Did you see this?
The Kony 2012 campaign got me thinking about the small and sometimes ridiculous things we do in order to try and solve rather earnest global problems. Generally, eating delicious meals as an attempt at saving the world is about as effective as retweeting Stephen Fry when he heckles a homophobe, or petitioning Gina Rinehart to stop messing with our media.
Fortunately, I found an exception: eating delicious food when raising money for a charity. Eight of Brissie’s best chefs are giving up their time on June 16 to put on a 4-course dinner where the profits go to Variety, a charity that helps families take care of desparately sick kids with unusual maladies. When I say top chefs, I do mean it too – a number of these guys won awards in the recent Good Food Guide Awards. As a bonus, Peter Marchant will be selecting wines and generally truffling around in his charismatic way.
I got a chance to preview this dinner today; whether you’re feeling like eating charitably with all eight of these gurus or just checking out individual chefs down the track, this article will help give a sense of what you can expect from each of these elites.
Surprisingly the generous array of entrees were a bit more Delta Goodrem than Jimi Hendrix – not the standard you’d expect from the rockstar lineup. Admittedly, they were pretty hungover and cooking for a pack of media hacks for free, so I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt on these dishes. I do things badly while hungover all the time, and these dishes weren’t even bad, just a few steps short of elite.
The mains stepped up the game nicely. Tony Kelly provided a memorable take on roast pork – that there is a crispy pig’s tail.
The beef main was a beautiful cut and perfectly tender; you can see why Adrian is an advocate of sustainable beef from healthy, happy cattle. My philistine palate didn’t need the salsa but it did give a bit of texture and depth to the dish.
These dishes were as delectable as they look. This was a highlight, although that might reflect the timing of the tasting (roughly noon, and on scant breakfast for me). In addition to tasting good, the chef himself (Alistair Mcleod) is quite a character, injecting all kinds of loudness and mirth to the experience. It excites me to think that the kitchen will have microphones in it… if there’s going to be fireworks in the kitchen, it’ll be this guy that delivers.
The brownie was a nice finisher; David Pugh is as earnest about chocolate as he is about charity. The use of citrus to balance the rich brownies was superb.
Having sampled the range and felt the ‘vibe’ of the chefs and their meals, I get the feeling this would be a very enjoyable night out, and a fun way of giving to the needy. Of course, if you can’t stump up the $225 by June 16th, you could always, well, ‘like’ this blog instead.
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.
The Deli (New Farm)
In almost all areas that are not taxi queues or the Normanby, Brisbane is a peaceful place. Conflict is a rare thing. And yet, it is from conflict that the best (if not all) stories must grow. And in this regard, The Deli is surely the Mogadishu of New Farm, generating dozens of worthwhile stories and insights with each breakfast visit. The true nature of inner-urban Australia plays out here in a range of pitched battles between tribes, age groups and even species. Given the lack of gunfire, this is an excellent viewing experience.
Tribal battle is largely between New Farm locals and visitors from other suburbs. In these cases it’s all about turf: conflicts flare initially as outer-suburban types discover that the ratio of parking spaces to luxury SUVs in New Farm is approximately 1:2 on a Saturday morning. Having finally found a park two blocks over and waddled far enough to get a sweat up, things get truly heated when The Deli’s complex seating arrangements inevitably spring conflict on these visitors. First-timers innocently assume that like most cafes, one simply finds a free table then sits at it. OH HELL NO. These tables often have already been assigned to people in the indoor self-service queue. This not only enrages those in the queue (who suffer an amusing double rage because they don’t want to leave their queue spot in order to fight off the usurper) but also the head waiter, who just cannot believe how rude and inconsiderate the world is. He just holds in his apoplectic, lip-biting fury and looks forward to his pedicure later, where he will give the world a hypothetical piece of his mind. Those contesting the table have a passive-aggressive showdown with much waggling of jowls to assert dominance.
Age groups vie for supremacy at The Deli as well. There is a special kind of aspirational life stage in which it seems that one absolutely must have genuine imported salami, cheese and olives, whatever the cost. I suspect this is to sate one’s hunger after a lenghty ride with the lycra brigade on one’s new Cadel Evans signature roadbike. This great pursuit of authenticity tends to coincide with two other excellent ‘life stage’ archetypes: making too many babies and entering upper middle management. Thus, The Deli is a great place to witness an adult man try to maintain control over three shrill toddlers using only his ‘boardroom voice’ and two kilograms of salsiccia.
Perhaps richest of the conflicts are those between the small, scrappy dogs favoured by locals. Generally these dogs occupy two ends of the cleanliness spectrum: the irritatingly preened labraspoodles and the general mongrels with matted fur and wily eyes. Inevitably the worldly mutts take issue with the designer dogs (which cost upwards of $500 and often have a special mincing walk that makes me consider gun ownership) and do the right thing: try to bite them, usually without success. The best bit here is the indignant rage experienced by the owner of the labraspoodle, who scuttles off clutching their expensive pet at chest height. Three cheers for mongrels.
So, we’ve established that The Deli is a great place for anthropology and general people-watching. It also is a pretty okay place for breakfasts. Their coffee is quite good, and the breakfasts themselves are generous and tasty. Even a true rock-and-roll hangover cannot stand up to the greasy joy of a Deli panini, generously endowed as it is with their distinctive italian meats. They also do posh quite well, and now hold the high honour of making what I consider the best potato rosti in Brisbane. I’ve had a few now but this one is exceptionally crunchy, rich and flavourful.
Alas, in spite of the excellent ingredient quality and fairly inspired menu, I’ve always been left a bit wanting when it comes to the Deli’s meals as a whole. Each element is great, but they don’t work in harmony, and there has always been that critical missing ingredient that stopped my meal from being truly exciting. Interestingly, it’s consitently the same problem: a lack of acidity. Each meal has abundant flavours in the ‘salty, smokey, starchy’ categories but never anything tart to offset it.
In the case of my panini, a few olives, some balsamic drizzle or even a slightly sharper cheese would’ve been the difference between OK and great. Similarly, the salmon, avo and rosti breakfast was criminally lacking in lemon. Even a couple of sad capers would’ve brightened the fish, but there was nothing acidic in evidence. Fortunately the orange juice is pretty damn good (almost as nice as that of The Larder) and lifted my meal a bit.
The deli is what Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia‘ should really have been about. This is tragic. However, for the price of a coffee, you can now enjoy this epic live, at your leisure. You may even want to give the food a go. Either way, it’s a good morning experience if you can snag a seat.
6/10 (albeit pretty good value for the price)
Another visit to the bottle-o, another fascinating thing to ponder. Truly, Liquorland really knows how to blindside a dude with blasts of wild enlightenment, particularly on perfectly nondescript Wednesday nights. This evening’s mysterious beer engenders all kinds of wondering about the value of novelty and Otherness. Case in point: ‘Phoenix, the famous beer of Mauritius’. Seriously, Mauritius.
Mauritius is a tiny island in the Indian ocean that is apparently better at the whole ‘governing a nation’ thing than the US, the UK and maybe even ‘straya. With a national population the size of Brisbane, could they possibly be better at beer as well?
No dice, Mauritius. You may have a sweet education system, and an economy based on something other than digging rocks out of the ground, but when it comes to beer you’re as bogan as XXXX. Seriously, Phoenix is quite similar to the classic beers-of-origin: Tooheys, XXXX and VB. Also, the label has a slightly Reich looking eagle silhouette which stands at odds with its happy multiculturalism and avoidance of military spending.
For all I know Phoenix is about as authentically Mauritian as Fosters is Australian or Corona is Mexican. Indeed, its taste has revived my suspicion that most places export their least remarkable beers. BUT HERE IS THE THING: it retails for about $8 for a four-pack. That’s right, you can get EIGHT of these for the price of a six-pack of your local liver-busting state icons. Somehow it is effective for dudes on a tiny island to make this stuff and then ship it 9000km to beat the value of something that came from Milton. I know, I’ve raised this in previous beer reviews, but it still blows my mind a bit.
What I guess is interesting is the question of whether Phoenix is a Good Thing. If you like the taste of mass-produced old-school beer but need a bit of novelty in your life, this is your stuff. If you like the taste of mass-produced old-school beer, and want to get more beer for your your buck, this is your stuff. If you like silly made-up medals, this is the shit: it boasts of its ‘HIGH INTERNATIONAL QUALITY TROPHY’ and the ‘International Institute for Quality Trophy’ along with about six unspecified Gold Medals. Sadly, if you like complex tasty beer, Phoenix amounts to little more than a waste of time and effort (and fuel miles, I guess) to replicate a product that is easily whipped by brews sourced as nearby as Burleigh.
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:
Henninger Lager – available most places
In spite of how our ever-endearing poltical leaders ceaselessly remind us that we are Doing it Tough, Australians actually got wealthier this year. Prices definitely did go up a bit, but what tends to be forgotten is that our incomes grew even faster. Net effect: more money in the average pocket. We’re not Doing it Tough, we’re one of the richest nations on earth. We suffer a totally different condition: consumerism, possibly best referred to as Believing Adverts and Buying Too Much Expensive Stuff. Classic examples of this plague on our fine nation include expensive iPhones and broadband, electricity-guzzling plasma screens and… premium beer.
This review is for Working Families that feel that they are Doing it Tough. Also, anyone a bit curious about how beer that comes at $30 a carton tastes.
The simple answer is: surprisingly good, when it’s a proper German bier. I have no idea how beer from Frankfurt is cheaper than beer from Milton, but that doesn’t mean it tastes cheaper. Henninger Lager is definitely not up to the standard of our smaller domestic producers (like Matilda Bay or Little Creatures, with ales around $60 per carton) but compares well with the standard local lagers (around $40/carton on a good day).
If anything, I’d say the closest comparison is stuff like Heineken and Becks – though it’s slightly sweeter than both. Henninger comes onto the palate quite sweet and malty (with a good bit of carbonation) and leaves with a gentle hop bitterness that, although not particularly complex, is pleasant. It’s not quite as nice as Becks on the finish nor as subtle as Heineken in the first mouthful, but it fits the bill very well for a basic lager: easy drinking and satisfying, provided you keep it cold. This is a beer that makes you feel a bit full, so I’m not sure if I’d enjoy drinking 8 of these, but I daresay the hangover would be relatively mild given that Henninger follows the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law) which stipulates that the beer must have three ingredients: water, malt and hops. I wonder if the ol’ Vois Bois (VB) offers that kind of nurturing care?
My suggestion? Reach into your pocket, grab all the shrapnel you have and go try some.