esquire — Brisbane, Australia

I am searching for a restaurant to have a family get-together while in Brisbane, but I also want it to be something different, something special. I do research and think hard about it, but am not able to make a decision. One evening, I am watching TV in my parents’ living room and this food show features a segment on Chef Ryan Squires’ esquire. I make up my mind immediately when I hear The French Laundry and El Bulli, being part of Squires’ resume.

On the day of our visit, my whole family make our way into the city. I choose lunch mainly because I want good lighting for my photos, but also, my niece and nephew are younger and I am not sure they are good candidates for a relatively upscale meal during dinner time.

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We arrive to an empty spot, having the dining room pretty much all to ourselves. Our server Joanna is pleasant and patient with all of my questions and inquiries and hurries away in search of answers to those she is unable to fulfill.

Although the restaurant generally recommends the entire table partake in prix fixe menus, I ask if we are able to order from both. There are several dishes not available from the a la care and I am eager to try as many of the selections as possible. This piece will be a tad discombobulated since we order two of the 5-course prix fixe lunch menu (AUD75/$69.50) and then off the a la carte menu to complete our meal.

The set menu begins with Rye Bread, pickles and cultured butter, as well as Beef Tendon with peanut and lime. The presentation is interesting but pleasing.

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Second course is Sashimi Grade Yellow Eye with a green mustard sauce and air-dried brassica (from the turnip family which includes rutabaga and kohlrabi) leaves. I love the crispiness of the leaves!

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Holmbrea Chicken Breast, the third course, is a perfectly executed piece of meat. The chicken is first braised, then poached, making it moist, tender and very flavorful. Toasted buckwheat adds a textural dimension while the roast bone sauce is rich without being cloying. I want more of the roasted chestnut puree, as well as the preserved fig “sheet” enveloping the chicken breast. A hint of thyme finishes the dish off perfectly!

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The fourth course is Pastrami Wagyu Beef, my least favorite dish of the entire meal. The wagyu is bland even with the onion bouillon it is draped with. The mustard cream, pickles and spicy ketchup are delightful additions, as is the finely diced gherkins, however, the accoutrements are not enough to save the under-seasoned wagyu for it to be a mouth-popping experience.

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The prix fixe ends with Campari, an ice cream comprising mandarin orange segments, as well as curds and whey. It is quite delicious really, being so simple, and mouth teasing. Unfortunately, I am only afforded a bite as the kids monopolize both bowls and are not interested in giving us another taste.

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The rest of us continue on with the rest of the a la carte menu. Since I am busy taking photos, I miss out on the first course so I order Rye Bread (AUD10/$9.30) so I am able to taste it. The pickles are lackluster, but the butter is lovely — not quite the one at Walter Manzke’s Republique — but still, delicious!

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The tendon is presented as Fried Beef Puffs (AUD12/$11.15) on the a la carte which the kids gleefully chomp away on thinking it is a cracker. I don’t tell them what it is seeing they are enjoying it so very much. I absolutely adore the dusting of peanut and lime seasoning the chicharron-like crisps.

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Of course, we are not able to sit through a meal without vegetables. I order Radicchio Leaves (AUD15/$13.90) which is a bigger portion than I expect. Balsamic, olive fried onion and shredded goats cheese are tossed with the brightly hued leaves. So simple, so tasty.

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Roasted Beetroot (AUD12/$11.15) is a vision when it hits the table. While my dad is not a fan of beets, I convince him to try a piece. The goats curd, apple gastrique and hazelnut combine together nicely giving the whole composition a sweet, tart, salty and crunchy finish.

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Everyone agrees Oak Smoked Rainbow King Trout (AUD15/$13.90) is their favorite. The melt-in-your-mouth trout is perfectly smoked and comes with half a soft boiled egg and a dollop of horseradish yogurt. The other intriguing ingredient is fried dill root. It not only gives a crispy element to the dish but also, an aromatic one. Each element combines together for the perfect mouthful. Sublime!

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The next three dishes are all from the “charcoal” section of the menu meaning everything is charcoal-grilled. Being an octopus fiend, my eyes automatically hone on to Baby Octopus (AUD15/$13.90) with olive oil and parsley. My brother, son and I love this dish and order another.

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Southern Calamari (AUD22/$20.40) is embraced by all. My mother prefers this over the baby octopus as it is so very tender. A spritz of lemon and garlic are all it needs.

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Whole Side of Murray Cod (AUD32/$29.70) is smaller than expected but flaky and moist. Garlic and a sprinkling of finely chopped herbs top the fish. A lemon wedge accompanies.

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Our last dish is Buttermilk Fried Chicken (AUD18/$16.70). A ramekin of creme fraiche and chive puree accompanies for dipping. We end up ordering two of these as my brother and son want more. The chicken is juicy and moist, albeit the second order sees the skin not rendered completely. Still, the seasoning penetrates deep into the chicken which makes for an perfectly executed offering.

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At the meal’s end, each diner receives a bar of chocolate — can’t remember if they make it in-house, or if it is made especially for the restaurant by a chocolatier — but it is rich, dark, and delicious.

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I am very happy to see Brisbane’s food scene at a different level from when I left over two decades ago. Through the years, my parents have introduced me to several higher-end restaurants which have never quite hit the mark with me. We need more chefs like Ryan Squires returning home and pushing Brisbane forward, towards where it will be on par with other major cities around the world. I hope my next trip home will be even more delicious!

** Parking is a problem in the city which could be the reason why the restaurant is empty during lunch. We ended up paying AUD71 per car for three hours of parking. In the evenings, parking lots offer more reasonable flat rates. I suggest taking a cab or CityCat **

esquire
145 Eagle Street
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Tel: (07) 3220-2123

Esquire on Urbanspoon

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