Ever been to a restaurant where they show you an iPad video of your lunch being killed? Welcome to Esquire. It’s certainly an interesting approach to encouraging ike jime – or brain spiking – as a fish-killing practice. Especially when you see the fish thrashing, having fish-spasms and getting as close to screaming as a coral trout can. But boy, is it delicious when it comes out.
Chef Ryan Squires isn’t afraid to push the envelope. In fact, he starts the meal off with one: it's filled with two pieces of air-dried beef sandwiching a sort of kimchi crisp with the sweet burn of candied ginger, dotted with avocado cream. It’s like a fancy, Korean-inspired version of a Double Down.
The restaurant is fairly huge, set just back off Queen Street Wharf with views of the river. There’s the option to sit at the bar for lunch or in the dining room proper where you’ll be sat at the requisite pared-back Danish-style table setting. You can’t be a forward-thinking Australian restaurant at the moment without a bare table, clean lines, organic-shaped plates and well presented chefs delivering the lion’s share of the dishes to the table.
A deep, earthenware bowl is filled with a mix of smoked scallop and buttermilk covered in a verdant dill granita. The plate comes to the table smoking-frozen. It’s like eating a giant fish Splice. In a good way. That sashimi of brain-spiked coral trout with chunks of wasabi-coated avocado and a tiny touch of yuzu is a disco party of fruit, pepper, freshness and hot spice. The point of brain spiking, by the by, isn’t so much for the fish’s benefit as to preserve the texture of the meat. And yes, it works.
A palate cleanser of sultanas, nuts and grains with a dollop of silky-smooth grape sorbet smacks of Welch’s grape soda with a side of muesli. It’s the duck fat that really cements Esquire’s brilliance for us, though. About halfway through a meal of light, raw, fresh and frozen things a mini-sourdough baguette arrives with a lump of caramelised duck fat to go with it. It's like a fresh-baked missile of eye-rolling deliciousness. And while 'things masquerading as other things' don't impress us as a rule, the “popcorn”- a parfait of sweet-corn tarragon, smoked salt and caramel dust – may just make us rethink the whole thing.
The food is really vibrant and unusual, so it’s a shame about the wine service, which is adequate without really pushing the same sort of boundaries on the plate. They don’t do matched tastings at lunch (no bad thing necessarily), but their by-the-glass selection needs attention. A smart hand on the wine menu could blow the roof off this place.
But hey – anywhere brave enough to show a side of slaughter with lunch is A-OK by us. Esquire is a win for Brisbane – nay Queensland – and is worth a detour whether you hail from Toowoomba, Toowong or beyond.