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.
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.
Bitter Suite – 9/10
75 Welsby Street, New Farm
Archive used to be cool.
There, I said it. I remember the days when it was incredibly cool, and in my heart of hearts I still love visiting it about half the time. It’s just the other 50% of the time that it’s either ridiculously full, or frothing with tragically ruffled 90s hobo-chic bicycle courier dickheads. Plus, the menu has utterly gone to the dogs, with a number of mates reporting food poisoning as an added insult to their generally average meals. This is doubly sad given how good their steak menu once was.
Fortunately, as with all cool things that eventually get co-opted by jerks, Archive had its moment of glory where it set some precedents. These precedents inspired further innovation, and we’re seeing that now as places like Kerbside, The Scratch and Bitter Suite crop up offering tasty craft beers in more virginal suburban spots, each with a pleasant twist. Bring on the new.
Of the new emergent tasty craft beer spots, Bitter Suite remains my favourite for summer afternoon drinks. Not far from the Powerhouse is a corner restaurant which has changed hands a few times in recent years; it’s a bit out of the way. Since Bitter Suite set up there late last year it’s finally got a bit of buzz and I’m really hoping this lasts for years to come, for two reasons. Firstly, it is probably the best place to drink good beer outdoors in Brisbane at the moment. Secondly, it seems to be attracting a pretty mellow crowd, and is often busy but never crowded. Other perks include decent live music that isn’t turned up too loud, plus regular ‘meet the brewer’ beer tastings and the awesomely friendly owners, who seem to have ditched professional life to live the dream.
And what a dream it is. Bitter Suite is in a pretty spot with plentiful outdoor seating and occasional table service. It hosts a solid selection of interesting beers, mostly from Australia and New Zealand but also some great offerings from as far afield as Denmark and the US. While it is possible to run into the occasional lousy beer amongst the gems, there are enough fun things on offer that you’ll definitely find something worthwhile, and the standard Stone & Wood Pacific Ale is a delicious mainstay for those feeling like a steady, sessionable beer. Price-wise the beer menu is moderate, ranging between about $7 and $11. I’m told the wine selection is also decent and the food menu, while not mindblowing, has become a lot more consistent and tasty over time (contrary to the Archive trend). They do bowls of onion rings which literally drip tastiness, especially after a couple of pints.
Also worth dabbling in is the range of beer-ish things that are not technically beer. Crabbie’s Ginger Ale was a discovery for the mistress, who generally spurns anything that has been brewed except Rogers and, well, tea. Also exciting is the upcoming release of a Hibiscus Ale from the local Bacchus Breweries in Capalaba, which neatly straddles the boundary between cider and beer.
If you live anywhere near the Valley/New Farm area or have any reason to be at the Powerhouse (there are many), I can’t recommend Bitter Suite enough as a spot for chilled social drinking, especially on warm afternoons. Get in while it lasts; I am eternally optimistic that this place will stick around but if it goes the way of past businesses, you’ll definitely regret missing it.
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.
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.
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.
The Little Larder- New Farm [Food]
There’s a lot to be said from eating your food in heaps. Seriously, just pile that goodness right up: it’s not just about enabling all kinds of delicious interactions between your meal components. It also is a great statement about freedom. Yes, FREEDOM.
After all, who eats their food separate all the time? Prison inmates, that’s who.
New Farm coffee/breakfast joint The Little Larder clearly loves freedom. I bet they all cried with joy when Osama got taken down, and have eagle-themed home decor. Check out this beautiful pile of food:
This is called ‘The fry-up’ and they were pretty pleased when we ordered two. I think it must be the easiest thing to cook on their menu; just get a wok and throw together some bacon, sausage, mushrooms, cherry tomato and onion and stir-fry it all. The result is a satisfyingly balanced breakfast, especially after they’ve mixed through some baby spinach and piled the lot on some good toast. Taste the Freedom. Also, this meal may inspire you to try it at home – yesterday I did a home version with chorizo instead of bacon, and added a bit of basil and shaved Parmesan after cooking. With a bit of reverse engineering, you too can have your own ‘freedom heap’.
The Larder also serves decent DiBella coffee but their liquid highlight is definitely the juice range. On the day of my visit I was still battling with the delusion that I could kick my caffeine addiction, so it was pure luck that I tried the juice. I strongly recommend that even coffee fans give these a try – they have that rare slightly frothy feel that you only get when the stuff has come straight out of a big juicer.
The ambiance at the larder is great, being off the main drag a bit and less violated by the usual traffic noise that afflicts many Brisbane eateries. I visited on a cool, quiet Monday morning and even then it was half-full, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this place fills up fast on weekends – it’s not a large operation. That’s part of the charm though, so next time you have an early start or feel like treating yourself on a weekday, do give this place a go. And remember: