When Urbane reopened in late 2009 after a six-month, $5 million refurb, it opened not as a single entity but as part of a family. In a low-key building one block back from Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens, Urbane has been joined by three more siblings; The Laneway bar, Euro brasserie and the Sub Urbane dining room. All sharing walls like any extended family.
The bar/brasserie/restaurant has had a triumphant year, winning awards for food and furnishings. The vision from design architects Arkhefield lends each section a unique aesthetic. The Laneway’s laser-cut metal walls extend over Spencer Lane behind The Euro, an informal brasserie with plenty of mood lighting. Next door is Urbane, a minimalist space for serious fine dining. In the basement nestles Sub Urbane, the exclusive, intimate cellar dining room.
Our night begins in The Laneway, Brisbane’s first move towards Melbourne’s sidewalk-chic drinking scene. Like any good laneway bar, this one’s hard to find, and we end up in the back entrance – which also happens to be The Euro’s front door. The Laneway looks down on its namesake from the rooftop, and while you can’t sit on the street you can certainly smell it. We try ignore it and indulge our tastebuds with DNA Eggnog, a dessert in a glass, and My Fair Lady, a cleverly layered gin, chocolate spirit and Cointreau concoction.
A maze of hidden doors and dark stairways connect bar, brassiere and restaurant. After lurching downstairs, we’re swiftly escorted into the restaurant by co-owner Drew Patton. We must have been looking lost and no wonder: he leads us through a door camouflaged into the wall. We emerge blinking into the bright, white Urbane. Surprisingly, there’s only one other group dining.
We’ve chosen Urbane because of my major sweet tooth. Pastry chef Shaun Quade has Sydney’s Quay and The Royal Mail in Dunkeld, Vic, on his résumé, and the restaurant offers a jaw-dropping six-course dessert degustation.
To me that’s heaven, but to my other half it’s not so appealing. Every person on the table has to have the same degustation, so we juggle seating so I can pick at an entrée before my desserts arrive, and my fellow diner can try the traditional degustation.
Committed to organic produce and perfection, executive chef and co-owner Kym Machin’s team presents each degustation and à la carte dish like an artwork, a huge feat when there are 40-odd dishes on the menu.
The staff recommend skipping entrees and mains if you’re having the dessert degustation, but I order an entree of “prawns, clams and oysters in their natural habitat’’. The natural habitat turns out to be a nutty sesame ‘beach’ and kombu jelly ‘sea’ where lightly seasoned oysters and poached prawns ‘swim’. Its playful tricks like this that is the Urbane experience – smart and fun.
Six dessert dishes is an undertaking not recommended to anyone watching their weight. I came prepared – famished and in a maxi dress.
Quade eases you in with savoury tones. A sheep’s milk and vine ash beginning is a delightful surprise. The following dish of green winter strawberry ice cream and aloe vera ‘sand’ is heading back to the expected sweet explosion. It reinforces the playful nature of the entire Urbane menu and leads to a thrilling, Blumenthal-like expectation – what could happen next?
How about a spectacular conical glass bowl with pumpkin seed shortbread and sweet butternut foam? The inclusion of savoury ingredients in the alien world of desserts was a continuous highlight.
Strands of carrot were found wrapped around a roast coconut cream nestled in a little ‘forest’ of green-tea sponge and fennel pollen in the next course. Under the ‘forest’ a chunk of slow-cooked pineapple. It was one flavour too many for me but an inventive and delightful course.
The final dessert degustation dish brings gasps: a life-size, lifelike bird’s nest almost too perfect to eat. Brittle bitter chocolate twigs melt in your mouth, sugar-spun eggs crack open to reveal lavender ice-cream and a quince and aniseed doughnut is the heady, heavy finish. Scattered throughout are zesty curls of candied mandarin peel and micro basil.
On the eight-course degustation menu, Hiramasa kingfish is paired with watermelon, a tangy flavour lifting the fish. The baby cuttlefish ‘risotto’ (its sliced so thinly it forms risotto-like grains) and squid ink has a fascinating texture. The duck egg in barley risotto (this time with arborio rice) is way too rich for some. The lamb rump is covered in a horseradish crust but perked up by heavy finish. Scattered through are zesty curls of candied mandarin peel and micro basil.
The decadence and flamboyance of the experience is only marred mid-meal by a strong waft of cigarette smoke – we suspect our waiter ducked out for a ciggie.
We’re left salivating right up to very last morsels – a tray of petits fours disguised as tiny potted plants, their chocolate cups filled with the coconut cream and topped with roasted goji berries.
One more moreish mouthful ends a night of cutting-edge cuisine. We roll out the door proud to have made our way through the Urbane maze and impressed with the calibre of its fare.
by Lisa Perkovic
Where Urbane, 181 Mary St, Brisbane.
Notes Degustation $125 for eight courses plus petits fours. Matching wines $85 a head. Dessert degustation $75 for six courses plus petits fours.