Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You don't make friends with salad

Friday's (http://www.fridays.com.au/) is one of those places that is a bit of an institution. It's one of those places that everyone has been to - either at lunchtime for a steak and some beers, or at 2am when nowhere else will let you in.

Despite the fact it used to be better about 10 years ago when you could get dollar drinks on Thursday nights, it's still the place you'll end up at the end of the night dancing to Madonna and Britney with about 3 hen's parties.

But I'm not here to talk about my misspent youth - rather let's focus on the food.  Friday's has two dining options that operate day and night - one is the Waterline Restaurant (a fairly tacky and overpriced bistro) and the other is the Terrace Grill.

Along with a large proportion of corporate types who work along Eagle Street, I am a frequenter of the Terrace Grill for that impromptu "let's have a beer" type of lunch that invariably happens on a Friday when you're so close to the weekend you can taste it, and really can't face Friday afternoon without the assistance of alcohol.  And what a lovely place to spend such an afternoon - sitting out in the sun, looking out at the iconic Story Bridge, sampling a few ales.

What you need to do when you visit Friday's is order a STEAK or a BURGER!!  Deviation from this method can result in disastrous consequences (refer below).  For example, this wagyu burger with iceberg, jarlsberg and beetroot relish is the kind of thing you want to steer towards so that you are only mildly disappointed rather than revolted at what is served up.

I mean, it was ok, but it was the kind of burger that you would probably pay $4 for at a Church fete.  And were they kidding with that pitiful mini bowl of chips?

But whatever you do, do not ever EVER ever order a salad at Friday's.  I've done it twice now, under the influence of some misguided notion that I would eat something healthy to offset the beer calories, and I've definitely learnt my lesson people.  The most recent mishap is pictured below.

This is apparently the shredded chicken, wombok, hot mint, coconut & nashi salad with chilli and lime.  The description actually sounds kind of nice - a bit interesting, you know, a kind of fresh tasting Asian delight with a bit of tang and crunch, not to mention "hot mint" whatever that is.

But as you can see from the photo, what it was was a small, roughly chopped pile of cabbage with a couple of woeful dregs from the carcass of yesterday's bbq chicken, doused in coconut milk.  And I can't really comment as to whether there was any nashi.

It was a rookie error to order a salad from Friday's - please learn from this cautionary tale to avoid the sadness and food envy that I suffered that day.

But despite being forced to pay $16 for this despicable excuse for a salad, I will be back to Friday's.  It's like death and taxes - next time that Friday afternoon lethargy kicks in that can only be cured by a juicy yet substandard burger washed down by a couple of schooners of Stella, I'll be back again.
Waterline Restaurant, Friday's Riverside on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Attack of the killer piglet

I had heard a delectable rumour that there was a Chinese restaurant in Brisbane that served suckling pig to those who would wish to partake of its gelatinous porky deliciousness... and pay a $100 deposit....

The rumours were true, and that restaurant is Happy Chef BBQ (187 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley).

I had often wandered past this restaurant while on my way to chinatown, gawking at the glistening barbecued delights hanging in the window, while I clutched a bottle of dodgy wine purchased at the hideously expensive bottle shop at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow.

My experience of Happy Chef was probably not the usual, considering I feasted upon 7 courses of piglet with 22 friends at $35pp plus $1 corkage (which is an awesome bargain, I know) while the other patrons partook of the usual Chinese fare which I will definitely have to go back and try.

The night started off on the right trotter when they brought out our special friend out to say hello (or goodbye) before they took piggy away to get sliced and diced for our eating pleasure.

I particularly liked the evil maraschino cherry eyes - he looked like quite a happy little fellow otherwise.

A suckling pig is technically a piglet fed on its mother's milk and slaughtered at two to six weeks old.  The pig is often roasted and sometimes slow cooked.  The meat is tender and often a little gelatinous, which is apparently due to the amount of collagen in the meat.

Happy Chef BBQ took its cues from a traditional Peking Duck banquet and we first received piglet pancakes with hoisin sauce.

It sounded like a good idea at the time, but the problem with suckling pig skin is that it goes very crisp and thin when roasted and becomes the hardest substance on earth.  Let's just say that I'm going to need some dental work after munching on this pancake...

Next came a really wonderful pig soup.

It was meaty and delicious with little bits of our friend floating in it along with some shiitakes for good measure.  This was probably my favourite course.

Next was the pig san choi bau which was ok, but nothing flash - in fact it was really too salty.

After these little dalliances with our new friend piggy-in-the-middle, it was time to get serious with some mains.  Three communal bowls of fairly average piglet stir fries were brought out.  I'll admit, the sizzling lemongrass pig (pictured) was actually pretty good with some striking flavours, but I think I was expecting more succulent piggage: the morsels while plentiful, were a little chewy.

Finally, to our surprise, we were treated with dessert which was included in the low low price of $35 per head - a bonus we hadn't expected.  There was a choice of fried ice cream or deep fried banana.  Obviously there was no contest as banana, batter and heart attack inducing oil really is a match made in heaven .

Apart from the great pig experiment, it seems that Happy Chef BBQ has quite a good and VERY CHEAP menu with most dishes costing between $11 to $14.  In particular, I was quite interested to see they had a congee menu which is not something I've seen much in other chinese restaurants in the Valley and will certainly go back to try.

The restaurant itself is really nothing that flash: it has the kind of tiles you'd find in a dodgy public toilet, 80s style chairs, cramped interior and no toilets (which means yes, you need to go to the Valley Mall toilets, which I did, and will never speak of again).  Honestly though, if it's cheap eats you're after before a night of debauchery this is the place for you.

All in all it was a great night out for myself and 22 friends who all enjoyed gorging themselves on the carcass of an innocent little porker.  Really you couldn't ask for more than that.
Happy Chef BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carb coma inducing Italian with a chilli kicker!

There is nothing as comforting and satisfying as Italian food.  For me there are only 2 really good and reasonably priced Italian restaurants in Brisbane and Pane e Vino is one of them (Verve is the other!).

Pane Vino (http://www.paneevino.com.au/) has been around for yonks and is on the corner of Charlotte and Albert Streets.  It offers both indoor and Al Fresco dining and has a great bustling atmosphere pretty much day and night.

I've been going to this restaurant for lunch and dinner for many years and it never fails to please.  You will not find earth shatteringly fancy or adventurous food here.  What you will get is straight forward, unpretentious and delicious Italian fare at fairly reasonable prices.  Not to mention it is BYO and licensed!

For me, casual Italian food is all about garlic, olive oil and massive portion sizes - all of which you get loads of here.  When I leave an Italian restaurant, I want to have bad garlic breath and a stomach the size of a bowling ball.  At Pane e Vinos usually I will have slipped into a carb coma before they've brought out the bill!

My recent visit to Pane e Vino was with a group of girls from work after we'd guzzled a little too much champagne at work drinks and needed some serious carbs to soak it all up.  I chose Rigatoni Con Salsiccia which translates as pork & fennel sausage with fresh tomato, parsley, olive oil and chilli.

It was seriously good.  There was al dente pasta that had just enough resistance when you bit into it.  There was pork sausage, released from its casing and dotted with fennel seeds giving that tasty anise kicker to the dish.  There was the obligatory olive oil and garlic, and my special Italian friend who I always like to invite: chilli.  I really love to taste all that savoury, meaty, heartiness and then have the zing of the chilli tingle on your lips and tongue for a few minutes after which is why I've never been a fan of carbonara. 

My neighbour had Spaghetti con Fruitti di Mare (prawns, scallops, mussels, & calamari tossed in a garlic & tomato sugo):

Can't tell you what it tasted like but from her account it was a winner too.

Finally, another fabulous thing about this place is the fact that they SPLIT THE BILL WITHOUT COMPLAINING!  Yes people, put this place on your hitlist, it's great.

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Pane E Vino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kim chi, condiments and the best hangover cure I've ever seen

I have not always enjoyed Korean food - or even knew what it entailed.  As a child, my only dalliance with the cuisine was my Mum's Korean Beef Stir Fry from a bottle which wasn't bad.

This was before I discovered the strange and wonderful Asian restaurants hidden away in Elizabeth Arcade, one of which was Madtongsan.  But today I'm telling you about the bigger and better MADTONGSAN II!!!  Obviously Madtongsan was so good that it needed a sequel! 

To me, the allure of Korean food is in the condiments, and Madtongsan II has them in spades.
Clockwise: kim chi, pasta salad and sweet potato in syrup
I am a real fan of kim chi which is a spicy fermented cabbage that Koreans serve with everything.  They also seem to favour sweet potato and the roasted sweet potato in syrup at Madtongsan II was really tasty.  I managed to gobble most of it up before the mains arrived...

Another cool thing about Madtongsan II is the fact that there are buttons on each table so you can easily get the attention of the waitstaff who I found to be friendly and fast.

The main I chose was a braised beef soup flavoured with kim chi.  It was quite large and spicy and was really cheap - only $15 or so.
But the real hero of my meal at Madtongsan II was this pancake which I think is the Korean version of a pizza.
It was very very greasy, but I think that added to the experience.

It was covered in shiitake mushrooms, spicy and salty beef mince and that essential finishing touch to all things Korean - an egg cracked over the top.  We doused the pizza in the sweet and soy dipping sauce to add to the flavour.  I'm pretty sure this thing would be the best hangover cure ever.

Madtongsan II on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Treacle letdown

Treacle is a word that conjures up some strange associations for me.  I think of Enid Blyton books, the 1940s and old ladies.  To me it's some sort of olde worlde sticky bitter sweet ingredient that you make magical puddings from, or Amelia Jane would have tarred and feathered someone with. 

These are the kinds of things that popped into my brain when I was invited to a birthday breakfast at Treacle Cafe, Grange (http://www.treaclecafe.com.au/).  I pictured a benevolent old granny with tuckshop lady arms serving me up all kinds of home made jams, hand churned butter and farmhouse eggs with soldiers.

The reality of Treacle Cafe was not quite as enchanting.  To be honest, it was pretty average.

The first problem was the 20 minutes it took to bring the coffee.  If there is one thing you do not want to do, it is hold back on my coffee.

The second problem was that they were really trying to do too much with the menu.  There were way too many things on it.  And while a lot of them sounded totallly awesome, when they came out they were just..... meh.

I ordered the free range eggs benedict on organic cornbread topped with fresh hollandaise with treacle's homemade salmon gravlax.  I know, doesn't it sound deliciously wholesome?  But again.... meh.  

The cornbread was too crusty and bready - I prefer the sweeter juicier style cornbread with polenta in it.  The poached eggs were perfectly cooked (which is something I absolutely adore) but they were completely smothered in hollandaise.  And while I am a lover of hollandaise, it was too thick and gluggy and was actually a bit cold.  And couldn't they have tried a bit harder with the presentation?

I'm not saying it was bad, I'm just saying it wasn't particularly fab - and I'd just been to Pearl the day before for breakfast so maybe I was expecting too much.  One good thing were the prices - quite reasonable with an average of $12 to $15.

Treacle on Urbanspoon

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