I've eaten at the Lab Bar + Restaurant a few times over the years and generally speaking the food has been dependably good. I also had memories of a good wine list, so I headed back there for dinner recently.
The room was pretty noisy when we walked in. If you haven't been before, there is a big, impressive looking bar which takes up one wall, with the tables located between the bar and the windows on George Street. Unfortunately our table was right against a big pillar and a large wine storage cabinet. I had the wine storage cabinet right next to me. Pretty bizarre place to put a table if you ask me, but it kept me entertained checking out the wine for a couple of minutes. Not exactly great ambience though.
We ordered a couple of glasses of wine to start. I had ordered a glass of the Pewsey Vale gewurztraminer, but the waiter started to pour me a glass of a different gewurztraminer. He didn't show the label of the bottle to me before pouring, just poured it straight into the glass. After I spotted it was the wrong wine, the waiter apologised and told me they wouldn't charge us for that glass. He came back a few minutes later with a glass of the wine I had ordered as well. Not the greatest start to the night, but at least it was handled well.
For entree I ordered the pan seared calamari with avocado salsa, baby cos & tomato gazpacho ($19). I really enjoyed this dish - the calamari was cooked perfectly, it looked great and was a good combination of clean flavours. The gewurtraminer was a great match.
We also ordered an entree of asparagus served with egg and truffle salad. This dish was ok, but the asparagus had been crumbed, and I thought the batter & crumbs overpowered the delicate flavour of the asparagus.
I had Bangalow pork cheeks with sweet potato and apple for main course. It was a cool night, and this dish turned out to be delicious. The pork cheeks were meltingly tender, and served with some excellent, crunchy crackling. Good pork crackling is something you don't come across on restaurant menus very often these days, which is a shame. For some reason, pork crackling just isn't "fashionable". I don't care if its fashionable, I just love crackling. Although it sounded a fairly simple dish, the salty/sweet contrasts between the crackling, the pork cheeks and the apple really made this an excellent main course.
My vegetarian companion ordered a cauliflower tart with rocket & figs for her main. Unfortunately the filling of the tart was runny in places and obviously hadn't been cooked quite enough. It tasted lovely, but the texture let it down. Also, the tart was served with a ratatouille that wasn't mentioned on the menu. Sadly, the robust ratatouille didn't sit with the delicate flavours of the tart and figs. Mystery ingredients which aren't listed on the menu are one of my pet annoyances, especially when they just don't complement the rest of the dish.
The wine list at the Lab is good. There is a strong selection of wines by the glass. And if you're looking to really spend some money on wine, have a look through the cellar list, which includes the likes of Yquem and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. With our main courses, we had a glass of Curly Flat pinot noir (an excellent wine) and a glass of Jimbour Station Ludwig reserve merlot. It's great to see more Brisbane restaurants supporting the Queensland wine industry.
For dessert we ordered one of the ginger creme brulees, which was served with lime sorbet and a pineapple & coconut macaroon. The creme brulee was excellent. The "macaroon" turned out to be a slice of deep fried pineapple.
None of the desserts jumped off the page at me after my excellent main course, so I decided to order the Lab kitchen churned sorbet & ice cream with tropical fruit. The ice creams included lychee & honeydew melon (I couldn't pick the other flavours), which were served with pineapple, grapes and kiwifruit. It was ok, but not in the same class as the creme brulee.
Overall the food was a bit hit and miss. My main course and entree were both very good, as was the ginger creme brulee. But overall, the food lacked the consistency across the board which would really have turned it into a memorable evening.
Service during the night was very friendly, but a bit slap-dash at times. Again, more consistency with service would have added to our night out.
Finally, vegetarians will find the Lab good value. There is a separate (although small) vegetarian section on the menu, and the vegetarian meals are significantly cheaper than the other main courses.
What does all this mean? A good selection of modern-Australian food and a great wine list, but lacking a bit of consistency in both the food and service.
food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Ok
Ambience - A classy dining room, dominated by the impressive bar
Value for Money - Good
Wine - Great
Vegetarian - Ok
The Lab Bar + Restaurant
Corner George Street & Stephens Lane
P - 07 3306 8647
W - http://www.conrad.com.au/treasury/restaurants/ryans_default.htm