85 Miskin Street Toowong, QLD 406607 3371 4558
|Opening hours||Tues, 5pm-late; Wed-Sat, 12pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, BYO, Degustation, Groups, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
The gloves are off. And so are the tablecloths. Former fine diner Brent's has reinvented itself as a more relaxed venue, which means no more white-gloved staff setting tables, and no starched white tablecloths. It's a brave move for owner and chef Brent Farrell, considering the restaurant's strong local following, but as we keep hearing, customers these days prefer their dining without the “fine” attached.
Housed in an old cottage that has been a restaurant for several decades and home to chef luminaries such as Russell Armstrong (Tables of Toowong) and Bruno Loubet (Bruno's Tables), Farrell recently closed for a light refurbishment and a change of name to 85 Miskin Street.
The entry has been tidied up and the interior has had a lick of paint, the carpet has been taken up and replaced by largely new floorboards (apparently the old ones under the carpet were unsalvageable). The downside to the new minimalist look is that with no soft surfaces to absorb the sound, it's noisy (or pleasantly buzzy if you're a glass half-full type). Certainly it looks fresher but considering its position (a quirky old cottage with kitchen garden), the dining room lacks personality and a bit of warmth.
So what about the food? How has that changed? Brent's regulars will be pleased to know the answer is not substantially. It's perhaps been pared back a little – the plates are less busy and there's a new earthiness to the menu – but Farrell's classic roots still show, with each dish not only carefully composed in terms of taste and texture but precision-plated. Wait staff conscientiously explain dishes while pouring a butternut veloute over a spring-like composition of sour cream and chive ice-cream with smoked pepper almonds and pepitas at the table.
The menu is appealing – entrees include citrus-cured ocean trout with a garnish of dehydrated ants (crunchy and tangy) with rosehip sorbet, dill creme fraiche and almost translucent discs of radish; tuna tartar, kaffir lime and basil, with mirin and rice, sweet corn grits and foam; spiced goat tenderloin with hay baked pumpkin, goat's curd and toasted farro, and a vegetarian dish of purple Dutch carrots, spiced yoghurt, honey (from their garden bees) and fenugreek – and all are extremely well priced for what is purporting to be a casual diner (the average entree is about $18).
That spirit of generosity extends to the large, well-spaced tables and the fact that the restaurant hasn't changed its policy of allowing BYO.
Mains are equally accomplished – a perfect rectangle of super-crisp, thin-skinned pork belly is unctuous below its layer of fat, paired unusually with mandarin with chilli and ginger and an accompaniment of puffed wild rice. Slow-cooked lamb neck and belly, with a fat baton of fried chickpea puree and a reduction, is best shared – it's falling apart tender and very rich.
If you can manage a dessert, you probably should. There are just three, along with a cheese plate, and they follow the current trend of bare-bones description (“yoghurt, dill and nasturtium”) and a general toning down of the sweeter elements. In other hands, the combination of chocolate, honeycomb and caramelised banana could be an unholy sugary disaster, but the use of liquid nitrogen to make the honeycomb light and brittle, and bitter chocolate, including cocoa nibs, as well as a garnish of the thinnest slice of crisp, dehydrated banana not only offers a palette of textures but keeps the sweetness well in check.
I don't know that Farrell has really paid more than lip service to the casualisation of Brent's – I honestly don't think he can help himself; there's an element of perfectionism inherent in the food that goes way above the brief (and pricepoint). This extends to the professional staff who eschew the usual values of more casual venues. The result is that despite itself 85 Miskin Street is still offering fine diner food and service but in an unpretentious atmosphere, with suburban eatery prices and the option to BYO. Lucky us.