Just before Christmas, I wanted to spoil a friend by taking him out for a birthday lunch in the city. I needed a venue that offered impressive food and drink and was suitably 'birthday swish' -- but wouldn't break my wallet, which was already straining under the demands of the festive season.
R&R Cafe Bar, on Elizabeth Street, proved to be just the place. Located beside the Richards & Richards designer menswear store (not far from the intersection with Edward Street), R&R is part of the Richards & Richards business, and offers a casual-yet-stylish feel that's hard to find in Brisbane.
The interior fitout is slick but simple, and there's also footpath dining if you just want a Lavazza coffee or a sandwich. The wine list is good, the staff are welcoming, and the menu offers an appealing take on modern Italian-French fusion, with some Asian and Australian influences thrown in.
We hadn't booked but were able to grab a table for two with 5 minutes notice. We began by sharing a serve of 'bug bites' -- delectable morsels of Moreton Bay Bugs served tempura-style with snowpea sprouts, wakame seaweed and a sweetish broth ($10). It was a beautifully conceived dish, with the tempura batter perfectly balanced by the broth and greens.
For mains, the Birthday Boy chose mushroom gnocchi ($23) and I went for a wagyu beef salad ($22). I was delighted to find such a healthy, interesting and satisfying salad on offer -- dishes like these are perfect for Brisbane's summer temperatures but, sadly, a rarity in restaurants about town.
Both meals were impeccably presented and taste sensations. The gnocchi came with a rich porcini mushroom sauce, while my wagyu was tender and flavoursome, accompanied by fresh greens and roast yam. My dressing was on the side as I'd requested. Serving sizes were ample (hooray), and we agreed it was one of the best meals either of us had eaten in a Brisbane restaurant in the last year.
R&R's menu changes regularly (hooray again), so many of our choices that day are no longer available. However, a quick perusal of their most recent menu shows that the current offerings are just as tempting. Jumbo scallops with fennel, dukkah-roasted quail, poached chicken and coconut salad, gourmet burgers, gorgeous vego options -- all under $20. And more substantial carnivore options (eye fillet, duck Maryland, market fish) don't go much over $30. Gourmet sandwiches with salad or fries will set you back just $12.50.
We accompanied our meal with a simple Chinotto and Italian peach iced tea (each $3.50), but those looking for something stronger have a very good wine list to choose from, ranging from $8 for a glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc up to $850 for a bottle of Penfolds Grange. Beer starts at $6 a glass, and there's a good range of cocktails.
The only downsides I could find to the R&R experience were the traffic noise from busy Elizabeth street (which can be a bit much if you're seated near the door or on the footpath), and the apparent inexperience of some of the wait staff. While all were extremely pleasant and helpful, a couple of slip-ups in their menu explanations suggested that young shoulders might have been carrying just a little much responsibility.
But these were minor issues in what was a lovely meal served in an establishment that has won us over. We're keen to return and try breakfast (7-11am) or perhaps cocktails and pizzas on a Friday night.
And, with our final bill totalling $62, R&R Cafe Bar proves that you can serve good, innovative food with top-quality ingredients for reasonable prices -- and you don't need silver service to do it. Like my Italian favourite, Popolo Restaurant at South Bank, R&R shows that culinary talent and genuine hospitality beat white linen tablecloths every time.