Monday, March 26, 2012

Verve Birthday Dinner

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Verve Cafe and Bar

Another year goes by, another birthday, another notch up the age ladder. This past year marked my milestone of no longer getting asked for ID at bottleshops. It took me a while to notice this trend but once I did, I realized it wasn't every now and again but every single time. A sad, sad development.

That aside, I decided this year I'd be celebrating my birthday with a hand plucked select group of close friends in Brisbane. Gone are the years of splashing out invites for huge parties - probably another indication of my getting older.

I picked Verve in the city because another friend mentioned it once on passing and I wanted somewhere inexpensive with a good atmosphere, casual food and drinks. Verve seemed to fit the bill.

When I made the booking I had no idea who was coming so I just guessed 7. We arrived to find a table for 8 set out and miraculously, exactly 8 people came (myself included). I love it when you fail to plan and it works out perfectly.

Verve gave out the right vibe straight away... it's underground and has this party/den-like feel about it without being too rowdy.

Due to my subborness (I refused to put my camera flash on) and tipsiness (it was my birthday after all), the quality of my photos are piss poor. There were a couple that were unuseable but I'll give honorable mention to those dishes too. The rest have been forced through a sea of filters and contrast adjustments on the computer but are still murky at best. Next time I'll know to use the flash. Night mode on my camera is gooood but not THAT good.

I gave my best friend Kat one rule 'I don't want to make any decisions' and then proceeded to tell her I wanted the chicken pizza. She figured out the rest.
Herb bread - with caramelised onion, mild mustard seeds, parmesan and parsley

Our table had some starters to share. There was a plate of pan bread and herb bread. They were both delicious!

Pan bread - with fetta cheese, kalamata olive, sea salt and basil

I was extra hungry (didn't have time to eat all day due to the rush from work to Brisbane) so that might have contributed but the herb bread was squishy and soft and flavorsome and the pan bread was thin and crunchy. I had doubles of everything.

Then came the mains. I'll just post up what everyone ordered and what they said about their foods. For the ones missing photos, just imagine the photos are there...

Brandy tortellini – with spinach and ricotta tortellini, cream, pine nuts, sun-dried tomato and brandy

Blossom picked the brandy tortellini. I tried one and thought it was delicious. She said it was good at first but then became too tomatoey and sour.

Goat's cheese and chicken gnocchi – with roast pumpkin, fresh rosemary and cream

Jaws went for the gnocchi. I don't like gnocchi much - I think I've only enjoyed one gnocchi dish I've ever tried (and I made that one so maybe I'm biased) and this didn't do much to turn the tables. Jaws said I was crazy. He liked it.

Unfortunately those were the only 2 photos that made the cut.

Verve lasagne – with beef, roast pumpkin, baked fetta and English spinach

Mork ordered the lasagna which he complained was too sour.

Chicken pizza – marinated with fetta, roast capsicum, caramelised onion, thyme and parmesan

Dunc and I shared the chicken pizza. I have no idea why I didn't take a photo of it. Oh wait, alcohol. Partying. Socializing. That's probably what distracted me. Anyway I wasn't a huge fan of the pizza. It wasn't awful but the pan bread entree was much better. I ended up just picking the topping off.

Pescatore linguini – with scallops, prawns, roasted bell pepper, olive, fresh basil and olive oil

TRex (can you tell they were all picking out code names for my blog at the party?) tried the pestacore linguini. I had a bit of this and thought it was quite good. I wish my photo of this dish was good enough to post because TRex gave me a thorough review. She said it was good for the price but not outstanding and she liked the freshness of the lemon. I also recall her mentioning the scallop wasn't overcooked (to which my drunken self replied something like 'and they so often are').

My (possibly?) brownie

Finally, I was caught off guard when I saw a sizzling brownie coming my way. On cue, my wonderful friends proceeded to embarrass me with a chorus of Happy Birthday. The brownie is deceptive - chocolatey on the outside and white on the inside (maybe it wasn't REALLY a brownie) but delicious all the way. I 'accidentally' took a photo of it with the flash on and at that point realized that's what I should've been doing all along.

Live and learn, eh?

Verve was fun. The food was pretty good as a whole, especially considering that it was a lower-priced, casual establishment. We got a lot of use out of the bar. The environment was perfect for what I was doing. What made it 100% awesome though was my amazing, fabulous, closest friends. Thanks guys for coming and making my 24th very special (and thanks for contributing your own amusing nicknames).
Verve Restaurant Bar Cider House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ginga Sushi Bar

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Ginga Sushi Bar

Sunday lunch after a big night out (breakfast was skipped due to being queasy)... Marc and I decided we'd go to Southbank and definitely find something there. However, once we arrived at Southbank, inspiration did not suddenly strike. Indeed we walked up and down the precinct before deciding on the Burrito Bar. Unfortunately it was not open nor did it open at 11am as stated on their trading hours sign (we gave it a good 10min before giving up). Conveniently next door was Ginga, which was my second choice.

After living in Brisbane for double digit years, it's strange that I never tried Ginga Sushi Bar. I had heard good things about it though. We were literally one of the first customers through the door but the ring of seats around the sushi train area filled up rather quickly.

We were starving by this point and I eagerly scouted the sushi plates that chugged past before snatching a couple down to start with.

Teriyaki chicken roll

Chicken and avo roll

It's hard to blog about a sushi train because essentially, what we had was a variety of sushi. I thought the quality was pretty good. Being some of their first lunch customers, we did get the freshest pickings so I'm not sure if it makes a difference going at other times.

Potato salad sushi roll

Tempura seafood stick roll

Salmon nigiri

I didn't try any really exciting varieties (figured out too late that I could've ordered them from the menu rather than waiting for old favorites to magically appear).

Lobster roll

There was something that ressembles the lobster roll from Top Sushi that was nice. The salmon nigiri was very fresh and plump too.

Mango smoothie and taro smoothie

We had some drinks too. Marc tried the mango smoothie. It had that artificial yet not unpleasant mango flavor that Asian mango puddings have. Not bad. I couldn't go past the taro smoothie. I was curious about different it would be to a taro milk tea. It was much creamier and thicker, as though blended from taro gelato (which is probably what it is).

Karaage chicken

Finally, I could not resist the urge for fried chicken any longer. After waiting fruitlessly for karaage chicken to appear on the train, I grabbed a waitress and asked for a plate and she miraculously had one on hand. Amazing. Ask and you shall receive.

I thought Ginga was quite nice. Perhaps the sushi were not as refined as Hanaichi Sushi Bar or as creative as those little sushi bars in the CBD but the ones we tried were consistently fresh. The atmosphere was nice too, although that's almost a given for any Southbank restaurant.
Ginga Sushi Bar and Dining on Urbanspoon

Red Lotus

Red Lotus

Saturday night. Rainy. Half drunk. In need of food. Marc and I are the absolute worst combination of people for deciding on what to eat. We're both 'anything goes' and 'whatever' which is great when there's someone assertive who knows what they want to eat but not so great when neither of us can come up with a single prominent idea. After lots of stuffing around, we figured we'd brave the rain and head to the valley where there was bound to be something good.

The only thing we both really KNEW we wanted was a place that also sold alcoholic drinks, but not swanky $100000 drinks. The first place we came across that met this criteria was Red Lotus. It looked inviting enough and we were sick of being drizzled on so we eagerly stepped in.

Gorgeous menu

Our indecisiveness extended to the food too so rather than spending hours picking out specific dishes, we took the lazy route and chose the Lost in Saigon banquet.

Vietnamese iced coffee

For drinks, I got a Vietnamese iced coffee to start with and Marc went for a beer. I've had Vietnamese iced coffee plenty of times before but never like this. I annoyed a couple of waitstaff asking how it 'works' (it looked complicated on the menu with lots of steps/options and I was drunkish). I suppose this is the more authentic presentation. I was instructed to allow for the coffee to finish filtering (wait until it stops dripping) before mixing it up with the condensed milk and pouring it over the ice.


It was delicious! I think I mixed too much condensed milk in though, because it was a tad on the sweet side, but that was easily remedied with the additon of some water.

Vietnamese beer!

I also tried a Vietnamese beer for the first time, called 333.

Pork and prawn rice paper rolls, crispy chicken spring rolls and chargrilled lemongrass pork skewers

Our banquet entree platter included a couple of pork and prawn rice paper rolls, some spring rolls and grilled pork skewers. I'm a huge fan of rice paper rolls and thought these were delish.

Inside of rice paper rolls

They were very plain and simple but that's basically what it's all about: fresh ingredients and a nice dipping sauce. I loved the spring rolls too. They were crunchy without tasting too oily. The pork skewers had a great flavor but were a tad dry for my liking.

Sauteed lemongrass chili chicken, caramelized twice cooked pork ribs and green papaya salad with pork and prawns

The mains included lemongrass chicken, caramelized pork belly and a green papaya salad. The chicken and pork were both saucy and flavorsome. They were extremely moreish and went well with rice. My favorite was probably the green papaya salad. It was just so crisp and clean with a gorgeous dressing, perfectly balanced in sweetness and tanginess. Of special note is these cool circular prawn crackers. I was very impressed by these. They were tasty! And circular :).

Sticky rice ice cream and jackfruit ice cream

After our lovely mains, I was looking forward to the dessert, which was described as 'Asian flavored ice cream' on the menu. They came as 1 x sticky rice flavored and 1 x jackfruit flavored ice cream. I was very excited about the sticky rice ice cream because it's exactly the kind of thing I'm into. The actual sticky rice grains were too al dente but the flavor was delish. The jackfruit ice cream was very subtle, possibly a good thing. I haven't had real jackfruit or durian before so I'm not exactly a connoisseur.

I don't know if I was just super hungry that night but I thought everything was delicious!! There are a few negative reviews online but I can't say my experience was at all negative. The service was nice and efficient too and the serving sizes were just right for us. When we got there we were asked if we had a booking and thought 'pfft as if it's necessary' because it looked quite empty. When we were well into our meal, the place was packed! Red Lotus is a popular place for good reason. It's decked out stylishly with a thorough menu, good service and tasty food.
Red Lotus on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tank Restaurant and Bar for our 2 Year Anniversary

Tank Restaurant and Bar

Neither Byron and I are the 'anniversary' types; in fact, we didn't even know how long we'd been together. After stretching our poor memories trying to remember how many Christmases we'd spent together, we worked out it was 2years around the start of this year. Since there was no official date, I plucked a free weekend out of my calendar and decided this would be a fine time to celebrate life and love with food, drinks and more.

We started our night at the Tank Restaurant and Bar. It's officially on Tank Street but after walking up and down Tank Street for a bit, we Googled the place again and read that it was located within Santos Place, which is this courtyard type deal sandwiched between 2 buildings. It can be accessed from Tank Street but you kind of have to know what you're looking for.

There's a little laneway lined with cute booths and bar stools leading up to the main restaurant entrance. Because we were early, we planted our bums there and ordered a couple of drinks.

Zombie and tank summer punch cocktails

Byron tried the zombie cocktail. I tried a bit and thought it tasted great - very passionfruity and not too overpowering, which is strange considering the components. Byron loved this drink. I went for the tank summer punch which was OK but not too amazing. I found the lemon juice component too prominent and the end result was too tart.

Perfect day cocktail

Once we were seated, I also tried the perfect day cocktail which was summery (fresh and tangy) with an eggwhite foam. I liked this one.

Black sesame bread

We were offered some complimentary sesame seed bread to start with. It was warm with a crunchy crust and soft interior and was served with warm salted butter. I thought this bread was rather good and a nice change from the usual sourdoughs that restaurants are fond of giving out.

Miso roasted eye of rib fillet - with shitake, daikon and ginger salad

Byron's main was the miso roasted rib fillet. He cut himself a piece, developed a stunned expression and passed another portion to me. "Try this". I did and it was wow.

Steak cross section

The meat was simply beautiful - soft, pillowy and melty. Cooked to perfection.
He said it was the second best steak he's ever tasted, losing out only to the wagyu sirloin at Cha Cha Char because that had the wagyu marbling flavor.

Free range pork ramen - with slow-cooked egg and peas

I chose the pork ramen with a slow-cooked egg. The pork was nice but I thought it was over-charred and dry. It's interesting how being submerged in broth doesn't disguise dryness.

The noodles were very stock standard - couldn't really distinguish from regular ramen. The broth was very tasty and had some complexity behind it. I thought the highlight of this dish was the slow-cooked egg. I'd only seen this on Masterchef before and couldn't imagine how great it would be but the texture was rather amazing.

Slow-cooked egg close-up

It was soft and slightly gelatinous; when popped, it oozed over the ramen and that combination was awesome. I definitely wouldn't call this a bad dish but I'm not sure that it meets fine dining expectations and I can think of a few ramen stores that are better (Ajisen, Hakataya).

Green tea barvarois - with brioche cubes

We were rather full by this point but I can't walk away from dessert so we went with the green tea barvarois with brioche cubes.

Bite shot

It was a pleasant and light dessert with a delicate matcha flavoring. The crunchy brioche sugar cubes lended a nice texture contrast.

The service at Tank Restaurant was fabulous. It's a small restaurant with an intimate feel yet it's quite noisy too (which can be good or bad depending on what you like). I wasn't blown away by the pork ramen but the steak was fabulous and the dessert was a solid ending to the meal.
Tank Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon