31 James Street Fortitude Valley, QLD 400607 3852 3744
|Opening hours||L Wed-Sun; D Tue-Sun|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Harvey's Bar & Bistro in James Street has a reputation for being one of the most consistent places in Brisbane. This is no mean feat in an industry where form is often favoured over function, fashion over flavour and places go off the boil in less time than it takes to get a 7pm Saturday night booking.
So will owner-chef PJ McMillan apply the same sensible workaday principles to make a success of his new baby Tinderbox Kitchen? It looks like it. So far, since opening last month, there's been no splashy launch and the deafening silence of bloggers would seem to suggest that even that almost de rigueur event – the blogger dinner frequently put on by restaurateurs keen to publicise their venues – has been ignored. But then, McMillan is old school – in a straight-shooting "just here to cook" kind of way.
A tardis-like space right behind Harvey's, the no-reservations Tinderbox has a "come hither and stay a while" look about it, with breezy banquette seating at bi-fold windows, blackbutt tables and smart, casual decor with flashes of scarlet and charcoal. A huge silver spaceship-like wood-fired pizza oven is the main feature of the dining room, with a little porthole into its interior in case you want to check on the status of your pizza. Music underscores the casual ambience; apparently a playlist of McMillan's favourites that we found unobtrusive beneath the murmuring of a good-sized Thursday lunch crowd.
McMillan comes from the Philip Johnson (of e'cco fame) stable and that influence is discernible both at Harvey's and here. His food is always clean and unfussy, and while it comfortably meets all the most current trend-inspired descriptors (rustic/nanna/nonna/honest/produce-driven etc) it's really just unpretentious, gutsy-flavoured, well-conceived food that people will enjoy eating.
While dishes frequently change, pizza is a constant. There are just a handful; with authentic toppings including a classic Margherita, a funghi, a rosso and a bianco. While our waiter's pronunciation of "diavola" is questionable, the pizza scores an A for its balance of ingredients – spicy sopressa, black olives, anchovies and mozzarella – generously applied but not overloading the good, charry crust.
Apart from the pizza section, with a variety of add-ons if you really must, the menu is divided into "oven", "market garden", "share", "cheese" and "sweet".
Protein choices from the oven include pig, lamb, fish and quail. It's a tough choice between suckling pig, which comes with purple cabbage, farro and barbecue sauce, and the lamb but we choose the latter and receive a dish of long-cooked, falling-apart tender lamb assertively flavoured with cumin and served with quince paste, olives and almonds. The pork we slate for another visit.
"Share" includes small snacks; croquettes, arancini or a bowl of oil-slicked green olives.
Wood-roasted leeks are a delectable surprise; cooked to intense, slightly smoky, falling-apart softness, their sweetness bows politely to some well-mannered goat's curd. More cleverly cooked vegetables such as asparagus and zucchini with crushed olives, herbs and garlic, and fire-roasted mushrooms with blue cheese and balsamic, as well as Maleny buffalo haloumi with grilled lemon, will please vegetarians. Coeliacs, on the other hand, might not be as happy with their $8.50 surcharge for a gluten-free pizza base.
There's quite a substantial bar at Tinderbox, with a cocktail list, and about 20 red and 20 white wines, with four or five each by the glass, including a couple of Queensland wines. The local theme continues with beer from South East Queensland and Australian rum and gin.
There are three desserts on our visit – a cherry clafoutis, a lemon curd tart and roasted peaches with ricotta cheesecake and mascarpone. The first is pleasant, the sharpness of Morello cherries contrasting with the sweet filling but a shade too eggy to make the must-have-again list. The peaches are better, the roasting intensifying the fruit's flavour beautifully (although I suspect they will be even better as stone fruit season progresses), and the cheesecake part of the dish is not too sweet, with big chunks of "crumbled" base adding texture.
While there's plenty of eating choices on James Street these days, I'd happily make a bet that Tinderbox will grow up to be exactly like its big brother; consistent, responsible and another sure bet.