TOUCH OF URBANITY
David Bentley is pleasantly surprised by his visit to a Brisbane temple of gastro-chic
ANY restaurant that calls itself Urbane probably isn’t. That thought has kept me away from Brisbane’s inner-city gastronomic temple for years. Now, having finally entered its portals, I am about to eat my words.
From the street, Urbane has a warm and inviting look and inside the place is understated and discreet. No one needs to tell you that servings are small and the flavours innovative. You just know, just as you know that even if this isn’t a cuttingedge restaurant, it sure looks like one.
All that remains is to discover whether Urbane’s skillet meister, Kym Machin, can match the promise of the window-dressing. This is Machin’s second stint at the restaurant, having recently resumed the reins from Brisbane-born chef Ryan Squires, whose previous employment at New York’s Per Se lent him a certain local celebrity.
On this quiet Thursday night, we sip N/V Canella Prosecco Di Conegliano ($12 a glass) while the bartender explains how much trouble it takes to obtain 10-plus master Kobe steak ($66 on the a la carte menu).
If money is an issue, he confides, we could always order the wagyu six-plus steak ($39). Apparently, none but the most discriminating beef aficionado is able to detect the difference. In the event, we decide to skip a la carte in favour of the tasting menu, partly because it reads appealingly and partly for the scope it offers Machin to show what he can do.
Barely into his 30s, this emerging chef’s style has been informed by Adelaide fusion food legend Cheong Liew, Sydney’s Tetsuya Wakuda and Brisbane-based Vietnamese food specialist Lien Yeomans. He has also absorbed the tenets of classic European gastronomy, making for an intriguing culinary synthesis.
In retrospect, Machin’s tasting menu is a thrilling parade for the palate. The dishes are by turns sexy, sassy and jaw-dropping; never boring. The bill of fare begins with a beguiling amuse bouche: one miniature serving of beetroot ravioli and another of cucumber jelly with apple creme fraiche and mint oil.
Main courses are interspersed with playful treats, including a tiny but memorable brioche, and later a palate cleanser of granny smith apple sorbet served with 10-year-old balsamic. Some dishes tickle the fancy more than others.
Given the range of flavours and the chef’s penchant for challenge and reinvention, I would count the degustation menu a success. It may not be for everyone but, for those serious about food, Urbane presents as a bright beacon on the food map.
We order a 2006 Spinifex Papillon blend of grenache, cinsault and carignana ($59), then begin with the vegetarian dishes. The risotto ($15) arrives texture-perfect with mushrooms and chestnuts adding earthy notes. The terrine ($15), comprising layers of roasted vegetables topped with smoked tomato sorbet and tomato tartare, is similarly melt-in-the-mouth stuff.
The next course is seafood-based, which is where Machin’s Asian credentials shine through. Sashimi of yellowtail kingfish rests on crisp fritters of tiger prawn, lending snap to the fresh and tender flesh. Droplets of wasabi-infused oil encircle the dish, with a tiny dollop of wasabi to complete the picture.
Machin’s confit ocean trout ($24) is from fish obtained from his old boss Tetsuya’s trout farm in Tasmania.
Onwards to the poultry section (listed in the tasting menu as Pens and Ponds’’) and here we enter dangerous territory. In Mrs B’s view, hardly anyone gets duck right. Nonetheless, having extracted assurances from our waiter that Urbane’s version represents perfection itself, she orders teasmoked breast of Grimaud duck with carrot and mandarin puree, scorched pineapple and orange gastrique ($26). Overall, the flavours are subtle, delicate and artfully balanced. The duck meat, unfortunately, contains a strand of gristle that refuses to yield gracefully to the blade.
After much sawing, we resolve the difficulty by requesting a sharper knife. It’s not unusual to come across a bit of gristle when eating duck. Still, stringy bits really don’t belong in tiny helpings that promise to be exquisite. When Mrs B mentions this to the waiter, he seems devastated.
I like the waiter and he cheers up a little when I tell him, with complete honesty, that my milk-fed lamb loin with pecorino doublebaked souffle, leek fondue and roast garlic foam ($26) is above reproach.
Ditto the cannoli ($15), which comprises lemon curd mousse, red berries and yoghurt sorbet, and the Roquefort Papillon ($15), which has been folded with marscapone and served with poached quince and caramelised walnut mille-feuille. A glass of 206 Yalumba Botrytis Viognier ($15) and coffee ($5) to finish and, small servings notwithstanding, we are replete.
Urbane is not exactly cheap but neither is it prohibitively expensive. The wine list is informed, the service exceptional and, on the evidence, a great deal of thought goes into every dish. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.
Urbane Restaurant 179 Mary St, Brisbane; (07) 3229 2271. Open: Monday to Friday for lunch; Monday to Saturday for dinner. Cost: Six-course degustation menu, $125. A la carte entrees, $22-$30; mains, $36-$66; dessert, $15. Vegetarian options are available. Reasons to return: Innovative food, impeccable service, warm atmosphere and a well thought out wine list make it easy to consider going back, if only for an after-work snifter at Urbane’s sweeping, polished timber bar.
Understated and discreet: Chef Kym Machin’s tasting menu at Urbane is a thrilling parade for the palate