As Anton Ego, the fictional inspector in the movie Ratatouille (Ratatouille. 2007. Walt Disney Pictures) said, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment”.
As a food professional and a restaurant reviewer, like Ego, I often find myself disappointed. Part of the enjoyment of gastronomy is the anticipation of the experience. We venture out with high preconceptions. Yet the food that is served up in some of our so-called fine diners is mediocre to say the least. The usual steak, lamb rump, grilled barramundi, oysters, and garlic-infused oil with sourdough. Mass-produced meals to satisfy the needs of those more interested in the social aspects of dining than the food. It is no wonder that, as Anton says, “we thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read”.
But every now and then, I am surprised and delighted. I recently had the pleasure to
experience a new exciting and refreshing venue. Whilst not totally new it has been revitalised, moved, and found its niche – ELSKA is a gem that is setting new standards in the Brisbane dining scene.
ELSKA is a simple, intimate, 12-seat restaurant located in New Farm, Brisbane. The space is typically Scandinavian; minimal with light timber furnishings and natural earthy colours. The focus is on the food – a 15-course degustation menu highlighting fresh Australian seasonal produce and flavours, using Nordic culinary techniques such as fermentation, pickling and smoking. Run by Nathan and Freja Dunnell, ELSKA means love in Nordic – the love of food, connection and family. True conviviality.
The menu is seasonal and constantly changing, served over two hours with all guests served at the same time. Please don’t be late.
First, most appropriately, Danish open sandwiches. A postage-stamp-sized piece of rye bread topped with marinated coral trout, pickles and dill – a burst of typically Nordic seafood flavours. And a toasted bread with truffle and venison on crème fraîche. Next a fillet of spanner crab topped with shaved macadamia with a macadamia and preserved Gympie lime cream sauce. Lobster is served with chilled tomato caviar, and a beautifully presented broad bean tart with pea puree is crunchy and creamy – a textural delight. “First of the Carrots, Last of the Chestnuts” is a spectacular disk of fermented and pickled carrot topped with burghul and tiny fennel flowers, served with chestnut bread and a carrot cream. A visual delight with fabulous flavours.
We move on to “Rob’s Rooster”, a terrine made from aged chicken, alternating the light and dark meats, served with a flower bed of pickles and avocado cream and a side of a deliciously decadent, chicken fat-infused Danish pastry. Freshly grilled asparagus and slivered zucchini are rolled up with thinly sliced duck to make a green roulade served with fermented duck yolk – simply divine. A fresh cleansing asparagus sorbet sits on a bed of tangy labna to cleanse the palate before a rich, earthy yet delicate slow-cooked mutton topped with slices of green almonds, accompanied with sourdough and crème fraîche. Again, visually beautiful with a superb earthy, rich flavour.
In lieu of a cheese plate, a creamy buffalo blue cheese mousse is teamed with a bright green sorrel sorbet and biscuit crumb. Folded ribbons of pickled pumpkin are complemented with toasted corn crumbs and popcorn ice-cream. The finale is a crisp tart with elderflower and sweet pickled green strawberries decorated with sweet green ants and tiny flowers, served with a bush tomato sorbet.
A matching wine service, elegantly curated by the sommelier, James Horsfall, with seven generous, well-paired wines is appropriate, although there is a full cocktail bar and comprehensive wine list as well.
It’s busy and service rapide. The two hours is a little a bit of a rush, but well organised – although there is little time for social chit chat between courses. I look forward to Nathan further exploring his creativity, for this is a truly gastronomic experience. The meal is simply exquisite. As it’s name says, ELSKA is about passion and conviviality. Well worth a special trip.
By Jeremy Ryland
Image credits: Jeremy Ryland