Editor Natascha Mirosch at the launch of the 2012 edition of the brisbanetimes.com.au Queensland Good Food Guide. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
Egalitarianism. That is the big new word defining the local dining scene.
Finally, it seems, Brisbane has begun to discover the simple joys of casual eating and flexible opening hours. It's like the city has matured past the idea fine dining means high-end settings and hefty prices; quality can come from where you least expect it, and that's a very good thing.
I reckon Brisbane has some of the best breakfasts offerings in the country
This characterisation comes from Natascha Mirosch, long-time restaurant critic and editor of brisbanetimes.com.au's Queensland Good Food Guide, edition two of which hits shelves next week.
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It's a book that brings the lauded chef's hat grading system to a state long overlooked by southern gourmands. And Monday's launch will reveal more than a few surprises, not all of them good, according to Mirosch.
“Restaurateurs who lose hats or receive lower marks than last year are bound to be upset, but I think most will acknowledge that things perhaps haven't been running as smoothly as they should, and there are changes they need to put in place,” she says.
“I think the biggest gap is at the upper end of dining. It's great that there are so many casual places opening or restaurants transforming themselves into something less formal, but there aren't too many 'special occasion' places left in Brisbane as a result.”
But it's that great “dressing down” of Brisbane's dining scene that Mirosch believes is key to the city's new-found culinary confidence.
Speaking ahead of the launch, she paints a picture of a city with an appetite that's grown up over the past 12 months. Leaving behind its “traditional structure”, Brisbane is learning that quality can appear in unexpected places, Mirosch says.
“Harold Fleming's Bun Mobile is a prime example," she says. "It may be 'fast food' but his buns are made with premium ingredients and great care.
“Then we have restaurateurs using their spaces and staff more cleverly - running pop-ups such as Restaurant Two; and supper clubs like The Red Robin which also give their chefs the chance to do something different from what they do day to day.”
In fact, this celebration of difference speaks to a core aspect of Brisbane's evolution. Mirosch believes the local industry has stopped trying to model itself on Sydney or Melbourne. Instead, operators are focusing on what is “quintessentially Brisbane”, right down to the architecture (she offers the example of Damian Griffith's twin Queenslander cottages at Alfred & Constance).
Even the local watering holes are trying new things. Pubs in Queensland used to sell beer with a side of chips, presented in loudly coloured foil. Those places still exist – we still love a pint and punt – but a whole new generation of drinkers are now enjoying bars with slow-roasted beef brisket, cleverly crafted ales and very interesting decor.
“Our cafe scene continues to up the ante too,” Mirosch says. “In fact, I reckon Brisbane has some of the best breakfasts offerings in the country.”
She is just as glowing about Brisbane's standard of front-of-house hospitality, especially at the top end of town.
"I think there's a genuine Queensland warmth that comes through that often trumps service down south,” she says.
“At the more casual end, there's probably some room for improvement; simple things that a bit more care and training can easily remedy. However, with so many new casual places opening, staff are spread very thin and it's difficult for restaurateurs to find good ones.
“We aren't given much to hyperbole about our dining scene and as a consequence I've found that out-of-town visitors always report back with considerable surprise at the quality of our restaurants.”
Of course, education is greatly aided by texts. Mirosch says public reaction to the guide has been positive: the recommendations are written by knowledgeable, unbiased reviewers who encourage the adventurous to visit somewhere new.
“People will always have their own opinions and experience can vary - you never know what might be being played out in a restaurant kitchen on any given night,” she says.
“But the feedback has been that our assessments have been pretty much spot-on. We're building trust year by year in exactly the same way The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age guides came to be the most respected with both the public and industry.”
Katherine Feeney was a reviewer for the Queensland Good Food Guide 2013.