When it comes to food, Brisbane is seriously on trend; from our Paleo-porridge breakfasts through to our deep fried, Deep South dinners – followed by countless gourmet doughnuts, of course.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a Pete Evans moment; I’m not going to lecture you about food being medicine. It isn’t. It can’t literally cure what ails you, but food can comfort you, welcome you, surprise you, even extend you. If that sounds a little too grandiose to you, that’s because Brisbane restaurants are struggling to do these things. Behind the fashionable swagger, so much of our trendy food has become stagnant and same-y.
To take just one example, on the recently-blazed but now well-worn trail of American cuisine, one item simply must be served. The numerous yet familiar American diners cropping up around town are all eager to show off their kitchen credentials with a steaming plate of barbecue ribs.
As a lover of ribs, when this trend started, I couldn’t see any downside to the competition. With fresh contenders appearing everywhere, I thought I’d always have something new to try.
Unfortunately, the more ribs were available, the clearer it became: there wasn’t much variation on the theme. Sure, the ribs are covered in various smoky, sticky, old-fashioned, or even ‘kickass’, barbecue glazes, but it doesn’t take Matt Preston’s tastebuds to tell you they’re all fundamentally similar.
Put it this way, most people have a favourite place to go for ribs (mine is Carolina Kitchen) and a story about why they love it there. But no one has a story in which their expectations about eating ribs were turned upside down by a serving with a creative twist.
For lack of a better example, think of someone telling you they ate salted caramel ribs. Love or hate the idea, that’s food which can surprise you.
Ribs are close to my heart, but this lack of creativity affects so many other popular foods, too. Take burgers, where the drive to stand out has descended into a race to use ever-more expensive beef patties and cartoonishly yellower cheeses. How many Angus beef cheeseburgers with salad and special sauce can one city handle? Doughnuts have gone the same way, with burritos and pizza looking set to follow them.
Of course, there are always a few exceptions – places making really outstanding versions of familiar food. These should be celebrated, to encourage others to take risks, too.
I’m not suggesting we give up on these foods because they’ve become popular. Quite the opposite. The best thing about a trend is that it can spur people’s creativity.
The resurgence of cocktails in Brisbane has led to truly outstanding and distinctive drinks being served all over the city as bartenders strive to differentiate their venues.
The trendy foods around us are just begging for this kind of ingenuity. Look at the cheeseburger spring rolls served at Heya. When I ordered them for the first time, I’d never imagined a cross between those two foods. Now I can’t imagine the Valley without them. And that’s just one way to turn a burger on its head.
But a truly impressive meal doesn’t always shout about its originality. Lamb shanks aren’t as trendy as burgers right now, but they’re a staple of pubs and restaurants everywhere. The lamb shank at Wooden Horse blew me away because its flavour was so different from what I expected. That, and it came with some of the best mashed potato I’ve ever eaten.
The more familiar a meal, the more power it has to surprise you.
So the potential is there for Brisbane to serve some really memorable meals. To encourage that to happen, we as diners need to raise our standards and our expectations. I don’t mean tablecloths and snobby French waiters. Great food can be served anywhere, by anyone – but there has to be demand for it. And Brisbane, that’s up to us.
Article by Kit Kriewaldt, featured image credit: BYU.