Even when it’s not Paris

I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t mind being a little bit adventurous when it comes to testing the limits of my tastebuds (and my stomach), so when this year’s birthday celebrations rolled around a group of my nearest and dearest reserved a table at Brisbane’s Southbank eatery, Piaf.

Appropriately named after songstress Edith Piaf, the quaint restaurant serves meals of  French cuisine, but blends its flavours with Asian-inspired elements. Unusual, perhaps eyebrow-raising but this unique approach is surprisingly good.

With the party seated, our attentions turned to a well thought out menu. There are up to six meal choices in each of the course categories, which eliminates that overwhelming feeling one gets when browsing the menu for the first time, but the immediate stand out was Escargot with parsley tapioca and garlic butter for entree. I may not have been dining on the posh streets of Paris, but this opportunity was too good to refuse.

There was a sense of delight in the boldness of my order, and discussions turned to other such ‘bold’ culinary occasions (the jellyfish and eel of 2011 reared its head). And then the plate of snails arrived at our table and sudden confusion about how – or even if – we would eat them ensued.

Disappointingly, but somewhat fortuitously, our slimy friends had been presented without their houses. This removed the urge to ‘crack them open’ like boiled eggs or ‘suck them out’, and so the only option was to use the petite fork that had been laid out. It’s probably best to warn you that even without the shell, the snails still looked like the sort you would find slinking around your garden, and now that I’ve put that thought in your mind I’m going to ask you to remove it as it doesn’t help.

Sans shell, snails are actually much easier to eat. The shell – which is not meant to be crushed (remember that if a plate is placed in front of you this way) – can make extracting the slippery little snail quite difficult. Someone once told me that the hard work is similar to that of an oyster or a Moreton Bay bug, and I consider both of those to be SO worth it! In fact, the snails are often removed from their shells and cooked and then placed back into their shells and buttered/sauced for serving, so really, I was only short one step.

The garlic, butter and parsley – traditional French preparation – are a magic combination, and provide the fullest flavour for this dish. On their own, the snails had an earthy, almost nutty, flavour to them. I expected a chewy morsel, but to my surprise there was a delicate moistness to the flesh. The tapioca seemed to absorb the flavour of butter and the garlic and the parsley, but the smooth in fact almost slimy texture could be off putting for some.

I, however, thought this dish was excellent!

Mains to be enjoyed that evening included the beef sirloin with frites and bearnaise sauce, the potato gnocchi with wild mushroom and sage butter, the pork belly with celeriac remoulade and apple sauce, and the confit duck with dauphinoise potato, baby turnip and jus. These meals were of adequate size. We also ordered a side of sauteed spring vegetables, a mixed leaf salad, green beans with almonds and rocket and witlof salad with mustard dressing.

While each dish comes with a recommendation from my fellow diners, I can personally recommend the duck. The leg had a subtle saltiness and hints of herbs (I think thyme) and garlic. The meat was meltingly tender and was complemented by the potatoes.

For dessert try the blue cheese creme brulee with shortbread. It was divine. The simple presentation did nothing to reveal the luxurious creamy sweet with a hint of blue cheese that lingers in the after taste. If anything, it was the shortbread that seemed out of place with this dish, and perhaps the dessert would have been better with figs, especially as they are in season.

Service was pleasant and timely, without being obtrusive. Our main host was knowledgeable on each of the dishes and could also make recommendations about accompaniments, which was appreciated. We we seated at one of the outdoor tables of the bistro, and I could only see this being problematic if Southbank was crowded or the surrounding businesses were bustling; traffic noise was at its minimum.

Overall rating:  4 out of 5

Piaf Bar Cafe Bistro details:
 Address – 5/182 Grey Street, Southbank Brisbane
Food – French
Drink –  Licensed
Prices – Entrees $14, Light meals $15, Mains $28, Sides from $6 and Desserts are $12

Find out more about Piaf Bar Cafe Bistro on their website, www.piafbistro.com.au or telephone 07 3846 5026.


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