Ok, so if I seemed a bit perturbed in my last post, it was only because I was looking for a great food find in Brisbane, and came up shorthanded, despite shucking out $176 for two at Isis. I’m praying that the accountant can do something with that one.
In my grumbling, I did forget to mention one thing I really did like about Isis: the subterranean bar underneath.
No one was there on a Sunday night, including the bartender, but it was such a cool, sneaky space for a bar. I wouldn’t have even realised it was there if I hadn’t gone down the steps in search of the toilets. I’d almost call it a wine bar, since there’s a terrific selection of old and new world wines, but there’s a full array of spirits as well. The chilled music ranged from Astrud Gilberto to jazz and soul, and the dark, moody and cosy decor was fab, although why does every eatery in Australia seem to be using Florence Broadhurst wallpaper? Isis is 10 years old, so I’ll cut them some slack, but I saw the same Japanese Floral pattern at three places in a single day.
And despite my disappointing meal, there’s a lot to like about the Fortitude Valley, especially if you’re looking for interesting clothing. It also adjoins Chinatown, so I headed over for a browse and discovered the sprawling Yuen’s Market Trading Company, where you can get every Chinese and Asian food product your heart desires, from moon cakes to premium Oolong tea and more obscure substances to brew, chocolate Pocky sticks and dirt-cheap teapots and crockery.
There’s also one big thing Brisbane has over Sydney, and that’s live music. It was everywhere we went. At the Vue cafe in New Farm, there was a young couple singing lovely acoustic covers. At the Brisbane Powerhouse, whose concrete urban warehouse interior is so inspiring and funky, there was a whole day of live acts playing, so I had a listen while also looking through the glass window that peered in to the kitchen of the museum’s snazzy Italian eatery Bar Alto and watched the pastry chef do her thing. And there was music all over the outdoor mall at the end of Brunswick Street. Sigh. Don’t make me do another rant about Sydney’s licensing laws.
Paddington, located northwest of the city centre, was another great spot, especially for the wealth of cafes and vintage and antique shops. We grabbed some tea and lemon tarts at Mary Ryan’s Bookshop and Cafe on Latrobe Street, which has a relaxing, terraced outdoor deck that actually makes you realise you’re at a tropical latitude. Then we hit the shops, where Sarah nabbed some great summer dresses and a pink ukulele (don’t ask), while I stocked up on vinyl records and milked the local muso-shop dudes about guitars.
Then we headed to Anouk for a bit of lunch, which was started up some months back by Justine Whelan, the former owner of the well-known Gunshop Cafe. Justine, who’s married to a tattoo shop proprietor, has some amazing tatts, which she proudly showed us. Justine’s edgy urban look is in stark contrast the minimalist and bright decor at Anouk, which has a good rap as a breakfast spot. We got there too late for brekkie, but did sneak in some tapas of fried chats in smoked paprika with aioli, salt-and-pepper squid, corn and artichoke soup and arancini (rice balls). I was expecting small plates, but they actually came out quite large, so we over-ordered quite a bit, which was a bit annoying since we asked the staff for guidance. The food was our best meal in town, but the truth is that it was pleasant, nothing more, nothing less. Like most of the spots we visited, the vibe and surrounds fulfilled us more than the menu. Still, I’d like to go back and see how Justine does breakfast, since she just oozes creativity.
So what’s on my wishlist for my next visit back to Brisbane? Maybe Restaurant Manx, which is known for its owner/chef, or fine-diner Alchemy. Maybe one of the numerous, and surprising, Tibetan restaurants that we spotted. And definitely a visit to E’cco to sample Phillip Johnson’s handiwork.
If you’ve been to Brisbane or from there, it would be great to hear your own thoughts and suggestions in the city’s dining scene. It’ll save me from having to schlep all the way to Noosa’s River House for a decent feed.