Papa Jack’s – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Papa Jacks

I don’t know about you, but I love a revolt against the ordinary, average, homogenized tedium that thrives in our global existence and threatens to smother not only our culture and food heritage, but snuff out its evolution without a backward glance. On the up side, I love the dichotomy it’s creating and the more and more prevalent kick-back and cross-cultural, multi-dimensional gastronomic celebration it’s cooking up. Point in case – Papa Jack’s. I’m going to borrow from my previous blog on the Best of My Breakfasts in Brisbane (because I wrote it and I can) ….“Old but new, funky and just bordering on the edge of recreation, Papa Jack’s 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.”

So impressed was I with their breakfast and hanging out for a substantial something different and  the soufflé I knew they had on the menu a little while back, I abandoned my ever-growing bucket list of new spots to hit and headed back to Papa Jack’s.

MusslesOf course I left it too long and missed the soufflé. I might have been devastated but for the creative genius of a dish that at first glance seemed a bit weird and a little off my taste chart. My curiosity overcoming my usual distaste for cold seafood and tomato juice, I felt compelled to order the applewood smoked mussels with a “virgin Mary” sauce.  Exciting, zingy and utterly refreshing. The sweet smokiness of the applewood pops out through the flicker of heat in the sauce and swirls around the delicate salty flesh of Kinkawooka mussels.

Pork BallsHaving already departed from convention I kept going, and rather than ordering something more substantial I followed my mussels with the pulled pork boudin balls. Risky, having ordered the same just a week ago at another restaurant and being bitterly disappointed with a dry, unseasoned and really rather tasteless vestige of the same. Not so here. Happily rolled up with some rice, a little spice and Chef Grant Skinner’s characteristic dollop of Creole zing in his Dijon truffle mayonnaise, these perfectly crisped, crumbed delights restored my faith.

My husband ordered “Le Big Burger” with onion rings and house-made pickles and being as our lunch was a prelude to the Pinot Palooza (Pinot Noir wine festival), could not have been happier with himself. Cheesy FriesServing up a decent burger with a difference is not easy and sometimes simplicity is best not messed with, but Papa Jack’s wagyu version with creole cream cheese is substantial, balanced and contemporary without being overtly funky. It’s enough on its own, but you wouldn’t want to miss the cheesy fondue coated fries sprinkled with bacon crumbs. In retrospect, just as well I didn’t order the substantial main I might otherwise have considered.

As for the Pinot Palooza, if you didn’t make it this year I’m afraid you’ve missed it, but if you’re a pinot noir lover and you don’t want to miss next year make sure you get on the mailing list at http://pinotpalooza.com.au/. We had a great afternoon and spent a fabulous hour with Esquire’s Restaurant Manager, Alex Beazley, who expertly guided us through his pick of the best six pinot noirs and shared some anecdotes, experience and some particularly gorgeous tastings with us. Notably Curly Flat’s 2011 Pinot Noir (personal favourite), Crittenden’s Gepetto and finishing with a generous splash of Chambolle Musigny from Burgundy.

Advertisements

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.

Gerard’s Bistro – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

130928 Gerard's Bistro CharcuterieRecently rated one of Brisbane’s best restaurants by Gourmet Traveller, Gerard’s has been on my bucket list for a while. The attraction? Modern middle-eastern cuisine served share-style, intriguing décor and an impressive wine list. It’s also conveniently located if you’re heading towards the Valley for a show – walking distance from The Tivoli and the Judith Wright theatre and close enough to the Powerhouse for a quick pre-show dinner if you’re driving.

The menu is diverse and thoroughly contemporary – house-made smallgoods and pickled accompaniments abound and its clear smoking is a technique favoured by chef Ben Williamson.130928 Gerard's Bistro charcuterie 3

The charcuterie board with Lebanese pickles goes so much further than the usual well-sourced and assembled offering. The house-made chorizo paste has a fabulous kick and works really well with the pickles. The liver pate packs remarkable flavour for its feather-light smoothness and finishes beautifully atop the seeded crispbread. The prosciutto is delicately smoked but watch those pickled chillies.

130928 Gerard's Bistro Suckling Pig PSSuckling pig with pear, walnuts and Jerusalem artichokes is the signature dish and it doesn’t disappoint.

The Pategonian toothfish with mussels and jamon is perfectly complemented by lentils shot through with a hint of lemon.130928 Gerard's Bistro Pategonian Toothfish 1 Both dishes work beautifully with sides of smoked potatoes with tahini, sumac and nigella; and roasted beetroot with shankleish, barberries, hazelnuts and lemon balm. Also on the menu and fantastic with our selection is the Stoneleigh Pinot Gris.

With all this we left no space for sweets, but will happily return to finish the experience.

A side note – if you’re a real foodie with a penchant for collecting recipe books, pop into Scrumptious Reads, just diagonally across from the entrance to Gerard’s. It’s open late and is the perfect appetising distraction on the way in if you’re a little early for your booking.

Day 6 – Margaret River

Hay Shed Hill EntranceAll good things and so on ….Sadly, it’s our last day. Typically, the sun cracks through the clouds and strobes gold through the trees. We’re off to Hay Shed Hill for breakfast. If you want something different this is where it’s at.

Hay Shed Hill Building

The café offers local produce with a distinctively Middle Eastern bent. I order the shakshuka – my first – and I’m hooked. Eggs cracked into a spicy tomato base, baked with chorizo and served with sesame flatbread. A good chilli hit so not for the spice-shy.

Shakshuka

Stomachs lined, we face up for our last wine-tasting in the region and we’re not disappointed. With many outstanding Chardonnays and Cab Savs under our belts, it’s the 2011 Shiraz Tempranillo that grabs me. 86% Tempranillo, 14% Cab Sav, nice and spicy with complex tannins. The 2009 Block 8 Cab Franc is deliciously fragrant and a great way to end.

We send off our week’s stash and head for a sweet finish to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Chocaholics be warned. I have never seen so much chocolate in one place in my life. Let alone so many interesting versions of it.Margaret River Chocolate

No tasting notes here – try everything. It’s all melt-in-your mouth, roll your eyes, bob your head, gushingly, embarrassingly perfect.

We pop in at the Silk Road and then hit the road towards Perth, travelling via Cottlesloe beach, where we stop for a lazy sunset drink at Indiana, stroll along the beach and wistfully yen for just one more day.

Day 5 – Margaret River

Leeuwin EntranceThe big wet is showing no interest in dissipating and we choose this day to dedicate almost entirely to one of the greats – Leeuwin Estate. We start with a wine tour. Not much happening at this time of the year but still interesting and the personal attention and private wine-tasting that follows makes it all the more worthwhile. We work our way through almost the entire offering, from the Prelude range through the Art Series. Leeuwin Art 1There’s probably nothing I can say that James Halliday and other wine boffs haven’t already said. All I can say is if you visit Margaret River and there is a winery you should not miss, this is it. This is premium wine and testament to Leeuwin’s heritage.

Leeuwin GardeNow so soggy outside we can barely see the Karri trees surrounding the property, our happy haze draws us to the crackling hearth and the promise of food.

Leeuwin Menu Pic

With my usual lack of restraint and want for trying everything, I start with the Art Series tasting plate. Oysters paired with the 2012 Riesling; Thai curry scallops with the 2012 Sav Blanc; d’Argental Lingot with cherry gel and candied walnuts is heaven with the 2012 Chardonnay; although the confit duck loses its legs a little against the 2008 Cab Sav.

Leeuwin Spanner Crab SouffleNot wanting to make a pig of myself but unable to resist crab or soufflé, I order this entrée instead of a main and Leeuwin Roast Artichokespair it with a side of roast artichokes and a glass of the Art Series Chardonnay. A happy pairing albeit with a slightly saggy soufflé.

Roger has the Rangers Valley scotch fillet with truffle fondant and horseradish bearnaise. He’s not a fan of gristle so this disappoints him, but the truffle fondant and béarnaise is sublime.Leeuwin Steak

On our way home, we pop into Watershed, impressive though a little exposed on a blustery day. We’ve heard the owner is dabbling in Manjimup truffles and vow to return to the vast restaurant, but for today I’m here to pay homage to their Senses Shiraz. A year ago I was lucky enough to pick up a few bottles of their 2010 vintage – outstanding and deserving of the Visy Gold award it picked up. Not as blown away by the current offering but one to watch. In the meantime, if you’re a fan, try the Zinfandel. Not many of them around (only five last time I checked) and this is a goodie.Watershed 2

Day 4 – Margaret River

Busselton JettyA glance at the forecast tells us today is likely to be the fairest of the rest, so we bolt up to Busselton. Foiled again. Stormy seas have muddied visibility and the aquarium at the jetty is closed.

So instead we head up to Cape Naturaliste, stopping at Dunsborough to see Christian Fletchers’ photo gallery. Breathtaking talent and well worth the detour. En route to Cape Naturaliste we stop to take pictures of the millions of lilies scattered across the fields. I’m told they’re noxious here but I still love them.

At Cape Naturaliste we pay the nice lady for passes to the lighthouse and then wish we hadn’t. It’s small (much smaller than Cape Leeuwin) and sealed in with an eight foot fence that precludes any decent shots of the view.

Wise WinesIn disdain, we consider our options and make the best of logical decisions. We head to the next winery. Wise Wines is just off the road heading back from the lighthouse. The view from the cellar door and restaurant is spectacular with a vista from the lush valley to the ocean beyond. The wines complete the experience.Wise Wines View The Pinot Grigio would make an Italian proud and the 2010 Lot 80 Cab Sav is stupendous. The finesse of the tannin curls delicately around cassis, vanilla and settles on a wisp of smokiness.

We take the scenic ocean drive to Meelup Bay. If you see no other beach in WA, see this one.Beach Meelup

Wills Domain ViewJust about everyone I know who has been to Margaret River has recommended our next stop and with good reason. Will’s Domain is perched atop a valley and is a feast for both scenery junkies and fusion foodies.Wills Domain Brisket Their eclectic menu is bold, complex and creative. I opt for the Ningaloo wagyu brisket with pickled walnuts, quince, kale and parsnip – served on a platter. My husband has the “Big Red” pork collar and belly with smoked shallots, dumplings and pear – served as a casserole.

A chilly mist rolls up the hill and snaps at our ankles as we head for the next winery – Pierro. As we get out of the car I can smell the lees and my tastebuds start a little jingle. My husband loves the LTC – an SBS with a “little touch of chardonnay”. I adore the 2011 Chardonnay. Sure the 2009 scored big but I can’t imagine much difference with a bit of cellaring. As for the 2009 Pinot Noir – yum, yum, yum – and just the thing for a cold night in front of the fire.

Day 3 – Margaret River

Let-the-liver-off day. We head south to see the caves, the forest, some beaches, Augusta and Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. Lake Caves 1Lake Caves is our first stop. A very steep track takes us down to the cave entrance and into the mystical netherworld of dolomites, stalactites and many other-ites.

Karri TreesThese caves are enchanting and more so for being surrounded by the magnificent towering karri trees of the Boranup forest. These giants grow to 90 metres, making them the third tallest tree in the world.

Hamelin BayWe brave the blustery wind and take a walk along Hamelin Bay – only sorry it’s too miserable to navigate more of what looks like a very scenic pathway over the cliffs. Cape Leeuwin LighthouseWhale-watching plans thwarted by the weather, we pop into a bakery at Augusta for a very hearty potato and leek soup and square up to the elements to get some snaps of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and the old water wheel.Cape Leeuwin Augusta Water Wheel

The drive to Jewel Caves from here takes us through some of the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever seen (including Scotland). These caves are significantly bigger than the Lake Caves, with more formations and vast chambers. Each is unique though and I recommend doing both. Nature’s galleries often really are the finest.Jewel Caves 4