Not quite the high note – ARIA Brisbane
Restaurant: ARIA – Brisbane
Eagle Street Pier, 1 Eagle St, Brisbane
Head Chef: Ben Russell
Awards: 2 hats
ARIA Brisbane opened with much excitement and fanfare in the Eagle Street Dining precinct a few years back. Already home to the much loved Cha Cha Char, Il Centro, Sake and Pony Dining; expectations of ARIA were high. Therefore is comes with some confusion that my foray into the Matt Moran’s Brisbane venture did not quite hit the high note that I was enthusiastically expecting.
ARIA Brisbane and ARIA Sydney are not to be compared. The menu’s, dining room and chef’s are very different. Ben Russell is an ARIA mainstay (tipped to head up ARIA Sydney next) and sticks to a safe menu that should appeal to most – vegetarian, seafood, beef, duck, veal – entree, mains – standard + from-the-grill, sides and dessert OR degustation. Being degustation-ed out at the moment, we stuck to the a la carte menu. If you know Brisbane, the restaurant itself is in the old Pier One dining room on Eagle Street Pier on the Brisbane River. Not to be confused with the visual delights of Sydney’s harbour, the Brisbane River is brown and is probably best at night with the city and bridge lights.
The service is quick and before we can start conversing, our entrees arrive. The ‘Buffalo Curd- poached pear, rosemary, potato and hazelnut is my favourite dish of the night (along with the side of fried Brussels sprouts). It is light, fresh and creamy and the pairing with pear and hazelnut is a refreshing change from the tomato versions. Unfortunately the scallop dish was overpowered by the quantity of miso butter. The mains were served very quickly after. Our two beef dishes were vastly different – the slow cooked short rib was incredibly tender and rich in flavour. The Rump Cap was nice yet underwhelming in flavour. This rushed pace and general hit & miss on the menu, saw us finalise the bill and head off to 1889 Enoteca for drinks afterwards.
It is always difficult when I dine at a restaurant with lofty expectations and for that I take responsibility. There were many things right including the extensive wine list, excellent wines by the glass, the ambience and location. However there is so much competition in good dining (Esquire, Gerard’s Bistro, GOMA, Urbane) that I fear for the relevance of this safe menu. The chef is talented, the owner is talented, the venue is one of the best and Brisbane is growing in its taste for new, creative cuisine. It should be a potent mix.
There is much change afoot at MorSul (owners of ARIA) which includes a reshuffle of its staff. Change can often be accompanied by invigoration – this may be the injection ARIA needs to grab that third hat and reinvent itself ahead of the pack.