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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outstanding seafood at Fishing With Dynamite

I want to preface this by saying, I’m a HUGE fan of David LeFevre’s. Like, HUGE! His MB Post is one of my favorites and ever since he opened Fishing With Dynamite a few doors down, I’ve been wanting to visit.

So we finally make it up to Manhattan Beach and the beach volleyball tournament is going on and it is absolutely insane there. Luckily, after a few circles around the block, we find parking just two blocks away. Score!

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Before perusing the seafood-centric menu, cocktails were ordered — yes it was early, but hey, it was the weekend. Original Gangster ($12) is essentially a Boulevardier made with White Dog bourbon whiskey, aperol, Vya sweet vermouth and grapefruit, while Regalo de Dios ($12) is a sour with hacienda de chihuahua, strawberry, rhubarb and serrano.

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FWD is known for its fresh seafood and no one should walk away without trying at least a few items. You can opt for platters that have already been created or, make your own plate. Oysters can be order individually, by the half dozen, or a dozen (prices will be reflected as such).

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We selected three types of oysters: Tomahawk ($3.50/$20.50/$38.50), Malagash ($3.50/$20.50/$38.50) and Sweet Petite ($3/$17.50/$33), as well as Littleneck Clams ($2.25/$13/$22) and Peruvian Scallops ($2.50/$14/$26). There are several sauces to choose from and we decided upon Mignonette and Ponzu.

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I couldn’t resist the Live Santa Barbara Sea Urchin and what a bargain at a mere $15. Plump, meaty, positively the largest pieces of uni I’ve ever seen are presented with the shell as decor — spines are still moving by the way — and I slurp them will glee allowing the umami-filled flavors of the sea coat my mouth. This is what dying and going to heaven probably tastes like.

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After the raw foods, we moved on to the rest. New England Clam Chowdah ($9) was perfect in consistency for me — not too thick — and filled with bits of clam and other delights such as Neuske’s apple smoked bacon, Weiser Farm potatoes, carrots, celery and chives, served with house made oyster crackers. The saltiness of the bacon plays well with the sweetness of the carrots and every spoonful had bits of clams in it.

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We couldn’t resist Chef David’s Mom’s Cape Cod Squash Rolls ($5), hot, soft rolls dotted with squash. We slathered the buns with rosemary butter which melted upon contact enveloping the rolls, making them oh so addicting. A carb lover’s dream come true. These are not to be missed.

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I’m generally iffy when it comes to crab cakes purely because most places uses WAY too many fillers. Maryland Blue Crab Cake ($16) blew my mind because believe it or not, there were NO fillers in this at all. Only a little bread crumbs are used on the very top for a textural crunch, but otherwise, it’s mouthful after mouthful of plump, sweet, crab. I didn’t even need the in-house dill pickles or whole grain mustard remoulade, but they were both delectable on their own.

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I will always order octopus if it’s on the menu and this Grilled Octopus ($19) did not disappoint. Tender pieces of octopus braised in a red wine and mirepoix stock are then grilled for an optimum char factor. The cranberry beans, date-tomato ragu, preserved lemon and kalamata olive tapenade made for a sweet, tart explosion.

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I’m a sucker for sashimi so Hamachi ($16) with ponzu, avocado, red radish, serrano and shiso was right up my alley. Beautifully fresh sushi-grade hamachi is bathed in a tart, spicy and fragrant marinade enhancing the wonderfully sweet fish.

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Santa Barbara Spot Prawns arrived too late for inclusion on the menu, but Chef sent some out to us and I was so grateful he did because they were so succulent and absolutely sublime in their natural state. I was sucking out the lusciousness in the heads, much to the chagrin of those watching, *shrug* hey, I wasn’t going to waste any of it!

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Our last savory dish of Thai Shellfish & Coconut Soup ($11) was my least favorite. Although the broth was filled with plump shrimp, mussel, rice noodles, kaffir lime leaf and coriander, it lacked depth and acid. I added some lime juice to my leftovers the next day and it was exactly what I was looking for to bring a touch of zing to the coconut broth.

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If you’re a dessert fan, try one, or all of them on the menu. Maple Pudding with Rosemary Sandies ($6) with Buffalo Trace bourbon and candied pecans, a little sweet for me though.

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I loved the Key Lime Pie ($7) with a gorgeous graham cracker crust and kaffir lime meringue, although the kaffir lime was very subtle.

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If you’re looking for a hot dessert, the Pretzel and Chocolate Bread Pudding ($8) is the way to go. Salted caramel sauce is drizzled over and topped with a house made ice cream. The hot pudding with the cold ice cream is a perfect combination in my mouth. Too bad I was too full to eat more than a bite.

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Just like MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite is one of those restaurants you’ll want to return to over and over again. Chef David Lefevre knows how to bring the freshest and best quality of everything to your plate and it definitely shows.

Fishing with Dynamite
1148 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tel: 310-893-6299

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