I have to confess, despite the glowing reviews, I was predisposed not to like Esquire. Why? firstly, I hate those three word menu descriptions, like: ‘peas, pork, apple’ that seem to feature on many modern menus and indeed do here.
Some would argue that such bare-bone description leaves room for creativity and surprise, but I just find it irritating. I realise the idea is that the staff are there to explain exactly how these ingredients are transformed but I find myself studying their faces when they launch into their spiel, wondering about them and their lives rather than really listening to what they’re saying.
Perhaps I’m visual rather than aural but I like to be able to have reference to what I’m eating while I’m doing it- with each new taste, to be able to go back to the menu and familarise myself with it’s components and how it was made.
Secondly, I assumed, incorrectly that everything cutting edge and contemporary in food means foams and powders and smears.
What I’ve discovered with great joy is that there is a third way; somewhere between traditional and modern, Ryan Squires and Ben Devlin seem to have created a cuisine that is cutting edge but with rustic sensibilities. And they make it look so effortless. It’s like a loose improvised jazz riff as opposed to the structured formality of a symphony or the banality of a catchy but shallow pop tune. There’s an inherent confidence in what they’re doing that it extends from the kitchen to the dining room. Service is highly professional with the chefs (like at Noma where they have both worked) often coming out to serve the dish themselves. Watching them in the open kitchen is a wonder- they work with such a fluidity and zen like calm, it’s hard to believe you’re in a restaurant.
Decor is clean, Scandinavian inspired-like the food, it’s modern and pared back but comfortable.
There’s a lack of ’us and them’ separation between the more casual and formal dining areas. Indeed the step up seems to be one entirely based on the menu rather than decor or service. The view, if you can take your eyes of the gorgeous crockery, (attractive but functional, without knives slipping into or off, oddly shaped bowls) is lovely without being too distracting.
We did the 5 course degustation, which at $55 is a steal.
‘Kobe, Pear, Anchovy’ was a visually attractive dish, the deeply marbelled kobe dried paper thin, served with compressed wafers of pear, crisp candied walnuts and tiny, almost seaweed-like wisps of dried spinach, garnished with a couple of purple-pink garlic flowers and dressed with an anchovy dressing. The latter could have been reigned in a little, as the saltiness overwhelmed some of the other ingredients, but even so it was a great dish. The contrast of textures was perfect and I loved the use of the garlic flowers, which gave a very subtle, mellow garlic flavour.
Next up was whiting- a baby fillet gently cooked in a warm buttermilk bath, served with a crisp pile of dried,fried onion crumbs. Sweet and delicate.
The smell of woodsmoked heralded the next course; a finger of ocean trout, cooked in a lemon myrtle leaf , accompanied by a small dish containing smoking lemon myrtle wood and leaves. There was also an accompanying glass of iced lemon myrtle cordial, pleasantly subtle and not cloyingly sweet. I’m not sure that either the smoke or cordial added anything to the dish, except a bit of drama; the fish quite able to stand on its own- (metaphorically speaking) moist and fragrant in its lemon myrtle blanket.
I have to confess I’d never heard of sand squid before, but apparently, its a small squid that lives in the sandy shallows. Here it’s frozen and shaved into the finest, smallest curlicues, served in a small nest with split peas and the occasional surprising flavour burst of a dab of Myer lemon gell. Simple but stunning.
My lunch companion was almost rendered speechless by the next course- Calotte, a cut of beef that wraps around the rib eye, served with a horseradish sauce and a baked Jerusalem artichoke with an onion jus. Cooked rare, it was juicy and flavoursome, the wrinkled skin of the Jerusalem artichoke yielding with a prod of the fork. Again, simple but perfect in execution with intense and pure flavours.
Dessert was small sweet pillows of chocolate mousse, with a chocolatey powder and coconut and mandarin. Which sounds a little pedestrian but of course was far from it.
What really excites me about this place is what they’re doing is really new. For Brisbane at least-an experimental fusing of modern and classic techniques that doesn’t lose sight of flavour as the required end result.
Best of all, I don’t think that it’s at all intimidating and I reckon might even win over the minds of the kind of people who are usually disparaging about modern cuisine, imaging it’s all pretensions and teeny weeny portions.
For the work that goes into each dish and the standard of produce used, Esquire represents incredibly good value and deserves to be applauded and supported.
145 Eagle Street
Brisbane, Ph (07) 3220 2123