Many questions were asked when at only a month into its operation, Italian Fine Diner Restaurant Otto picked up a coveted Chefs Hat. More-so that the upstart interloper from the southern states also picked up the prestigious Restaurant of the Year (note, not new restaurant of the year).
Who were these guys, and what right did they have to storm into the already vibrant and pulsating Brisbane dining scene and snatch away such honours?
To understand a little bit about the pedigree of Otto, you need to look into its parent company, the Fink Group; and their most famous and recognisable restaurant. You might of heard of it
One of the most recognisable and well respected restaurants in the country, Quay has so many awards and accolades, it’s almost embarrassing.
Yeah, the Fink Group have tight group of well regarded and amazing restaurants in Sydney, including Restaurant Otto at Woolloomooloo; and they thought that Brisbane was ripe for the taking; so, enter Restaurant Otto Brisbane.
Soooo, on my most recent trip back to Brisbane, it was no surprise that within hours of landing I found myself seated at a very modern looking restaurant with great views of the Brisbane River and Story Bridge.
What amazed me most was the location of Otto; situated on the mezzanine floor of the very new 480 Queen Street, it was just a barely started construction site when I left Brisbane only two years ago. The sensational looking building housed the equally spectacular Otto, with its open and airy feel, open kitchen and it must be said, some of the craziest ceiling fans I’ve ever seen.
Sitting around waiting for my lunch date to arrive, I couldn’t help but feel a little impressed with the set up. I certainly hoped the food would live up to the promise of the location and the restaurant’s stellar pedigree. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long and once Brett found the restaurant, we set upon the menu with relish.
The Otto menu read like a who’s who of contemporary Italian fare; each of the items from the menu described in simple Italian with a brief description in English (for those of us who’d forgotten our high school Italian lessons). With a wide range of traditional fare, there was a great mix of options that made use of great Australian produce; I began to get some tingles of something special coming my way.
Our orders taken and a glass of red by Brett’s side, we were given a small loaf of sourdough each to munch on, served with a touch of olive oil that had a serious peppery undertone. The olive oil worked wonderfully with the slightly dense bread, but left a little tickle in my throat that only water could clear.
Entrees arrived and I have to say, the presentation was quite beautiful, with each of our options looking wonderful in their own way.
I’d ordered the Carpaccio di Manzo; the thinly sliced Riverina Angus beef was so precisely prepared that you couldn’t see where one piece of beef ended and the other began; forming a perfect circle on the plate. A truffle aioli dressing zig zagged across the plate and was accompanied by just the right amount of capers, parmesan and baby rocket to perfectly balance the dish’s simple and elegant flavours. The beef was sweet and so thin it needed to be scraped off the plate; the truffle subtle, more aromatic than a punchy flavour. I particularly loved the little hits of saltiness provided by the capers and the parmesan was not at all overpowering. It was a very good carpaccio.
Brett’s starter on the other hand was super colourful, the pinks of his NZ King salmon, the green of his pickled cucumber and the white of his yoghurt dressing starkly contrasting with the matt black of the shallow bowl. A thinly sliced and toasted grissini provided some texture to the exquisite salmon dish, which was equal parts sweet and salty, the latter coming from the hidden salmon roe. Wonderful to eat, beautiful to look at, it was certainly a talking point and I was really happy to sample some of the dish; enough to have me reconsidering my lunch choices to that point.
Keeping it very simple for his main, Brett ordered the Cicala di Mare from the Dalla Griglia (wood fire grill). Probably more commonly known as Moreton Bay Bugs, served simply with lemon and black pepper, the generous serving of bugs dominated the large shallow bowl. The lovely orange colour of the shell contrasted with the stark white of the flesh and looked incredibly inviting. The tail flesh was exquisitely cooked, oh-so-sweet and easily pulled from the shell and into the mouth.
It was served with a simple side salad which seemed to more to add a splash of colour to the table than anything else.
As good as everything had been to date, it all paled into comparison with my main of Pici; the hand rolled strips of pasta cooked a perfect al dente and mixed with a generous amount of Fraser Island Spanner crab meat a la ‘carbonara’. My palate was assaulted with intense and incredible flavours, the sweetness of the crab divine and the simple sauce accentuating its flavour. I normally struggle to eat a whole bowl of pasta, but I hoovered up the Pici and felt a huge sense of satisfaction, mixed equally with a sense of loss that there was no more left to eat.
We decided not to indulge in dessert, it was lunch after all and I’d already planned to visit Esquire for a degustation later that night for dinner. However, we did choose to have some coffees; something I normally don’t do as I’m always dubious about the quality of restaurant coffee (check out my coffee blog here!).
It took a little while for our coffees to come, much longer that I’d have expected. They arrived in pretty cool bright yellow cups, my latte in a ceramic cup that resembled a takeaway cup. After my first sip, it appeared as if I’d found Restaurant Otto’s Achilles Heal; it was not a great coffee, a little burnt and over extracted and milk that was way too hot. Brett found the same with his Americano, it just didn’t hit the heights of the meal.
Coffee aside, I was incredibly impressed with my first taste of Otto. Head Chef Will Cowper, who’d previously been the sous chef at Otto Sydney, had produced a simple and elegant menu with food that was crazy tasty. In fact, the class of the Fink Group was readily apparent in the whole set up of the restaurant; impeccable service, fresh and local produce and a spectacular location in on of the city’s newest buildings.
All of a sudden it became quite clear, restaurant of the year? Sure, Restaurant Otto certainly brings something a little bit different to the Brisbane dining scene. Chefs Hat? Undoubtedly deserved, the food was spectacular and really quite unforgettable.
While you could be mistaken for thinking that Otto and the Fink group are southern interlopers intruding on the Brisbane scene, a more appropriate way of thinking about the arrival of the Fink Group and Otto is the maturing of the Brisbane dining scene.
Mark my words, it won’t be the last major restaurant group making its way to Brisbane; the arrival of Otto confirms Brisbane as one of the dining meccas not only in Australia, but the region as a whole.