I know, I know – I failed to action my task list in a timely fashion last week. Blame the newly re-branded Virgin Australia who cancelled our return flight from Brisbane on Sunday afternoon, which meant that I got home at 11pm, on Sunday night, leaving me playing catch up on “life administration” (credit to the Ex-Frustrated Public Servant for introducing me to this cracker expression) tasks – including blogging – for all of last week.
Just to mix things up, I thought I would do a Glee style ‘mash up’ of my Easter eats. The Brooding Architect I spent the Easter / ANZAC Day Extra Long Weekend in sunny Queensland - splitting our time between family and friends in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast.
Ponycat Cafe, New Farm
The first night we stayed in New Farm with Glamorous Sister No. 1 and Glamorous Sister No. 2. In true uni student style, the house was lacking in breakfast provisions, so we walked up the road for sustenance at The Ponycat Cafe.
First, the important stuff:
- Where: Shop 2, 693 Brunswick Street, New Farm
- How Much? Cheap & Cheerful
- Out of 10? 7.5/10
In preparation for a big day of morning tea, meeting new babies (me, not The Brooding Architect) and general gossip, we started the day with some very large flat whites. The coffees were wonderfully creamy and strong, completely dispelling the myth that you cannot get a good coffee in Brisbane! As an added bonus, the coffees were served by fabulously friendly staff – no Melbourne Hipster attitude in sight.
I ordered some Sweet Potato and Corn Pancakes, served on a bed of spinach, with honey baked ham and eggplant relish ($15). The ham was thick cut, sweet and juicy – absolutely delicious. The sweet potato pancakes were light and fluffy, with bursts of fresh sweetcorn throughout adding some lovely texture to the dish.
The Brooding Architect can never say no to smoked salmon, so ordered the Smoked Salmon, with scrambled eggs, which comes served with hot buttered toast and a cherry tomato salsa ($16). The scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked – light and soft with no signs of rubberiness (the mark of overcooked eggs). The tangy fresh cherry tomato salsa, contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the eggs and richness of the smoked salmon.
In addition to the friendly staff, I also love the fact that Ponycat has fabulous magazine cut out, collage topped tables (circa early 1990s school books, adorned with cut outs from Dolly and TV Hits).
Ponycat has now become a (very) regular coffee stop on our trips to Brisbane.
Ortiga, New Farm
The next evening we had dinner with two dear friends – The Duke and Duchess of Brisbane (named in honor of the recent Royal nuptials) – at Ortiga, Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant of the Year in 2010.
Once again, the important stuff first:
- Where: 444 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
- How Much? Definitely a working lunch or dinner – expect to pay between $100 and $150 a head for food and drinks (we were in the lesser end as we were completely stuffed from eating all day and ordered less than the quantities recommended by the waitstaff and ordered one of the cheaper bottles of wine on the list)
- Out of 10? 6.5/10
I really, really, really, really wanted to like Ortiga lots and lots. It should have ticked all of the boxes: sexy Spanish food, a sexy Donovan Hill fitout and raves in all of the glossy food magazines. Unfortunately, despite all of the food foreplay, it just did not live up to expectations.
The night started wonderfully, with some fantastically refreshing sangria for the ladies and Spanish beers for the gents, while holed up in the dark and atmospheric ‘drinks saloon’ on the street level of the restaurant. Had we just popped in for some post works drinks and jamone, I think the night would have been absolutely perfect and I would not have been able to fault the experience.
After a delightful pre-dinner drink, we were ushered downstairs to the basement for the main event. The dining room was buzzing – it was completely booked out (like us, lots of people must have decided to start their long weekend early), with a completely open ‘fishbowl’ type kitchen and wine racks lining the walls. Things were looking very promising.
The food at Ortiga is designed for sharing – ordering between 3 and 4 tapas size serves per person, so that you get to taste lots and lots of dishes. The wait staff have a wealth of knowledge about each dish and more than happy to guide you through the very extensive food and wine menu.
My main criticism of the food is that it was just trying too hard, resulting in overly complicated and fussy dishes. I know it is meant to be a fine dining experience and that I am supposed to appreciate the technique and presentation on the plate as much as the food itself - but I just found the whole thing a but pretentious. For example, when I order a pigs head, I want to see something which resembles the animal it came from; not a crumbed, sausage shaped piece of meat which could have come from anything! Having said this, there were some real highlight dishes though.
I adored the selection of jamones (cured meats) ($38). I loved the fact that the waitstaff went to the effort of explaining the order the meat should be eaten in – from lightest to darkest – in order to slowly build up from the most subtle and delicate flavoured meat, to the richest, well aged meat. The jamones had a beautiful ‘melt in your mouth’ texture, and were decadently rich and full flavored.
The braised octopus with potato and pimenton (Spanish paprika) ($21) was lovely, simple dish. The braised octopus was sweet and tender, contrasting wonderfully with the smoky pimento. I wish there were more simple and traditional Spanish dishes like this one on Ortiga’s menu.
I also loved the beef cheeks braised in sherry with seasonal baby root vegetables ($26) . The beef cheeks literally fell apart and the sweet sticky sherry enhanced the beautiful sweetness of the baby root vegetables. As an added bonus, this dish was served with a side of the most amazing, artery clogging, at least 50% butter, silky smooth mashed potatoes. Absolutely perfect when combined with the sweet sherry braise.
I would not hesitate to go back to Ortiga for some civilized early evening drinks and a few tapas plates to get the night started; however for the price I would be reluctant to go back for a full dinner – especially since the consistently brilliant Anise Bistro is just across the road.
The Spirit House, Yandina
On Easter Saturday, we indulged ourselves with the banquet at the Spirt House Resturant. This visit was the first time The Brooding Architect and I had been back to the Spirit House since our wedding in October 2008. I was so happy to see that everything at the Spirit House was as fantastic as I remembered it being. The price of the banquet even remained the same – $75 per head for a ridiculous amount of food. I won’t bore you with a run down of every dish on the banquet menu – but here are the highlights:
A gloriously romantic and atmospheric setting. Tropical Thailand in sub tropical Queensland:
Wonderfully fresh food and flavorsome food – including this whole local snapper (of which we ate absolutely everything – including the eyeballs!):
Throw in a bottle (or two) of great German Riesling and a vigorous discussion on the merits of Bananagrams and you cannot have a much better evening.
In closing, a wonderful Easter break filled with good food and even more wonderful company!