Melrose Bulimba, Qld
The Venzin Group - who are behind Woolloongabba's Pawpaw Cafe, Darvella Patisserie and Monocle Coffee seem to have the inner southside of Brisbane sewn up with their latest venue, Melrose in Oxford Street in Bulimba, at the same entrance to Darvella.
Reminiscent of the beach clubs of Seminyak and some Thai islands, this 110 seat rooftop bar and diner is a melange of pan Asian goodness, headed up by former Longrain Melbourne chef Arte Assavakavinvong with a number of his former colleagues including Raymond Chi. Influenced by both Indonesian and Thai cuisines, Melrose will no doubt be a winner with those who are happy to share. There is a retractable roof which we reckon will be a hit in spring and autumn (too hot in summer and too cold for a Brisvegas winter).
While the temptation was for us to eat our way through the entire bar snack menu, we made the decision to instead hit the a la carte menu and test their skills. Some small share plates included a yellow fin tuna larb - a zingy little mix of the fish with coriander, mint, crispy roasted rice and wonton. Peking duck esque steamed bun with hoisin, cucumber and green onion was particularly good and sticky pork skewers with sticky rice and tamarind were bloody excellent. There is a playfulness in both presentation and ideation of these dishes which, while still traditional in some sense, have a great deal of fun about them.
Larger plates for us is less of an offer and more of a challenge as to how many we actually need to eat. In this case, it was one too many but nothing ventured, nothing gained I suppose. Massaman lamb curry made with chargrilled lamb loin and kipfler potato was good - but I wanted just a little more lamb in it, while the indochine inspired crispy half chicken traversed borders with influences from Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia all in one dish. And coconut braised pork belly with sweet chilli ar jard sauce was just so lip smackingly good we had to order an extra to take home. The coconut flavour in the sticky pork was so good.
We added some sides, a som tum style green papaya salad with peanuts and snake bean was superbly balanced and it's pretty hard to bugger up steamed coconut rice, even in my own kitchen.
The drinks list - alongside some fun cocktail and standard offer beers, there is a wine list that even made this curmudgeon happy. Some clever choices by the glass, and a great range of naturals, pet nats and skin contact wines, with a heap of bloody good french wines in there to boot. We had a The Vinden Headcase Gewurtztraminer skin contact wine (with a touch of semillon and verdelho in the mix) which was absolutely nuts (we are chasing down a case as we speak), and a La Violetta/YeYe - a Gewurtz, Riesling and Pinot Gris blend, which with this kind of food is a marriage made in heaven.
What didn't we like? Its loud but we have eaten across SE Asia and know it's rarely a quiet or subdued affair. The fit out doesn't help as its all open and noise bounced around a lot. It's also a little too tightly packed and we felt like we were intruding on the table next to us.
What we hated? We were really challenged by some snooty service. Great food and good booze will only get you so far. Your service has to match, especially at these prices. While we appreciate there is a shortage of good people around to choose from, thanks to the COVID skills vacuum, we are customers and paying the staff wages - arrogance and aloofness has no place in this kind of environment. If you don't want to provide service, go get a job flipping burgers. It wasn't enough to stop us going back for a second visit, and I hope we find a bit more of a welcome next time. The 'ask' for a tip when we paid the bill was a bridge too far.
Melrose is at 37 Oxford Street, Bulimba, QLD, 4171
Lunch Fri – Sun, 12 – 3, Bar Snacks Fri – Sun, 3 – 4, Dinner Wed – Sun from 5pm