve been the most exciting and creative act – a dance that gave an unsettling sense of a man crazed by boredom. This is not a pretty dance, but its intensity draws you in and the gimmick is brilliant but probably slipped by a lot of viewers – this dancer is making his own music. By striking, slapping and kicking various things on stage (and himself), the dancer generated noises which were recorded and looped using a little pedal he had discreetly on stage. These sounds gradually built up into layers and layers of cleverly crafted rhythm – the only music in this piece. It’s enough to leave you with a grin and a shudder at the same time.
The next couple of pieces exemplify the idea that a variety show is going to have a variety of appeal- both on the upside and downside. One guy faffed and flailed around with some goggles to very pretentious music for five minutes, then a dude who could’ve fathered any of the other performers (imagine a compact John Malkovich type) saunters onto stage in his jammies and says a couple of utterly cryptic things before dancing arthritically to music and the sounds of bubbles, evoking what I think might’ve been drowning. This was possibly the least graceful piece of the lot, but it gave me a smile for the first minute: the performer’s dance was very tame but he could not hide the sheer joy of dancing. You could see it in his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. That alone gave me all kinds of vicarious joy until he finally got his poker face on and focused on being a drowning man.
Dancing alone on stage and staying interesting must be tough, and the next few acts offered a couple of very contrasting approaches that I wish I could show you – two performers went for props, two went for really intense dancing. The props guys were both pretty odd- one set up a pair of balloons with clever lighting, so one looked like an eclipse. The other had four whiskey tumblers which he intensely rearranged in order to support weird, almost contortionist positions. Balloon guy danced with his second balloon in the light of his eclipse, leaving us wonder what the point was. Tumbler guy was bizarre, but in a great way – he paused on a couple of occassions to give some super-intense, super-dramatic stares at the audience. He had a sleazoid peroxide look going and you could almost imagine him busting out some Prince in those tense moments. Instead, he brought out the most bizarre prop of the night: I didn’t get a shot but imagine a skilled dancer suddenly just standing in front of the crowd looking like this…
By contrast, the guys that ditched props and went for pure dancing were at times harder to focus on but easier to respect- both acts had a kind of violent intensity to them. One guy’s dance largely focused on the writhing of his heavily muscled shoulder-blades, which gave me a kind of squick feeling like when one sees those nightmare parasite clips of large writhing grubs being extracted from unhappy farm animals/tribal kids. Still, he made it work and both of these pieces were rippingly skilled dance and terrifyingly physical.
You’ll note that my experience of SOLO involved seven men. Apparently there are fifteen performers all up, so you might not have so much of a sausagefest if you opt to attend. Aside from the really interesting range of dancing happening here, any lady or gay dude who appreciates incredibly fit bodies would probably enjoy added benefits from this show – clearly dancing makes you brutally muscular, but unlike rugby or protien shakes gives you grace as well.
Check it out while it lasts – the show wraps up Saturday 7th.