Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Bittersweet Chocolate

For years and years Hot Chocolate at Paddington was my favourite place to buy chocolates in Brisbane. Many a weekend afternoon we would wander in there, take about 10 minutes to decide what chocolates to buy and then leave with big smiles on our faces, knowing that they'd be lucky to last a couple of hours at home (one of my friends would eat hers in the car on the way home).

So I was very disappointed to find out that Hot Chocolate had closed. That was until I found out that Ann Atkinson, the owner, had opened a new chocolate store at The Barracks, called Bittersweet.

Its taken me months to actually pop in for a chocolate fix, but I dropped in recently. It's only a small shop, just next door to Coles, but once you step inside the door you are surrounded by chocolate. Not only that, but you'll be overwhelmed by the amazing aromas of high quality chocolate.

Getting in the store is the easy part - then you have to decide on what to buy. I stuck with two of my past favourites - a white chocolate macadamia cluster and a macadamia caramel (and yes I do like macadamias). Branching out a little, I also picked up a champagne truffle, mainly because it looked delicious. Although I do love the macadamia chocolates, I have to admit that when it came to eating them, the champagne truffle was an amazingly decadent ball of chocolate.

My wife picked out a dark chocolate ginger disc, orange & coconut truffle and a dark chocolate truffle - out of those three the dark chocolate truffle was the winner by a nose.

All up there are 60 different flavours, including ginger & benedictine truffles, whipped cream snails and kumquat clusters. You can buy chocolates in boxes of 4, 8, 12, 24, 48 and 96 (if you're really in need of a chocolate fix). Otherwise you can select as many as you like for $15 per 100 grams.

If you haven't been to Bittersweet, you're missing out on some fantastic hand made chocolates. As you've probably guessed, I'll definitely be back.

Tenancy 8, The Barracks
61 Petrie Terrace
Paddington 4064
P - 07 3367 3323
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Monday, 26 October 2009

Frankland Estate and Ngeringa Wine Dinner

Wineaway's last wine function of the year is a Frankland Estate and Ngeringa Wine Dinner, which is being held this Friday night, 30 October 2009.

Frankland Estate is a rising star on the Australian wine scene, particularly because of its amazing single vineyard rieslings, from the Great Southern region in Western Australia. On the other hand, Ngeringa is a small, boutique producer from the Adelaide Hills, making biodynamic wines - its first vines were only planted in 2001. I've only tried one Ngeringa wine so far, which was part of a degustation dinner at Absynthe.

The evening will be jointly hosted by Hunter Smith (Frankland Estate winemaker) and Erinn Klein (Ngeringa winemaker). Tickets are $90 and Brent Farrell will be in charge of dinner.

The wines on tasting during the night will be:

2008 Ngeringa JE Rose

2008 Ngeringa Chardonnay

2008 Ngeringa Viognier

2007 Ngeringa Pinot Noir

2006 Ngeringa Syrah

2009 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling

2009 Frankland Estate Cooladerra Riesling

2009 Frankland Estate Poison Hill Riesling

1996 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling

2007 Frankland Estate Malbec

2007 Frankland Estate Olmo's Reward

1996 Frankland Estate Olmo's Reward

1996 Frankland Estate Cabernet Franc

1996 Frankland Estate Petit Verdot

Frankland Estate and Ngeringa Wine Dinner
Friday 30 October 2009, 6.30pm
Unit 3, 276 Abbotsford Road
Bowen Hills 4006
P - 07 0852 1891
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I've been wanting to eat at Alchemy for ages, so it was very fortunate that I managed to get an invite to a work lunch there recently.

Alchemy is in a great spot, overlooking the river next to Customs House. Although it doesn't have the wide frontage of Jellyfish, it's still a great view out over the river. Our friendly waiter came to the table with lunch menus - all the staff were wearing their "Vote for Brad Jolly GQ" shirts.

When I opened the menu, I was impressed with the range of food on offer - there were 12 entrees and 12 mains (including specials). The flip side is that with so many dishes to choose from, decisions are very tough.

Entrees that I wanted to order included the spiced sweetcorn soup with sautéed spanner crab ($24), cod brandade with coddled duck egg, herb vinaigrette and petite salad ($26) and the charcuterie of cold cured meats, venison bresaola, salami, prosciutto marinated olive and crusty bread ($28). After plenty of to-ing and fro-ing, I picked the scallops with slow roasted peppers, confit cherry tomato and garlic puree ($26). I'd had scallops as an entree for lunch at 1889 Enoteca the day before, so I thought I'd see how the two dishes compared.

After enjoying a refreshing gin & tonic (made with Bombay Sapphire - my favourite gin), we shared a bottle of 2007 Escarpment Pinot Gris from Malborough ($79). Although I'd had the Escarpment pinot noir before, this was my first taste of the pinot gris, which turned out to be a good match with the scallops.

We didn't have to wait too long for the entrees to arrive. The scallops were impressively presented and were perfectly cooked. There's nothing worse than a tough, overcooked scallop, but these were excellent - only just cooked in the middle. I found the flavour of the slow roasted pepper and cherry tomatoes overpowered the delicate flavour of the scallops, so I didn't end up eating too much of the puree, and focused on the lovely scallops instead.

In between the entree and main course, our table (and most of the restaurant) were startled by some very loud swearing being shouted around the room. I thought that some crazy person must have wandered in to the restaurant and started shouting some pretty terrible language. I won't repeat what was said, but let's just say it made Gordon Ramsay sound like a kitten. We were even more shocked when we realised that it had come from the kitchen - not what a diner wants to be hearing at a top Brisbane restaurant while enjoying a slow Friday lunch. If that's going to happen in the kitchen, then the door to the dining room should remain well and truly shut. As the person said sitting across from me - if her mother had been there, she would never return. I think that probably went for a few others in the room as well.

After that bizarre event, our mains arrived. All except one of us on the table had ordered the beef cheeks, which were one of the specials for the day. I had a really hard time choosing my main course from the menu, which included swordfish sous vide with tomato compote, celery & artichoke noodles and jus gras ($38), glazed pork loin with white wine cabbage, apple and cider purée, pork crackling and mustard dressing ($38) and grilled rare tuna with braised orange endive and red wine sauce ($38).

The beef cheeks were served with big, chunky lardons, button mushrooms and potato mash. As you'd expect, the beef cheeks were meltingly tender - our waiter told us they'd been cooked for 18 hours. Although I enjoyed the dish, it reminded me of a beef bourginon, and just lacked a bit of wow factor. Maybe I had just ordered the wrong thing off the menu.

We had a bottle of 2005 St Hugo cabernet sauvignon from Coonawarra ($75) which was drinking well, and went down very easily with the beef cheeks.

I hadn't really been blown away by my food so far, so I was really looking for something different by the time it came to dessert. Luckily I noticed on the menu that they were offering liquid nitrogen gastronomic nibbles, which was exactly what I needed. It immediately reminded me of the frozen chocolate I'd had as part of an amazing dessert at Absynthe.

Apart from the liquid nitrogen nibbles, there were some delicious sounding desserts, like coconut and palm sugar panna cotta with caramelized pineapple financier ($17) and hot chocolate marbre with crunchy honeycomb and vanilla bean ice cream ($17).

Our desserts took a long time to arrive, even though there were only four ordered around the table of six people. For the liquid nitrogen nibbles, I was invited up to the special station at the front of the restaurant. The chef put his industrial gloves on and poured in a decent amount of liquid nitrogen into a little bowl - it was all very theatrical. First up was a small chunk of honeycomb, which had been flavoured with a bit of mint. After a minute or so floating around in the liquid nitrogen, the chef popped it onto a little napkin and told me to throw it straight into my mouth. It pretty much disappeared as soon as it hit my tongue - even more crumbly than normal honeycomb. The mint gave it a great zing on the finish. This was my kind of dessert!

Next up was some apple sour mixture, which was probably my favourite of the liquid nitrogen nibbles - it had a fantastic tang to it after being completely frozen in the liquid nitrogen bowl. Finally I was served some black forest cake mousse, which was probably the least impressive of the three nibbles. While the chef was whipping these up, a few restaurant guests came up to watch and had a chat with me. It's great to be able to interact with other guests during a meal - I thought the liquid nitrogen stand was a great idea.

I had an espresso to finish up the meal, which was very well made - if only I didn't have to go back to work afterwards.

All up, the location and view over the river meant this was a really enjoyable lunch, on a perfect Brisbane afternoon. I walked in holding extremely high expectations, and although they probably weren't completely met, it's hard not to enjoy a lunch in this fantastic setting.

What does all this mean? A huge selection of modern Australian food, solid wine list, unique liquid nitrogen desserts and a super view out over the Brisbane river.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Great
Ambience - Modern, understated room with a fantastic river view
Value for Money - Ok
Wine - Good

175 Eagle Street
Brisbane 4000
P - 3229 3175
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Alchemy Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Rice Paddy

I go out of my way to support neighbourhood restaurants, so after seeing a few ads for the Rice Paddy in our local newspaper, we popped in for dinner on the weekend.

The Rice Paddy is in a fairly innocuous block of shops on South Pine Road at Everton Park. If you didn't know it was there, you'd probably drive right past it - luckily we were looking out for it. The main reason I wanted to visit was because there were dishes on the menu that were different from the regulars you usually come across at suburban Thai restaurants around Brisbane.

We arrived to be greeted by a couple of friendly staff, who showed us to our table. We were offered menus straight away, and two glasses of water were brought to the table. A wine cooler was brought out in a stand next to the table, with plenty of ice, and two glasses of wine were poured. By this stage, we felt very welcome.

The entrees didn't jump off the menu at me, so I ordered satay chicken, my favourite Thai starter. Other entree choices include vegetarian spring rolls, golden bags (rice pastry filled with stir fried chicken, coconut, corn & oyster sauce), fish cakes and Thai dippings (roti pastry served with chilli jam and satay sauce).

When I saw the size of my four satay chicken skewers, I was very concerned about how I would ever finish my main course. They were four very generous satay skewers, with plenty of chicken. Although a couple of bits of the chicken were a little gristly, they were otherwise tender, properly cooked and covered in plenty of Thai peanut sauce. Even though I didn't need to eat them all, they disappeared off the plate.

We also ordered a serve of the crispy tofu. These were little squares of tofu that had been deep fried and served with a peanut chilli sauce. When this dish arrived at the table it was obvious that it had only just come out of the deep fryer. The outside of the tofu was beautifully crisp, while the inside was still delicate and soft - they'd been perfectly cooked. I've had some great tofu dishes recently and this is another very impressive one (they were also great to dip into my satay sauce).

If none of the entrees are your bag, order a soup instead - tom yum (lemongrass, mushroom, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice and chilli) or tom kha (coconut cream with lemon juice, mushroom, galangal and chilli). Each of the soups can be served with chicken, king prawns, seafood or vegetable & tofu.

Main course is where the menu gets more interesting. I went straight to the house specials, which include stir fried fish with ginger, duck garden, chicken kaffir lime leaves, king prawns tamarind, king prawns clay pot (sauteed king prawns with glass noodles, fresh ginger, black peppercorn and sesame sauce) and crying tiger (BBQ beef marinated with Thai herbs & oyster sauce, served with crushed roasted rice and spicy & sour sauce).

There were also some eye catching salads, like the lime pork salad (spicy pork cooked in lime sauce mixed with fresh vegetables), Rice Paddy golden salad (fresh salad greens with tofu and boiled egg served with peanut sauce and crispy sweet potato) and the prawn salad (cooked fresh prawns with lemon juice, fresh herbs and seasoned with chilli & lime dressing). I'll have to go back for the salads.

As much as I loved the sound of the crying tiger and the salads, I opted for the duck garden, thinking it might be presented in some very impressive fashion. Although there was no magical presentation, no-one would be disappointed by the size of the serving - it was huge. Unlike some duck dishes at Asian restaurants, this one was full of tender duck pieces. There were also plenty of vegetables - zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, carrot, sweetcorn, celery and cauliflower. While there was a distinct sesame flavour to the sauce, it didn't overpower the duck. A good (but not great) dish.

My wife ordered the stir fried vegetable & tofu with basil and chilli. As soon as it hit the table I could smell the amazing aromas of Thai basil. I only had a quick taste, but it was a lovely dish. The sauce was excellent - a bit of chilli kick complemented by the fragrant Thai basil. Plenty of vegetables and some more well-cooked tofu rounded off a delicious dish.

There are numerous other main courses, many of which you will find at your local suburban Thai restaurant - red, green, panang, massaman, yellow and chu chee curries, together with ten or so stir fry dishes. Most of main courses can be prepared with tofu and vegetables, so there are loads of options for non-meat eaters.

We both had so much of our main courses left that we asked for a couple of take away containers, not wanting to waste the food. The staff happily obliged and packaged them up with the coconut rice we didn't manage to eat either.

Service was terrific and friendly throughout the night. Our waitress happily re-filled my wine glass continually (which is almost unheard of at a BYO restaurant) and we were never short of water on the table. There was a good, comfortable space between courses, which we really needed because of the amount of food. All up our dinner was $55 (which included a Thai style iced tea), so it was a great value meal.

Although I wouldn't say the Rice Paddy is the best Thai food I've ever had, its a solid suburban Thai restaurant that I'll happily return to, so I can explore the rest of the menu.

What does all this mean? Well priced, tasty Thai food with very friendly service. Worth a visit to try interesting Thai dishes you don't often see around Brisbane.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Great
Ambience - Casual suburban restaurant, with Thai decorations
Value for Money - Great
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Great

Rice Paddy
Shop 5, 544 South Pine Road
Everton Park 4058
P - 07 3162 5219

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Luke Nguyen's Vietnam

Unfortunately my favourite food show of the moment, My Family Feast, has now finished up. Luckily for all of us though, the great people at SBS have replaced it with another food show - Luke Nguyen's Vietnam.

Luke Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but is now the chef and owner of Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney (I still haven't made it there yet). I watched the first episode last week, and he cooked some amazing dishes around Saigon - he makes them look so easy. The beef with wild betel leaf and lemongrass that he cooked on a street vendor's little van looked particularly tasty.

If you love Vietnamese food, then its definitely worth adding to your viewing schedule - Thursday nights at 7.30pm on SBS1. And stay tuned afterwards for Costa's Garden Odyssey, which is the most entertaining gardening show I've ever seen on TV - I'm hooked.

Luke Nguyen also seems to have a new cookbook out, called The Songs of Sapa, which I've been eyeing off at Borders. I think it will find its way into my cookbook collection sooner or later...

Luke Nguyen's Vietnam
Thursday nights, 7.30pm - SBS1
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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Breakfast Creek Hotel

It's been years since I've had a steak at the Breakfast Creek Hotel. As my wife is a vegetarian, steak restaurants don't usually get a look in for dinner. But our baby shower was the perfect chance for me to round up a few carnivorous friends and pop into the Breakfast Creek for a leisurely lunch.

Although the pub does offer food other than steak (including vegetarian meals), beef seems to be the main reason people visit for lunch. And if it's steak you're after, you can choose from not only the cut, but also the breed of the beast:

Nolan meats private selection rib eye on the bone - $37.50

Rib fillet finished on 100 day grain fed (bos taurus x angus) - $28.50

Prime Rump finished on 100 day grain fed (bos taurus) - $27.90

Nolan meats private selection T-bone - $29.90

Wagyu Rump grain fed (350 days plus) - $33.00

Large eye fillet finished on 100 day grain fed (bos taurus) - $36.90

Petite eye fillet finished on 70 day grain fed (bos taurus) - $28.00

Fillet mignon finished on 70 day grain fed (bos taurus) - $29.50

New Yorker 100 day grain fed (bos taurus) - $29.90

Wagyu Striploin from the Darling Downs - $39.00

750gm T-bone 120 to 150 days grain fed (bos taurus) - $45.90

All of the steaks are served with the Breakfast Creek's famous coleslaw, tomato and an Idaho potato topped with bacon sauce (which I can remember eating there when I was about 10 years old) or salad and chips. Your steaks can also be served with mushroom, chilli or pepper sauce. Breadrolls are still served wrapped up in napkins, keeping with tradition.

After a fair bit of indecision, I ordered the Wagyu rump, medium rare with salad and chips. I was tossing up between that, the New Yorker (which looked fantastic) and the Wagyu striploin. All of the steaks are on display in a big cabinet as you line up to order, which helps (or hinders) the decision making process. I skipped the sauce, remembering the sage advice of a good friend (a butcher's son) - that if a steak is good enough, you don't need sauce.

You wander back to your table with a little beeper, which starts to go crazy once your meals are ready. My steak was a good size, and had been cooked perfectly. It was still tender right through and had a lovely flavour. I had no quibbles paying $33 for it. It still amazes me that plenty of places in the CBD serve far inferior steaks for around about the same price and manage to get away with it.

There were no complaints from around the table. Between us we had ordered a good selection of the various steaks. Although I was very happy with the Wagyu rump, the consensus around the table was that the Wagyu striploin was the winner. For $39 you'd hope it would be good.

After our steaks were cleaned up, we headed into the public bar, and felt like we'd gone back in time about 30 years. The public bar at the Breakfast Creek looks like it hasn't changed in a long time. I find it sad that so many pubs around Brisbane have been "modernised", losing their historical charm. No chance of that in the public bar at the Breakfast Creek. It was such a refreshing experience that we spent most of the afternoon in there, watching the Lions game and just observing the regulars. The other attraction of this bar is that the Breakfast Creek is (as far as I know) the only pub left in Queensland that still sells XXXX "off the wood" (ie from wooden casks).

I'm in no hurry to rush back to the Breakfast Creek this weekend, but we all really enjoyed both the steaks and the atmosphere in the public bar. Although there are plenty of challengers around Brisbane for great steaks, it's good to see that the Breaky Creek can still walk the walk.

What does all this mean? Good steak, an authentic public bar and XXXX off the wood - it's a Brisbane icon.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Collect your meals from the counter
Ambience - Relaxed outside seating, but can be noisy on weekends
Value for Money - Good
Wine - OK, but stick to XXXX off the wood
Vegetarian - Limited selection

Breakfast Creek Hotel
2 Kingsford Smith Drive
Breakfast Creek 4010
P - 07 3262 5988
E -
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Breakfast Creek Hotel on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Valley Fiesta 2009

This year's Valley Fiesta is almost here - it's happening next weekend, 23 to 25 October 2009.

I know Valley Fiesta isn't a food festival, but it is a great chance to head into the Valley for drinks and dinner, followed by some terrific live music. This year there are three stages, and once again all the entertainment is free. Artists on the bill next weekend include Bertie Blackman, Kev Carmody, CW Stoneking, the Panda Band and Hungry Kids of Hungary. I'm planning on catching Bertie Blackman on Saturday night, but you can look through the whole Valley Fiesta program here. In addition to the great line up of music, the program also includes theatre and visual arts this year.

So round up a few friends, head off to your favourite Valley bar/cafe/restaurant and then make the most of a fantastic weekend of free entertainment.

Valley Fiesta
Friday 23 October to Sunday 25 October 2009
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Saturday, 17 October 2009

Vespa Pizza

Unfortunately I don't get to write about many pizza places in Brisbane, because pizza is one of those things that was cruelly taken away from me when I found out I had coeliac disease (cue sad music).

Over the last couple of years though I've been perfecting a thin, crispy, gluten-free pizza base at home, but I've had a lot of trouble finding a good one out in the restaurant world. I suspect the main problem is that while a few restaurants around the place are now serving gluten-free pizza bases, the people preparing them don't eat the finished product on a regular basis, so the usual quality controls may slip by the wayside. The main disappointment, after trying plenty of gluten free bases, is that they tend to go really soggy. From my experience at home, the trick to a good gluten free base is pre-cooking it first, so it's on the way to getting crispy, then top with only a few ingredients and cook at a high heat. One day I'll remember to post up a recipe for my gluten free capricciosa pizza.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, one of my readers recommended Vespa Pizza at New Farm. We popped in a couple of weekends ago to give their pizzas a try. Vespa Pizza is right next door to Tandoori King (my current favourite Indian restaurant) on Merthyr Road.

We arrived at 7pm, which is a bit early for dinner in my book, but now we have a 3 month old daughter we don't get a lot of say in dinner time. Even though it was early, the place was packed. The tables out the front were full, the tables inside were almost full, and all the tables along the side courtyard area were also full. That's usually a good sign.

We were shown to a table in the side courtyard. It was pretty dark, except for the fairy light on the table - it would be the perfect table for a big date. I was immediately attracted to the Moroccan-style lamp on the side wall. On our trip to Morocco I was desperate to buy a Moroccan light shade, but had no idea how to get it back to Australia. Luckily our daughter was equally as transfixed by the light shade, which kept her entertained for most of our meal.

After having a look at their menu online, Vespa sounded like my kind of pizza place. Call me traditional, but I'm really not a fan of lamb shanks, Moroccan chicken and/or satay sauce on pizza - when it comes to pizza, I like them simple.

We didn't have a lot of time, so we weren't really interested in starters. But if you get to your table early, waiting for late arrivals, there are some tasty sounding entrees, including basil, diced vine tomatoes, buffalo feta and olive oil bruschetta ($8.50), crispy polenta pieces with rosemary and garlic aioli ($7) and marinated artichokes with fennel, mint and basil ($11).

We went straight for the pizzas. There are 20 to choose from, most of which only contain a few toppings. I fairly quickly narrowed it down to capricciosa (my favourite all-time pizza - pancetta, salami, olives, mushrooms, anchovies, red peppers - $19), suppresed (sopressa with tomato, olives and chilli - $18.50), pancetta and buffalo feta with rosemary and cracked pepper ($18.50) and salami and mushroom with basil, mozzarella and truffle oil ($18.50). I was in one of my "try something different" moods, so I went for the pizza bianco instead (pancetta, olives, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, capers, sea salt and fior di latte cheese - $19.50).

There's also a good range of pizzas to choose from if you're vegetarian (as you'd expect from a traditional pizzeria) including margherita (semi dried roma tomatoes with fior di latte cheese and fresh basil leaves - $18.50), mushroom ragout with spinach and feta ($19.50) and carciofi (artichoke hearts, buffalo feta, oven dried cherry tomatoes and rosemary - $19.50).

We thought we'd order a salad as well, just for a bit of variety, and the Caprese style salad took our fancy (vine tomatoes, fior di latte cheese, torn basil and olive oil - $12.50).

Although we had to ask a couple of times for our bottle of water to show up, the pizzas didn't take long to arrive. My pizza arrived first. Even though it had a gluten free base, it was thin and really crispy around the edges. They hadn't managed to get the crispiness through the whole base (if I was to be very picky) but it was probably the best gluten free base I've eaten at a restaurant. As for the toppings, they were excellent. Forget the Pizza Hut "load it up with 5 centimetres of toppings" - this pizza featured a few well chosen toppings, sparingly spread over the base. The white pizza (pizza bianco) meant there was no tomato sauce on the base, which again helped the flavour of the toppings to shine. I thought the capers might overwhelm the rest of the toppings, but they turned out to be tiny little ones, and everything worked together remarkably well. I managed to eat all but the last piece - it would have been rude to let such a good pizza go to waste.

My wife had ordered the carciofi pizza, which also turned out to be very tasty. There was a good, thin base which was perfectly crispy. The buffalo feta was apparently the star of the pizza, but worked well with the artichoke, cherry tomatoes and rosemary.

Our salad turned out to be very good, matching the quality of the pizzas. Forget thin slices of tomato & cheese that you usually come across with a Caprese salad - this one had huge big chunks of fior di latte cheese and equally large chunks of ripe tomatoes. There were plenty of basil leaves, either torn or cut into tiny bits. It was another reminder as to how good a simple salad can taste when it only contains top ingredients.

There is a very compact wine list, which features Italian wines and varietals. It was a fairly warm night, so I went with a glass of the Tuesner Salsa rose ($8.50/glass). Luckily it had a good level of acidity, which really helped with the strong Italian flavours on the pizza. Keeping with the Italian feel of the night, my wife ordered a San Pellegrino pompelmo soft drink ($3.50).

Other than having to ask for water a couple of times, our waitress was very friendly and unobtrusive. Our orders were taken quickly, and the pizzas were out within half an hour - good service all round.

I will definitely be back to Vespa Pizza to explore the rest of the menu. In these days where fast food places pile more and more tasteless toppings onto pizza, it's good to see that there are still restaurants like Vespa that concentrate on quality. If (like me) you're on a gluten free diet, put Vespa on your must visit list.

Sorry there are no photos, but our table was too dark for me to get any decent ones.

What does all this mean? Delicious, thin, crispy pizzas which each focus on a few high quality ingredients. A must visit if you're looking for good gluten-free pizza.

food bling ratings
Food - Great
Service - Good
Ambience - Casual, with seats out the front, inside and along the side
Vegetarian - Good
Wine - Compact selection, but pizza friendly
Value for Money - Good
Gluten Free - Great

Vespa Pizza
148 Merthyr Road
New Farm 4005
P - 07 3358 4100
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Vespa Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 October 2009

Brisbane Big City Barbecue

Sick and tired of your local CBD food court lunch? Looking for something different to set your tastebuds on fire? Then wander along to the Brisbane Big City Barbecue this Friday lunchtime at Riparian Plaza.

You can buy a lunch pack voucher for $8 at Riparian Plaza (from 12pm-2pm) until Wednesday, which will get you a sausage in roll (or corn), nuts/dried fruit and a choice of bottle of water or soft drink. Vouchers will also be on sale during Friday.

There will also be raffle tickets on sale, with prizes worth over $10,000, including a Virgin return flight for two to Phuket, a Mercedes-Benz luxury vehicle for a weekend and a $500 Julie Tengdahl voucher.

Proceeds from this year's BBQ will go towards Drug Arm and the Lord Mayor's Community Trust, so make sure you pop down for lunch on Friday.

Brisbane Big City Barbecue
Friday 16 October 2009, 11.30am to 2pm
Riparian Plaza
71 Eagle Street
Brisbane 4000
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Sunday, 11 October 2009


After trying to eat at Zafron one night only to find the place full, I learnt my lesson and booked ahead to make sure it didn't happen again. Zafron is on Brunswick Street at New Farm, basically across the road from the old Village Twin cinema. Zafron is a Persian/Mediterranean restaurant, which means there is a wide selection of food on the menu.

As you walk in there are tables on the deck at the front, but the tables inside have a bit more atmosphere, especially because you can look at the enormous grill at the back of the room. I wouldn't want to be sitting at the table next to it, but it does look impressive. We sat in a booth type table on one side of the room. Although we'd booked for 4 people, it was a real squeeze fitting all our food on the table during the night.

There are some terrific starters at Zafron. We ordered one of the tapas shared plates for $25. The tapas plate had dolme (vine leaves stuffed with lamb & beef mince, split peas, rice, walnuts, blackcurrants and herbs), eggplant rolls (charred eggplant slices rolled with semi dried tomatoes, herbs & feta), kashki-badem-joon (lamb & eggplant slow cooked with goat's yoghurt & mint) and triangles of filo pastry stuffed with spinach, feta and pine nuts. The platter was delicious (the eggplant rolls and kashki-badem-joon were the winners), and a perfect way to start the night - I love having lots of little tasting dishes as an entree.

If you'd rather start the night off with dips, try the Mediterranean dip platter ($15) or the Persian dip platter ($15), each of which is served with three different dips, Turkish bread and fried lavash crisps.

Although it took me a while to pick a main course (there were a few that stood out), I eventually settled on their house specialty, the chello kebab ($28). These were chicken & lamb kebabs marinated with saffron, yoghurt & herbs and then char grilled on the Turkish barbeque. The kebabs were served with saffron rice, Persian yoghurt and a little salad. The kebabs were delicious, and the Persian yoghurt was a great accompaniment to both the lamb and chicken.

I also tried the Caspian chicken ($26), described on the menu as the chef's Persian nouveau signature dish. The Caspian chicken was a chicken fillet coated in pomegranate nectar and crushed roasted pinenuts which had been pan fried, then baked. It was served with a creamy saffron sauce, caramelised carrots and baby spinach. The Caspian chicken looked great, but I found it very rich - I wasn't convinced that the tangy pomegranate flavour gelled with the creamy saffron sauce.

Service during the night was friendly and generally attentive. At one stage our tiny table had so much food on it that the waitress ended up putting a bottle of water on the floor next to the table, because there was no room left. You can BYO wine, and corkage is $6 per bottle.

There is a good selection of meals for vegetarians, and gluten free meals are clearly marked on the menu (which was great for me).

Overall, Zafron is a great place to visit with a few friends, to try food that you don't come across in Brisbane very often. The entrees are particularly good - I'd be more than happy just to spend the night grazing on loads of the shared platters.

What does all this mean? A great range of tasty Persian & Mediterranean food, with excellent entrees to share around the table.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Good
Ambience - Persian decorations inside, with a giant Turkish BBQ
Value for Money - Good
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Great
Gluten Free - Good selection

7/726 Brunswick Street
New Farm 4005
P - 07 3358 2655
W -

Zafron on Brunswick on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Queensland Multicultural Festival

This year's Queensland Multicultural Festival is coming up next weekend, on Sunday 18 October 2009. It's one event that I really love, and make sure that I get to every year.

Why? Because there are food stalls from all over the world, people from loads of nationalities, music, multicultural entertainment and best of all, it's free!

Food of course is the main reason I go, but there are plenty of activities for kids, so it's also a great family day out. If you haven't been before, its a fantastic way to spend a few hours, especially if the warm weather sticks around.

Queensland Multicultural Festival
Sunday 18 October 2009, 10am to 8pm
Roma Street Parkland
Roma Street
Brisbane 4000
W -

Friday, 9 October 2009

BeerMasons Sunday Tasting

If you head along to Oktobertfest this weekend and find yourself suffering beer withdrawal symptoms by Sunday, then grab a ticket to BeerMasons' Sunday beer tasting.

BeerMasons recently received plenty of publicity when Chris Badenoch (one of its staff) made it down to the last few contestants on MasterChef, but was pipped at the post.

Anyway BeerMasons is putting on a tasting this Sunday which features beers from Flying Dog Brewery (USA), Nogne O (Norway), Rogue (USA) and a new release brew from Matilda Bay. Tickets are $35, which includes a sample of at least 5 beers and tapas. Best of all, a $10 donation from each ticket will go to the Royal Children's Hospital music therapy unit. Apparently Chris from MasterChef will be there as well.

You'll need to get tickets from the BeerMasons website.

BeerMasons Sunday Tasting
Sunday 11 October 2009, 12.30pm
Grand Central Hotel
270 Ann Street
Brisbane 4000
W -

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I've been posting up loads of wine events recently, so it's only fair that I correct the balance with a few beer related ones.  The first festival of beer is Oktoberfest, which takes place over the next two weekends at the RNA Showgrounds.

Oktoberfest will feature Krombacher beer from Germany, together with Jagermeister and Tyrrell's wine (which is Australian, not German).  As you'd expect from a German beer festival, there will also be plenty of hearty, filling food, including preztels (compulsory with beer), wursts, Schweinshaxen (spit-roasted pork hocks with traditional Bavarian crackling and sauerkraut), schnitzels, gingerbread, pastries and strudels.  It all sounds delicious to me, but you might need a month of exercise to work off all that German beer & food.

To keep you entertained while you knock back a few beers, there will be an Oktoberfest Oompah band from Munich, German dancing and Miss Oktoberfest & German Strongman competitions.

Entry is $10 on Friday or Sunday, but it's $15 if you visit on Saturday.  You can pre-buy tickets through Ticketek.

Friday 9 October - Sunday 11 October 2009
Friday 16 October - Sunday 18 October 2009
RNA Showgrounds
Gregory Terrace
Bowen Hills  4006
W -

Sunday, 4 October 2009


For the chance to enjoy all things Italian in Brisbane, head along to Fieritalia in New Farm Park on Sunday, 18 October 2009.

The festival will feature loads of Italian themed activities during the day, including a market day, wine tasting, Italian beer garden, grape stomping competitions, music, Italian cooking demonstrations, Venetian face painting and Italian food stalls.

Entry is $5 and you can find out more details for the day on the Fieritalia website.

Sunday 18 October 2009, 10am to 5pm
New Farm Park
Corner Brunswick and Sydney Streets
New Farm  4005
W -

Saturday, 3 October 2009

El Taco

El Taco Mexican restaurant was the auspicious venue for our 3 week old daughter's first dinner out. We'd eaten at El Taco about 5 or so years ago, but hadn't been back since. Seeing as it's just down the road, it was a good candidate for the 2-3 hour dinner window we had.

We knew the main courses were very filling, so we took it easy on the starters - we just ordered one serve of guacamole with corn chips, thinking that should be a safe bet in a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, while the guacamole was obviously fresh, it really didn't have much flavour. In fact we had to put a giant blob of it on the corn chips even to get a taste of avocado. Although the corn chips were thick and crunchy, we found the guacamole underwhelming.

If you're not a fan of guacamole, other entrees on the menu at El Taco include chilli dip, frijole dip (savoury mashed beans topped with chilli sauce) and a variety of nachos & tacos.

When it came to mains I ordered the chilli con carne (ground beef with whole beans, tomatoes, onions and chilli). After we had ordered, the waiter came out and told us that they had run out of rice for the night. It was only about 7.30pm at the time, so I was a bit surprised to find out that a Mexican restaurant had run out of rice. It was even more surprising considering that there was an IGA open about 50 metres up the road.

The waiter then seemed a bit taken aback when I said I'd like to change my order - I wasn't particularly keen to have chilli beef served with green salad. So instead I ordered one chicken enchilada and one beef enchilada. The menu described the enchiladas as "cheese with seasoned beef or chicken wrapped in a soft tortilla, covered with spicy chilli sauce, topped with more cheese and shallots and baked to mouth watering perfection". Although it was a very generous serving, the enchiladas were a disappointing because they didn't really have any distinctive flavour - more of a chilli kick in the sauce would have been welcome.

My wife ordered an enrollada with beans (an enrollada is an enchilada topped with sour cream). Again the enrollada was a filling, generous serve, but it didn't pack much punch in the way of flavour.

Overall I'd have to say that on this visit we found the food disappointing. Each of the dishes we ordered was just a bit bland for my liking. One of the main reasons I enjoy eating out is to eat food that we don't usually cook at home. Unfortunately, based on the dishes we ate on this visit, we cook tastier Mexican food at home. El Taco was fairly busy the night we were there, so it certainly has its share of supporters.

Other than the bizarre rice episode, service was friendly throughout the night. El Taco is BYO, and there is a handy bottle shop on Blackwood Street, if you find yourself thirsty.

What does all this mean? Generous servings of Mexican food at reasonable prices, but the meals could do with a bit more punch and variety of flavour.

food bling ratings
Food - OK
Service - Good
Ambience - Casual family surroundings with Mexican ornaments
Vegetarian - OK
Wine - BYO
Value for Money - Good

El Taco
50 Blackwood Street
Mitchelton 4053
P - 07 3355 9723