I know, I know, I’m about to get hatemail from Broncos, Reds and Lions fans everywhere, but the “boring” part is actually a quote… by a Brisbane restaurateur. And take it from me, I’ve been pretty open-minded about my first experience of the Brisvegas dining scene. But after sampling a few of the city’s notable offerings, my ratecard is as follows:
Atmosphere: Very Good
And don’t take this as a New Yorker-turned-Sydneysider who only thinks he can get a decent feed in the Big Smoke. I’ve has satisfying meals in Adelaide, Hobart, some podunk town in Tassie, the Blue Mountains, Bellingen, Newcastle, Byron, Noosa, Orange and even Wollongong. But in Brisbane? Nada, and after a whole weekend of trying.
My biggest hope was on Isis Brasserie, the uber-sexy and exy mod-European restaurant in the funky Fortitude Valley. And it started off so well. Locals described the area to me as the Kings Cross of Brisbane, but the Valley was better than that, with funky bars, an impressive arts centre, and fashion boutiques with great style and attitude – one with wacky photos of men’s bits dressed in sunnies with their pubic hair stylishly coiffed. Noice! The Valley was also a bit too low on strip clubs and backpacker hangouts to be like the Cross, although I did spot a crazed junkie or two.
A 10-year veteran of the Brisbane restaurant scene, Isis Brasserie is just down the block from the groovy Judith Wright arts centre, and it looks stunning through its oversized windows and corner locale. There are high tin-engraved ceilings, warming square lightboxes that hang from above, moody wood furnishings and crisp white-linen settings. And the menu, well it sounded astonishingly good, from braised goat to 10-hour cooked Wagyu, rare-cooked venison and a duck breast special with foie gras-stuffed morels flown in specially from France. I’ve never had fresh morels in Australia. In fact, everything sounded so good, I could have happily ordered every main on the menu. And the floor staff were prompt and polished, and quickly served us with complimentary amuse bouche spoonfuls of tomato jellies topped with asparagus cream.
We started by sharing the entrée of kingfish encrusted in spezie (a Sicilian rendition of dukkah, typically made of crushed pistachios, oregano, poppy seeds, thyme, chilli and other spices), and found it to be pleasant-tasting, but the kingfish was chewy and let the whole dish down. We did, however, enjoy the lemon-limey and flowery Sancerre that we ordered off the by-the-glass list.
The entree was followed by a palate cleanser of white balsamic sorbet, which was a fun tongue-tickler between course. Next came the highly anticipated duck special and Wagyu, but sadly the duck was overcooked and incredibly chewy, the morels a bit mushy, and the Wagyu was incredibly tender but way under-seasoned. If there was a saving grace, it was the chai soufflé with honey vanilla ice-cream. You just can’t beat a good soufflé.
I was a little perplexed that such a masterful menu and location was so disappointing, so I took a rough guess and asked one of the waiters if the head chef was out tonight, it being a Sunday and all. “Our prodigy sous chef is in, and he’s been under the head chef for four years,” he said a bit defensively. My hunch is that the student is not yet the master.
One place I would recommend in the Valley is Alhambra, upon which Sarah and I stumbled upon afterwards on a Valley side street and discovered a live salsa band. Not bad for a sleepy Sunday night. The interior is all plush North African, with luxe couches and ample cushions, and I tore up the dance floor with my killer Latino moves. Yes, Sarah is very generous with her compliments.
More Brissie to come, but it’s late and my new, amazingly white bedsheets are calling me.