Sunday, 31 August 2008

Quan Thanh

I love Vietnamese food, so I'm determined to try out as many of Brisbane's Vietnamese restaurants as I can. This time I was off to Quan Thanh at West End. Quan Thanh is on the strip of restaurants at Hardgrave Road that includes Tongue & Groove, Wild Pepper and the Tibetan Kitchen. There are 4 Vietnamese/Chinese restaurants just in this little patch, all of which seem to be fairly busy.

Quan Thanh has a few tables out the front, but most of the restaurant is inside. We didn't get there till about 8.15 on a Friday night. At that time the place was pretty packed, so we ended up at a table right at the back of the room near the kitchen.

There are two sides to the menu - one has all the Vietnamese dishes, the other is Chinese. Although I love Vietnamese food, I've got a couple of favourite dishes that I usually order to see how a restaurant stacks up. Normally it's either pho or a similar soup for entree, followed by a rice noodle salad for mains. I know its a bit boring, but I love the flavours and textures of those dishes so much.

Anyway this time I broke away from the usual order, because Quan Thanh has a pretty large Vietnamese menu, which you don't often find in Brisbane. I ordered the steamed rolls with pork loaf, which sounded intriguing. I like ordering things off the menu when you're not quite sure what they are going to be. There were 4 of the steamed rolls, which I'm pretty sure were rice paper rolls. But because they had been steamed, they were much thicker, with an almost spongy texture. That also made them pretty hard to eat with chopsticks, because they just broke into pieces. So I gave up on the chopsticks and ploughed in with my fingers instead. The rolls were filled with pork mince, and were served with slices of pork loaf (which looked like a type of processed sausage), bean sprouts, chopped mint leaves, fried shallots and fish sauce. They were pretty tasty, especially when combined with the bean sprouts, mint and dipping sauce. They were also really filling. I didn't get through all four, because I knew I'd never get through my main course. I also didn't eat all the slices of pork loaf - I think you'd really need to be a big fan of processed pork.

The other entree we had was make your own rice paper rolls with tofu. These came out with lettuce, mint leaves and coriander to fill the rolls, along with a fish sauce. As usual, there was way too much for one person, so I managed to steal one or two. There's nothing quite like the texture of a crunchy rice paper roll. It has to be one of my favourite foods from any cuisine.

When it came to main course, as hard as I tried, I just couldn't resist the rice noodle salad with marinated beef. This came out in a huge bowl, and there was no way I was ever going to get through it after the size of the entrees. There were plenty of bits of the marinated beef on top, which was in fairly big chunks. The salad was made up of noodles, lettuce and bean sprouts. I stole a few bits of basil from our other main course to add to the flavour of the salad. The salad was ok, but not one of the best I've ever had. I couldn't put my finger on what it was missing, but maybe it was just that the fish sauce was a bit bland.

Our other main course was the vegetable rice noodle soup. My vegetarian guest was pleasantly surprised when the waitress asked if she would like the soup made on vegetable or chicken stock. Unfortunately the soup was a bit disappointing. It was a big serving, but most of the vegetables had been overcooked and the stock itself was a bit bland. Luckily the soup was served with a side plate of bean sprouts, basil, lemon and chilli, so we could spice up the flavour a bit.

There are plenty of other Vietnamese dishes you can try, including pho, spicy Hue pork & beef noodle soup, broken rice with pork chop (which I almost ordered just to find out what broken rice was) and a range of other rice noodle salads. There is also a full menu of Chinese food if you're not a big fan of Vietnamese.

The decor inside is pretty basic, in line with plenty of other suburban Vietnamese/Chinese restaurants. Service was attentive and very friendly throughout the meal. They didn't appear to have any wine coolers though, so our bottle of white just sat on the table. I always think that if a restaurant is going to charge you corkage, they should at least be able to give you a wine cooler, but that's a pretty minor complaint. There is a bottle shop right next door to Quan Thanh, which is very handy if you're in need of a drink or two.

Prices at Quan Thanh are very reasonable. All up our dinner was $38, so a trip to Quan Thanh isn't going to break the bank.

Overall our dinner was solid, but not great. I think the food I had at Kim Thanh (about 25 metres down the road) was probably better, based on my recent visits to each restaurant. I'll have to try the other two Vietnamese restaurants on this little strip though, to see which one is the best.

What does all this mean? A solid BYO restaurant with a good range of Vietnamese food, big servings and friendly, attentive service.

food bling ratings
Food - OK
Service - Great
Ambience - Fairly basic decor
Value for Money - Great
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Good

Quan Thanh
5/75 Hardgrave Road
West End 4101
P - 07 3846 3849

Quan Thanh on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Sunsuper RiverBBQ

If you wake up this Sunday morning wondering what to eat for breakfast, or just couldn't be bothered making anything for breakfast after a big night out, head along to the Sunsuper RiverBBQ, which is part of this year's Riverfestival.

The RiverBBQ is being held on the Goodwill Bridge and, best of all, your BBQ breakfast is free! Sounds great to me.

Sunsuper RiverBBQ
9-11am, Sunday 31 August 2008
Goodwill Bridge
W -

Monday, 25 August 2008

Penfolds Re-corking Clinics

The Penfolds Re-corking Clinic is coming to town on 25-26 November 2008.

If you've got a Penfolds red wine which is 15 years or older, you can take it along to the re-corking clinic and get it checked out. If the wine is still ok, it will be topped up and re-capsulated. On the other hand, if it gets opened and it's not ok, you'll have to either take it home and try and drink it, or pour it down the sink (if it's really bad).

It's a terrific free service which Penfolds offers. You can also get a free appraisal of what the wine is currently worth on the secondary market from Langtons.

So if you've got some old Penfolds wine and you're worried about how it's been cellared, head along to the clinic at the Emporium Hotel. However, places are limited, so you'll have to pre-register through the Penfolds website. Registrations open on 15 September 2008.

Penfolds Re-corking Clinic
25-26 November 2008
Emporium Hotel
1000 Ann Street
Fortitude Valley 4006
P - 1300 651 650
W -

Saturday, 23 August 2008


After the disaster at Viet de Lites before our last trip to the opera, this time we went back to Ginga, a tried and trusted Southbank dinner spot. Ginga has been at Southbank for as long as I can remember and I've eaten there plenty of times over the years. I should start off by saying that I don't eat a lot of Japanese food. That's not because I don't like it, it's just that the gluten free diet really cuts down my menu options.

Ginga has two parts to it - there is a more formal restaurant, which has some great booths to sit in along the back wall, as well as a more casual, sit outside/takeaway part. It wasn't exactly warm the night we were there, and it was raining, so we sat inside.

Even at 6pm (which is very early in my books to be eating dinner) there were a good few people in the restaurant. When we told our waitress that we had to be out by 7pm, she said it would be no trouble, and took our orders straight away.

My favourite thing about Japanese food is ordering lots of little dishes. If you go with a big group, you get to plough through about half the menu. Tonight there was only two of us, but we still managed a good selection from the menu.

To start with, we had a plate of edamame (soy beans) which were $6.90. I can't go to a Japanese restaurant without wolfing down a few edamame - they are so moreish. They came out almost straight away and were demolished equally as quickly.

I ordered the maguro (tuna) sashimi ($16.00). I didn't used to be the biggest fan of sashimi, but I've had some really fantastic sashimi at Sakura and now I'm hooked. The sashimi came out as about 5 pretty big chunks of tuna, served with a soy based dipping sauce and some wasabi. I don't think it was as good as Sakura's sashimi, but it was tasty nevertheless.

Keeping on an (almost) raw theme, next I had the beef tataki ($12.90) which was served with ponzu sauce and pickled ginger. I also ordered some steamed rice ($2) with the beef tataki, as I didn't know how big the serving would be and I didn't want to have my stomach grumbling during the opera. Beef tataki is beef which is only just seared around the outside, then sliced very thinly. It was delicious.

Our meals were being brought out as soon as they were cooked, which is exactly what we needed for a quick getaway. We also ordered the Shojin bento ($19.00), which is a tray made up of vegetable tempura, steamed fresh vegetables & tofu, vegetarian sushi, miso soup and steamed rice. The vegetable tempura was probably the winner from the bento plate with delicious fresh pieces of broccoli, mushroom & asparagus. The miso was also particularly good.

Like any good Japanese restaurant, there are plenty of other things to choose from. The menu is split into sashimi, sushi, maki sushi (nori rolls), temaki, salads, robata yaki (grilled meals), tempura, noodles, sets, hot plates, bento and a few dishes which are called a la carte.

There is a fairly compact, but good, wine list. We had a couple of glasses of the Jim Barry Watervale riesling ($7.50 a glass) which was a great match for my raw fish and beef. We also had a yuzu sour ($8.90), which was vodka with yuzu juice (or some kind of yuzu drink). The yuzu sour was a super drink - sour, tangy and refreshing. It would be hard to stop drinking them on a hot summer night, believe me.

Service throughout the night was excellent. Our food came out extremely quickly. A waitress was never far away, and our bottle of water was replaced with another as soon as it was empty.

Ginga is a good, reliable option for lunch or dinner at Southbank. It's deservedly popular with both locals and tourists. That's why Ginga is still going strong after all these years.

What does all this mean? A great selection of Japanese food at reasonable prices, with excellent service.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Great
Ambience - A Japanese feel inside or relaxed outdoor seating (try to sit in a booth)
Value for Money - Good
Wine - Compact, but good selection
Vegetarian - Good

Ginga Japanese Restaurant
Shop 11-12, Little Stanley Street
South Bank 4101
P - 07 3846 2313
W -

Ginga on Urbanspoon

Gourmet Traveller Top Brisbane Restaurants

My September edition of Gourmet Traveller arrived the other day, along with their 2009 Australian restaurant guide. If you don't normally buy Gourmet Traveller, go out and grab the September edition, because the restaurant guide is great. I always find it really handy whenever we are interstate or just away from Brisbane. You can just flick through it until something takes your fancy.

Anyway this year Absynthe remains Queensland's best restaurant according to Gourmet Traveller, coming in at 41 on the list of the top 100. It's dropped from number 28 last year. Here are their top 10 Brisbane restaurants:

1. E'cco
2. Montrachet
3. Urbane
4. Restaurant Two
5. Isis
6. Baguette
7. Gianni
8. Restaurant Manx
9. Alchemy
10. Two Small Rooms

I haven't yet eaten at Montrachet or Alchemy, but there aren't any surprises in the top 10. Urbane is still my favourite restaurant in Brisbane, but I don't eat at all these places 4 or 5 times a year, which is probably how often they get reviewed for Gourmet Traveller. I thought Era might have just scraped into the top 10, but maybe next year. I'm hoping to eat at Alchemy and Montrachet before the end of the year, so hopefully both meals will be terrific.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Gourmet Traveller 2009 Restaurant Guide Awards

The Gourmet Traveller 2009 Restaurant Guide Awards were held last night (even though the rest of us are still in 2008).

The great news for Brisbane is that The Bowery won the award for the best bar in Australia. I love The Bowery, so it's fantastic to see it being recognised with an Australia-wide award (hopefully it doesn't get overrun with tourists now). You can read my post about The Bowery here.

These are the winners of each of the major categories:

Restaurant of the Year - Quay (Sydney)

Best New Talent - Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate, Bodega (Sydney)

Best New Restaurant - Bistro Guillaume (Melbourne)

Outstanding Contribution to the Industry - Donlevy Fitzpatrick

Sommelier of the Year - James Erskine, Auge (Adelaide)

Bar of the Year - The Bowery (Brisbane)

Maitres d' of the Year - Liz Carey & Paul Guiney, Universal (Sydney)

Regional Restaurant of the Year - Royal Mail Hotel (Dunkeld, Victoria)

Wine List of the Year - Balthazar (Perth)

I've been lucky enough to eat at Quay and it is still the best dinner I've had anywhere in Australia. I had this amazing dish of abalone and pork belly that I just wished would never end. There aren't too many restaurants in the world that can compete with the view at Quay either. The night I was there, we sat in the tower, with panoramic views over Sydney harbour, the harbour bridge and the opera house. Pretty much the perfect night out if you ask me.

I haven't been able to track down the top 10 list of Queensland restaurants yet, but I'll put another post up when my September edition of Gourmet Traveller arrives.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


When it comes to Australian wine writers, Max Allen is my favourite by a country mile. His articles are usually funny and down to earth, while still being informative. There's none of the pretentiousness which (unfortunately) seems to find itself into so much wine writing these days.

Last week in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Max Allen conducted some first hand research in order to answer the eternal question "Does cheap plonk really give you a worse hangover than expensive wine?". I thought it was a great article, so here it is:

Does cheap plonk really give you a worse hangover than expensive wine?
Overwhelming anecdotal evidence does tend to support this widely held view, doesn’t it? Anyone who has ever had more than one hangover can tell you the after-effects of overindulgence vary enormously. And they’ll swear blind that it’s the quality of what they drank the night before that determines how bad they feel the morning after.

Why do I feel so bad after a night on the grog?
Alcohol, as we all know but often choose to forget, is a poison, a diuretic and a drug. Drinking too much of it increases the acid in our system, making us feel sick; it dehydrates the body, inducing a raging thirst the following day; and the worst symptoms of a really bad hangover – including anxiety and depression – feel like drug withdrawal because it is drug withdrawal: you have introduced your body to intoxication and then taken the intoxicant away.

Surely the severity of a hangover is just a question of quantity, not quality. The more of the drug you consume, the worse you’re going to feel.
You’d think that, wouldn’t you? After all, the “active ingredient” in any wine, the alcohol – or, to be more accurate, ethanol C2H5OH – is chemically the same, whether it’s in a cask of cheap shiraz or a bottle of Grange. And about 85 per cent of the rest of the wine, however expensive, is water. So the difference between cask wine and Grange really hinges on less than one per cent of other stuff such as the flavour and colour extracted from the grapes.

Can such a small amount of “other stuff” really make that much of a difference?
There’s only one way to find out: by putting the theory through some rigorous testing. So I did. I raided the cellar and pulled the corks on some very posh bottles: vintage French champagne, a single-vineyard Adelaide Hills chardonnay, a 10-year-old Coonawarra cabernet and some rare Rutherglen muscat. Then, over dinner, and using the “standard drinks” declaration on the labels to measure my alcohol intake, I proceeded to drink immoderately – all in the name of research, you understand. Then, a few days later, I repeated the exercise, and drank exactly the same amount of alcohol but made sure it was a selection of the cheapest plonk I could find: a glass from a $5 bottle of fizz, some cask chardonnay and bargain-basement shiraz cabernet, and – I didn’t even know they still made it – a few hearty draughts from a two-litre flagon of McWilliams Royal Reserve Brown Muscat.

Come on, we’re dying to know – how did the hangovers compare?
For a start, the difference in cost was alarming. On the expensive night, I calculated that I drank $400 worth of wine. The very same volume of cheap plonk added up to a minuscule $12. Frightening, isn’t it? Sobering, even. I was also surprised to find the posh-drop morning-after really wasn’t too bad: only slightly sick, dull headache, a bit foggy, a bit grumpy, but back to normal by early afternoon. The $12 hangover was, without question, much worse. When I did manage finally to crawl out of bed, my head was pounding, my heart was racing, and I was breathing fire. By mid-morning, a big lump of Plasticine in my head started to dry out and harden. By mid-afternoon, I was shrouded in cold self-pity. No doubt about it. Cheap wine really is worse for you than expensive wine.

But why is there such a difference?
No one knows for sure, but the most convincing theory I’ve heard concerns that one per cent of “other stuff”. In red wines particularly, the colour and much of the taste comes in the form of grape or oak-derived polyphenols – the tannins, pigment, flavour compounds and so on. In young red wines, most of these compounds are “short-chain” polyphenols. As the wine matures in the barrel and then in the bottle, however, the compounds polymerise, forming longer chains, altering the mouth-feel of the wine, and even dropping out of solution. This is why older red wine tastes more mellow, and why you find sediment at the bottom of the bottle. The theory is that while the body readily absorbs short-chain polyphenols, making the hangover worse, longer-chain polyphenols are less readily absorbed. And this goes some way to explaining my wildly differing hangover experiences, as the cheap wines I drank were barely a year old, whereas the posh wines had spent many years maturing.

So what you’re saying is that it’s not just a question of price – it’s a question of age.
Looks like it. Expensive wine may well give you a less severe hangover not because it’s expensive but because it’s likely to be older than the cheap plonk. All of which supports that other well-known wine-lover’s aphorism: drink less, drink better.

You can also read the article here on The Weekend Australian Magazine's website.

If you're keen to find out more about Max Allen, check out his website. He also writes for Gourmet Traveller, The Wine Magazine and various other publications around the globe.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Tasmania Unbottled

If you haven't had the chance to try many Tasmanian wines before, make sure you head along to Tasmania Unbottled on Wednesday 3 September 2008.

There will be more than 100 wines from 28 of Tasmania's top producers, including Clover Hill, Domaine A/Stoney Vineyard, Freycinet, Frogmore Creek, Moorilla Estate and Pirie South. Tickets are $45, and the wines will be accompanied by "Tasmanian gourmet delights".

There will also be a masterclass conducted by Tasmanian winemakers, focusing on pinot noir. The masterclass runs for an hour at an additional cost of $40.

I'm a big fan of Tasmanian wines, especially their pinot noir, so it sounds like a great night out. If you are interested, there is more information on the Wine Tasmania website.

Tasmania Unbottled
4pm to 8pm, 3 September 2008
City Hall
King George Square
Between Adelaide and Ann Streets
Brisbane 4000
P - 03 6223 3770
E -
W -

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Lounge Bistro

I don't get to Nundah very often, but I'd read a few articles about The Lounge Bistro and had been meaning to give it a try for a while.

The Lounge Bistro serves Greek food. I have such good memories of the food I ate in Greece, that I always look forward to going to a new Greek restaurant. The decor at The Lounge Bistro is pretty basic, and it has a homey kind of feel, with unmatched chairs and tables. We arrived at about 8pm on a Saturday night and it looked like the busiest part of the evening was over.

The menu is long, with plenty of options. Entrees (mezethes) range from dolmades (rice wrapped in vine leaves), melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), maridaki tiganito (pan-fried whitebait) and calamari. I ordered the octapodi skaras (char-grilled baby octopus) which was served with a green salad and garnished with julienned beetroot and carrot. The green salad had mint and parsley in it, which really added to the flavours of the dish. The octopus tasted great - it had been just cooked, and was tender, rather than chewy. It was a generous serving too.

We also had the saganaki (deep fried cheese) for entree. The menu didn't say what cheese it actually was, but it wasn't haloumi. Again it was a good sized serving, and came with a green salad. The cheese had a really salty flavour, but went well with the garlic based sauce. It would be a great match with a beer or two.

Until this stage of the night the service had been great. But when we were about half way through our entrees, we looked up to see a waitress bringing over our main courses. She realised on the way to the table that we were still eating our entrees and turned around. Unfortunately the kitchen was only a few metres from where we were sitting, and the two meals then just sat on the kitchen counter without any heat on them until they were brought back to the table about 5 minutes later.

Not surprisingly, when our main courses did make it to the table, they weren't very hot. That's always disappointing, especially when its the middle of winter and the restaurant isn't air conditioned. We dug into our mains anyway. So much for a break between courses.

I decided to go for gyros for main course - marinated lamb cooked on a spit served on a flat bread with green salad. This was an enormous plate of food. Half the plate was the lamb and the other half was pretty much the same salad that accompanied my entree. The whole plate was covered with tzatziki that had loads of garlic in it. The lamb was very good - most of the pieces had an excellent crunchy crust, which really added to the flavour and texture of the dish. As hard as I tried, I couldn't finish off the plate.

We also had one of the vegetarian options for mains - tomatoes stuffed with feta, breadcrumbs, oregano and mint. There were two tomatoes, which were served with two different sauces - one a rich, thick sauce on the bottom of the plate, and the garlicky tzatziki poured over the top. The tomatoes were served with some cold sweet potato chips on the top (which I found a bit odd - maybe they were hot when it was cooked) and some deep fried shallots. There was no shortage of garnish, believe me. Again it was an enormous serving, which we couldn't finish off.

Other main courses on offer include moussaka (layers of eggplant, potato, meat and bechamel sauce), pastitsio (macaroni with minced beef & fresh tomatoes finished with a bechamel sauce), fish of the day, a Greek beef stew, kotopoulo souvlaki (marinated chicken fillets on skewers) and a couple of king prawn dishes, which sounded very tempting.

I had been looking forward to enjoying a bottle of Greek wine with dinner, but I was told that they had none of their dry red wine left, which was a shame. I find it so hard to find any Greek wine in Brisbane restaurants. We ordered a half litre carafe of their house wine instead, which was pretty good value at $15. All of the wine on the compact list is well priced, or you can BYO if you prefer.

We had no room for dessert, but sweet options include some delicious looking galaktoboureko (custard filled pastry slice) and baklava, together with non-Greek options like Turkish delight cheesecake and a white chocolate mud cake. If you need a proper Greek coffee to finish off the meal, you can get one here for $6.

Overall I was a little disappointed with the food we had on our visit. Trying to serve us our main course while we were still eating entrees didn't help. I saw exactly the same thing happen to another table that sat down just after us. I think the meals were a bit over-garnished too, which detracted from the main flavours of what we had actually ordered. If our meals hadn't have been so rushed, and the meals were more focused on the core ingredients of each dish, it would have been a more enjoyable night out.

Although the timing of our meals wasn't the best, the waitresses that looked after us during the night were very friendly, helped out with our questions from the menu and made us feel very welcome to the restaurant. The bill came to $83 including our wine, so prices are very reasonable.

If you're planning on visiting The Lounge Bistro, I suggest that you only order dips or just a few nibbles for starters. The main courses really are huge, so you won't need to go crazy with your entrees.

What does all this mean? Tasty Greek food served in very generous portions, but service was a bit patchy.

food bling ratings
Food - OK
Service - Poor
Ambience - Indoor and outdoor seating, with a casual home-style feel
Value for Money - Great
Wine - A compact, well priced selection or BYO
Vegetarian - Good

The Lounge Bistro
Shop 1, 1252 Sandgate Road
Nundah 4012
P - 07 3266 6144

Lounge Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Nintendo DS Cooking Guide

By now you might have seen the ad that Hamish Blake is doing for the Nintendo DS Cooking Guide. If you haven't seen it, its here on youtube.

I don't have a Nintendo DS, but I think the idea is great. Sure I'd rather use a cookbook, but if it gets more people cooking fresh food for dinner, then it can only be a good thing. I'd much rather go round to someone's place and have them cook dinner using a Nintendo DS than eat a frozen pizza/something out of a packet/fast food. If anyone has a Nintendo DS, or has tried it out, let me know.

If you don't have a Nintendo DS, but are keen to give a recipe video a go, have a look at

Nundah Village Street Festival

Well here's another date to pop in your diary if you're on the Northside. The Nundah Village Street Festival is happening on Sunday 14th September 2008.

I was at Nundah Village a couple of weeks ago for dinner and saw an ad for the festival in a shop window. I haven't been able to find out much more about it since, but I'm sure there will be a few food stalls at the very least. The Nundah Village website says there will be bands, street performers, competitions and plenty of stalls.

If it's a sunny day I might head over and have a look. If I can track down any more details about the festival in the meantime, I'll post them up. If anyone has been before, please post up a comment.

Nundah Village Street Festival
9am to 3pm, Sunday 14th September 2008
Sandgate Road, Nundah

Monday, 11 August 2008


Earlier this year I rounded up a bunch of friends and headed to Singapura for my birthday dinner. I'd tried to go for Chinese New Year, but they were completely booked out.

Singapura is one of those few restaurants where I've only ever had great food. I hadn't been there for a year or so and had been dying to go back. Last time I was there the table next to us had this giant pile of crabs that looked so good I wanted to invite myself over and eat their dinner.

As you'd guess from its name, Singapura serves Singaporean food, together with some Malaysian dishes. This is the place to go if you like sambal, but there is also a great selection of seafood dishes.

Because it was my birthday, keeping notes of the food I ate was pretty low on the list of priorities for the night. So if this post is a bit hazy, you know why.

To start with I had the lettuce wraps. These were like san choy bau. They were tasty enough, but I found them a bit sloppy. There was too much sauce in the wraps, which meant that by the time I'd finished them, they were all over the table in front of me. I also tried the sweet corn soup, which was a tad salty for my liking.

After a few glasses of wine, it was on to main course. Ever since I saw the Food Safari episode on Singapore, I have been dying to try Singaporean chilli crab. I had my heart set on ordering one, until I saw the dreaded "market price" on the menu. I asked our waitress what the market price was. After she made a quick trip to the kitchen, I was told it would be $60. It took me a few minutes to decide whether I really wanted it that much, but it was my birthday after all, and I thought Singapura was probably one of the best places in Brisbane to give it a try. So after checking I actually had enough cash, I ordered the chilli crab.

The crab was delicious. It wasn't mind blowing, but I think that's just because I had been dreaming about how good it would taste ever since the one they cooked up for Meave on Food Safari. It sure looked like a lot of pieces of crab. The crab had been broken up into manageable bits, and every single piece was smothered in the beautiful chilli sauce. If you do order this, be prepared to have bits of crab and sauce all over your face, hands, arms and the table in front of you by the time you finish. That's because you'll end up slurping every last bit of crab flesh off the shells and legs. The crab was good, but I still don't know if it was $60 worth of good. No matter how much it cost, I'm glad I got to try it.

If you want to have a crack at cooking Singapore chilli crab at home, here's the recipe from Food Safari. It's not too complicated, and there's even a video you can watch on to help you put it all together. Believe me, it will be worth the effort.

I was too busy slurping away at my crab to eat too many of the other main courses. The salt and pepper tofu was delicious though. I love silken tofu, especially at Japanese restaurants, but otherwise I'm not the biggest fan of fried tofu. This was an exception - the tofu was crispy and really tasty. I was told that the spicy eggplant was also great. Eggplant isn't something you come across at many Asian restaurants, so we ordered it out of curiosity. It turned out to be delicious, spicy and unusual. The mixed vegetables in oyster sauce was ok, but tasted like the oyster sauce had just been poured over the top after the vegetables had been cooked.

There are a few desserts on the menu, including the ubiquitous deep fried ice-cream. By this stage of the night we'd all had a few drinks, so we ordered the agar agar with rambutan, just to see what it was. I had tried rambutans before, but not agar agar. Wikipedia tells me that agar-agar is the Malay word for jelly, and is derived from seaweed. Although it sounded wildly exotic, it turned out to be a bit of a letdown. The agar agar didn't taste like much and the three rambutans tasted like they'd come straight out of a tin. Maybe I just had high expectations after the chilli crab.

The decor at Singapura is pretty basic, although if you sit in the back part of the restaurant there are these cool landscape cut-outs against the wall. It's hard to describe them in words, so you'll just have to go and see them for yourself. Singapura can also get pretty noisy, as the place is usualy very busy, and it's popular with groups. Singapura is BYO, which means that a night of delicious food here doesn't end up costing too much. There is a handy bottle shop just on the other side of Milton road.

Service is usually friendly and efficient, although things can get a bit hectic when the place is full. Prices are excellent, unless of course your whole table decides to go for the chilli crab.

I think Singapura is one of the better Asian restaurants in Brisbane, where you can always count on a tasty feed. I certainly don't know of too many restaurants in Brisbane that specialise in Singaporean food, so its definitely worth a visit.

What does all this mean? Tasty Singaporean food and a great range of seafood at low prices.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Good
Ambience - Fairly basic, but keep an eye out for the landscapes at the back of the room
Value for Money - Great
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Good

Shop 3, 524 Milton Road
Toowong 4066
P - 07 3870 2266

Singapura on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Howard Park Wine Dinner

If you're a fan of Howard Park wines from Western Australia, get along to their new vintage wine dinner at Restaurant Two on Tuesday 9 September 2008.

I've thought for a long time that Howard Park make one of Australia's best rieslings, which usually cellars for years. Then there is the flagship cabernet sauvignon, and the chardonnay has really improved recently. I was lucky enough to do a tour of the winery at Denmark a couple of years ago, which is a really impressive building.

The dinner will feature their new release wines - 2005 Howard Park cabernet sauvignon, 2006 Howard Park chardonnay, 2008 Howard Park riesling and the 2008 Howard Park sauvignon blanc. There will also be a selection of museum wines on the night. If you're planning to go, you need to book via the Howard Park website, as numbers are limited. Tickets are $195, so you'd expect there will be plenty of wine to taste.

Howard Park New Vintage Wine Dinner
6.45pm, Tuesday 9 September 2008
Restaurant Two
2 Edward Street
Brisbane 4000
P - (08) 9423 1200
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Saturday, 9 August 2008

South Bank Growers Market

The next South Bank Growers' Market will be held on Sunday 24 August 2008 and will feature stalls from the Granite Belt region. There isn't a lot of information about the market on the website, but apparently there will be about 40 stalls, covering food and wine.

I haven't been along to the South Bank Growers' Market, but plan to go along to this one as there is some great food and wine being produced around Stanthorpe. I'll let you know what it's like.

The following Growers' Market will be on Sunday 26 October 2008 and will focus on food and wine from the Sunshine Coast.

South Bank Growers Market
10am to 4pm, Sunday 24 August 2008
Between Grey and Little Stanley Streets
South Bank 4101
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Wine Emporium Sale

It's not very often that really good wine sales happen in Brisbane. Which is why I rushed in to The Wine Emporium today. The Wine Emporium is having a huge sale that covers wine from just about everywhere. The sale list is 19 pages long, so everyone should find a drop that takes their fancy.

I went for a bit of a splurge on red Burgundy and picked up bottles of Domaine Daniel Rion 2005 Nuits-Saint-Georges "Les Vignes Rondes" 1er Cru, Domaine Daniel Rion 2005 Vosne-Romanee "Les Beaux Monts" 1er Cru and a Faiveley 2005 Nuits-Saint-Georges "Les Damodes" 1er Cru. And seeing as its still winter, I couldn't go past a half bottle of Smith Woodhouse 1994 vintage port.

Although its a "sale", you can only get a list of the wines on sale from The Wine Emporium website. You also have to join up as a member, but that takes about 10 seconds. You'll need to print the list out and take it with you, because none of the wines on sale are marked in the store.

If you need a few bottles to stock up the cellar, you better get in there today or tomorrow. The guys tell me that there were people lined up outside the store this morning before the doors opened, so I don't think there will be much left by Monday.

The Wine Emporium
Shop 47, Emporium
1000 Ann Street
Fortitude Valley 4005
P - 07 3252 1117
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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Lock 'n' Load

Recently I went along to a birthday party at Lock 'n' Load at West End. Lock 'n' Load is another one of those places that I have walked past loads of times, but never actually ventured inside.

My friends had cleverly booked a private room up on the first floor. When you walk inside, the first thing you'll see is the main bar. This is also where bands set up later on in the night. Then you walk past the dining area, which was very busy. There's also an outdoor area out the back, but being the middle of winter, I'm glad we weren't out there.

We headed upstairs into the space that had been booked. It turned out to be two pretty big rooms, together with a verandah that overlooked Boundary Street. There were plenty of couches and chairs around the two rooms to relax into after we'd all had a few drinks.

Rather than have a sit-down dinner, we ate from the $30 a head canape menu. The quality of canapes at Lock 'n' Load is a big step up from the tired calamari rings and soggy spring rolls that so many places serve up around town. The canapes included arancini (risotto balls), asparagus wrapped in shaved zucchini served with tomato sauce, nachos with salsa, avocado, cheese & sour cream, scallops served on a half shell (these were delicious) and crusty bread served with pesto, tomato and roast capsicum. Sure it wasn't haute cuisine, but it was tasty and exactly the food we were after.

The food was brought out on platters every 5-10 minutes and then left on a table for grazing. There was plenty of food throughout the night. For me, this is the perfect kind of dinner for a party - you can have a drink in one hand, a canape in the other and wander around the room talking to whoever you like.

During the night we all ordered our drinks from the bar downstairs. Although the bar got busy as the night went on, I never had to wait more than a couple of minutes to be served. Drinks prices are very reasonable - you can get decent bottles of wine under $30 and standard spirits are $6.

The music during the night was fantastic, which added to a great atmosphere. They even played two Belle & Sebastian albums in a row, so whoever was in charge of the music had great taste (Belle & Sebastian are one of my favourite bands - you can have a listen here). If you don't like the music they're playing on the sound system, then head downstairs where you're likely to find a band playing on most Friday and Saturday nights.

So if you're looking for a great spot for a private party or a night out with a bunch of friends, its definitely worth giving Lock 'n' Load a try. The food is good, drinks are cheap, you can reserve a private room and they even play great music - what more could you need on a Saturday night?

Lock 'n' Load Bistro
142 Boundary Street
West End 4101
P - 07 3844 0142
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Lock 'n' Load on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Verve Cafe

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch at Verve Cafe with a few work buddies. Over the years I must have walked past Verve Cafe hundreds and hundreds of times. I even worked as a volunteer in the Metro Arts building for a few years. But I'd never eaten at Verve Cafe.

The first trick was actually getting a booking, which turned out to be harder than expected. We had to postpone our lunch a couple of weeks because the restaurant was booked out the first time (it was Friday lunch after all). Eventually we got a booking and wandered down the steps looking for a good lunch and a few bottles of wine.

The first thing that hits you when you get to the bottom of the stairs and into the restaurant is just how dark it is. The next thing you'll probably notice is the noise. Then you look around and realise that the whole place looks pretty cool, and soon enough you'll adjust and completely forget that its either dark or noisy. The restaurant really has the feel of an Italian trattoria. And it was packed. No wonder it was hard to get a booking.

We were quickly shown to our table by a friendly waiter, and the menus were handed out. There aren't a lot of choices for entrees - most people were getting stuck into one of the breads. If it's bread your after, you can choose from herb bread ($4.90), pan bread (kalamata olive, sea salt, basil & bocconcini - $4.90), olive tapenade (smashed kalamata olives, virgin oil, garlic with toasted pan bread - $4.90) or the dips plate (chef’s selection of dips with fresh baked pita bread - $9.90).

If bread just isn't your bag, then kick off the meal with the soup of the day ($8.90), mushrooms filled with rosemary and roast capsicum risotto ($10.90) or the calamari salad (pan fried with olive oil, garlic and lemon on a thyme, roast capsicum & green salad - $14.90).

We decided against ordering any starters and opted for a bottle of wine instead, in true Friday lunch fashion. But within a few minutes a plate of bread arrived on the table. After checking with the waitress, we were told it was complementary. Things were going well at this stage.

There are plenty of mains to choose from. The food at Verve Cafe is mainly Italian, but with modern flavours, so its no surprise to see the main courses covering pasta, risotto, pizza and a few other "plates".

The first thing I noticed on the menu was that there was an option to order any of the pizzas or pastas gluten free. Our bubbly waitress told me that she was also on a gluten free diet and that the pizza bases were great. By that point I was sold and I ordered the excitingly named "ham" pizza, topped with salami, ham, olives, mushroom and mozzarella ($17.90 with a gluten free base). They are pretty much my favourite pizza toppings, so I was happy. Other pizza options include roast pumpkin with pine nuts, sun-dried tomato, English spinach, pesto, caramelised onion and mozzarella ($15.90), chicken with marinated feta, roast capsicum, caramelised onion, thyme and mozzarella ($15.90) and of course a margarita with tomato, basil and mozzarella ($15.90).

The rest of our table all ordered the pescatore linguini, served with scallops, prawns, roasted bell peppers, kalamata olives, fresh basil and an olive oil base ($20.90). I was thinking about ordering the same dish, but had to try something different.

Other mains that caught my eye were the goat's cheese gnocchi (roast pumpkin, chicken, fresh rosemary, goat's cheese and cream - $19.90), the sand crab & prawn risotto (diced Roma tomato, zest of lemon, fresh thyme and cream - $20.90) and the blue cheese risotto (pancetta, chicken, cream, white wine, fresh rosemary and olives - $18.90). They will have to wait until next time.

My pizza was good. Thankfully it had a nice crispy base. So many gluten free pizzas are served on soggy, floury bases that resemble a pikelet more than a pizza. It wasn't overloaded with toppings, which meant that you could actually taste everything that was on the pizza. The pizza wasn't enormous, but I just managed to finish off all four pieces.

The verdict on the pescatore linguini was that it was tasty, but had a tad too much garlic. There was plenty of seafood with the pasta, so there were no complaints on that front. I didn't get to try any, but the pasta smelt delicious.

The wine list at Verve Cafe is pretty compact, but extremely well priced. We had a few bottles of the Hazard Hill semillon sauvignon blanc with lunch, which was about $30 a bottle. There is plenty to choose from at around that price point, so a few bottles of wine here won't break the bank.

Throughout the meal our service was excellent and particularly friendly. The waiters knew the menu well and always seemed to pop up at the right time.

Verve Cafe is an excellent place for a weekday lunch. The food was good, tasty and fresh. Although the place was very busy, we hardly waited for our meals and were never left feeling neglected by the staff. It's always great to come across a place like Verve Cafe. If only there were more places in the CBD like it to enjoy a relaxing lunch with friends.

What does all this mean? Tasty modern Italian food in cool, dark surroundings at very reasonable prices.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Great
Ambience - A dark, downstairs room with plenty of atmosphere
Value for Money - Great
Wine - Compact selection at good prices
Vegetarian - Good
Gluten Free - Great

Verve Cafe
Basement, 109 Edward Street
Brisbane 4000
P - 07 3221 5691
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Verve Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Cityfood Growers

I read about the Cityfood Growers website in our local paper the other week and have been meaning to check it out ever since.

I've had a nosey around the site today and it looks pretty impressive. It's basically set up as a resource centre for city gardeners to grow food organically. The site gives you details of what you should be planting at different times of the year, as well as information on companion planting, non chemical treatment of pests, diseases & weeds and water management.

Cityfood Growers also has a food garden market which allows members to buy and sell food that you have grown. That seems like a terrific idea, which will hopefully cut down on wastage of organic fruit and vegetables. Who knows - you might end up buying a bunch of tomatoes from someone just down the street. Best of all, it means people will be able to eat local produce, rather than fruit & vegies that have been trucked from the other side of the country (or worse still, overseas).

It costs $25 to join up as a member for a year. I haven't joined yet, but I will be, as we're planting lots of vegetables over the next couple of months. Hopefully Cityfood Growers will provide us with all the information we need to get our backyard vegetable garden thriving.

Cityfood Growers
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Ambiwerra Festival

If you're sitting around at home tomorrow wondering what to do, head over to the Ambiwerra Festival at Corinda. Ambiwerra promises great food, good wine and live jazz.

This year food is being provided by Zenbar, River Canteen, Restaurant Two, Restaurant Rapide, Olivetto's, Sultan's Kitchen, Cream Patisserie and Kingaroy Cheese. Kate Ceberano, Ingrid James and the Brisbane Contemporary Jazz Orchestra will be providing the music to accompany your food & wine.

Tickets are available at the gate for $55 if you haven't already got one. There is plenty of information about the day on their website.

I've never been to the Ambiwerra Festival before, but it sounds like a great way to spend the afternoon if it's a lovely sunny day.

Ambiwerra Festival
10.30am to 5pm, Sunday 3 August 2008
Erinvale Street
Corinda 4075
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Tastes of the Gold Coast

Well it feels like ages since I actually put up a proper food post. Loads of things have been happening in Brisbane in the meantime, like the Brisbane Festival, the Masterclass Weekend and plenty of wine events.

One that I haven't yet missed is the upcoming Tastes of the Gold Coast Festival. It's running from 22 August until 7 September 2008.

There are loads of events happening, which you can check out on the website. It's great to see that many of the events are focused around local produce and wines. A few of the events that caught my eye were:

French Food & Fashion - Friday 29 August 2008 at 12pm at Absynthe - Indulge in haute cuisine created by Michelin-rated French Chef Meyjitte Boughenout and be tempted by haute couture from a leading fashion house - $55.

A La Carte on the Beach - Sunday 24 August 2008 from 10am to 4pm at Queen Elizabeth Park, Coolangatta - A food and wine festival by Coolangatta beach featuring a vast array of cuisine from around the world.

Slow Food Bazaar - Sunday 31 August 2008 from 10am to 4pm at Karnak Restaurant, Mount Tamborine - Enjoy tasting platters of spit-roasted lamb and slow food's innovative cuisine. Buy local plants, fresh organic produce and sample some of Australia's finest dukkah, olives, jams, chutneys, avocados and other gourmet delights

Chocolate High Tea - Friday 22 August 2008 at 10am at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa - Featuring a live demonstration by renowned chocolatier, Belgian Delights, this morning of sweet sensations is guaranteed to satisfy the most fastidious chocolate connoisseur - $70.

So if you need an excuse to head down the coast during the middle of winter, there are plenty to take your pick from during the festival.

Tastes of the Gold Coast
22 August to 7 September 2008
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