I have had only four other-worldly, exciting dining experiences in the past year. Two of them I can credit at least in part to Ollie Hansford and in whole to the collective efforts of some fantastic young chefs and the efforts of Variety Children’s Charity.
Following on from last year’s highly successful Variety of Young Chefs dinner at Restaurant II, Hansford and some of his past and present compatriots from Stokehouse got together again last night in support of disabled and disadvantaged children. Not only did these guys give up their personal time to wow us for a good cause, but they arranged all the produce and brought along the exceptionally talented Stokehouse assistant sommelier, Alex Balodis to make it perfect.
Citrus granita oysters set the bar but not the complexity. When I said exciting I meant it. Imagine canapés of crispy carrot bark with bone marrow foam, topped with shaved seaweed. Not inventive enough? How about quince leather with cumin orange butter cream? Shows you what happens when you give some exceptionally talented young chefs carte blanche and some superb produce.
Callum Gray’s soft-cheese, silky pillow ravioli and burnt courgette popped to life with a vibrant herb emulsion.
Cormac Bradfield’s tender chargrilled octopus with snow pea juice, chicken fat and saltbush, served with Lark Hill’s wild-fermented Mr V (Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier blend) was one of the best pairings I’ve ever had.
It’s just as well I’m South African and have no memory of (or aversion to) skippy. Otherwise I might have missed Hansford’s butter-soft pepperberry-crusted kangaroo with blackberry vinegar, beurre noisette and pumpkin.
I could never have imagined though that the simplicity of a buttermilk-poached potato would have been a clincher, nor how well this dish would have worked with caramelised but slightly crunchy beer-braised onions and roasted pine-nuts. Wild but sophisticated and utterly inspired.
As for Rob Wood’s dessert … I’m not normally mad about deconstructed food. Why mess with something that has been so carefully put together? Unless it’s infinitely better, adds a few surprises and gives you that “wow” moment when you realise what it is that has your synapses firing down memory lane.
This may have looked like a violet parfait with lemon curd and oat crumble. If the crème fraiche mousse and crumbled Yorkshire tea cake with a side of poppy seed tuille hadn’t thrown you off, the burnt orange syrup might have. It was all so mind-blowingly good that you probably wouldn’t have cared. But when you got it all together in your mouth there is no way you could not have recognised it. Lemon meringue pie. Only it took 200 years to make it this good.
Stokehouse is one of my favourite restaurants in Brisbane. If you have a few hours spare and it’s a good summer’s day there is nothing better than whiling away a Sunday afternoon on the deck overlooking the river. The gourmet bar menu offers lighter fare and anything I’ve ever eaten in the restaurant is testament to the talent of the chefs.
Ollie Hansford will soon be joining new Grey Street restaurant Gauge as head chef, working with executive chef Cormac Bradfield (who currently heads up Sourced in Teneriffe). No doubt I’ll be one of Gauge’s first patrons.