Brisbane’s become cooler than me

Everyone always digs on Brisbane. Even when I first moved to Australia it was all “it’s too small; everything closes early; there’s nowhere good to eat.” Compare it to likes of Sydney or Melbourne, and yeah, I get it. But guess what haters, at some point since moving away a year and a half ago, Brisbane’s upped its ante.

I always said if I could have the culture of Melbourne coupled with the weather of Brisbane I would be set for life. Now, I’m not going to go as far and say it’s been accomplished but seriously Brisbane, you’re picking up your weight.

On my most recent visit I was blown away at the duck liver parfait served at James Street’s trendy Gerard’s Bar. In fact, I added it on my “best thing ever” list and that was even after devouring truffle salami and mackerel tartare. Could the Brisbane dining scene be creeping in Melbourne’s wake?

And as for Fortitude Valley, the once seedy and still may be but only if you don’t know where to go now that Brisbane is cool, nightlife neighborhood, I didn’t go out ‘in’ the Valley but rather ‘under’ the Valley. Greaser, an American themed bar is housed in the cellar of a 130-year-old heritage building offering craft beers, American imports and a stellar whiskey list on the side of classic hot dogs.

Sure, I was still living in town when the hippest thing was old Queensland cottages being converted into uber-chic bars like Alfred & Constance, Kettle & Tin and Sixes & Sevens – as they all have uber-cool names too, but I hear even ‘hippie-haven’ West End has transformed itself upmarket with some new additions in its pocket.

I think it goes without saying another area where Brisbane hasn’t failed us is the craft beer front. From my old hang The Scratch to Tenerife’s Tippler’s Tap and their recent Southbank prodigy Tomohawk Bar and let’s not forget the micro-brewers Green Beacon and classic Bacchus Brewing, Brisbane is where its at.

What’s still not cool is having to leave an establishment to go find a bathroom somewhere down the street rather then in the bar/restaurant/café, but over time you may just get that right too, Brisbane.

In the meantime, I recognize there’s all the extra stuff that even made Brisbane cool back when I was living there. An awesome music scene, a laid back life style and pristine beaches in an arm’s reach, so yeah Brisbane, maybe you were cool all along.

Read more about my adventures in Brisbane here.

Degustation Sensation

Microsoft’s Encarta Dictionary is not familiar with the word degustation, degust or degusting. The dictionary must not be a foodie.

All those contributors to Wikipedia know it though. “Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company. Dégustation is more likely to involve sampling small portions of all of a chef’s signature dishes in one sitting. Usually consisting of eight or more courses, it may be accompanied by a matching wine degustation which complements each dish.”

And there you have it, the art of degusting. It’s not disgusting at all. It’s delicious.

For my recent birthday I put a message up asking who would be willing to fork over $150 for a degustation wine pairing at a place high on my list of atmospheric dining experiences, Anise, however only one person replied so I opted for the much more sensible Himalayan Café instead.

Luckily, this week was the James Street Food and Lifestyle Trail, a culinary adventure of the delights from the best of what trendy James Street has to offer with pop up restaurants, food and wine pairings, and cultural events. I could only choose one, so Wednesday evening it was off to recently opened Gerrard’s Bistro (where I last tried sheep brains) for their Special Degustation Menu with Ben Williamson, head chef – and a mighty good looking one might I add.

Reservations were required for this art deco restaurant turned food frenzy. Arriving before the 7 pm start, tables were set neatly with cutlery, various wine glasses sized for pour and the evening’s menu set out in the middle. Our group of four was sat in front, a perfect location to listen to chef Ben Williamson explain each course in fine detail following the Red + White wine rep depicting the evenings pairing.

I took out my little green moleskin notebook to begin jotting notes, assuming to go unnoticed, but then was caught red-handed. Yup, I’m a note taker – just in case I feel compelled to write home about it.

Course 1 – Cuttlefish crostini with jamon Serrano, melon Biancavigna ‘Brut’ DOC NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy

Rumor has it that Prosecco is actually outselling Champagne these days due to popular demand. The pouring was generous and they even came around to top us off! The melon on the jamon was a refreshing touch of sweet summer on the salty dry meat.

Course 2 – Yellow-tail tuna, apple and spring aromatics La Raia, Cortese, Gavi, Italy

The Cortese was nearly my favorite wine of the night. An almond, buttery undertone with a touch of apple at the finish. It perfectly complimented the apple accompanying the “caught that day” raw tuna.

Course 3 – Coal grilled quail, roasted beet, hazelnuts, baby leaves, spice Louis Jadot ‘Cotes de Nuits Villages’ Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France

I’m a sucker for a good Pinot Noir. When my friend mentioned that she doesn’t do foreign wines, I explained that this was the reason I love a good Pinot. Also, another reason why I shouldn’t buy cheap Pinot. The bite size quail though was tender and salty but the beetroot and hazelnuts was a good balance.

Course 4 – Saltbush lamb ‘tagine’, dates, orange, candied olive, ‘shirin polow’- jewelled rice Marchesi Mazzei ‘Zisola’ Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy

My first try of the Zisola was that it was too sweet and my immediate inclination was to dismiss it, but after a few swirls and sips I really opened up to it. The lamb tagine was to die for, melt in your mouth, succulent tastes of joy. Really, this was by far the best dish on the menu.

Course 5Rose marshmallow, sheep’s yoghurt sorbet, pomegranate, strawberry leather, spiced rosé
Domaine Ott ‘Les Domainiers’, Grenache/Cinsault, Provence, France

When my wine was poured pink I almost didn’t even give it a try. Rose, no way. But the guys at Red + White are good. Although I was indifferent to the dessert, yes the sheep’s yogurt sorbet was sweet and who doesn’t like a good marshmallow, I could have done without. More memorable was how approachable the Rose actually was. Very mild, not overly sugary and I just say, I would drink it on a warm summer day.

Nearing 11 pm this degustation has gone on for hours. Would you be surprised if I mentioned that by the end the whole room was buzzing from the euphoric atmosphere and lavish wine pours? So much so that instead of complimenting the chef on the amazing meal I was tempted to thank them for stocking my favorite Japanese soap, Aesop, which is always a pleasant surprise to find in a restaurant bathroom.

Unfortunate that I could only afford one event on the James Street Food and Lifestyle Trail but I look forward to future events.