Is this Modern Australian Cuisine? – Stokehouse Q
Restaurant: Stokehouse Q
Location: Sidon Street, South Bank, Brisbane (under the Goodwill Bridge)
Chef: Matt Wood
Hats: 1 (2015)
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Brisbane is a Australia’s third largest city and if you have not had the chance to get there, it is a quick flight from Sydney (70 minutes) and located slightly inland from the north-eastern coastline. Brisbane is a river city, with the Brisbane River splitting the area into north and south. On the south side of the river, sits Stokehouse Q, quietly tucked in the southern end of the burgeoning South Bank restaurant, bar and entertainment district. By taxi from the city it takes only 5-7 minutes to arrive if the traffic is forgiving. Tonight we hail a taxi from Fortitude Valley and it takes 15 minutes mainly due to the long weekend traffic.
South Bank has undergone some serious change in the past few years thus taking advantage of the river views (which by day is not a terribly pretty sight as the river is a silt-inducing brown). Tonight, we dine by moonlight and only see a gorgeous view with the city lights.
Stokehouse Q was one of my personal choices in our set of five QLD dining experiences over three days in October with my Foodie partner in crime, Pookie. I’d dined a few times just down the path at Italian fave, Popolo and walked past the imposing Stokehouse Q venue often thinking “I really need to try that place out”. With a newly awarded hat to their name, my time had finally come, so I booked for four and waited in anticipation of experiencing what “Modern Australian” meant to Stokehouse Q Chef, Matt Wood.
First impressions are right on track with luxe wood panelling, high ceilings, dark accents, a spotlit path and polished floors upon entry. We are guided to our table by smiling,friendly staff and are seated with a view of the river and Goodwill Bridge. I stop briefly and try to hide my puzzled look – the table has three matching chairs and one odd chair out – I’m now concerned that I had booked incorrectly and they had to sub-in an extra seat. I look around the restaurant and see that other tables have the same mix of chairs so I put that weirdness aside and sit down to enjoy the warm evening and pretty view. Our friends (one of which is on holiday from Hong Kong), join us from the Stokehouse Bar on the other side of the venue where they have been partaking in some pre-dinner beverages (smart, very smart).
We have a cross continent reunion, hug it out and start a plethora of catch up chatter whilst intermittently eyeing the menus and specials board. It must frustrate people working in hospitality, when diners take too long to order. I am always conscious of trying to be a good guest when dining since working the floor is an insanely difficult task at the best of times. For us, this was a mini reunion as well as a chance to dine at the restaurant and in our animated chatter, we twice ask for more time and by the third approach everyone snapped into action so we didn’t unfairly cause more delay (sorry about that Stokehouse Q).
Their menu has an eclectic selection of dishes and ingredients from “Cobia Crudo (raw fish), Sea Succulents, Blood Orange and Botarga (mullet roe)” to Caramelised Beetroot Tart, Fenugreek, Dandelion Leaves and Smoked Macadamias (hello Queenslanders)“.
Our first set of selections from the menu are the “Spanner Crab, Sweet Corn Veloute, Jalapeno Salsa, Preserved Lemon, Radish and Coriander”, “Crispy Pork Rillettes, Preserved Carrot, Caper Leaves, Choko and Horseradish” and “Grilled Cuttlefish salad, Belly Bacon, Endive, Celery, QLD Pecans and Meyer Lemon Dressing”.
This fusion of cooking techniques (Veloute, Rillettes) and ingredients (Jalapeno Salsa, Coriander) with the Australian product (Spanner Crab and Pork) is an interesting mix and gives a peek into the Chef’s personal take on Australian cuisine.
The Spanner Crab is sweet, cool and refreshing and combining it with the room-temperature creamy Veloute is surprisingly nice (sometimes it can be jarring to mix a cold ingredient with a comparatively warm/hot ingredient). The Jalapenos Salsa and preserved lemon gives a sharpness and the radish and coriander is a clean ending.
The Grilled Cuttlefish Salad is pretty straight forward (if you like Cuttlefish), the flesh is grilled well without making it too tough, the Belly Bacon is a delicious addition but a little confusing against the Cuttlefish (only to my taste buds, after all it is bacon) and the delicate Meyer Lemon dressing is delicious without imposing on the dish.
Now come the Pork Rilettes. There is something naughty about this sort of dish. It is a decadence as you get older, since your body doesn’t like it when you feed yourself fried food. If this dish did not have the horseradish cream and the preserved carrots, we’d be having some words. Pork in and of itself is a damn fine, delicious meat and combining it with too many flavours is a travesty that defies logic. The ingredients individually are nothing to write about but in combination it is a even handed mix of crunchy, smooth, sharp and velvety as well as sweet and sour. The photo doesn’t do it justice so get there to try it post haste! Just book that cholesterol test at least a month after.
We’ve vacuumed up some serious entrees so far, so we sit back and hope the mains do not arrive too quickly. In this lull, I take stock of the room. When we arrived it was the first sitting and the room was quite spacious and probably enhanced by the open doors onto the alfresco dining balcony. In the past 40 minutes or so, the room has filled and the tables are now noticeably close to each other. It is a good sign for Brisbane dining when there are full restaurants, so this is not what strikes me at this point. It is the noise that is gradually building as the acoustics reverberate and bounce chatter off every wall surrounding the closely placed tables. My chair is also nudged with increasing frequency as the floor staff try to get to the tables and diners are getting up and moving to and from the bathrooms (Note: cool bathrooms). I start to struggle to hear my dinner companions and it doesn’t dissipate until the end of the meal. Speaking of which…
Our mains arrive of “Roast Chicken, Bacon, Rainbow Chard, Leek, Tarragon, Marscarpone Sauce”, “Charred Black Angus Chuck Rib, Roast Onions, Artichokes, Mustard Seeds and Cress” and two Specials “Cape Grim Grass Fed Sirloin from Tasmania” and the “Crispy Skin Barcoo Grunter, Caramelised Witlof, Shaved Celery, Broccoli and Botarga”.
The chicken is intensely flavoured (with a seasoning placed under the crispy skin, perfectly cooked with a hint of a char from the grilled veg. It is a filling combination with the leek and chard (think spinach) a nice change from the starch of potato that usually accompanies a roasted meat in Australian restaurants.The Charred Black Angus Chuck Rib, Roast Onions, Artichokes, Mustard Seeds and Cress is an busy plate with a lot of flavours. This is nearing a typically Australian dish particularly with the char and caramelised onion. It reminds me of Saturday night with friends having a barbecue only in a far fancier place with someone who knows how to work the grill. A delicious inclusion in this dish is the mustard seeds which give a salty and sour kick and leaves a great finish to each bite.
Cape Grim Grass Fed Sirloin from Tasmania is simply plated with minimal fuss and the rich meat is complimented with peppery watercress and fresh lemon. Once again, all very straight forward which allows you to enjoy the flavour of the meat without covering up with sauces or layered extras.
The Fish Special, among a serious meat-laden menu (no complaints here), is the Barcoo Grunter (think Perch). It’s not the greatest of plating with beige-looking fish sitting on a gray/beige plate. In comparison to the full, rich looking chicken and the glistening Cape Grim Sirloin, Pookie develops food envy as his dish is served and he muses on his fish choice. Presentation aside, the seasoning is well balanced, the vegetable accompaniment is delicious (mmm caramelised Witlof) and the addition of the Botarga (roe) enhances the sea flavours with deep rich saltiness. The only so so point is the signature crispy skin which gives a little too much resistance when chewing.
Sated and our table nearing change over we decide to finish on coffees and cheese and head somewhere quieter in Brisbane (Enoteca 1889) for after dinner drinks (that’s another story). This ends our time at Stokehouse Q and I’m left with no regrets.
For the past few years, my dining experiences have ranged from street food to three-star Michelin restaurants so my curiousity about menu selection is always peaked. It is easy to spot a French menu, an Italian menu or even a Japanese menu, but could you identify an Australian menu? Probably not because you would need to identify what is Australian cuisine actually is first. This begs the question what is Stokehouse Q’s opinion of “Modern Australian” cuisine since they define themselves as such.
I’m guessing after this meal that Modern Australian to Chef Matt Wood, means local Australian product infused and/or treated with techniques (and ingredients) central to other clearly identifiable countries, like a cultural food infusion or a “melting pot” if you will.
Case in point, there is a noticeable Italian treatment on some dishes with – Arancini, Mozarella, Ragu, Risotto) but also Spanish with Jamon, Mediterranean with Botarga, French with Confit potato and white onion cream as well as a little Japanese appearing with Wakame broth and the Cobia crudo (raw fish). This is interspersed with oysters from South Australia, Choko (hello my childhood friend), Black Angus Chuck Rib and ingredients like Queensland Pecans, Smoked Macadamias and Pendleton Olives.
Australia has an amazing array of unique ingredients which is our point of difference, so it is nice to see a Chef commit to using local produce, albeit with renown traditional cooking methods. Ben Shewry, Head Chef at Attica in Melbourne is the closest I’ve experienced to a demonstrated vision of what an Australian cuisine menu could look like. He is not the first and hopefully will not be the last Chef who does this.
There is definite talent in the kitchen at Stokehouse Q which I am sure will only grow as more and more diners freely part with their dollars and invest in dining there. Our dinner was well paced, delicious and with very little fuss. I am however still left pondering about what is Australian cuisine. What I do know is that we need Chef’s like Matt Wood and Ben Shewry to keep innovating and developing menus around uniquely Australian ingredients. More! More!