Wow. It’s been a while. It’s not like I haven’t been out / trying to save for a house / been to some places that aren’t worth blogging about / been to some places that I’ve already blogged about / too busy with my paying job to find time to blog / forgotten what I ate anyway.
All of the above is true.
Fortunately, I have recently eaten somewhere notable / remembered what I had / found some spare time to share my experience. The only problem is that it’s in Brisbane, not Melbourne.
Brisbane’s food scene is fair, but it’s expensive – this is not Sydney. Alarmingly, it’s the starters that attract prices that push through the $30 barrier, even in many Bistros… Ouch!
Speaking of Bistros, there is a lack of decent mid-priced places that serve reasonable food at moderate prices – this is also an opinion that is shared by friends that live in Brisbane. If cafés, SSS BBQ Barns and Pubs or Steakhouses aren’t your scene and iconic well-knowns like E’cco or the siblings of the more expensive southern state establishements, like Aria or Stokehouse are out of your league, then you really need to roll up your sleeves and do some research to find something that gives you some value.
Fortunately, Malt fits the bill nicely.
Malt is housed within an iconic inner-city building called Wenley House, which was built in 1865 as Queensland’s first public market. Inside, the integrity of respectfully maintaining the building’s past has been achieved by retaining the exposed brick, original timber flooring and double-hung windows. This is combined with modern fittings and fixtures throughout; in either the 20-seat private dining room located in the cellar, the ground floor bar for a causal pre-dinner or post-work beverage or in the attic, where the main restaurant is located. It’s comfortable.
Firstly, to the bar. A good number of sparkling, whites and reds by the glass are offered, as well as an array of cocktails and spirits. The range of bottled beers and ciders are plentiful and there are also a couple of beers on tap (Peroni, Blue Tongue Lager) and a cider. If you can’t find something here to whet your whistle, then you’re just too damn picky.
One floor up, the attic dining room is extremely spacious, with a generous amount of space between tables, in addition to a full-sized grand piano (sans-Pianist on the night we were there. which to me was a bonus). Your more entrepreneurial restaurateur could argue that is a profitable space being wasted. But the space already accommodates up to 90 diners (without at all detracting from the intimate atmosphere) and it’s quite welcoming to not have to play a game of elbows with your table neighbour.
Freshly baked sourdough, with some balsamic and olive oil arrived promptly. Even better, it was complimentary.
Going back to my initial gripe on inflated entrée costs, the entrées at Malt are at a far more respectable $18-$22 price point and the menu itself is an excellent example of a seasonal summer fare and flavours, with dishes such as a Salad of Mooloolaba Spanner Crab with ruby grapefruit, witlof, cucumber and salmon pearls ($22) or crispy ricotta-filled zucchini flowers with rustic bread, heirloom tomatoes and local olives ($20). My choice; the ham hock terrine with shaved foie gras ($18) was light, not overly rich and packed with flavour. The toasted sourdough and condiments of sauce gribiche, poached quail’s egg and a micro herb and fennel salad were spot on as far as accompaniments go.
Coffin Bay oysters, served two ways were also on the menu, served natural ($18/$34) or Malt’s version of Kilpatrick ($22/$40), where the oyster is deep-fried in a beignet batter and served with Malt’s house-made Kilpatrick sauce, a.k.a Malt Sauce. Initially, I saw this as an absolute indictment to fresh oysters, let alone those from the South Australian waters of Coffin Bay. However, one of my dining partners ‘just happened’ to order them and I ‘just happened’ to try one and I am very happy to declare that Malt are onto a winner. The thin, crispy exterior gave way to another thin, but softer dough texture underneath, followed by an oyster that has lost almost none of its freshness. The Malt Sauce was lip-smackingly delicious; shards of crisp bacon sat within a well balanced tangy and slightly smoky sauce, which was thoughtfully served on the side too, so it doesn’t make the beignet batter soggy. Apparently, they also use this sauce on their steak sandwiches, which form part of Malt’s bar menu. I know where I’m heading for lunch next time I’m in town.
The mains were a true case of diner’s envy (for me, anyway). The sous-vide Grimaud duck breast was served with a fresh, glazed black fig, brown onion and a white bean and confit duck salad ($38). This was exhibit ‘A’ in food envy evidence.
Exhibit ‘B’ was the Bangalow pork tenderloin and jowl with carrot puree, coffee dust, pine nuts and onion rings ($36). It also came with some contrasting pickled baby vegetables to counteract the richness of the jowl and jus. It was cruel and unfair that I was tempted into trying this dish. The coffee was an interesting addition, providing some bitterness up front, which worked well with the sweetness of the sauce and the pork tenderloin. The jowl was fatty, unctuous and just… fuck it was good.
My dish, the Bouillabaisse of Morton Bay Bugs, local prawns, scallops and squid ($39) was aromatic, with the slight aniseed flavour from the Pernod and the presence of saffron was detectable, but not overpowering. The seafood was fresher than fresh. However, some of the stars of the dish were quite underdone. The scallops looked as though they were relying on the residual heat from the broth to cook through, which didn’t happen and one was practically raw. Nor did the bug meat come as cleanly out of the shell as it should have. The remaining seafood was cooked well.
The sides on offer ($8/$9) were a good mix of five or six dishes, containing some of the usual suspects (creamed potato, fries with aioli) and some more adventurous numbers (snow peas, beans and garlic shoots with butter and preserved lemon). To be perfectly honest (and also earlier confirmed by one of the wait staff), the portion sizes of the dishes are quite generous, including the garnishes and accompaniments, so they’re probably not needed. Another example of where Malt sets itself apart from its peers in terms of value.
Desserts (all $15) were again at the same high level of quality in flavour and execution as the preceding courses. The fine apple tart with brandy snap and cinnamon ice cream lived up to it’s name and it’s owner, who didn’t look as through she could get close to finishing it (it was a generous portion), daintily ploughed through the whole thing.
The chocolate brownie with salted caramel, peanut brittle and Malt (a little unsure as to whether it was malt in flavour or Malt in brand, like the sauce) ice cream was my kind of dessert and it was reported as delicious and duly polished off. I don’t know where these girls put it to be quite honest. Alas, I just shared some cheese with a couple of others.
As for the cheeses (my make or break dish of any restaurant) , there were four to choose from; three Australian, one imported. We selected the Brie and the Washed Rind, as well as a French Roquefort, which were served with house made lavosh, oat cookies, toasted fruit loaf, quince paste and fresh pear. At $30 for 45 grams per cheese and from a cheese to biscuit ratio (the last morsel of cheese was scraped up with the very last biscuit), the three of us that shared this all seemed very satisfied.
To drink, we selected the 2010 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris from the Mornington Peninsula ($64) and the 2008 Tscharke ‘The Curse’ Zinfandel from the Barossa ($74). Both excellent value, with fairly moderate mark-ups.
Service was extremely attentive and the two young ladies that looked after us for the night were very knowledgeable on both the menu and the components of the dishes, as well as the wine list.
Brisbane needs more places like this. A comfortable environment, a menu that will cater to most, well executed dishes, dedicated staff and of course, good value for money. It’s good to be back.
28 Market St, Brisbane
(07) 3236 4855
Good For: Meeting a much needed gap in the Brisbane market
Not Good For: Other restaurants in Brisbane, that declare they are a Bistro, but charge at least 25%-30-% more than Malt