Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pjs Steaks

PJ's Steaks
2/173 Boundary St, West End
Value: Good
Quality: Good
Atmosphere: Adequate
Uniqueness: Recommended

I don’t tend to go to West End much at the moment, so I noticed PJ's only the other day. I was initially surprised to see a cheesesteak place in Brisbane, but on reflection I was surprised I hadn’t seen one sooner. Brisbane has seen a boom of American diner-style venues in the last couple of years, with Blue Smoke then Carolina Kitchen and now PJ's. Brisbane has got Yankee fever, and while this is definitely not a bad thing (I love American comfort food as much as the next man if not more so), its certainly an interesting phenomenon. Despite the New York Giants banner hanging in the window, PJ's steak house offers one of the more (in)famous of American regional comfort food specialties, the legendary Philadelphia cheesesteak. This, and variations on the same base, are all they offer.

PJ's appears to be run by three or four Americans, and they’re pretty sociable and easygoing, at least as far as I can tell. When it comes to atmosphere, PJ's is nothing special; it's basically a grill inside a hole in the wall. This adds some charm considering what they sell, but it’s mostly utilitarian in the same sense of all casual food joints. The staff make PJ's a pleasant place to be with a positive attitude and a promptness not often seen in casual fast food chains. The fact that they sell beer may help with that, including some American beers that aren’t merely piss-coloured water. Brooklyn Lager is particularly good.

A cheesesteak is almost exactly what it sounds like. It's shredded steak covered in melted cheese (unfortunately not Cheez Whiz) in a long roll. Add some condiments generally, mustard and ketchup( I prefer the term tomato sauce or t-sauce but context allows some  Americanisms) and voilà  you’ve got yourself a monster (in a good way) of a lunch. It's very tasty, but how can melted cheese and steak not be tasty? It must be said that, while delicious, the food here tends to be quite greasy as comfort food tends to be. Regardless of any criticism, PJ's serves a great sandwich that epitomises all that is good about American food, and I recommend you get one soon.

Pj’s Steaks is open 11am-10pm
The Original Cheesesteaks we ordered cost $9.90 and they go up to about $15 Beers start about $6 and go up to $9
They don’t have a website currently however they do have a facebook page at

Thursday, 25 October 2012

West End Garden

West End Garden
190 Melbourne St South Brisbane
Value: Good
Quality: Good
Atmosphere: Good

View from outside dining area.
I’ve been to West End Garden before and my previous experiences might colour this review with a hint of nostalgia. West End Garden is sort of an institution – almost everyone has been there at least once  –  and the food is quite good. Usually what makes this place a warm memory in your heart is the history of dinners with good friends. This is the sort of place you can compare to your neighbourhood Chinese place growing up, where the food always tasted great until you moved out of home. West End Garden still has that hold over me, although I didn’t eat there until I was 19. I should really get on with the review itself.
West End Garden's major draw card is its outside area, which makes up 90% of the restaurant space. This area which is a tad tacky – it has a little water feature in the corner and is rimmed by fairy light –   but is very adaptable to different table sizes and seems quite conducive to sizable dining groups. This, provided you have the right company, usually results in great conversations and overall a pleasant experience. 

Vietnamese Duck

The staff here hasn’t changed in years; they still wear the “traditional” white dresses, and are still as attentive as they always have been. Really in general this place has changed little in the 4 or so years that have passed since I last went here. I’m pretty sure even the menu is still the same. The food was prompt, and was perfectly timed to coincide with us finishing our entrees. We ordered two dishes and shared them between us. The entree was spicy quail, a favourite of mine, which, though a little dry, carried a lovely flavour with the requisite refreshing spiciness. This was followed by the “Vietnamese Duck” which while it tasted like crispy skin boneless roast duck, came with fresh vegetables and what I’m pretty sure was sweet chilli sauce. The duck itself was cooked exactly right with just the right level of crispiness in the skin and juiciness in the flesh.  The vegetables while masterly cut to look wonderful, were just vegetables of decent quality.

West End Garden is open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday and is open only for dinner on Sundays and public holidays. Meals cost $6-$13 for entrees (the Spicy Quail we had cost $9.90)   Mains around $15-$36 with most meals being on the very less expensive end of the spectrum. The Vietnamese Duck we had cost $29.90 but was enough for two people. West End Garden also have many vegetarian options, which tend to be on the cheaper end of the spectrum as well.
Drinks start around the $5 mark for domestic beer and go up to $34 for bottles of wine (our beers which were Tsingtao’s cost $6, other imported beers are the same price. West End Garden is also BYO for wine only with corkage being $2.50 per person.
West End Garden have a Website with all their menus and their drinks list at

West End Garden on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Beastie Burgers

Beastie Burgers
Shop 6a Little Stanley St South Brisbane
Value: Adequate
Quality: Good
Atmosphere: Adequate

Beastie Burgers is one of the joints along South Bank that give me hope that South Bank is no longer the tacky tourist trap it used to be. Southbank was Street's Beach and stereotypical Australiana when I was a kid, even as recently as when I first moved to Brisbane back in 2006. These memories made me resistant to the idea of eating out in South Bank until very recently.  Finally getting over my preconceptions, I ventured over there the other day for lunch to discuss some work with a colleague, and thus the review.

Beastie Burgers is very bare-bones, but it's not a big deal. It is a burger place after all and they make it work pretty well. Service is simple and easy (order at the bar, pay and then a find a seat, they’ll bring your burger when its ready) then again it's a burger joint, so fair enough.  What impresses me most about Beastie is that unlike some chains I won’t mention here, they aren’t seduced by the dark side of gourmet burgers. They don’t have so many superfluous ingredients that the burger is too tall for a human mouth, nor do fillings try to rocket out from between the buns like they're on a slip-and-slide. For their commitment to this less-is-more philosophy I congratulate them, especially in the face of a rapidly expanding southern burger chain that certainly has a more-is-more philosophy.

Limiting the number of ingredients allows the quality of the patty to shine through. They're well packed mincemeat with little of that mince flavour that dominates home-made burgers, just a tinge of pink in the middle and nice charring on the outside of the patty itself.  The spartan ingredients kept the flavours simple and allowed the whole burger to meld into a single taste experience, rather than a confusing array of a dozen different things. The bun is also a positive, being appropriately toasted and firm as to not induce collapse, while being soft enough to not have the unpleasantness that biting into an overtoasted bun can have. The vegetables were also of a reasonably high quality and were suitably minimalist, compared to to many of their competitors.

Beastie Burgers is open 11am-10pm every day
My meal was the lunch special on the day and cost $10.50 with a can of drink, their burgers start around this price and go up to around $15-16.
Beastie Burgers is licensed however I didn’t drink this day and therefore didn’t get the price of their drinks.

Beastie Burgers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Himalayan Cafe

Himalayan Café

640 Brunswick St New Farm
Value: Adequate
Quality: Adequate
Atmosphere: Good

I went here for the first review night in ages, and it was a good start to the program again.  Himalayan Café is extraordinarily popular – it appeared to be a full house on a Wednesday. Whether this is a symptom of being in New Farm or that people recognise that they are doing a good job is hard to say, but I would definitely lean towards the latter. The place has done a great job of making itself unique in its design and atmosphere, the bright colours and obvious Tibetan theme makes for a pleasant and interesting environment to eat in. The only complaint I have about the atmosphere is that we were next to the speakers in the restaurant and I could hardly hear my dining companions in conversation. Nonetheless, I am tempted to go back to the restaurant so I can check out the back room there with its apparently traditional Tibetan setup. The service was alright – it was really busy and at times it could be difficult to get someone's attention, – however this was entirely understandable, and the food usually arrived promptly. 

This brings us to the main course of this article, which is, naturally, the food. The best description I can think of the for the food here is that it is a distillation of the subcontinent curry idea. Indian curries frequently become confusing, with many clashing flavours and heavy flavours that can at times make them a difficult meal. The curries served here were far lighter in profile, with some sourness and chilli making up the dominant flavours. Portions were reasonably sized, although if they had been smaller I would have had some hesitation. The entrees were interesting too; if a little confusing (as in how should I consume this?). All the food was of a high quality (at least insofar as I could tell) with the goat dish surprising in its lack of toughness (a difficult trait of goat meat). The other dishes were interesting; however I didn’t eat enough of them to comment on any in particular.

Himalayan Café is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5:30pm to around 9:30-10pm. The main meals range from $15-$30 with entrees being around the $10 mark. Himalayan café is fully BYO. There is also banquet option for groups of six or more.
Himalayan Café does not currently have a website.  

Himalayan Cafe on Urbanspoon

By the way anyone who would like to join me on review nights there will be a Facebook event put up the days beforehand; however there will be issues with numbers which almost screwed us last night.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Taro's Ramen Cafe

Taro’s Ramen Café
363 Adelaide St, Brisbane
Value: Good
Quality: Good
Atmosphere: Good
Uniqueness: Recommended (Its only real competitor that I know of is Ajisen; you can’t compare the ramen at Hanaichi or Kadoya to Taros)

Taro’s Ramen Café has been around for a while now and I’ve been frequenting the place since its opening, but have held off on reviewing it till now. Taro’s has quite a large menu (especially at dinner) but people really go there for one thing, which is Ramen.

When I first ate Taro’s tonkotsu ramen, their house speciality, it was like a magical experience. Each slurp reminding me of the great ramen I’ve had in Japan, the perfect noodle carrying its delicious life affirming broth down my throat and bringing with it the memories of great times had abroad.
This experience remained largely unchanged for a year, but towards the end of last year I noticed; the broth became weaker, the noodles softer and the servings felt smaller than they previously were. In my mind, I brushed aside these critiques as I felt that it was perhaps a side-effect of my growing familiarity with this ramen.
But, on a recent trip to Japan (visiting family) all my uneasiness rose again to the surface, as I had several bowls of ramen that blew my mind. I started to examine in my mind what I felt had changed. The noodles no longer picked up the flavour of the broth like they had and they gave in far too easily. The egg no longer tasted mostly of yolky pork and less of half a hard-boiled egg, and the velvety film of fat on the surface looked moth-eaten and pockmarked. I no longer felt like I needed a post-ramen shower to wash off the massive salt and fat overload that makes a tonkotsu so good. 

The decline in quality is why I have rated it Good instead of Recommended. By Australian standards the ramen is still a good tasty ramen and above the average, but in knowing what it used to be, it has lost its edge. It has become a toned-down, bland version of its former self.

 By way of physical specifications, Taro’s is a café so service is not really an issue. The food is fairly prompt and you can’t help the lunch line at a busy CBD café, although the move to self-serve condiments is a disappointing one that conspicuously coincided with the decline in quality.
The place is pretty barebones, which has a certain charm, but is very utilitarian in its laminex tables and cane wrapped steel frame chairs. The view of the story bridge and down onto river end of Queen Street bumps this up to a Good from an Adequate and the people-watching on Adelaide Street is fine enough if you can stand the traffic noise and fumes.

Taro’s Ramen Café is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week; with the ramen mains costing around $15 (tonkotsu ramen costs $14.90). The presence of Japanese beers and alcohol is a big plus as many are quite rare in Brisbane. Domestic and light beers start at around $5-6, imported beers are around $7 and the price increases dramatically for particular shochus and sakes (not without reason). They do have sake tasting sets for those who are unfamiliar or want variety.
Taros have a website at which has all the menus and other details.
Taro's Ramen & Café on Urbanspoon