David Bent­ley en­joys a re­vival of the long lunch at a con­vivial Bris­bane venue

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

WITH the pas­sage of time, good restau­rants de­velop a mel­low char­ac­ter that new­com­ers sim­ply can’t match. It’s not an easy qual­ity to de­fine. Partly it has to do with re­silience in a tough in­dus­try. Partly, and this is a less tan­gi­ble fac­tor, it has to do with the hu­man dra­mas played out in restau­rants.

Cel­e­bra­tions, propo­si­tions, joy­ous re­unions and sad part­ings are the stuff of restau­rants. There’s a tale to ev­ery blem­ish, scuffed floor­boards, worn car­pets and all.

Cer­tainly, in the eight years since chef David Pugh and busi­ness part­ner Michael Con­rad opened their el­e­gantly aus­tere Restau­rant Two in Bris­bane’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict, the place has warmed im­mea­sur­ably. While in no way shabby, it now fits like a well-worn shoe, far more ap­proach­able than when ev­ery­thing was shiny and new.

At the open­ing party all those years ago, Con­rad said the duo had a 10-year plan. Ob­vi­ously that plan has worked bet­ter than ex­pected, given their de­ci­sion to launch a new nosh­ery called Three, lo­cated cheek by jowl with the re­cently launched Belle Epoch in For­ti­tude Val­ley’s Em­po­rium com­plex.

To open in Novem­ber, Three will be a ca­sual steak­house dressed as a mod­ern bistro. Restau­rant Two, mean­while, con­tin­ues as the pair’s flag­ship and one of Bris­bane’s more en­dur­ing tem­ples to the van­ish­ing art of fine din­ing. There is no doubt Restau­rant Two en­joys a loyal fol­low­ing, par­tic­u­larly on week­ends when a la carte din­ers com­pete with func­tion book­ings for ta­bles.

Cus­tomers are fewer early in the week and there are plenty of ta­bles when we ar­rive for lunch one sunny Tues­day. I have re­quested a ta­ble by the win­dow and that’s what we get, al­beit with chairs fac­ing away from the Botanic Gar­dens across the street (some­what de­feat­ing the pur­pose of a ta­ble with a view).

No one asks if we re­quire pre-lunch drinks: Mrs B, who likes to be­gin meals with a flute of cham­pagne, is slightly miffed.

In the event, there is a timely flour­ish of menus and we opt for the nine-course de­gus­ta­tion menu with match­ing wines ($155 a per­son) as an al­ter­na­tive to the con­ven­tional en­tree, main course and dessert.

It costs lit­tle more than an a la carte meal mi­nus the agony of de­cid­ing be­tween the dish one truly de­sires and one that ac­tu­ally suits the bud­get. The de­gus­ta­tion menu also brings com­mu­ni­ca­tion with som­me­lier Peter Marchant, a man familiar with the wine cel­lar and the epi­curean of­fer­ings.

The meal be­gins with leek and potato soup with poached quail eggs, sliv­ers of smoked ocean trout and dol­lops of thick cream, a well­con­sid­ered blend that el­e­vates all of the in­gre­di­ents. A glass of chilled medium-dry Span­ish sherry de­liv­ers a nut­ti­ness that com­ple­ments the flavours of the soup.

Next is a ter­rine of rab­bit, duck, pheas­ant, guinea fowl, Berk­shire pork, foie gras and truf­fle. It’s a dish Pugh has been mak­ing since his 21/ years at Lon­don’s Con­naught Ho­tel in

2 the early 1980s. It’s one recipe he re­fuses to en­trust to his kitchen brigade and I can only as­sume that some ar­cane knowl­edge is re­quired in its prepa­ra­tion. Ei­ther way, Pugh brings many game flavours into a har­mo­nious con­flu­ence and it’s a strik­ing dish.

Marchant’s wine choice is a 2006 Pirie South Estelle ries­ling, gewurz­traminer, pinot gris blend from Tas­ma­nia’s Ta­mar Val­ley; it’s off-dry, he says, to bal­ance the gami­ness.

Pugh’s style is French at core, though res­o­nances of Italy and Asia are never far away. His Port Lin­coln bluefin tuna is served as carpac­cio (or sushi if you like) and makes the most of the tuna’s raw flavour and nat­u­ral tex­ture. Mrs B thinks it would have been im­proved by be­ing chilled rather than served at room tem­per­a­ture, thus of­fer­ing con­trast with the seared tuna which, in­ci­den­tally, French tech­nique with Ori­en­tal ways.

It can’t have been easy to find a sin­gle wine to match what in ef­fect is two dishes in one, but a 2006 Bor­toluzzi pinot gri­gio from the Venice re­gion of Italy fits the bill.

Seared Her­vey Bay scal­lops are served on an egg­plant base, with but­ter whipped with smoked toma­toes lend­ing con­trast to the sweet­ness of

mixes the scal­lops. The 2006 Port Philip Es­tate Quartier Arneis makes a stun­ning match.

Char­grilled quail with mougrabi, labna and spicy car­rot puree in­vokes Mid­dle East­ern flavours with mixed suc­cess. The quail is un­ex­cep­tional and the mougrabi, which is a kind of Le­banese cous­cous, looks like corn but has a rub­bery tex­ture.

Labna balls, rem­i­nis­cent of curd cheese, are eas­ier on the palate, but the spicy car­rot puree is a stand­out, of­fer­ing pi­quancy to the labna. A 2005 Heg­gies Re­serve Chardon­nay coun­ter­bal­ances the quail flavours.

Next, a breast of corn-fed chicken with truf­fle tortellini, sweet­breads, sauteed mush­rooms, braised let­tuce and madeira jus. While there are in­spired el­e­ments here, the mush­rooms and madeira over­whelm the chicken, which is slightly un­der­cooked to my taste. A 2003 Toolangi Pinot Noir from the Yarra Val­ley in Vic­to­ria ac­quits it­self bravely in an un­winnable bat­tle of flavours.

The best is yet to come in the form of seared veni­son, beet­root and horse­rad­ish risotto, ju­niper and rose­mary hol­landaise with choco­late sauce. It’s a stun­ning dish; the veni­son is ten­der and the risotto creamy. Rose­mary, ju­niper and choco­late romp in play­ful jux­ta­po­si­tion with more dom­i­nant flavours. A darkly brood­ing 2004 Wynns Shi­raz Caber­net from Coon­awarra makes the dish com­plete.

A cheese course fol­lows, ac­com­pa­nied by 2004 Vasse Felix Caber­net Sauvi­gnon from the Mar­garet River, then a plate of minia­ture desserts, with a 2004 Paul Jaboulet mus­cat from the Rhone Val­ley in France.

Cof­fee and pe­tits fours com­plete the meal. We are the last to leave the high ceil­ings and plate-glass ex­panses of Restau­rant Two’s her­itage-listed premises. For a mo­ment, I’m nos­tal­gic for the era of the long lunch . . . and glad, too, that some things stay the same. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.


Restau­rant Two 2 Ed­ward St, Bris­bane. (07) 3210 0600; www.restau­ Open: Lunch, Mon­day to Fri­day; din­ner, Mon­day to Satur­day. Cost: Set lunch, $42 for two cour­ses; $50 for three cour­ses. De­gus­ta­tion menu of nine cour­ses, $110. Tast­ing flight of nine wines, $45 (min­i­mum two peo­ple).

Bot­tom pic­ture: David Sproule

Lin­ger­ing aro­mas: David Pugh checks truf­fles des­tined for lucky din­ers

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