Winter has well and truly arrived in Brisbane and the change in season signifies a change in the menu at Aria Restaurant, which sees the renowned kitchen upping the ante with a different menu format.
The maître d’ warmly greets us before showing us to our table, and before we know it, a waiter is filling our champagne flutes with Piper-Heidsieck bubbles. I decide I like this waiter already.
The menu is no longer a la carte but a set-price menu for two to four courses, or a tasting menu with matched wines.
It’s hard to decide which dishes we’ll choose, but we are determined to conquer all four courses. My companion and I decide to share our dishes to get a true taste of Aria.
Our first course arrives and one thing is clear: each ingredient on the plate speaks for itself. We try the Scorched King Salmon, kohlrabi, soybean, wasabi dish first and it’s a delight. The lightly seared salmon is perfectly balanced by the bite of the wasabi. Next, we sample the Buffalo milk halloumi, pear, date, finger lime dish. Unlike anything I’ve tried before, the buttery-soft chilled halloumi is perfectly paired with the fruity paste and zingy pink flesh of the finger lime.
After our second course arrives, so does our sommelier. He explains his decision-making behind each of the wines he’s selected from the extensive wine list, one of the most awarded in Australia.
The Spanish red the sommelier chooses to accompany my Smoked veal short rib with beetroot and horseradish is not poured in the traditional way. Instead, it is extracted by a Coravin, a syringe that pulls a precise amount of wine through a cork-sealed bottle to ensure the wine doesn’t spoil before future pours. Impressive.
The other second-course dish we selected would have to be one of my favourites of the night. The plump, sashimi-grade Moreton Bay bugs were very lightly grilled and accompanied by shiitake mushrooms cooked in a master stock. Aside from the juicy bugs, the winner for me is the seaweed butter emulsion on the side that completes the dish perfectly. Talk about a flavour punch.
With two cracking courses under our belts, it’s safe to say we are more than excited for the main event. Wanting to try dishes from two ends of the foodie spectrum, we decide on the fish as well as a Scotch fillet from the grill.
We are told the steak is from premium restaurant supplier Vic’s Premium Quality Meats, and it turns out to be melt-in-your-mouth good. I was later told the meat had been prepared earlier that day with a peppery smoked pastrami rub and left to absorb the flavours for three hours. This was my kind of meal and I almost don’t want to share the second half of it with my dinner guest. But I’m glad I do as the Cobia (black kingfish) with clams, sugarloaf cabbage and black vinegar is the perfect end to the three savoury courses.
By this stage, we are full, but there is always room for dessert. The waiter sets the coconut soufflé before us and pierces the centre with a spoon to pour raspberry coulis inside. The airy soufflé is deliciously complemented by the tangy raspberry sauce.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll like to leave the best ’til last and that is exactly how our four courses end. The Valrhona chocolate with hazelnut and caramel ice cream is the ultimate dish for any choccy lover.
From a diner’s perspective, Aria’s new format takes the price factor out of decision-making. That allows the culinary artistry to shine and puts the focus where it belongs: on the food.
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