Dining at Esquire isn't just a meal, it's an experience.
Surprises and novelty are part of the package at this degustation-only restaurant in Brisbane's Eagle Street precinct.
The experience begins before you are even seated. Walking into the restaurant to the table area, diners pass an open kitchen where chefs are at work preparing exotic looking ingredients, offering a tantalising glimpse of what is to come and heightening anticipation for the coming meal. Floor to ceiling windows on the other side of the simple but elegant dining room offer stunning views of the Storey Bridge and Brisbane River. And this is all before you have even seen the menu.
The menu is where the real fun begins. Basically just a list of ingredients, it offers only a small insight into the multitude of courses to come. The set menu changes regularly according to what produce is freshly available and could feature anything from eight to eleven courses. My partner and I were fortunate enough to visit on a night when there were eleven fresh spring courses on offer.
As we sat puzzling over the menu, our attentive staff explained the dining process and brought us water, which though just tap was filtered with charcoal, a nice touch. Our amuse-bouche, an interesting blend of goats cheese, a herb granita and peanuts, soon came from the kitchen to prepare our palates for the flavours to come and give us some idea of the experimental but incredible dishes heading our way. 'Spring' turned out to be a gorgeously presented plate of fresh spring vegetables, while an ambiguous 'beetroot, goat milk and carrot' in-between dish was simply that - beetroot, goats milk and carrot, only frozen and presented on a stick as a palate cleansing ice-cream. It was interesting, to say the least, and played havoc with our minds.
The surprises kept coming, including our favourites of the night, a morsel of roast lamb with freshly baked sourdough, corned beef with pickles and ketchup which tasted amazingly like a gourmet hamburger, and the 'popcorn.' Presented in a paper bag, the first inkling we had that this was no ordinary popcorn was when we were given a spoon to eat it with. The spoon was needed because in the bag was ice-cream that somehow managed to taste like sweet, buttery popcorn with a hint of salt. All of our senses were enlisted in the gastronomical experience and despite the fancy cutlery, some dishes were designed to be eaten with hands, a clever touch which makes you feel quite comfortable despite the somewhat intimidating selection of cutlery.
Dishes were brought out with impeccable timing so as not to be too rushed or too languorous. While eleven courses may sound like quite a fill, each course is only small so as not to leave you uncomfortable, though the large plates they were presented on were almost comically oversized in comparison to the delicacies themselves. Many looked more like art than food but they were certainly too delicious to be left looking pretty on the plates.
Having opted for the matched wines, each of our main courses was paired with a glass of red, white or, in one case, sweet saki. Chosen by our very informed waiter, they perfectly complemented each dish. Three hours after sitting down, our meal was over and we were left with a feeling of intense satisfaction with our dinner, disappointment it was over and the certainty that we would return to sample more of Esquire's amazing cuisine.
If you are a little uneasy about spending large sums of money (our degustation was $135 each with wines $90 extra) on a meal you don't get to choose yourself, the adjacent Esq. offers similar culinary delights that you can order from a more traditional type of menu.