In restaurant design, there are two things a restaurant must have, apart from good food. Cutty Sark in Brisbane has neither.
What are those 2 things? A décor or restaurant design that matches the name, and happy staff. When the lack of thought into surroundings is only matched by a surly, cranky waiter, it makes me cry when the food is good and cooked with care. How hard must it be for the chef?
What do most of us look for when we dine out? A warm, inviting atmosphere is certainly something most of us need. Not in a bar, certainly, but a restaurant? We want to be cossetted. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when we entered the Cutty Sark in Brisbane the other night.
It was bright. So bright it was like walking into Myer, with hard white surfaces bouncing the fairy lights that covered the entire ceiling. What were they thinking? This restaurant design read: ‘Don’t come here! We’re done for the day.” It was only 8.15pm, and our host, Marion, had warned us that they closed the kitchen at 8.30pm.
This place, now, in Brisbane should also have a big life. The food is good, the chef cares, and they advertise their commitment to sustainability on the menu.
What?? They don’t even do that in Hobart! In the middle of winter when it’s freezing. But we scrambled in, to be met with the glare of bright lights and the eyes of the waiter, which could cut glass. She was not happy, Gungadin.
She almost threw the menus down, brought some water and left us to ponder. I will say now, that the food was damn good. And I noticed in the kitchen just two staff – chef and sous – but then there were just us (3) and another couple left in the restaurant. We look around, and apart from the bright lights, we all notice that there’s not one nod to the name, anywhere. As a restaurant consultant, that makes me sad.
I can see why a restaurateur might highjack the name for a place in Teneriffe right on the water. The Cutty Sark was a tea clipper, one of the last in an era to be built, in 1869, in Scotland, and fast. She retired in 1954 – and I counted 16 sails on her masts. Wow. That must have been a big job for the crew. She’s been restored, had facelifts, been burnt twice, and is now on display in Greenwich. She had a big life.
This place, now, in Brisbane should also have a big life. The food is good, the chef cares, and they advertise their commitment to sustainability on the menu. Fantastic. But the décor is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Where’s the wood? The boaty stuff? The hints and nods as to why they chose the name? It was like sitting in a soulless, upmarket cafeteria. Blah.
Now to the food. The menu reads really well. Small, carefully chosen, there’s a good selection of tapas, just 5 entrees, 3 sides, 6 mains and 4 desserts. For the entrees, we could have had ‘Sovereign lamb, smoked eggplant, ajo blanco, truffle dressing, ‘ $18; or ‘Tempura soft shell crab, orange salsa, crisp fennel, pickled cucumber, chilli, yoghurt dressing’, $18 and the mains that appealed to me were ‘Butcher’s cut of beef, horseradish and chive potato, red onion jam, roast tomato, red wine jus,’ $33, and the ‘Mixta Paella, with chicken, chorizo, market seafood, $32’.
We had to have the paella. And while you may think of that as coals to Newcastle considering my first restaurant was Spanish and I lost count long ago of the number of paellas I’ve cooked, it’s a dish I still love. And it had the magic ingredients for me: chicken, chorizo and seafood.
There are quite a few nods to Spain in the menu, including churros on the dessert list, so I gather either the chef has been to Spain or is a fan of their wonderful cuisine. Either way, things were looking good. Then the walking icicle came to take our order, and we felt the chill wash over us again. Brrrr.
We ordered a bottle of the Secret Stone Pinot Gris, at $44, a good fruity drop at a reasonable price. And that was another plus: the wine list was well priced with a small but carefully curated selection of Australian, New Zealand and Spanish wines. Marion had warned us the food was good, but the wines ticked boxes as well.
The paella was great. Seasoned with a seafood stock, rich with fried chorizo chicken and calamari, and topped with charred prawns, we squeezed our lemon over it and tucked in.
We had to try dessert, and the Kaffir Lime Pannacotta, with pineapple salsa, ginger crisp, coconut ice-cream and mandarin gel, $17, was superb. A perfectly executed wobbly timbale of vanilla lime silk, with accompaniments that matched and displayed a Queensland sensibility so often lacking in other places.
The chocolate and hazelnut sponge with vanilla ice-cream, rhubarb, mixed berries and chocolate sauce, $15, was rich and delicious. With just two courses, we were full, happy, and just hoping that miss walking ice-block had gone home. Another waitress, as luck would have it, saw us out, and I complimented the two in the kitchen – Kyle and Shiela, who had done a great job. Their story is one I’ll chase up, there’s some questions I need to ask, and good chefs need to be appreciated.
Restaurant design is a complex art. It needs to match the name, the food, the setting. These days, it also needs to be out of the box. The pressure on everyone in the industry is huge, and expectations grow every year. There are mavericks, of course, but they’re rare. And Cutty is no maverick. What do you think, dear reader?
Cutty Sark Riverside Bar and Restaurant / Goldsborough Place 39 Vernon Tce, Teneriffe, QLD 4005 / Ph: 07 3257 2266 / Open 7 days / $$$ / www.cuttysark.com.au