TOUCH OF UR­BAN­ITY

David Bent­ley is pleas­antly sur­prised by his visit to a Bris­bane tem­ple of gas­tro-chic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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.

Check­list

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.

Pic­ture: Pa­trick Hamil­ton

Un­der­stated and dis­creet: Chef Kym Machin’s tast­ing menu at Ur­bane is a thrilling pa­rade for the palate

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