28 Market Street Brisbane, Queensland 4000
|Opening hours||Lunch Mon-Fri from 11.30am; Dinner Mon-Sat from 5.30pm.|
|Features||Bar, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||07 3236 4855|
The flipside of the new egalitarianism in hospitality is that there are very few special-occasion places to eat any more. Instead, we're left with a surfeit of restaurants with cookie-cutter menus proffering whatever food is in fashion, i.e., Instagramable, along with undressed tables and bare floors that bounce sound around and render meaningful conversation impossible.
Thank goodness there's Malt. Tucked away upstairs in a lovely heritage-listed attic, with soaring wood beamed ceilings, Malt is eminently civilised. It's perfect for a first date, hallmark occasion or leisurely lunch for those of us who may have a secret nostalgia for cheese trolleys and crepes Suzette flambéed tableside (or indeed leisurely lunches for that matter).
Which is not to say that Malt is old-fashioned or particularly formal (although the baby grand piano does add a certain class to the surrounds) but that it has an element of polish that is increasingly rare. Light pours through tall sash windows illuminating modern art on the original 19th century brick walls, there are comfortable chairs at well-spaced tables, proper glassware and wait staff who can recite the lengthy specials list verbatim.
There's also a dedicated and very approachable sommelier and a thoughtful wine list with bottles at all budgets, including a good by-the-glass and half-bottle selection. It's altogether a well-constructed, well-run business from owner Nick Pinn, who also has Malt Traders, a bottle shop/wine bar downstairs and the French-influenced bistro, Aquitaine at South Bank.
The same sort of thought that has been given to the decor and staff selection has gone into the menu, with four "regular" entrees and four vegetarian ones as well as market oysters presented three ways.
Scallops come from just up the coast at Hervey Bay – smaller and sweeter than their imported Canadian cousins and perfectly seared to just-cooked; a generous half-dozen served simply with a slash of vibrant pumpkin puree and a sprinkle of dukkah and micro herbs.
"Tastes of Ocean Trout" is equally accomplished and artfully arranged on a matte-black platter, with a fillet of confit trout, plus in-house cured salmon, tiny olive oil "pearls" that burst in the mouth, refreshing daubes of gin and tonic gel, wafers of pickled beetroot for colour and acidity, and salmon roe.
Fish is also offered as a main; a changing selection of sustainable market fish "simply served" such as gold band snapper with clams, baby zucchini, julienned fennel and red pepper. It is indeed simple but a quality piece of fish and judicious accompaniments succeed in elevating the dish.
Mains are a textbook listing of assorted proteins from chicken to beef cheek. A slightly dry pork loin lets down the "Berkshire pork" assiette a little, the belly is superbly tender, although its crackling has been removed and served alongside, dehydrated and fried to prawn cracker crispness. Why mess with the perfection of salty, bubbled homestyle crackling we wonder? It seems to be a prevalent restaurant kitchen fad. Perhaps the vagaries of getting the crackling perfect, every time; no mean task as most of us home cooks will acknowledge, is the reason. The accompanying disks of intensely rich blood pudding are relieved by the bitterness of endive, the sweetness of fig and the neutrality of creamy but not too buttery potato fondant.
Dessert may seem impossible after such indulgence and one called "Malt Chocolate Brownie" seems both a little retro and particularly greedy, but do share it because it's very, very good – a cakey chocolate ice-cream sandwich with crunchy chocolate "dirt", a generous comma of salted caramel, clusters of peanut butter brittle and a burnt caramel crisp.
While Malt's not cheap, you'll leave feeling sated in both appetite and soul, well fed and well looked after, something many of us miss from the dining hey-day of the decade past.