With more Murphy factors than you can count, what makes a great restaurant experience?
Nickel Kitchen & Bar / Ground Level, 757 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006 / Ph: 07 3252 5100/ Open Tue – Sat / $$$ / www.nickelkitchenbar.com.au
Solid experience behind a venue would be up there for me. A great restaurant is absolutely the sum of its many parts, and controlling those parts so the wheels don’t fall off at a thousand miles an hour only comes with experience. But Nickel Kitchen & Bar go that extra mile. It’s pure theatre. But that comes at the end.
Nickel Kitchen & Bar belies its name. It’s definitely a kitchen and bar, but light years away from what the name suggests. From carefully thought out banquettes and seating that’s spacious yet intimate, to a huge bar that beckons, and lighting that flatters, Nickel is a powerhouse.
With an award winning Scottish chef, Gordon MacGregor in the kitchen, and Antoine Heurtier doing what Frenchmen do so well, being a sommelier, the staff skate effortlessly from the top down.
It was Friday night for us, and we had to skedaddle to get there in time at 6.30pm – the only table left. I hear that Nickel is one of TJ Peabody’s empire of restaurants, a family that’s been around doing hospitality in Brisbane for some time. I look up at the spectacular hand made chandelier dripping wine glasses, and take note: this is a big budget operation.
The entire ambience is nostalgia – hence the name and the fittings. Not sleazy speakeasy, but refined and plush. We look at the menu. It’s interesting, and rather than go with the degustation (which has no price!) we decide to choose a selection of dishes to share as we are wont to do. Much more fun.
But first, the sparkling water, and possibly a bubbles. Yes, TGIF and it’s 26 degrees in Brisbane in the middle of August. The wine list is a piece of work – in a good way. There’s a Sommelier’s selection of wines by the glass and then bottles – the ‘Prestige’. With no prices. I guess if you have to ask you can’t afford it!
And a quote from Homer which I love, and make note of:
Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.
We turn over to the main body of this magnum opus, and there’s still no prices! Oh well. We order a bottle of Cloudy Bay Pelorus, NV from New Zealand, and it was $80. Ouch. That’s a trap for young players.
Moving on to order the food, we take turns choosing, and Marion is raving about the oysters with lychee bubbles and crispy sage $32 a dozen. I look at the food prices, and they’re pretty reasonable. We like the look of the oysters with kohlrabi, ginger and chilli, and decide that 6 of each is perfect.
I want to try the bone marrow pané, (which simply means breadcrumbed), with a Dijon and nori emulsion and charred baby gem lettuce, $12. We also go with the ham hock and split pea ballotine, walnut dressing and toasted brioche, $18; beetroot cured kingfish with ricotta, golden beets and beetroot meringue, $22; and the wallaby tartare with coal oil, spiced yoghurt, truffle carrot, puffed rice and crispy parsley, $23.
And then, the show begins…
Whew! We needed a drink or two after that heavy decision making. The menu is complex, tempting, and… different. And Gordon knows what he’s doing. The foam on the fresh oysters held, and with the light sweetness of lychee and crunch of crisp sage were a delight. The bone marrow? Tiny jewels of lightly crumbed and fried marrow that sat with the mustardy emulsion and fresh crunch of lettuce was quite something. Marion though, wasn’t a fan.
The ham hock, yes, was tasty, and different, but a little stodgy – like cold pea soup, which I guess was the idea. My brother and I felt compelled to order it, given that we grew up on father’s pea soup, but not sure if we’d order that again.
The kingfish? Sublime. Beetroot giving an earthy sweetness to the fish, and the beetroot macarons were a lovely little touch. And for the three of us, the wallaby tartare was the stand out. The ‘coal oil’ gave a lovely smoky back taste, the puffed rice a much needed crunch, and the earthiness of the truffle carrot matched this meat perfectly.
The service throughout this was attentive, professional, and slick. We would have loved to soldier on to mains, but dessert beckoned, and so we succumbed: macerated strawberries with vanilla cream cheese and crispy crepe, $16; dark chocolate delice with plum espuma, poached plum and jelly, $18; and finally, my brother insisted on the “One last song” or Bombe Alaska, $25.
Antoine arrives with an old gramophone on wheels. He flicks the brass speaker back, bends down and positions a cylinder of ice-cream in the centre of the turn table. He bends down again, and comes up with a large piping bag, full of meringue was my guess, and starts ‘er up.
As the ice-cream whirls around, he pipes and pipes so that…. Wait a minute! Getting wobbly. He stops the machine, re-positions, then starts ‘er up again. This time, success. And the bombe whirls around until it has been covered in ribbons of meringue.
My cheeks are sore from laughing. He pulls out a blowtorch and sets to finish ‘er off. He bends again, and comes up with tiny copper pots of berries and coulis, which he drapes over the star. He places it reverently in the middle of the table, and we admire the finished bombe.
“Why can’t they just light it like they used to?” I ask.
“Ahhh, OH&S,” Antoine opines, “serch a shame,” he says in a thick French accent.
The Delice, the bombe and the strawberries were all spectacular in their own way, and the sheer theatre of the Bombe Alaska will stay with me forever. Genius!
As we pay the bill, it’s a very reasonable $85 a head, and we think for the quality of the food we had? Bargain. By this time, it’s heading to nineish and the restaurant is pumping.
The bar is heaving, and cocktails are being shaken. I think I love this funny, silly but wonderful place. What do you think, dear reader?