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.
** 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…
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.
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.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams [feature-length documentary]
Unrated – depends a lot on you. Favours visual minds.
I disagree with the Guardian. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not a five star experience. It is like being guided through one of the world’s great wonders by a well-meaning but deeply incompetent guide. One might imagine the guide had just started, having recently gone out of business in their crystal-healing trade, or been fired from the happy herb shop for getting people’s change wrong all the time. The guide is still learning the basic facts of the location, but this does not prevent them sharing a great many… feelings. And you, too, shall feel as you witness the film’s footage, but this will likely be in spite of Werner Herzog’s narration rather than because of it.
Chauvet Cave in France is an incredible location, and the film is remarkable in that this is the first time filming has been permitted within the cave – it is normally off-limits to the public. The interior is full of beautiful, crystalline formations, as is the case with many large, isolated caves. This is pretty, but what makes it amazing is the ancient, pristine rock art – this cave was visited by early humans over thirty thousand years ago, until around twenty thousand years ago when a rockfall effectively sealed the cave, perfectly preserving its interior. This is truly miraculous, and the art within is quite exciting and evocative- it features animals which are mostly extinct, and the paintings span thousands of years. As an added bonus, the visual experience is shot in 3D – this I missed out on but would make the visual element much more vivid. Although shot by amateurs, there is a lot of cool footage in this movie.
As for dialogue: in spite of the rambling, stoned narrative, there are a great many interesting snippets of information to be garnered as the film trundles along. When Herzog does spare us his fruity observations, he brings a wide array of experts into ad-hoc, unstructureed interviews that are sometimes great, sometimes hilarious and sometimes entirely spurious and dull. It’s like encountering the ‘Superfriends’ of eccentric French academia. One man appears and plays a bone flute while wearing thick reindeer skin; another is a perfumer by trade and literally sniffs around, experiencing the place in his own unique (Gollum-esque) way. Later a spry gallic researcher shows us how to use an ancient spear-thrower, grey hair notwithstanding. It goes poorly – “Yes, for me, I seenk eet would be quite deefficult to kill an ‘orse like zees!’
At its strongest, this film evokes deep feelings, and gives a sense of the wonder of Chauvet Cave, and of the vast swath of time between us and the ancestors that made this ancient art. In its weaker moments, the film drags terribly (it is far too long) and triggers a bit of a gag at its many trite reflections – The Mistress reckons Herzog entirely missed the point of the cave and of filmmaking. It is undeniably an unprofessional work, both its storytelling and its cinematography; this means the feel is naive and has all the pros and cons of naivete. It is not quite as coherent or informative as it could be, but its delivery is very human and genuine, in a way that gauche, glossy operators like Discovery Channel or National Geographic special would never be. I feel that there is a happy medium that was missed here, but you may still find it worthwhile to give this one a look.
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.