The Best of My Breakfasts in Brisbane

Some time ago I promised to write this for some friends. It’s way overdue, but at least now a little more up to date with some great new brekkie spots.

Papa Jack'sFirst to mention has to be Papa Jack’s in Fortitude Valley. Exciting. Different. Really different. Old but new, funky and just bordering on the edge of recreation, Papa Jacks will transport you to the Creole South the second you walk through the door. It’s soul food served with a side of swamp blues and green tomatoes. Imagine soft poached eggs topped with lemony hollandaise. Add fall-apart, herby pulled pork; melted Swiss cheese, a crisp baguette and you’re getting the picture. They call it the Breaux Bridge Benedict and it would almost be worth travelling to its namesake in Louisiana to get it.

Cass Breakfast editNext on the list of funky new day-starters is The Burrow in West End. Offerings like “Mad Madam Mims’ Bubble & Squeak”, “Mr McGregor’s Garden” and “Off with your Head!” gives you just an inkling of the creativity at play here. My great adventurous friend, who uncovered this gem, ordered the “Django Swinehardt” – gypsy braised pork belly with roast chestnuts, crisp sweet-potato shavings, eggs and borscht (beetroot soup). Not that everything else wasn’t absolutely perfect – the slow-braised pork, tangy pureed beetroot, shards of crispy skin and buttery potatoes – but the sweet crunch of the kumara crisps are the culinary gold nuggets in this inspired dish.

Lynne Breakfast editI opted for “Little Miss Sunshine” primarily because I’m a Persian feta and zucchini flower addict. I loved the crunch of the pepitas and sunflower seeds; the happy marriage of the basil and tomato on rye, but I’ll stick with tempura (not grilled) flowers in future.

Pearls CAfe editSpeaking of stuffed zucchini flowers – if you want the best try Pearl Café in Woolloongabba. Their rendition is tempura-battered and served stuffed with ash-infused goat’s cheese, preserved lemon and herbs. The coffee is great too.

The Jetty Housesmoked Trout Lemon Creme Fraiche Hash BrownNot far away at the end of Oxford Street in Bulimba is one of our favourite regulars. The Jetty has been around for a while and although they have changed the menu (so I can no longer get my favourite poached eggs with avo, dukkah and candied bacon) they are still worth a mention. You can’t fault the riverside location and their juice blends – especially orange, carrot and ginger – are gorgeous on a hot summer morning. Their house-smoked trout is a treat with poached eggs, lemon crème fraiche and hash brown.

Also offering a great view is The Edge restaurant at Kangaroo Point Cliffs. I almost always take first-time visitors to Brisbane here for breakfast. Their fare is more simple, but always perfectly prepared, generously substantial and you can’t beat the view of Brisbane city on a clear day.

Further west in Paddington you’ll find Anouk – an exceptional café offering all things Middle-Eastern with contemporary flair. The menu changes regularly but anything I’ve ever had here has been beautifully prepared and presented.

Finally if you’re feeling a little nostalgic and want a simple, healthy and quick brekkie you’d be very happy with the Coffee Club’s new Salmon and Avocado Stack. I have had it at Eagle Street Pier and at Oxford Street in Bulimba and both are worth a mention.Coffee Club 2 edit

Red Lantern – Surry Hills & Darlinghurst, Sydney

Red Lantern CrownA while ago I took my first foray into Surry Hills and had lunch at Red Lantern on Crown. Like the buildings surrounding it, Red Lantern is steeped in history and you can almost feel the walls leaning in to tell you their stories. Dark wood furnishings are adorned with family pictures and Indochine treasures. Deep reds and an ancient fireplace extend the warm welcome of the staff.

130331 Red LanternOn this occasion I dined on my own and was delighted with the option of ordering two half mains. This is the only restaurant I know that offers the option of “down-sizing” and I think it’s a great idea. I started with the turmeric chicken rice paper rolls and chilli dipping sauce. The joy of Vietnamese food is its sublime delicacy. Getting it right requires a deft hand and absolute balance. If you want to know what I mean, this is the dish to try. I followed this with wok tossed beef and a moist herbed and delicately spiced fish, which I’m disappointed and ashamed to admit I can’t remember the name of, particularly because it was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve had. Apart from the food, I was profoundly impressed with the easy comfort of eating here on my own. The staff was attentive, friendly and deeply perceptive – bringing me some of the outstanding recipe books on offer to keep me occupied while waiting for my food.

Restaurant Interior A

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend in Sydney with my husband and decided to try Red Lantern on Riley in Darlinghurst. This latest addition to the Nguyen/Jensen collaboration is bigger and more modern than its counterpart in Surry Hills, but still offers a good nod to its roots.

Being as we were happy to settle in for a bottle (or two) and soak up the experience, we opted for the tasting menu. This is my favourite way to eat – a perfectly portioned offering of the many ingredients and techniques unique to a culture and cuisine. It’s like taking an experiential walk down the culinary halls of Vietnam.

E CalamariRice paper rolls with lemongrass chicken, marinated chillies and seaweed started our journey, along with lightly battered squid and lemon pepper dipping sauce. I have seen my husband eat fish erroneously served by friends twice in the past 13 years. This time it was by choice and he ploughed through that squid as if it was a bowl of popcorn and we were watching a scary movie.

D Som TamThe twice cooked pork belly with som tam (green papaya salad) was just as successful and probably one of my favourite dishes. Who doesn’t love perfectly moist pork with crispy skin – but in a Vietnamese salad is the best way to eat it. The herbs and lime cut through the richness and I would put chilli, roasted peanuts and fried shallots on everything if I could. The duck was a bit over-smoked and so the plum sauce and tamari were not overly noticeable.

F Beef RibsThe barbecued pork ribs marinated in hoi sin sauce rewarded with a deeply infused flavour, moist flesh and a sweet glazed finish. The winner for me though was the grassfed black angus sirloin, simply wok tossed with garlic and black pepper. I suppose it’s the truly smoking oil and years of seasoning a traditional wok that H Beefimparts a caramelisation to the meat that you’d never get any other way. It’s the only time I’ve ever regretted having induction rather than gas in my own kitchen.

130906 Fat Noodle PhoIf you live in Brisbane and want to taste a little of the magic Luke Nguyen has created, try The Fat Noodle at the Treasury Casino in Brisbane. A wholly different dining experience with a menu more appropriate to the pop-in diner, but no less enjoyable – especially if you have never had Pho and want to try it. This is a staple Vietnamese soup, often eaten for breakfast. It is the most delicate yet complicated soup. Simmered for hours and hours, the result is a salty, sour and hot broth that takes years of practice to perfect. The broth is generally served with noodles, finely sliced beef (added raw just before serving) and herbs.

Of the three, I’d have to say my favourite is Red Lantern on Crown in Surry Hills -but then I’m an old romantic and love the idea that this is where it all started.

Three Blue Ducks – Bronte, Sydney

Recipe Book PSI’ve been to Sydney on business just about every month for the last two years and I’ve eaten at many great restaurants. This last weekend I flew my husband to Sydney for his birthday. With only three nights at hand I spent some time agonising over which restaurants to take him to. Three Blue Ducks in Bronte was my only given – and they didn’t let me down. Thank heavens. Because one hour before our reservation we took a peek at the menu online. Looking like he’d sucked a lemon, my rather conservative and very much steak-and-veg-loving husband implored “is THAT the menu?”.

Not that he won’t try something a little different – when I cook it. I’m not sure if that’s because he knows I’m sentient to his taste or if it’s just because the poor chap hasn’t got a choice, but in general when we go out his choice is steak, spuds and greens. Nonetheless, he stepped up to the challenge and the boys prevailed. Not really three blue ducks anymore, but five, these guys have created something together that is what I can only describe as understated brilliance.

Three Blue Ducks, in the heart of Bronte, is warm, welcoming and utterly unpretentious, but the atmosphere belies the excellence underpinning its success. It may present as more of a cafe, but with ex-Tetsuya head chef Darren Robertson in the mix with home-grown and locally sourced produce, you’re in for a treat. The fusion of characters and cuisines, from five surfers with varying histories to the strong influence of Morocco and Asia, makes for an interesting result.

Of course I’ve eaten here before, popping in once for a quick lunch and great coffee, but it was lovely to take the time to soak up the salty twilight with a glass of pinot noir  and the waft of chargrill drifting across the room.

IMG_1137Did I mention the service is impeccable? Our pork and beef dumplings with ponzu (soy citrus dressing) arrived within minutes. Delicate silky dumplings with a slightly sweet, salty and sour dressing was the perfect entree.

IMG_1139The duck, cooked on the bone, served with chilli jam, greens and wild but delicate mushrooms was perfectly moist. The hero here though is the chilli jam. I could eat it with anything, on it’s own, by the jar or straight out of the pot … and now that I have the recipe, I intend to.

SteakMy husband, the fillet king, loved his flank steak – perfectly chargrilled, butter-soft and simply salted. Not partial to zucchini or squash, he devoured this almond and parmesan rendition – and I will not rest until I can make it myself (hint for your next recipe book chaps). MushroomsMy man would equally love me to recreate the mushrooms with pearl barley, macadamia bread sauce and labne he ordered on the side. Lucky for him this one is in “The Blue Ducks” recipe book and lucky for me I now have another carb to play with.

We sidestepped the smoked potato ice-cream (for reasons afore mentioned) and opted instead for the strawberries with yuzu curd, salted meringues and goat’s milk. Like everything else here, simple but exciting, crunchy and soft, sweet and salty, sour but delicate. The yuzu curd (yuzu being an East Asian sort of cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit) was knockout. Again – pot, jar, spoon.Strawberries

I couldn’t be more pleased that from wary trepidation, this turned out to be one of my husband’s favourite food experiences. Proof that if you (or your partner) is a fussy eater you may well step over the precipice into a food wonderland and not be disappointed at Three Blue Ducks.

As for me, I’m off to make a Sunday-night Blue Duck “kick arse steak sandwich”.

The Townmouse – Carlton, Melbourne

It’s places like these that really do separate the mice from the men. Chic industrial finishes belie the seamless complexity and beauty of the dishes here. This is what gets me really excited about food – cracking creativity pulled together with subtle sophistication and the greatest respect.

The menu is short, but by no means simple. It’s perfectly suited to a great night out with friends, but just as apposite for the lone diner – as is the service. I never fail to appreciate the easy, warm welcome and comfort some establishments are so deft at lavishing on solo travellers.

Parfait PSThe wine list is equally impressive – comprehensive and clearly crafted to complement a universal menu. A stunning variety of wines by the glass are happily conducive to the little taste travel the menu maps out. Profiterole B copy copyA sweetly oaked, subtle French chardonnay starts the journey in style with a blushing pink, silky smooth smoked duck liver parfait and carries through just as well with the goat’s cheese profiteroles with caraway, thyme and honey.

The menu is expertly fused from a diversity of the world’s best cuisines and you can literally go from France to Italy and Spain on one plate.

Chicken A Delicate poached chicken with ricotta dumplings, pickled king oyster mushrooms, Spanish avruga butter with savoury herbs and subtly infused garlic oil make the perfect entrée – or main if you start with tapas as I did and pair it with a veggie dish. Perhaps some summer beans with preserved orange and rosemary ricotta, or some slow roasted red cabbage with prune, parmesan and red apple?

If you’re curious like me, this is one of the few places you can try orange wine and I highly recommend it. I tried the 2008 Denovolo Italian orange and I’m pleased I did. It’s complexity is completely at home with the menu, although I would recommend it with a more robust dish than the chicken.

You’ll find The Townmouse at 312 Drummond Street, Carlton – a short but happy deviation from Lygon Street.

Note: I apologise for the poor quality of these photos – I literally popped in for a quick bite (sans my real camera) not expecting to be so utterly wowed and had to resort to my trusty iPhone.

Billy Kart Kitchen – Annerley, Brisbane

BillyKartJust a few months old and nestled in a seemingly unlikely location, Billy Kart Kitchen has quickly become a local favourite and popular all-day breakfast and lunch destination.

IMG_0925The setting is vastly different to chef/owner Ben O’Donoghue’s last venture at Southbank Surf Club, but the menu is a nod to his unchanged food ethos – fresh, simple and seasonal. The menu is concise, a little playful and thoroughly modern with superfoods, organics, pickles and some very young wines on offer.

The pulled pork I’d heard so much about wasn’t available the day we visited, so we opted instead for a rib eye steak with bearnaise and spice crusted Blue Eye with fennel and celery.

IMG_0929The trevalla was a triumph. Plump, moist flesh that pulled apart with a feather touch under a crispy crust of dukkah-inspired spices and herbs. I would give anything for the recipe for the fennel and celery dressing, which worked sublimely with the crunch of the vegetables and smokiness of the tomato salsa. A truly exciting dish that I would be hard-pressed to forego even if I could get the pulled pork .

IMG_0934Although not my  husband’s favourite cut, the steak was perfectly prepared and the bearnaise sauce silky simplicity.

Also on offer is a range of cakes, bagels, Campos coffee and owing to its corner-store roots – freshly baked bread, milk and newspapers.

Billy Kart Kitchen is open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch and Friday evenings for dinner.

Christmas Classics

Having grown up in cooler climes and despite the heat in Brisbane I can’t help yenning for a little tradition at Christmas. So every now and again I test the nether limits of our air conditioner and yield to a little yuletide indulgence.

Beef FilletThis year it was Manu’s roast beef with red wine reduction (from Manu’s French Kitchen) that had me hanging out for some of those perfect little puffy pillows of heaven – aka Yorkshire puddings. By Manu’s own admission, the French stole their roast beef from the English, so the two work stunningly together and despite being ridiculously easy, it’s a perfect Christmas dinner-party pleaser.

Be warned though – it’s all about the timing. Trust Manu when he says DO NOT cook your beef past medium-rare. And absolutely DO plate your beef before slicing (general rule is to plate for half the time it took too cook). I served mine with simple roasted pumpkin and baby peas soaked in boiling water (I never actually cook them).

IMG_0861So if you’re in for a little post-Christmas last gasp (or if it’s your turn next year), here’s my bullet-proof, easy as Yorkie recipe …

Ingredients (makes 12):

vegetable oil

285 ml milk

115 g plain flour

a pinch of salt

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 230°C and mix the batter ingredients together.

Preheat a Yorkshire pudding (or muffin) tray with 1 cm of oil in each section.  After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and divide the batter into the tray. Don’t be alarmed if it looks like it’s curdling – this is dead right.  Cook for about 30 minutes until crisp. Do not open the oven door before then or they will not rise. If you want to save yourself the trouble (and don’t have a pyrolitic oven), a handy tip is put wax paper on your full-sized roasting tray and place your muffin tray on top of it so it catches any oil spillover.

Manu's French KitchenYou’ll find Manu’s roast beef recipe on page 117 of Manu’s French Kitchen. This is one of my favourite recipe books, albeit French cooking is generally loaded with love (aka butter), every now and again there’s nothing like it. You can get Manu’s books  here. His latest (Manu’s French Bistro) is number one on my wish list and if you haven’t seen any of the Boy’s Weekend series, they’re great fun to watch.

Eat Street Markets – Hamilton Wharf, Brisbane

Somebody recently sent me a link to a great new online publication, The Weekend Edition (WE). I immediately subscribed and once a week on a Thursday I get an update of what’s on in Brisbane, from new restaurants and bars to events, movies and hot shops for men and women.

MaketEarly December WE showcased a great new foodie destination in Brisbane - Eat Street Markets at Hamilton Wharf, Northshore. Adjacent to Portside Wharf, the Asian-inspired market consists of a myriad of pop-up restaurants, a couple of wine and coffee bars and a few crafty shops – all housed in converted shipping containers and offering a staggering variety of international cuisine.

BeerWine BarHappily, this is to be a permanent fixture but is only open on Friday and Saturday nights from 4pm until 10pm. A centre stage offers free live entertainment and it’s easy to while away a couple of hours soaking up the great energy and balmy summer nights.

It’s pretty hard to choose from the fabulous 50 or so food stalls and your nose will undoubtedly have you teetering between many, but if you want a dead cert go for Chitty Banh Banh.

Chitty Banh Banh

Owned and run by Jake and Elle of My Kitchen Rules’ fame, it’s funky, exciting food, served generously and well. My husband and I both chose the Banh Mi chilli caramel pork with pickled carrot (it looked way too good to consider anything else), so I can only write about one main but I can’t imagine anything being better.Pork Slider A fabulous Asian influence on a thoroughly contemporary dish of pulled pork with pickle, topped with crispy shallots, peanuts and a sauce that brings it all together with surprising sophistication. I can’t say I was wild about the lotus root chips (personal taste only) but their lime and lychee ice cream could start a war. I’ve also heard about their Thai basil ice cream and might just have to go back and sample this after some betel-wrapped Wagyu.

And maybe on my third and fourth visit I’ll get to some of the other great looking grub – there’s Malaysian, Hungarian, Greek, Korean and many, many others to sample. It’s a great way to eat cheap, with a generous side of atmosphere and lashings of fresh air.