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

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Gerard’s Bar — Brisbane Australia

The second of three Australian restaurants I’m featuring from my trip is Gerard’s Bar. I came here with my university friends for a night out hoping to get a table at Gerard’s Bistro, but unfortunately, on a Thursday night, they were fully booked and there was not a chance for them to fit us in. So, we walked across the courtyard in the back and ventured towards Gerard’s Bar, part of the Bistro, but with its own menu.

It is a gastropub of sorts with charcuterie hanging off hooks displayed in the window. It is extremely dark inside and not a seat available, luckily, we were able to find al fresco seating out on the patio.

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I started with The Quiet Mexican (AUD14/$13) which made me chuckle because I don’t think I’ve ever met a quiet Mexican before. The cocktail was pleasant using tequila as its base. I chose this not only because I love tequila, but most of the menu comprised of absinthe or aperol — both of which I dislike.

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The charcuterie is extensive and impressive. I had ordered Guanciale (AUD8/$7.40) salumi Australia, a pepper cured pork jowl and Longanisa Roja (AUD9/$8.35) a course ground salumi described as possessing spiced with pepper and garlic and Moorish accents, although I didn’t really detect much of the latter. Served with a baguette — not crusty — it was a nice vehicle for the meats. A plate of pickled vegetables accompanied, but I was perplexed by the lack of tartness and the abundance of saltiness from each of the items.

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The thing which won me over was Quail Liver and PX Parfait (AUD16/$14.85) a creamy liver mousse which was light as air. Plated with it were the two cheeses I selected, one of which was Grandvewe Sappire Sheep’s Blue (AUD7/$6.50), the other was Cabra Pimenton (AUD6/$5.60) was possibly my favorite with lovely hints of peppers.. Crispy flatbread adds a nice component and good contrast to the baguette.

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Since I’m not able to partake in the Moonlight Flat Oysters (AUD5 each/$4.65) I can only attest to the oohs coming from my son’s lips when he ate these.

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One of my favorites of the night is Storm Clams and N’Duja (AUD9 each/$8.35). These large clams are flame grilled topped with spicy n’duja and fresh lemon. They are meaty and umami-filled that I wish I had ordered more.

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The Cheeseburger (AUD14/$13) is a double wagyu beef pattie burger topped with bacon, relish, pickles and cheese. The bun was a tad dense, but overall, the flavors were perfect. The patties were packed with flavor and seasoned well. Even though it looked small, it was a satisfactory item even if you were only having it as your meal.

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Mulloway Tartare (AUD10/$9.30) was a display of innovation. Bits of smoked lardo are placed in a sieve and held over the plate of diced mulloway (jewfish), Jerusalem artichoke chips, kimchi and shiso. A blow torch starts flaming the lardo, melting it away, allowing the unctuous pork fat drippings to drape over the fish tartare concoction. Beautiful presentation and a nice gimmicky interaction to have with the customers.

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If you’re ever in Brisbane, Queensland, take some time to check out the blossoming food scene. I was delighted to find all these new restaurants offering a level of sophistication I had not previously experienced in this town. I hope it keeps continuing in this direction.

Gerard’s Bar
13a 23 James Street
Fortitude Valley, QLD 4066
(07) 3252 2606

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