In this fickle, cost-driven and angsty time in the restaurant industry, it’s hard to know what trend will sustain let alone lead us into the next era. In ‘bear’ markets we favour comfort food but we are still mining rich and deals must still be done at the big boys’ end of town.
Modern gastronomy (for want of a better term) has ruled recently with mixed results. The problem is that these techniques and additives are like oil and canvas – put in unqualified hands they become clumsy try-hard versions of what only a handful of European restaurants have managed to pull off.
Mugaritz is one of them achieving a number 4 in the worlds ranking and, while El-Bulli trained chef Andoni Aduriz still reigned, a baby faced young chef was fortunate (and clearly talented enough) to gain employment – paid employment that is, as opposed to a Stage. It was at that time when they were striving for the ranking so the stakes were high to say the least.
Argentine-born Alejandro Cancino is the new chef of Urbane and man can this young man cook. I’ve always struggled with the whole molecular movement particularly in Brisbane where diners go in less for that sort of thing but I still believe in boundary-pushing and experimentation, provided you follow some basic rules. The dish must taste of its ingredients – so if you put lamb on a plate it shouldn’t taste, or look, like fish. Temperatures need to harmonise as much as flavours and full-wheel reinvention for the sake of ‘difference’ is a definite no-no.
What impressed me overall about my four and a bit course degustation lunch recently at Urbane is the innate authenticity and commitment to the core ingredient. Take course three – pumpkin gnocchi with parmesan and rosemary, for example. Sweet silken thumbnails of pure pumpkin sit in a cream sauce that is both refined and punchy with smooth hints of rosemary darting over the palate and a satisfying hit of salty, earthy parmesan as you near the centre of the bowl.
A special of lamb and peas – the lamb juicy and outlined with a finely caramelised crust sat surrounded by tiny sugar snap peas liberated from their pod; also finely julienned and incorporated into the dish and adding crunch and the freshness and texture of an old fashioned lamb dinner, albeit with a thoroughly modern makeover.
Before that there is coral trout served raw with lemon puree and a sweet-savoury cream of leeks and herbs that you scoop with a squid-ink infused chard of lavash that looks like a layer of charred leek. It works, especially in the chunky black earthenware bowls.
Organic chicken wings with Jerusalem artichoke feature on the larger menu as does rainbow trout with paprika, yoghurt and quince. Bread is served warm over a bowl of hot rocks – perfectly heated it remains so for the duration of the course.
There’s an impressive new crew about to descend to join Cancino – all of whom are alumni of some pretty serious locations both here and abroad. Cancino did two years under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons after leaving Mugaritz and it was there that he met Chris Kenny (Young Chef of the Year 2011) who joins the team at the end of the month. William Wallace, ex-Bentley and The Royal Mail in Dunkfeld also met Cancino during his six-month stage at Noma and he will be behind the burners next week. It’s a serious line up of young guns – brimming with enough global experience but still bounding with youthful energy – that will propel Urbane, on the eve of its eleventh birthday, to the culinary levels it hasn’t enjoyed for the past few years.
Knowing how to handle a whipping cream gun, play around with maltodextrine and sodium alginate or microwave sponges in paper cups does not make you a master of modern of molecular gastronomy and it’s fair to say I haven’t been a fan of the stuff in Brisbane (or some other parts of Australia for that matter) with two notable exceptions – Pablo Tordesillas (Ortiga) and Ryan Squires (Esquire). Both understand what they are doing, have extensive overseas training and exposure, and both have great respect for the produce they work with. And like the young and very calm Cancino, they both also value the team of professionals that they choose to surround themselves with.
Service at Urbane has always been impeccable and the management are clearly pro’s. Now all elements are singing from the same prayer book. Imagine how it will be when all three chefs are ensconced and The Euro menu is revitalised. It’s not always the case but here change is definitely a very good thing indeed.
Urbane, 181 Mary Street, Brisbane, ph 3229 2271