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.
[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 Chelsea (at the Barracks, Roma st)
Muesli, I love you but you’re fired. Cold weather demands hot, calorific goodness, especially at breakfast. Relatedly, Sunday was fucking cold.
This was even more awesome than it looks. In fact, it was borderline erotic. The addition of a side of haloumi to the most perfectly herbed roast tomatoes was a masterstroke that you should totally emulate. It had that charcoal-grilled taste, very rare but amazingly well-done (pun not intended). The feta also now haunts my dreams with its soft creaminess. The coriander scrambled eggs with chorizo were a bit more psychedelic, but in a good way – the mix of cumin, coriander and chorizo had me tasting the rainbow and smelling the universe. Although, maybe part of the wonder of the experience was, well, relief…
The slight downside of our visit was how that adjectival cold weather really nailed us. The Barracks is a bit of a wind tunnel and while dining on the street is usually good times, it’s just hit that point where waiting an hour for breakfast is painful unless you’ve brought a good jacket. The wind is strong enough that it made the heaters useless. I think they were short-staffed too, so things took quite a while to come out. In between my epic breakfast chats and shivering, I failed to notice this:
Yep, a pile of fuzzy warm blankets for diners to use. Keep an eye out for these.
My recommendation is simple: DO go to this place and receive your sensual breakfast reward, but remember to grab a jacket, and your most interesting friend(s). The wait pays off bigtime; this is quite possibly Brisbane’s best breakfast this side of a Smokey Breakfast Lager.
I keep a list at the back of my mind of things that I won’t even TRY cooking at home. ‘Sashimi (fugu)’ tops the list, followed by ‘sashimi (normal)’ and ‘croissants’. I recently added ‘cocktails’ to the list, after an enraging series of failures to get even a basic mojito right – much to the detriment of my duty-free stash of oversized bottles of spirits. I don’t try making cocktails because they’re very hard to do well. Thing is, I can’t make ’em, but nor can half the supposed cocktail barmen I’ve ordered from here in Brisvegas. Getting a cocktail just right requires a lot of skill in balancing complementary flavours, and I only know a couple of places in town (like Bowery) that you can reliably get a good cocktail irrespective of what and when you order.
Thus, I was interested – and a bit apprehensive – when I heard that both Super Whatnot and Laneway had released new winter cocktail menus recently. I love good bars like a one-eyed cat loves its kittens, and I so wanted these two to get it right. Winter’s a great reason to come up with new ways to get drunk, and I’ve already seen mixed results in the beer scene, with Stone and Wood pushing their very hyped, very average ‘Jasper Ale’, and Two Birds releasing a vastly superior ‘Sunset Ale’ just in time for the chilly weather. Those two releases had a clear winner, but I wondered: which of the new menus would be better in the cocktail scene?
In these situations, the only sensible thing to do is put as much of each menu in your belly as you can handle, and let them fight it out. So I did.
I started with Super Whatnot, ordering what looked to be their most interesting menu item – the ‘Cobianchi Treacle’. $20 gets you a mix of rum and two kinds of bitters, mixed through a spiced pineapple reduction. I really should’ve taken a hint from the name…
Cobianchi treacle is served in a glass like the kind that your parents got as a wedding present, which is still around thirty years later both because of its sheer battleship-like construction and your mum’s propensity to actively hide it when guests come around. This also describes the vibe of the cocktail – formidable and about three generations back in flavour. It’s a dad-tastic mix that leads with rich, treacly sugariness but offers no acidity or lightness to ease things up a bit. Instead it continues into a mix of spice and marmalade, and finishes thus, leaving the drinker feeling like they have had had, in our dear departed Kevin07’s words, a fair suck of the syrup bottle. Or something.
I finished the drink slowly, feeling like SW had brought a rusty shiv to a culinary shotgun fight. This saddened me: not only is this an awesome bar, their bathrooms are, like, the best thing in at least Queensland. LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SINK.
I left, wallet hurting, vowing to return and cough up for the next best thing on the list.
I scurried onward to Laneway (linked to culinary heavyweights Urbane and the pleasant Euro bar), which was kind enough to treat me to a sampling of their new menu. Mysteriously, they decided to theme their range around train stations in Brisbane. I’m baffled. Trains are awesome, and they let me get around and drink far more delicious things every night than cars ever did, but they are the LEAST SEXY THING. Here is an actual train station; note the quality art and sensual signage.
Fortuately they do make rail travel feel cooler than it actually is in their smartly-designed menu. The cocktails are quite memorable, albeit definitely not designed to please the daquiri crowd. I sampled three and was happy with two, and respectfully fearful of the other, mainly because of its maritime sparseness and potent abundance of Plymouth Gin. The ‘Eagle Junction’ is a Gimlet-style cocktail, which means it’s essentially a mix of gin and cordial. I’m told this relatively old style of cocktail was traditionally taken by naval officers to ward off scurvy. The use of in-house pineapple and sage cordial certainly makes things interesting, but with the only other ingredient being (abundant) gin, this drop is a rough lover that will kiss you with walrus-like captain’s bristles before handing you the edible flower that nestles at the bottom of each glass. Not quite my thing, but its companions ‘Windsor’ and ‘Ferny Grove’ had far more depth and subtlety.
‘Windsor’ sparkles like sherbet on the lips before blossoming into elderflower on the palate, and finishes like a good home-made lemonade. Complex stuff, and very drinkable. I don’t recall similar experiences at Windsor station though. Ferny Grove was perhaps the most interesting – a ‘Terra Rossa’ cocktail that is apparently bottled. It smells like peaches but is only very subtly fruity and sparkling; the finish is extremely dry and earthy, almost like the smell of raw cinnamon. Must be the Quandong liquer.
I left Laneway feeling happy that most punters would find something on the list to enjoy, at least after a couple of hits and misses. It was time to hit up Super Whatnot again, and hope that round two would be a bit less of a grandpa experience. The ‘Smokin’ Paloma’ jumped out at me, promising a very creative twist on the traditional paloma – they use smoked salt, as well as orange liquer and grapefruit juice in addition to the usual lime and tequila.
This was just the ending to my night that I needed – it had bite, the salt worked well and the addition of complex citrus didn’t disappoint. It’s quite likely that this will beat any margarita you’ve ever sampled, but not because it’s flashy – the salt’s smokiness is very subtle and while the citrus goes down a treat, it doesn’t blow you away with novelty. Instead it’s just a solid, well-balanced cocktail that you won’t regret purchasing.
If you like new and clever things, go for Laneway’s menu – you might struggle through some of the drinks, but you won’t be bored. For me, they were the night’s winner, and definitely worth the trek down Mary street.
With that said, if you like safe and delicious things, go for Super Whatnot, but give serious thought to the (awesome) beer taps unless you’re a hardcore cocktail fundi, and remember: if a drink says ‘treacle’, know that they mean it.
The Hideaway – 7.5/10
When you die, supposedly you see a long dark tunnel with a light at the end of it. That theory is probably bogus, but you need not miss out. Fortitude Valley now can offer a similar experience in real life.
Walking down the seedy end of Brunswick Street is a bit like dying. The numerous $1 peep show joints and urine-stained sleepouts are really grim places – but as of late last year there is a light at the end of this rather dark walkway. That light is The Hideaway.
Go towards the light.
The rewards of venturing into the valley’s grubby end are huge. The Hideaway is a café by day, bar by night and it has a pretty unique look; imagine a funk musician decided to renovate your granny’s lounge but kept the furniture, and you’re getting close. You’ll quickly forget Brunswick’s harsher realities in this setting, with a combination of friendly service, good music and very decent beer to carry you through the night.
Tap beers tend to be local craft brews but the selection in the fridges goes well beyond Queensland – the highlight of my visit was a ‘Torpedo’ IPA from Sierra Nevada brewery in California. The ferocious ‘Red Belly Black’ (Imperial Red Ale, 10%) from Bacchus was almost as good, although it put me firmly in hangover territory by my fourth beer.
I didn’t get to sample the coffee or food on my visit (these are daytime things, I think) but the music is certainly taken pretty seriously here. I visited on the opening night of the ‘resonate’ series, currently hosted by country-goth gurus The Westerlies and featuring a series of skilled musicians over the course of the month. The venue works well for music – the acoustics are decent, and the space is deep enough that those close to the stage can be really absorbed in the music but conversations can continue at the other end of the bar.
A glance at the ‘what’s on’ page reveals that all kinds of entertainment goes on in this place, ranging from blues to ska to soul and even a burlesque show this Friday. For those more interested in food and drink, there are occasional tastings earlier in the week, featuring brewers and home-made snacks. Boredom is apparently not on the menu, whatever day you step into this place; I wouldn’t be surprised to find it really quite busy on standard drinking nights.
The Hideaway may be aptly named but it is really is worthwhile to weave your way past the homeless alcoholics and pregnant strippers to give it a look. If you’re a train commuter, it’s even easier – just hop off at Fortitude Valley station, turn right and avoid eye contact for thirty seconds and you’ve arrived.
(Now, go towards the light.)
Super Whatnot – 48 Burnett Lane, Brisbane
Two of my favourite things in this city are, surprisingly, related to bits of government legislation. No, really. The emergence of the Small Bars license and the council’s Vibrant Laneways Program are doing all kinds of great things right now. Critics sneer and whinge that this amounts to some kind of Melbournisation of our city. I suspect Melbourne didn’t invent laneways or small bars, and even if they did, they’re a great invention and their growth in Brisbane is fantastic – and I have proof.
Super Whatnot is the beautiful progeny of two juicy bits of burueacratic goodness; an excellent small bar, hidden in a laneway. Also, it serves the majestic beers of Ross Kenrick (Bacchus Brewing co.) on tap, and is run by a dude who, if he did have a superpower, would choose to be able to shoot clouds out of his hands. Needless to say, Super Whatnot is an interesting place. The decor is a funky mix of high-quality fittings and exposed masonry, and the range of cocktails and wines seems decent. Here’s an interior shots from the bar’s facebook page.
Food is also pretty special here; the newly-released menu riffs on a roughly mexican theme but pulls in clever ingredients to deliver novelty that makes it quite unlike the stuff you’d expect from Guzman y Gomez or Mad Mex. Portions are small but beautifully presented, and prices are modest so if you’re hungry I recommend getting two meals. That said, there are some relatively rich snacks that could be enough to resolve serious peckishness. The cuban sandwich and fried chicken are particularly incredible dishes; flavours are an exciting mix of crispy saltiness, rich manchego cheese and delicious acidity to balance it out. Some at my table found the cheese a bit too, er, ripe but this wasn’t an issue personally.
Now for the negative. My main grumbles with this spot are the product of its own fame, and will probably pass with time. Like Harajuku Gyoza, it is a bit cursed by its own excellence – crowding becomes an issue here from Thursdays onwards, and the clientele are currently heavily characterised by shrill yuppies in suits. I think the heavy customer load wears on the staff a bit – they’re polite, but also rather haggard and laconic. Definitely no joyous clouds will be shot out of hands until shit calms down in this place.
Last night’s visit really underlined how popular small bars can be, but also how much we need more of them – I stepped into SW at 6pm and couldn’t find a place to sit, and all the taps had already been emptied. With no bottled beers under $9 (and many rising well beyond that), we moved on without touching a drink. Missing out on Cunning Ninja (black IPA, delicious, 10%abv) is quite a painful thing; at least the staff seemed to be handling the situation better than I’ve seen in other establishments.
Minor quibbles aside, I have great faith that as this bar settles into the Brisbane bar scene and the swarms subside a bit, it’s going to endure as one of Brisbane’s best bars. If this is the way of the future, bring it on – I can’t wait ’til we have more bars like this in Brisbane’s burgeoning laneway scene. Judging by the punter response, we certainly need them.
The Scratch– 8/10
Milton – 8/1 Park Road
I had the pleasure last year of checking out The Scratch on its second day of business, and was charmed from the moment I first laid eyes on their chalkboard: “CRAFT BEER DIVE – OPEN NOW FOR CHEEKY LUNCHTIME BREWS”.
Milton is home to the XXXX brewery as well as a handful of shinily trashy bars; The Scratch is a brave poke in the eye to the well-established banality of Milton’s drinking and dining scene. To call it a dive is probably fair, but it’s the best thing to happen to Park Road in a long time. Indeed, despite its darkness, rather cosy size and unfortunate location on that traffic-addled road, it may be that this dive is in fact the first bar in Milton that is not an utter shithole.
Instead, the Scratch is a true labour of love – as is demonstrated every time one of the owners emerges from behind the bar with free beer samples for the punters to taste and stories of the brewery it came from. Chat to any of the three blokes that run this establishment and you will witness true passion for beer in all its forms, as well as for many things that only vaguely resemble beer (ever tried barley wine? or a stout milkshake? yummy).
You will probably also be exposed to brands and even beer types that are entirely new to you. Discovery of the day for me was certainly the exceedingly high quality beer that a place called Brew Boys in South Australia puts out, which is beautifully labelled and delicious.
The one seeming drawback of a session at The Scratch is that it will generally cost a bit more than a night on the average Carlton rotgut, but after about four beers from this place it dawned on me (hazily) that the extra dollars spent (around $8-$20 per stubbie) do tend to translate into more standard drinks. This is not a place to visit on an empty stomach, as many of the arcane brews on offer have high alcohol content and some are truly powerful. Fortunately the interior is pleasant, so there’s no drawback in taking things slowly.
The Scratch does have the ‘dented op-shop finds’ look that is becoming rapidly cliche, but they carry it off quite well and it’s still infinitely preferable to the gauche ‘chrome ‘n glass’ vibe that is favoured by bogan establishments. They’ve also made some quite decent finds – ‘Warne’s Pleasure Book For Girls’ joins the general adornment of dark wood, retro board games and widely-scattered toy soldiers. Onya, Shane.
The games are a nice touch. ‘Barrel O’ Monkeys’ is enragingly hard after a few hours in The Scratch, but definitely enriches the visit for a lot of people. For the peckish, a selection of very tempting artisan cheeses is on offer, though I was a bit too fixated on the liquid side of my adventures to sample the range. Another perk of this place is the ‘bring your own food’ policy, though the general culinary dross in this area might make it tricky to find a worthwhile snack.
At its best moments, The Scratch transcends its location and puts forward some really new beer experiences, in ways that I haven’t experienced even at worthy competitors like Kerbside and Bitter Suite. I’m glad it’s already getting the love it deserves; here’s hoping it sets a few much-needed precedents in the city’s inner-west. It’s an easy stagger from Milton train station so you really have no excuse but to go and have a look.