CULI­NARY WORKS OF ART

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - DINING - DES HOUGHTON

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.

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