Brisbane is the dark horse of foodie culture on Australia’s east coast. While Sydney and Melbourne have been battling it out for culinary supremacy over increasingly abstract dishes and trends, Brisbane has been quietly humming away in the proverbial kitchen. You won’t have to empty your pockets to eat like a king here either – you can get everything from kangaroo tartare to silky smooth duck liver parfait for under $20. And when it comes to the bill you can pay with confidence knowing these venues take American Express.
20 under $20
Dine casual at Tartufo's pizzeria rather than at the restaurant proper inside this high church of Italian cuisine. Owner-Chef Tony Percuoco brings his Naples passion to his Margherita pizza, whose simplicity allows all elements to shine. Italian tomato sugo, melty pools of fior di latte and torn basil on a blistered cordone (or crust), whose long, slow proof gives twang of flavour and chewy texture transforming it to bellissimo.
Taro's third café has settled in nicely at its flash, new Queen Street digs with Tonkotsu Ramen as the menu's signature. The foundation is a smooth-as-silk-broth with incredible depth of savoury flavour derived from Sweet Bangalow Pork bones simmered gently for three long days. Taro’s original sauce is a precise recipe of dried mushroom, kelp and soy and is added to the broth for seasoning with house-made noodles and aromatic oils.
Chef Chow brings his Cantonese heritage to sake and white wine steamed SA pippies with his XO sauce, enriched with Blackmore beef fat and preserved turnip, giving the dish a riot of umami flavour. Nestled beside the pippies, their shells pooled with sauce and wilted chives, are craggy icebergs of Jocelyn's fried bread, seasoned with a house blend of seven spice. Pippy-ki-yay.
Soufflé fits the Gallic brief at this cosy, French themed diner, and head chef Gert Pretorius makes sure his raspberry soufflé is a winner. Pinked and flavoured up with a kapow of freeze-dried raspberries and housemade raspberry compôte, the soufflé's fruity burst is complemented by a side of caramelised white chocolate ice cream, whose fine silkiness on the palate has to be experienced to be believed.
Lorenzo Nobilio has realised his dream opening his lovely Osteria in the leafy backstreets of Yeronga. On the menu is a steaming bowl of Orecchiette al Fungi. Ears of Italian handmade pasta come with an earthy mix of flavour-filled dried porcini, fresh field mushrooms and garlic cooked with a dash of white wine and cream, finished with a flourish of white truffle oil, crunchy pangrattato and a showering of Grana Pedano.
Curryville's footpath and inside dining space books out every night of the week and for good reason too. We love the Chaat with your choice of chicken or veg samosa. Tip: order a double dose. They'll come fried to crisp, smashed and loaded with tangy tamarind sauce, cooling yogurt, mint, red onions and leaves of fresh coriander. It's such a mountain you'll have to decide whether to eat it or climb it.
Baby Onions stuffed with morcilla, charred onion consommé, eggplant, Époisses mousse at Gerard's Bistro, $19
It's dishes like this that keep Gerard's top of the heap for Brisbane's fooderati. The deep, savoury aroma arrives first, compliments of a moussy béchamel float funked up with Époisses and fermented mushroom dust. The mousse blanket’s intensely smoky eggplant purée and tender petals of onion filled with Ben Williamson's pig's blood morcilla in a pool of burnt-to-black and 12-hour steamed onions, transformed into sweetly smoky onion juice consommé.
How wonderful those not in need of degustation dining can pull up at Esq for à la carte inside Ryan Squires’ CBD gastro-temple. The menu is entirely worthy of salad comprised of bitter traviso leaves holding a treasure trove of shallots fried crisp and sweet, finished with a snowstorm of grated goat Gouda. The waiter suggests rolling up each leaf to enclose the contents and eat sans cutlery. A good call indeed.
Watch life on the river drift by at this waterfront icon while delighting in head chef Catherine Anders's solid menu, including a trio of golden arancini on a generous pool of mushroom and truffle purée. Inside, they're peppered with flecks of black truffle, pulling apart to show spiderweb strands of melted taleggio cheese. A garnish of green micro shoots and mushrooms sweetened with a dash of sherry vinegar makes Anders' dish complete.
Crisp nuggets of fried duck meat come with a tumble of shredded carrot, a chop-chop of lettuce, transparent ribbons of cucumber, bean sprouts and coriander leaf. Finished with a drenching of warming Bang Bang peanut sauce and a sprinkle of black and white sesame, it's a sure-fire winner and secures this Spring Hill watering hole the reputation as being one of Brisbane's very best gastro pubs.
Roasted leek and fennel tart, buffalo haloumi, biter leaves, tapenade, hazelnuts and tarragon at Harvey's Bar and Bistro, $18
You'll find this busy bistro smack-bang in the middle of bustling James Street. Typical of Harvey's menu is this dish of shatteringly crisp pastry filled with towers of charred leek, ribbons of fennel, snow-white and melty buffalo milk haloumi, a smash of toasty hazels and liquoricy tarragon beside a purple brush stroke of salty olive tapenade. No trip to the James Street precinct is complete without a refuel at Harvey's.
Executive chef Jason Walker may take the gong for the finest duck liver parfait in town at fashionable Cru. Silken on the palate, set in a teardrop ramekin and sealed with set butter, the parfait comes with toasted sourdough and batons of cornichons. A high point is Walker's house pickled grapes. A pickling in Chardonnay vinegar transforms the purple orbs to sweet and savoury, cutting the parfait's richness in the most delightful way.
You'll find this caked-up, pimped-up nod the Golden Gaytime in the counter cabinet at Dello Mano's new café inside New Farm's Merthyr Village. A double layer of caramel mudcake is sandwiched and topped with piped teardrops of luscious, vanilla custard frosting. The cake drips with golden tears of caramel and is finished with a crunchy sprinkle of Dello Mano's ginger cookies, proving Dello Mano is about more than just the signature brownies.
This Fishmonger is quite the catch, recognised as one of Brisbane's best specialty fish and chip shops. Go the barra with a side of chips. The fish is farmed in ocean pens in the East Timor Sea and comes grilled, crumbed or fried in a light French beer batter. Need your barra gluten free but can't resist a battering? This Fishmonger has perfected a GF batter of rice and chickpea flour just for you.
Chef Martyn Ridings brought Aligot inspiration back from kitchens of Provence to the Wolfe, where he mans the pans today. Sometimes the most lovely things are indeed the most simple, as is Ridings' Aligot. Roasted Desiree potatoes are mashed to silky-smooth with seasoning and cream reduction, topped with a scant sprinkle of burnt leek dust and nuggets of Stilton gently softened under heat lamps on the pass. It's utter perfection.
The menu at this chic wine bar tucked away in the laneways of South Brisbane are just as urban-cool as the venue. Say, chef Peter Moon's kangaroo tartare accented with fennel and juniper upon smoky petals of celeriac and a topping of Moon's dukkah of black and white sesame, lemon myrtle, cumin, coriander and cocoa nibs. Finished with caramelised PX reduction, Moon's tartare shines oh so bright and is 100 per cent la la lovely.
All is well with the world when one has a much-coveted table at Brisbane's Stokehouse with time to languish and take in the city's skyscraper and river views. While doing so, snack on Stokie's eel pâté, a rich, creamy and smoky piped mound of eel purée, seasoned with savoury caper bursts, is the foundation for sail-like shards of puffed rice crackers dusted with a pretty moss-green powder of bayleaf.
Brothers Morgan and Dane Hoey make magic in their Clayfield kitchen, sometimes late at night over a bottle of good red wine. La Passione was created during the later. A horseshoe of smooth chocolate ganache holds a pool of passionfruit pulp and is anchor to delightfully salty pistachio shards. But there's more... white chocolate ganache, dark chocolate soil, micromint and a Picasso-like, dripping gel of Italian red wine punched with sour cherry.
The menu speaks of Shorthorn sirloins and full-blood Wagyu as main events but that doesn't mean all else fades into the background. Blackbird's heirloom beetroot side comes with three varieties of roasted beets; golden, candy and baby reds on a pool of creamy buffalo curd. Delicate, sweet, seven seed brittle balances earthiness along with pearls of beetroot jelly and a beet juice reduction livened with port and sherry.
Plain by name, not by nature, Damon Amos created this dish to stimulate dialogue about the strife of bees. It's a sweet dish thanks to local honey and Amos' kooky creativity. Here's what's on the plate; a pool of honey-derived mead mascarpone, burnt honey panna cotta, toasty granola and a gravel of bee pollen. Look closely, nestled in the floral garnish you'll find a dehydrated bee. Yes, you can eat it.