CULINARY WORKS OF ART
In the 1st century AD, the Roman epicurean Apicius observed: “We eat first with our eyes.” It’s a maxim that still holds true, especially at “proper” restaurants such as Philip Johnson’s e’cco bistro in Brisbane’s CBD. Every plate of food set before us was presented as an intricately designed artwork. And most of them tasted as spectacular as they looked.
We are not usually attracted to degustation marathons but this one appealed because it presented five dishes, each somewhere in size between an entree and a main course. And in the spirit of the decadent age where you sublet your problems, you don’t have to tax your brain making a decision about which individual dishes to select. The chefs do it for you.
This new tasting menu ($89 or $144 with matching wines) runs a culinary relay from seafood to tortellini, suckling pig and duck to deconstructed cheesecake.
The seafood starter featured cured ocean trout cut into cubes of the same size and festooned and flavoured with an oyster emulsion, a crumbly wild rice, a sliver of soused cucumber, and delicate little bits of green foliage flavoured with elderflower and buttermilk. If food be music, this was the three tenors. The recommended drink was a French cremant but, never one to stick to the script, the blonde ordered a glass of Louis Roederer NV Brut ($23) with a long, cleansing palate. She chose well.
Words such as dukkah have crept on to the menu at e’cco, adding a faint Middle Eastern vibe not evident on our last visit.
This is high-risk cooking but the kitchen was up to the challenge. Our least favourite dish was the labneh and pickled walnut tortellini. The tortellini itself was a splendid parcel but I did not love the raisins, pine nut and zucchini accompaniments.
There was a lot happening in our next dish, too. A rectangle of free-range suckling pig that seemed to have been cut with a laser was presented with yellow circles of smoked carrot puree and kimchi and the naduja, all decorated with thyme leaves. It was spellbinding, with a smoky opulence and flavours and textures in harmony.
A blushing duck breast came next with a sweet poached quince juxtaposed with a bitter radicchio and dukkah, and it was another triumph.
From a handsome wine list I ordered a glass of La Linea tempranillo ($12) from the Adelaide Hills, with lovely cherry fruit characters and a nimble acidity.
A United Nations of young waiters from Dublin, Toulouse and Rome brought the dishes with proficiency and humour. The whimsical pudding ( pictured) also put me in a good humour: a lovely little garden of strawberry and cheesecake crumbs with rhubarb and cumquat flavoured with rosewater, strawberry gel, miniature strawberry meringues and swirls of raspberry sorbet.