[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.
** Editor’s note – Underbelly has sadly, er, gone under since the publication of this post.
Underbelly –371 Queen st, Brisbane (under the Tank Hotel)
It’s probably a bit early to pass final judgement on Brisbane’s newest craft beer joint – the paint is literally still drying on the walls – but here are some first images if you didn’t make it opening night.
How was it, you ask? My first impression of this place is that it’s got a superb selection and friendly service, but falls down a bit on the ambience side. The name ‘Underbelly’ seems to be a reference the pub’s location in a basement rather than any gangster themes (mercifully).
Drinking in a basement doesn’t offer much in the way of sensory pleasure – it’s rather dark and noisy – but for many, the vast selection of beer and cider will make up for it. There are a few bars in Brisbane where you can get a selection this good and a nice ambience, but these are all suburban spots like The Scratch and Bitter Suite; Underbelly is surely the best place to get rare cider and beer in the city. Within the CBD, Super Whatnot and Brew offer vastly better vibes and a few tasty beers, but their selection has nothing on Underbelly’s giant black menus. With the demand for novel beer rising steadily in this city, I won’t be surprised if the punters are prepared to overlook the racket and lame pop art to access offerings from distant brewers like Mikeller and BrewDog.
At this stage, Underbelly is only open Monday to Friday – I suggest you nip in and have a cheeky midweek brew, and see what you think.
EDIT – chatted to a lass last night who was pretty sure that Underbelly’s art is from IKEA…
Vinyl – 125 Boundary street, West End
I am so excited about all the cool new bars and restaurants cropping up in Brisbane – the opening of places like The Brunswick Social, Bitter Suite, Shabu House and Harajuku Gyoza promises many nights of culinary indulgence. My eyes roll back in my head a little when I concentrate on these delicious prospects.
With these front-of-mind topics so dominant, Vinyl really blindsided me. I must’ve walked past it hundreds of times on my adventures through West End, yet something about the frontage has always kept it off my ‘food-radar’ – possibly because I associate it with the upstairs music venue, the Hi-Fi Bar. After all, you don’t go to places like the Zoo or the Tivoli to find good food.
Thus, I found myself pretty amazed when I pushed through a throng of teenage metalheads to sit down for my first meal at Vinyl. The clever retro decor and very good music kept our table happy as we perused the menu. It seemed wildly ambitious; the meals were cheap, yet very creative. Ingredients like salsa verde or truffle mayonnaise aren’t what I’d expected to find under a venue that hosts everything from The Misfits to The Venga Boys.
The drinking options were pretty impressive too. Sure, there was a giant punk dude at the bar asking ‘what’s your cheapest beer?’, but the selection of brews was almost a page long and included some pleasing rarities like Cascade Stout. The cocktail selection was creative and affordable too, though The Mistress didn’t seem too amazed by her gin ‘n juice thing. Perhaps her mind was on her money.
The real ‘wow’ started when the food came out, and had me grinning from ear to ear for the rest of the night. The food at Vinyl borders on spectacular, and when paired with the venue’s other charms (like the pile of ancient retro plates which our food was served on), it makes for a truly awesome meal-sharing experience.
First up was a salvo of the house tacos. In the spirit of adventure I ordered one of each kind – and wished I’d ordered two. Here are the options:
grilled chorizo taco, coriander salsa verde $3.50
crispy pork belly taco, charred corn salsa, hot sauce $3.50
fried fish taco, chipotle sour cream, coriander salsa verde $3.50
grilled haloumi taco, fresh tomato salsa v $3.50
seven spice chicken taco, kim chi coleslaw $3.50
Each of these is brilliant – the pork belly was a highpoint for me but each offering was very intensely flavoured but well-balanced. The salsa verde worked beautifully on the chorizo as well as the fish, and had even my most staunchly coriander-hating mate licking his lips. Spicing was just right – the kim chi and chilli options had quite a bit of zing but not not enough to leave anyone suffering. I liked that they were all softshell tacos, too. The harder ones seem to have a penchant for shattering as I bite them, spilling their tasty innards onto nearby clothing and pets.
Round two (and three, and four) was from the remaining menu of delicious snack-sized meals.
guacamole, house made queso fresco, cornchips v | gf $5.50
miso tofu v+ | gf $7.50
twice cooked chicken wings, hoi sin sauce $5.50
salad of baby cos, ranch dressing, celery, walnuts v | gf $7.50
chip butty, house made tomato sauce, aioli v $6
steamed greens, preserved lemon, sumac yoghurt v | gf $10
mexican panzanella, mixed tomatoes, queso fresco, fried tortilla, chipotle, coriander salsa verde v $11
pulled pork roll, kim chi apple sauce $10.50
middle eastern lamb brik pie, harissa yoghurt, preserved lemon gremolata $13
wagyu cheeseburger, aged cheddar, truffle dijonaise, house made tomato sauce, cornichons $14
+ bacon $16
half baby roast chicken, minted peas, white bean puree gf $17
thrice cooked smashed chat potatoes with…
chipotle sour cream/ house made tomato sauce/ aioli/ malt vinegar/ hot sauce OR sumac spiced yoghurt v | gf $6
Most of our party went for the ‘middle eastern lamb brik pie’, which I think may have been the pastry highpoint of my year. My inner fat man jiggled with delight as this dish came out – turns out that these pies are deep fried, not baked. The combination of crunchy, fried pastry and spicy harissa yoghurt wrapped around rich, hot, spicy lamb still makes me groan a little when I think about it.
This was a moment of (slightly greasy) ecstasy more than made up for the other dishes I tried: the mexican panzanella (a salady thing) was a bit bland, and the wagyu cheeseburger was too rich even for the fat guy that lives so happily in my skinny frame.
There is a certain funkiness in the combination of aged cheddar, home made tomato sauce and truffle dijonnaise that just was too much for me – much like the offerings at Burger Urge, the flavours were fundamentally nice but the utter excess of sauce made for tricky eating and minor sensory overload. Still, I cannot emphasise how impressed I was by the range of meals we experienced. The chef (Nicholas Stapleton) even threw us a few free tacos to resolve a slight mix-up in our order. If this seems like nice service, that’s because it was – all the staff were warm and friendly and seemed pretty excited about the food and drinks they were serving.
The one thing that will probably trick you about Vinyl is portion size. Each offering on the menu seems pretty affordable, but really you need to have about 3-5 tacos and another menu item to fill yourself up properly if you’re hungry. This adds up. The tacos may have blown my mind, but they went down all too rapidly because each was hardly bigger than the palm of my hand – two to three bites and I was left ruefully licking sauce off my fingertips. The pie I describe with such loving affection was a bit more generous, but would still fit neatly on top of a postcard. I’d suggest you budget at least $25 for your meal and then that much again to enable you to sample some of the beers on offer.
I am confident that Vinyl’s tacos are the best I’ve had in Brissie – they may be small, but they are vastly more imaginative, fun and lovingly made than the offerings available at popular mexican takeaways like Tuckeria, Guzman y Gomez and Mad Mex. There are some pretty exciting acts hitting the Hi-Fi in coming months, and I highly recommend feasting on tacos downstairs as the perfect start to a big night out.
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.
Part two, and here we are onto something truly BAD.
Tree of Life [Movie]
0/10 – this movie is a big, hot gush of cocaine-addled art-feces.
I walked out of Snowtown but that took a while, and in spite of rating it 4/10 I still feel some grudging respect for that film. Not so for Terrence Mallick’s latest epic; I was gone in about twenty minutes. Watching ‘Tree of Life’ is like taking acid then getting a sermon on the beauty of the universe from a heavily overweight guy who stands way too close to you and spits when he talks.
Really, it is inconceivably bad. They try for a trippy, almost shamanic narrative loosely based around the loss of a child/brother. After twenty minutes, the audience is subjected to some really half-baked philosophical musing, interspersed by maybe ten disjointed sentences and all kinds of disconnected, wobbly footage of some vaguely nature-themed stuff. There are many, many slow-panning shots of the solar system, mostly set to opera music. At a few points Brad Pitt and Sean Penn turn up and look angsty and bereaved, providing the barest smear of plot necessary to justify the stupid shit you are subjected to. I fled in search of beer before I got to the true nadir of this film: apparently there are CG dinosaurs at one point.
Philistine aspires to cut through the profuse wankery of the art world to provide the fine reader with a neat fillet of just the good bits. Films like this remind me why I blog. The number of critics that like this film truly appals me – it won the Palme d’Or (that’s the highest award at Cannes) and even the snarky guys at Pajiba rated it highly. It is beyond me that so many smart people can conspire to be so pretentious with such consistency. Cannes, I spit on you.
(Edit: The Mistress just got home. She sat through the whole thing and said it got a bit less awful. Apparently it was still pretty confused and nothing really happened.)
Game of Thrones [TV Series]
Oh man. Have you watched TV lately? Like, broadcast television? Oh man.
Fortunately, the internet is abuzz with news of better things, and news of HBO’s decision to make a new series based on some classic ‘swords and sorcery’ novels really grabbed me. Apparently it got booked for a second season within two days of the pilot airing in April this year. Still, I approached the show with some trepidation: could a fantasy TV series really be that good?
Of all the genres in which one might produce a television series, fantasy has to be one of the toughest. Much like sci-fi, the appeal of good fantasy is that it’s so distant from reality, creating the opportunity for all kinds of unusual plots. However, reality is pretty complex – and the further you move from it, the more a writer’s imagination has to fill in details that would otherwise come naturally in a real world setting. This is a dangerous space, where clichés and inconsistencies can slip into a script like elves slipping into the northern moon-forest.
Game of Thrones is set a long, long way from reality, but it delivers the goods. We enter the series as a fractious alliance of kingdoms is spinning into chaos, both from crazy internal politics (think federal parliament, with daggers and poison) and the impending ‘long winter’ which seems a bit like the opposite of global warming. There is all manner of epic corruption and psychological warfare happening at any given point in the plot, spiced with the occasional prospect of properly ridiculous medieval violence and debauchery.
Despite an opening scene which involves undead soldiers, the supernatural aspects of the series are used cleverly and sparingly. I think this is what makes this series so compelling: the fantasy setting is an enabler for a strong plot, rather than an excuse to perv on dragons and wizards and fireballs. Where there is swordplay or mysticism, it’s delivered cleverly and leaves you hungry for more – the scriptwriters make the most of the ‘wow’ factor that a fantasy setting (and a high budget) can bring, but then pull it back before it loses potency. The plot progression is also great. It avoids done-to-death fantasy formulas like ‘a young gifted person gradually discovers their special powers’ or ‘some badasses form an unusual alliance and go on a heroic quest’, to the point that I sometimes wonder if hardcore fantasy nerds would actually find much appeal in this show. If you’re reading this and you do happen to have manboobs dusted with cheeto residue, do set aside the Mountain Dew between raids and tweet me your thoughts on the show.
Really, Game of Thrones is a solid character drama, not unlike other classics from the HBO stable like Oz or The Wire. Except, I never got so lost in either of those series; Game of Thrones is up to its eighth episode as I write this, and I’m just starting to be certain of all the relationships in the show. Unusual twists like incest and midget protagonists certainly spice up the plot, but do nothing for ease of comprehension. You’ll have to concentrate to follow this show, but you’ll want to as well. The casting is brilliant, drawing on a solid crew of familiar-looking Brits (including Sean Bean, who you might remember as Boromir from the Lord of the Rings films).
Like other HBO workhorses, no punches are pulled in either the nudity or violence stakes. Full-frontal dangly bits and messy medieval violence are common in Game of Thrones, but presented so artfully that you’re only really aware of how controversial this might be on reflection. Except that thing with the lance around episode 5, that was truly rough…
Curious? Game of Thrones lands in Australia on a pay-tv network next month. Keep an eye out for this one.