Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cabiria Wine Bar: TwEATUp Brisbane

Last night, I attended the Brisbane TwEATUp at Cabiria Wine Bar at The Barracks on Petrie Terrace. Matt decided to stay at home, as he is a tad disillusioned with dining out (and if Matt's disillusioned, I'm trying to be the optimist!).

Cabiria is the sister to Peasant, also at The Barracks. Set in the old red brick of the Petrie Terrace barracks, the outside dining area, where we ate, is encased in roughly hewn wood, dimly lit by antique-looking glass lamps (see the photos on their website). Facing towards the restaurant as I was, it was difficult to believe that there was a Coles, and a main road, and Caxton St, some 50 metres away.

I had let the restaurant know in advance that I was vegan, and raved (just a little) about how excited I was to try their famous gnocchi. Unfortunately, I soon found there was to be no gnocchi for me. And... deep sigh.

My first course was a fresh fig salad with dried figs and fig preserve. I've never been the biggest fan of figs, but was glad to be having the fruit at the start of the meal! To my surprise, the dish was delightful: as much as I hate the novelty of "X done 6 ways!", it's dishes like this that really show why such a method became so trendy in the first place. The fig preserve was especially wonderful.

Secondly, I had roasted baby capsicum stuffed with smoked eggplant and topped with breadcrumbs. The capsicum was a tad bitter, though this may just be that I've only ever liked red capsicum. Otherwise, the smokiness of the eggplant paired wonderfully with the lightly charred capsicum.

My final entree was an heirloom tomato salad with truffle salt. Simple, yes, but how can one go wrong with tomatoes and basil?

My main was a potato and porcini lasagna. Probably because their pasta has egg in it, the potato was used in place of the pasta. The dish was very hearty (thankfully!), though I could have done with another 2 or 3 (especially as the others had several more entrees and mains, though they did share)! The potatoes probably could have done with being roasted (or even just salted) before being layered as the "pasta", as the large stacks of potato became rather bland and took some flavour away from the dish. I was very impressed with the ingenuity of the chef, though, and was glad to have a hearty main. The porcini layers were really flavourful, and I don't think the pot would've needed much of a wash after I was finished with it!

My dessert was crepes with raspberries. OH MY GOSH IT'S NOT FRUIT SALAD. It was, indeed, delicious, though I did feel the raspberries were much too tart in comparison to the very sweet sauce, and the presentation of the dish was seriously lacking. But I give full points to the chef for thinking beyond... well, fruit salad. It was a lovely way to end the meal (and, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, I ended up tipping the plate so  could get every last drop of the sauce onto my spoon and eat it!)

My one confusion with the meal was the egg factor: if I was able to be made crepes without egg, why not gnocchi? Or pasta, for that matter? (neither of which need eggs). It should be noted that it was pumpkin gnocchi, so perhaps in that case egg was needed to bind, though a potato (or sweet potato) and pumpkin mix would have been wonderful! Anyway, perhaps in future.

I've noticed that I have a skill of sounding very critical and then ending with "But, anyway, I enjoyed it", and this is no exception. The atmosphere in the restaurant, the care that the chef had taken in coming up with inventive food (when he could have just given me salad, salad and... salad) and, of course, the company really made it a wonderful evening.

Matt was very jealous that he didn't attend, but I would very happily return (hopefully for gnocchi!) I should probably also note that they have a fantastic selection of cocktails (though watch out for the martini, which is served with (I'm sorry to say) a foie gras stuffed olive), and have over 300 wines on their wine list (around 30 by the glass, a similar number by the half bottle, and the remained by the bottle). And, best of all, their espresso martinis can be made with either vodka, tequila, or rum (Mount Gay rum which, though I'm not a rum drinker, is quite extraordinary).

Thank you to TwEATUp Brisbane for organising the evening, to Cabiria for having us, but especially to the chef, for making an effort for me. It means a lot.

TwEATUp Brisbane is on twitter and facebook. TwEATUps happen monthly, to follow them and join their mailing list to be kept in the loop about the next (email them at tweatupbris (at) gmail (dot) com to be added to the mailing list).

Cabiria, No 6. The Barracks, 61 Petrie Terrace, Brisbane QLD. 07 3368 2666.
Coffee & Light Breakfast: M-F, 7-10.30a
Lunch: T-Sat, 12-2.30p 
Dinner: T-Sat, 5pm-late 

Cabiria Luncheonette and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

February Vegan Dinner at Urbane Restaurant

On Tuesday night, we attended the third of Urbane Restaurant's Vegan Dinners. While this is the Dilettante's second time at Urbane, it was my first time, and the first time that both of us had eaten under new head chef Alejandro Cancino.

The dinner began at 6:30, so we arrived in the city at around 6:00. As we were quite early, we went next door to The Euro for a pre-dinner drink. I had the Treacle Re-Fashioned and Matt had an Apple Blossom Fizz. While at the bar, we pretty quickly struck up a conversation with the other vegans who recognised us from our business or recognised me/whom I recognised from work. A little before 7, we were all directed to move back to Urbane for the start of the meal.

Treacle Re-Fashioned

I must apologise for the quality of the photos: there was very little lighting so I had to use the harsh iPhone flash to take photos where the food was visible! Believe me, it all looked better than it... looks. Disclaimer: I've done my best to correctly identify all the components of each of the courses and use the correct terms, but with so many, I may not have always done so!

Soon after we were all seated, we were presented with a wine list (all vegan!) for the evening. I selected the 2010 Hilberg 'Verij' Brachetto from Piedmont, Italy. At first, I found it too acidic, but later courses revealed the most beautifully fragrant bouquet, and I ended up ordering a second glass later in the meal. I was moderately disappointed that there was no option for a wine degustation along with the meal as, though the Brachetto matched perfectly with many of the courses, it was not an ideal match for others. Of course, it is understandable that the sommellier may have taken a more-than-well deserved night off!

The meal began with three entrees: a small square of absolutely exquisite butternut pumpkin polenta, a coin of pear topped with black garlic and sesame, and potato and onion seed crackers topped with eggplant (I'm afraid my memory has failed and I can't be 100% sure of the role of each ingredient), presented on a beautiful twisted log. Typically, Matt and I liked exactly opposite thing: me, the polenta, and Matt the potato and eggplant cracker.

Butternut pumpkin polenta; pear, black garlic & sesame; potato, onion & eggplant

This was followed by a leaf of fried kale, the vibrant green of which belied its fragility: it readily crushed beneath my knife, and crunched delicately in my mouth, simply but deliciously seasoned, like the thinnest crisp you can imagine. No sooner had we finished the kale when the next course came: a nut cracker served on a bed of buckwheat with a hazelnut emulsion. Unfortunately, the nut cracker had very little flavour and a rather unpleasant texture, though the hazelnut emulsion was absolutely beautiful, and Matt and I readily fought over the little that was left!

Fried kale; Nut cracker and hazelnut

A vegetable escabeche topped with a sorbet made of the escabeche signaled the end of the entree courses.

Vegetable escabeche and sorbet

Before the main plates began, we were present with a loaf of rye sourdough to share: at the end, we were lucky enough to have a whole loaf between the two of us, whilst most others had to share between four. I was a little disappointed that the butter served with the bread tasted like Nuttelex with some added salt (perhaps to replicate the saltiness of butter), but the bread was absolutely beautiful, served on a bed of hot stones.

The first main plate was hummus and black olives served in a herb broth. Some clever diners had saved their bread to mop up the delicious broth (as was no doubt intended!), but ours was long gone by the time the plate arrived, so we were very nearly reduced to licking the bowl (fear not: we resisted temptation!)

Hummus, rye, black olives and herb broth
Avocado, tomato seeds, pickled onions and almond milk

As much as I am almost militantly against cooking avocado, the next dish proved me wrong with a partly fried slice of avocado, served with pickled onions and tomato seeds served in almond milk. Though every component was spectacular, it the almond milk (invisible due to the white plate) that truly blew us away. Rich and creamy, the milk was lightly seasoned with (I believe) soy sauce (rather as soy milk may be seasoned with light soy sauce to serve with tofu: just enough to add richness but not so much as to blemish the porcelain white of the milk).

The next dish was charred leeks and a potato puree topped with almond-studded croutons served with ponzu, a Japanese citrus and soy sauce. This was, in turn, followed by shiitake mushrooms and fried parsnip in a yeast broth.

Potato, leeks, ponzu and croutons
Parsnip with mushroom and yeast

The final savoury dish was eggplant matchsticks with fried salsify, served on a creamy miso emulsion. The firm eggplant sticks perfectly complemented the soft, fried salsify, and I would have happily eaten the miso emulsion on... well, anything.

Salsify, eggplant and miso
As the sweet courses approached, I opted for a the 2010 La Pigeade Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, of the Rhone Valley. This ended up being an extremely wise choice, as its lychee notes echoed the lychee granita, served with cherries, almond cream, and almond milk that constituted the second last course.

Almond, cherries and lychee
The final course for the evening was a coconut ice cream with blueberries, served over a coconut foam and topped with basil. The coconut foam had a slightly salty edge which, though surprising, was curiously pleasant.

Coconut, blueberries and basil

The evening rounded off with coffee or tea and a petit four: a dollop of cream and a single raspberry sandwiched between two pink raspberry wafers.

Petit four

Alejandro came out to the table and discussed that the dinners were still evolving: each dinner involved perhaps some similar recipes, tweaked slightly, as the kitchen, and indeed Alejandro, familiarised himself with the tastes and textures of each dish. Our dinner was the first to use this entirely new menu, some parts of which will no doubt appear in some variation over the next few dinners.

We also discovered that half the table were vegans (all seated together, of course!) and the other half were... not.

Overall, the evening was wonderful. Despite the fact that there were few proteins, the dinner beautifully demonstrated the breadth of food that is, surprise surprise, vegan, and focussed on the inherent simple beauty of vegetables. I don't think any who attended left with perhaps previous misconceptions of the vegan diet as "restrictive" or "boring", and, as Alejandro said, I have no doubt that they, perhaps for the first time, saw the vegan diet as something that they could do. Ultimately, though, vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or omnivore, it's a night for those who love food.

The Urbane Vegan Dinner shows great promise and we hope it becomes a permanent fixture in the Brisbane dining scene (and, indeed, the Australian vegan dining scene!). We cannot wait to attend another in future and see what other incredible creations Alejandro has come up with, and how some of our favourites from this night have evolved. We're extremely lucky to have someone with Alejandro's skill in Brisbane, especially as he is so excited to bring vegan food to a broader audience.

To Alejandro: bravo.

Whether you're a vegan curious about fine-dining, or a fine-diner curious about vegan food, Urbane's Vegan Dinners will not leave anyone disappointed.

The next Vegan Dinner will be held at Urbane Restaurant on April 11. To make a reservation, call them on (07) 3229 2271 or email

Urbane Restaurant, 181 Mary Street, Brisbane.

Urbane on Urbanspoon