Upmarket makeover ... The Alliance Hotel.
If the walls could talk, I'd probably still be sitting at the Alliance Hotel listening to its colourful (okay, mostly sordid) stories.
One of Brisbane's oldest hotels, the Alliance got its liquor licence in December 1863, and it's said its first owner went mad, admitted along with his wife to an insane asylum in 1890. (It's perhaps not a coincidence that he dabbled with making Absinthe.)
The Alliance has barely strayed from notoriety since. Upstairs stayed pretty much intact as a working man's drinking den, but over the decades, its subterranean rooms were used for other purposes, including, my dining companion recounts with a certain gleam in his eye, a topless bar.
Interesting history ... The Alliance Hotel. Photo: Natascha Mirosch
Our waiter chimes in to tell us that years ago it was also an S&M dungeon. Sadly, in the past few years, the old corner pub was left to languish, its louche glory fading as quickly as the heritage-green paint.
Then in January this year, along came a young couple with vision. Nick Gregorski and Meagan Miller gave it some much-needed love, and in doing so transformed it into what may well be Brisbane's first real gastro-pub.
On what basis do I declare it so? Two words: Pepe Saya. Apart from the table service, aproned waiters and wine poured at the table instead of behind the bar, not too many Brisbane pubs serve up sourdough baguette with Pepe Saya butter as their "house bread".
It wouldn't be a pub without steak...The Alliance Hotel.
And of course, there's the menu. Judging from the quality of the raw ingredients, it's very much produce-driven, yet still at the upper-end of pub prices.
It has been decades since I've been in the Alliance and it certainly bears little resemblance to the beer-soaked, down-at-heel pub I remember.
It's been sensitively renovated with a lick of paint, the grungy maroon carpet removed and moody lighting installed in the Bistro, and feels fresh and modern without losing its character. There's also a gently curved faux-Georgian bar, where you can graze from the more casual bar menu.
Service in the bistro is a little confused but we are soon settled with a glass of Riesling and a beer chosen from a fairly mainstream but well-priced list.
The menu is divided into "to start", "entree' and "main", so you can pick and mix according to your appetite. There's also a "Meature" menu with various steaks as well as daily blackboard specials.
My entree of garlic prawns arrives as two large, split, chargrilled ocean kings, with sweet flesh moistened with a restrained garlic butter, which didn't overwhelm the delicate flesh.
It came nearly naked but for a charred lemon cheek and micro herbs (micro herbs!).
Other seafood choices include black-lip mussels with garlic, chilli, ginger, and soy, and barbecued Fremantle octopus with Greek salad, which is on the next-visit list.
Like my prawns, my dining partner's entree of pork belly is well-proportioned, the rich cube of meat tender under its layer of crackling. It comes with a tangy Asian salad, warmed by a comfortable amount of chilli and dusted with black sesame seeds. The accompanying scallop is just icing on the cake.
It wouldn't be a pub without steak, and the usual trio of suspects are represented: eye fillet, rib on the bone and angus. But they are imaginatively prepared, the 300 gram angus like some kind of posh truck-stop variation with wedges and a fried duck egg, while the rib comes with potato rosti, asparagus and Swiss browns.
The 200 gram eye fillet arrives faultlessly cooked to the requested medium-rare, butter-knife tender and served with wilted spinach, blistered truss cherry tomatoes and a rich, rich, blue cheese twice-cooked souffle. Port jus, pink peppercorn, wild mushroom, chimichurri and anchovy butter are the choices of sauce.
A main of three petit racks of lamb ribs, sauced with minted yoghurt, comes with a generous serve of utterly moreish olive-roasted kipflers in a baby cast iron pan and a Greek salad in a (too small) ramekin. It's rich and delicious, requiring some finger use (and subsequent licking) to strip every bit of meat from the bones.
Dessert on this occasion is probably superfluous to requirements, but in the name of research, we push on, sharing an almond meringue served in a sundae glass with mountains of cream and strawberries. It defeats us in the end.
I, for one, am excited to see life breathed back into one of our most historic pubs, but with a focus on good food rather than poker machines or two-for-one drinks and ladies' nights. Let's hope it sets a precedent.
And ... There's a great bar menu too if you don't want to sit in the bistro.
- (07) 3839 0169
- Prices - E $17, M$29, D$12.50
- Features - Bar, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly
- Chef(s) - Jamie Mackinney
- Owners - Nick Gregorski and Meagan Miller
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS, Cash
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat 12-2 Dinner 6-8.30pm (Bistro) Bar menu all day.
- Seats - 65
- Author - Natascha Mirosch