Sparrow Eating House
As we have in Melbourne with the proliferation of the ‘Eatery’ taking the place of restaurants, on the Gold Coast and Brisbane we have the recent incarnations of the ‘Eating House’. Both terms have been bred for the hipster revolution and trying to be as edgy as a restaurant can be. Two recent Eating House openings in Broadbeach and Nobby Beach have opened and we decided to pit them against each other to see who would reign supreme.
Our first booking took us to Sparrow Eating House in Nobby Beach. The team from Elk Espresso have always had a desire to go into the lunch and dinner service. Being one of the first decent cafes to open on the coast before the onslaught of new operators tried to cash in on the black-goldrush, they knew that soon the market would be saturated. So rather than open another café why not branch out into something new. After testing dinner service at Elk before opening Sparrow Eating House they were able to sure up the menu before officially opening.
Sparrow Eating House is located in a backstreet just off the Highway near the much lauded Hellenika. The space is perfect with outside dining on the sidewalk, an option to perch at the bar and a decent range of table sizes which could accommodate up to 10 people for those in larger groups. The design is very on trend with touches of Melbourne scattered throughout. The wine list is tight with 90% of the glasses and bottles on offer from Australia and New Zealand. The craft beer list is locally sourced with Stone and Wood on tap (read about their Byron Bay Brewery Tour here).
We ordered a few small plates to start to get an idea of what the kitchen was capable of. It’s the Gold Coast and I’ve had so many disappointing meals from what promised to be great venues so I’m not willing to put a full order in until I give the place a thumbs up. Pumpkin and walnut croquettes with feta and autumn relish (13) were ordered along side the mac and cheese with smokey speck parcels and honey mustard (10).
The croquettes were piping hot and very morish while the mac and cheese parcels arrived in a form we weren’t expecting but were none the less delicious. The portion sizes were generous and we pushed on with the mains.
Mum cannot ever go past a pork dish so it was a no-brainer that we were going with the plum and cider braised Byron Bay pork belly with house slaw (16). Before we go on – when did coleslaw transform itself into slaw? I’m thinking the US BBQ invasion has started chefs writing their menus a completely different way. But back the main event – the pork and all it’s accompaniments were on song and cooked to perfection.
Having recently arrived back from Istanbul I decided upon the dukkah lamb shoulder with Moroccan chockpeas and za’atar yoghurt (15). Let me tell you here first guys – Turkish and Moroccan is going to be the big new food trend of 2016. There are a few places doing that cuisine on the coast but no one’s doing it like those countries straddling Asia and Europe….. yet. But the lamb at Sparrow Eating House was succulent and well seasoned with the yoghurt doing great things to make this a must order dish when you next visit.
Having recently seen the Istagram feed of Ink and Cleaver and spotted the genius idea of doing apple pie jaffles with puff pastry – the banoffee jaffle with salted caramel (12) had me at hello. This could be my dessert of 2015 so far and I can promise you that you’ll be seeing different incarnations of dessert jaffles up and down the country in the very near future.
Social Eating House + Bar
A few days later we booked ourselves into Social Eating House + Bar housed under the new Oracle building in Broadbeach. Stylistically the two locations could not be further apart. Social is in a specifically designed ‘eat street’ where a number of different dining concepts have recently opened – all a grand plan from the owners of the Oracle buildings who built a street between the North and South towers. The area is an up and coming tourist trap and from the outset you can see that the owners of most of the venues here are rubbing their hands together in glee. I’m not a fan of lumping together a number of what would otherwise be great venues that I would rather seek out – but I didn’t let that influence me on this visit.
Inside was a well designed restaurant with the kitchen on show, a separate bar and a dining room divided into two. Sitting down, the first thing we notices was the noise levels. With all the windows closed and a full restaursant for the first sitting at 6pm – we had to shout at each other from across a small table in order to be heard. Yes there was a buzz from the dining crowd but some audio baffles wouldn’t go astray. The service from our lovely waitress from Canada was impeccable but a few hiccups from other service staff were allowed to creep in. Firstly I ordered a stone and wood beer that arrived in a bottle without the option of a glass but also a glass of wine arrived at the same time for some reason. We didn’t question it as I would happily drink it after I finished my own. As I had my empty wine glass in front of me I poured my beer into that to drink.
We ordered the crusty panini loaf with goat’s curd, roast garlic and balsamic (12) but instead what arrived on the table was the soft baguette. We informed them of the mistake and shortly after the load arrived. Hot tip for you all – the panini loaf (and yet I know paninis are so 2009) is the only way to go – the baguette pales in comparison.
Nothing from the bar snacks section of the menu took our fancy so we went straight to mains. The confit pork belly, spiced plum, parsnip puree, crackling crumbed prawn and apple cider jus (22) was first off the block. All elements were good but I didn’t feel the prawn was needed in an attempt to show off the crackling crumbs. Pitted head to head against Sparrow Eating House’s pork, we thought the Sparrow version was the winner and more affordable.
As the lamb at Social was a large plate to share (70) and we wanted to chew through more of the menu we decided to order the charred eye fillet, grilled shallots, roasted kipflers, pea puree, onion rings and red wine jus (22). The steak was outstanding and we hardly needed the knife to carve through the perfectly cooked meat. Unfortunately the pea puree added nothing to the dish and would have preferred the dabs of green to have been wasabi to add an extra dimension and the kipflers were quite hard – either cooked a little while before the dish was plated or just undercooked.
Seeing the Asahi battered S.A. sand whiting with potato aioli, confit fennel, frisee and onion and chervil salad arrive on tables around us we added this to our order when the eye fillet arrived. We shouldn’t have bothered as we both sat opposite each other wondering where the taste for the dish was supposed to come from. The aioli had no zing and the pickled onion was way too sharp with nothing to balance it out. Disappointed we left the remainder of the dish and with no exciting options for dessert we asked for the bill.
During the meal I was asked whether I wanted another drink – I said yes but instead of another Stone and Wood beer, what arrived was another glass of wine. I thought bugger it – if they keep delivering wine then I won’t complain as they were getting quite busy. But come to reading the bill we found 3 glasses of wine and one beer when in reality I only ordered the one beer. Luckily this was rectified very quickly.
Mistakes like this creeping into the dining experience can alter one’s judgment on a place. Especially in a city like the Gold Coast who you can see restaurateurs coming back from trips to Melbourne and Sydney and realising the gaps in the market and opening new places every week to entice the masses. Everyone has to step up their game to keep up with all the new openings if they want to stay relevant – the exact same thing has happened in Melbourne and the Gold Coast better be ready. So if given the choice which would I go back to? Lets jus tsay I already have my booking at Sparrow Eating House for when I arrive back from Melbourne and Sydney where I will be taking a few chef mates to show them what all the fuss is about.