Sunday, April 15, 2007

Duck Soup

Last night I went to dinner at a posh restaurant. A friend, E., who started her Master’s when I did, organises to go out to dinner every time another friend of her’s returns to visit Brisbane from Sydney, where he now works. For three or four years now, once or twice a year, I find myself sitting at a table with a group of wonderfully witty and interesting people, ordering exquisite food, and relaxing into a really enjoyable evening.

On a couple of occasions we’ve visited a restaurant at West End called Mondo Organics. We returned there last night and we noted quite a few changes since our last visit. Aside from a bit of remodelling, it seems to have become a fully-fledged fine dining restaurant. Just before I stopped buying Gourmet Traveller regularly, I noticed that Mondo had begun to garner a few favourable mentions in various brief notes throughout the magazine, and once, if I recall correctly, there was even a full feature article about the restaurant and the vision of its owners. This was remarkable because it always seemed to me that, outside of an ongoing reverence for Philip Johnson’s E'cco Bistro* and the very occasional mention of Pier Nine or Cha Cha Char, Brisbane was a bit neglected by GT.

Mondo was always a very good restaurant to dine at because of their commitment to organic ingredients and the range of choices they offered vegans, vegetarians and allergy sufferers. It will be disappointing for some, if not surprising, to learn that with the change towards more traditional dining standards the attention afforded to those with specific dietary requirements has waned. While I have much sympathy for those who are no longer catered for by Mondo, I, personally, cannot say I was unhappy with the changes.

On some level I enjoyed being surprised by dining on food, the price of which would normally serve as a deterrent to entering an establishment in the first place. But there I was, my vegetarianism a distant memory, finally in receipt of my first payment for tutoring—it’s only 6 weeks into the semester!—embroiled in various debates about the relative merits or lack thereof of Pan’s Labyrinth, Pink, and the end of irony**—not necessarily in that order—and I decided I would have bread, dessert and wine, in addition to a main, and, for a change, not worry about anything.

The ciabatta style bread was accompanied by a fruity olive oil that was apparently a hundred years old. I wasn’t sure if that was the age of the trees the olives came from or the oil itself. Whatever, I could have sipped it like wine, it was so delicious. It made me wonder about the age of the sticky black balsamic vinegar that had some roasted garlic cloves marinating in it. One of my dining companions declared that she thought it must have been at least two hundred years old to even grace the same table as the aforementioned olive oil.

For my main, I chose the duck, the name of which I wish I could remember. It was effectively two cuts of duck cooked and presented in different ways on a rectangular plate. The first portion was a breast of duck sitting atop a fig concoction with some wilted spinach greens. The second portion was a leg of duck, this time perched on a small bed of parsnip mash. There were a couple of slivers of carrot that formed a visual bridge between the two preparations. In the spirit of not worrying, I agreed to the suggested wine accompaniment of a pinot noir. I made everybody sniff the wine because it just smelled so good in the enormous glass it was served in; but I gave no one a chance to get close to the duck.

The dessert was a revelation. Served on another rectangular plate, at one end was a mould of vanilla pannacotta , next a scoop of rose sorbet, topped with a shortbread like biscuit, and finally a small bunch of muscatels drenched in a syrup that partly reconstituted the dried fruit. I relented and offered tastes of this delectable combination to everyone, but I had to decline their offers of chocolate and other sorbet desserts because I just couldn’t bear to sully the subtlety of the pannacotta.

I finished the meal with an espresso, which I never drink, but it just seemed right at the time, even if I had to drink three more glasses of the never-ending supply of water the attentive waiting staff kept pouring, so I could cope with its strength.

After we got around to paying the bill there was still plenty of conversation to be had, so we adjourned to the sidewalk outside the restaurant where we chatted and laughed for another half an hour. Our party finally broke up for the evening after we had promised one another that we’d next meet at E'cco, or perhaps another fine dining establishment. I guess I’ll have to revisit Gourmet Traveller—just to see if they’ve been to Brisbane lately.

* Was it a coincidence that the year that E'cco Bistro won The Best Restaurant of the Year, an overseas-based judge, Rick Stein, who had little inkling of the hierarchy of Australian cities, made the final decision?

* *To say nothing of the intrigue aroused by the revelation of one of my dinner companions, who is soon getting married, that she has created a spreadsheet on which she has calculated the probability of attendance for every one of the guests she has invited to her wedding. Did I mention that at least half of the table was comprised of maths nerds?


Zoe said...

** That is worth a post in itself!

And I'd be interested to hear why you abandoned Gourmet Traveller (I did too).

OTT said...

** Ooh this is wonderful(%). I have an excel spreadsheet for a lot of things, most recently - things to do now that I am closer to the rest of the world and, one that you may feel a connection with: BIFF timetable.

% as is the rest of your post.

I have never visited Mondo because it took over The Soup Kitchen which was my most beloved restaurant in all Brisbane (do you recall the Soup Kitchen?). Maybe I shall overcome when next I am home.

I also have a booking for Rick Stein's seafood restaurant for my partner's birthday - I had to book 2 months in advance. Ridiculous. A review shall be posted once we have dined.

Kirsty said...

** I was hastily informed by the other maths nerds at the table that the spreadsheet was not an effect of M. being a maths nerd but something intrinsic about M. herself. Apparently there's a 99.9% chance her future father-in-law will attend, but this figure could be compromised if she decides to marry someone else. Then there was talk of columns which may or may not accidentally slip off the spread sheet... (You can see why there was so much laughter going on).

Zoe, I don't know what your reasons were (do tell) but I think with GT there is a saturation point--there are only so many variations of recipes with broad beans and artichokes one can have (although all variations are delicious). Despite this post, I never really connected with all the restaurant talk, especially when they were in other cities and countries and so even more unattainable than just an expensive restaurant in Brisbane. I did enjoy making the recipes though, and I still have four or so years worth to draw upon.

Maybe, as well, I don't think I'm really an aspirational--in the Howard voter kind of way--type. I like to get paid on time and for my stove to function properly, and I would really like to visit the Scandinavian countries one day,and go on a food tour of Viet Nam and France and, and..., but beyond that, I'm not really enticed by the jewellery/cars/leather products that were so much a part of the 'traveller' section. In fact that kind of conspicuous consumption makes me feel a bit squeamish.

Oanh, I do remember the Soup Kitchen! I asked other people if they did, but they looked at me blankly. It was the best value for money--a big hearty soup meal for around $8. I can see how you'd be a bit miffed when Mondo with its far pricier menu--even then--came along.

A spreadsheet for BIFF huh? I was just thinking the other day how I never did complete the posts on the films I saw last time. Got any hints?

Completely jealous about the Rick Stein visit--I will look forward to your post though, live vicariously and all that.

Meredith said...

Well I've just eaten carnivorously-vicariously through this post. Since I became vegetarian less than a year ago I'm just so attracted to meat it's not funny.

Zoe said...

Yeah, similar here - the magazine just got too up itself. I got sick of reading about dinners/events that were in fact PR exercises. Much of the food from the old editions is still good, and I find the fashions in food interesting, but I'm a home cook, not a restaurant eater.

Kirsty said...

Glad to oblige Meredith--never thought anyone would live vicariously through moi. How are your iron levels?

Shado said...

What a great write up of an excellent evening. The duck dish was caled 'duo of duck' and included 'drunken duck' (interesting concept) and baked duck.

I might add there were also some fine discussions on Buffy, the online Buffy journal, Joss Whedon's (re)introduction of serial writing into TV and a wide variety of other dubious TV series.

Kirsty said...

Ah the drunken duck--who wouldn't want to eat something with such a promising name?

And, yes, it's always good to have a bit cerebral/fan telly talk.