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Somehow I missed the memo on the arrival of Bonsai Botanika to the Brisbane City dining scene, but when I'm next in the CBD I definitely know where to go when I need refuge away from the bustle of Queen Street Mall. Whether for lunch, breakfast or dinner – hell, even on the off chance I'm stumbling around the city late at night, this coffee shop, grill and ramen emporium is a rustic refuge that beckons you in.
Open now for more than 12 months (again how did I not know about this place?) if you can imagine a kooky Alpine chalet set in Japan instead of Switzerland, you can start to get a picture of the wondrous no-expenses-spared interior that is Bonsai Botanika.
The owners have spared no expense with the intricate displays and pine timber, creating a Japanese ski chalet feel.
My first visit was a Sunday breakfast affair, coinciding with a jaunt into the city for some last minute Christmas shopping. Feeling slightly cranky - probably to do with the fact hadn't finished my Christmas shopping or had my caffeine fix – my foul mood quickly abated as I stepped inside the wonderland of rustic timber, colossal bauble style hanging lights, and gazed upwards at the tiered three level massive enterprise that awaited us.
Detail everywhere. Nooks, alcoves, benches and plenty of pine
It was easy to be overwhelmed with all the detail. High ceilings, alcoves and nooks everywhere, pine staircases, stools, chairs and crates, petite pot plants on wall mounted shelves crammed full of trinkets, produce displayed in crates just because and…. you get the picture.
It's somewhat difficult to define what exactly niche Bonsai Botanika is trying to fill – it seems to wear multiple hats. It's a disservice to call it just a café and while the name suggests strictly Japanese fare, with ramen, katsu curries and other dishes from the Land of the Rising Sun on the menu, the ground floor is more of a sprawling coffee shop likely to appeal to wealthy urban hipsters. Flourless gluten free cakes, white hot chocolates, spelt cookies and trendy cold drip coffees made up other offerings that were no doubt selected for their fingers-to-the-pulse potential.
I've read some pretty damning online reviews about the slow service, uninterested staff and confusing ordering system with too many making the same points to reasonably conclude they were simply whingers or isolated incidents.
Luckily for us, on our visit service was fair and staff pleasant with food arriving within half an hour or so. Our lactose free lattes were beautifully placed on aluminium saucers and poured into acrylic cups keeping that coffee piping hot but cups cool to touch. The coffee itself was top-notch, but I regretted not trying some of the more adventurous blends – particularly the Kyoto cold brew coffee, served with milk and coffee separated in science lab conical flasks and with a glass of crushed ice.
Our coffees were sensationally served in 'floating' acrylic cups
Sitting in our own private corner in the upstairs mezzanine level we watched more and more people arrive, with my mood continuing to rise from enjoying being in such a funky setting. With the quenching pineapple, cinnamon and ginger juice on the menu, I knew I couldn't hydrate myself – or rather dehydrate myself, with only coffee. The juice was curiously presented with a sprig of rosemary, but sweet and tart flavours well balanced and was a perfect pre-cursor to the rich breakfasts that awaited us.
My partner's breakfast board called the 'Big Red' ($17) was served in a ceramic pan suited to cooking a quiche and looked absolutely mouth watering, even if the pictures don't do it justice. With lightly coated garlic and olive oil kidney beans, cold cut leg ham, fresh greens, crumbly smoked cheese, sourdough bread and scrambled eggs, it was everything you could want in a hearty brunch.
My crispy French toast ($12) was more subdued but beautifully presented with stewed pear, banana and peach compote, yoghurt and wheat puffs. Not too sweet, and for the price another big tick. Bellies full of coffee, juice, and the abovementioned, we held the bannisters for support as we slowly made our way downstairs with more enthusiasm for the task of Christmas shopping that awaited us.
At just $44, our experience also represented fantastic value –especially given dining prices in the city. I can completely recommend giving Bonsai Botanika a try if you haven't already and look forward to returning myself to try some of the lunchtime offerings.