The Eagle Street precinct has a dazzling array of fine dining restaurants and one would think that there was not a lot of room for another, I mean at what point do we reach saturation? So I was very interested when I heard that another Sydney restaurant was looking to open in Brisbane, with Pony Dining opening it's third restaurant in Queensland with Melbourne missing out again.
The space that Pony occupies has been vacant for a long time now, but at one time was the home of McDonalds (which moved around a fair bit in Eagle Street before moving out) and is one of the prime restaurant real estate locations in Queensland. The space itself is amazing but not unexpected, with the designers of Sydneys iconic Ivy behind the transformation from empty shell to perfect blend of indoor / outdoor dining that fits the Queensland lifestyle so brilliantly. What I love most about the design is the central kitchen layout, providing great views of the activity of the kitchen available from almost every corner.
What's even better about Pony Dining is that head chef Damian Heads is a Brisbane boy, who has worked in some amazing restaurants around the country. In 2001 Damian was the winner of the prestigious Josephine Pignolet young chef of the year award and in 2006 Damian was instrumental in opening up Pony The Rocks. It's always great to see Brisbane chefs coming back home after a successful career interstate or overseas.
It must have been our lucky day as SC and I decided late on Saturday that we would actually go out for dinner and were lucky enough to score a seat at Pony with only a couple of hours' notice. We arrived and were seated at 6:30, which is early, but the place was already starting to hum.
The style of Pony Dining is very much based around the open kitchen and it's open char pit with the aim of delivering honest, uncomplicated flavours. Like a lot of restaurants at the moment, Pony is very much about share dining and SC and I contemplated how many 'small plates' we would share before going it alone for our mains.
The first of the share plates we chose was Buffalo Mozzarella with eggplant, capsicum, capers, celery and olive salsa. Buffalo Mozzarella is of course best known as the sweet sticky cheese on most pizzas, but is often served fresh as part of a salad. Mozzarella on its own can be a little bland so its really important that the accompaniments are matched perfectly, which was the case here. I'm generally not a fan of eggplant and capsicum, but the combinations worked well here and added a little sweetness. The mozzarella itself was very soft and really fresh with a texture that was a little rubbery in the mouth, but still melted under the tongue. Given that there were three pieces and only two of us, I scored a bit more than SC!
Next up was a personal favourite, you guessed it, Chorizo! The grilled chorizo was accompanied by a tomato and chilli jam with coriander and was delicious. Cooked really well with a nice char from the open char pit, the chorizo had a lovely smokey flavour that was not too overpowering, allowing the natural sweetness of the paprika to shine. You would think that heat from the chorizo would combine with the heat from the chilli jam to provide a decent sweat, but this was not the case, with the chilli jam somehow diffusing the heat. I really enjoyed this and was pretty happy with the value, with three large pieces of chorizo included. Nice!
There were quite a few scrumptious looking items on the share plate menu, so deciding on the next option was difficult, but we finally settled on the Seared Wagyu with a tamari marinade and pickled shimeji mushrooms. Again, for the price, we thought that this was a fairly generous plate of food with a fair amount of perfectly seared wagyu beef. What was most surprising about the dish was that it was served cold, so my senses were in a bit of shock with the first bite. My second mouthful sent my senses into overdrive with a bite of the pickled shimeji mushroom, which was really spicy in the way that only pickling can produce. The combination of the cold wagyu and the pickled mushrooms worked well for me if you got the right balance of beef and mushroom on the fork. A little too much pickled mushroom threw the balance out, but I definitely enjoyed this one.
SC and I also shared a bowl of steamed Edamame while eating each of the share causes. I have to say that I have only recently been introduced to Edamame, but love it, it's so moreish!
I could not come to a restaurant that specialises in an open char grill without getting something from the grill, so ended up selecting the Rangers Valley Wagyu Rump, with a marble score of 9+, fat chips and a béarnaise sauce. As I usually do, I asked for the steak to be cooked to the chef's liking, which turned out to be medium rare (no surprises) which is exactly how it was presented. There was a lovely char on the outside of the wagyu that was delightfully tasty and added a richness to the flavour of the meat. As the steak was a rump, it had a naturally strong meaty flavour, which I love, but had a vein of fat that was not cooked out properly which I had to cut around. The béarnaise sauce was one of the better versions I have had for a while and perfectly offset the meaty flavour. The fat chips were massive and pretty well cooked, but there was just too much potato for me to eat, so SC ended up eating a couple.
Even though SC agreed that she should have something from the grill, she could not pass up on the Tiger Prawn Tagliatelle, with shellfish nage, chilli and basil. Given that were were in a predominantly grill based restaurant, the pasta was cooked surprisingly well and was definitely 'al dente'. The prawns were expertly cooked and were plentiful, but the flavours of the dish were out of balance, with the basil and a taste of burnt butter overpowering the dish somewhat. It was enjoyable, but could have been so much better.
I can't really explain why, but we were not expecting great things for dessert. We could not have been more wrong, the desserts were amazing. SC went for one of the two dessert specials that were on offer, which was a Mango and Passionfruit Ice Cream Bombe. Our only previous experience with a Bombe was at the Stokehouse and this was enough to scare us into thinking it would be a massive and heavy sugary treat. What was delivered was really elegant and not too big. The meringue had been cooked wonderfully and had a lovely burnt caramelisation going, with some crisp tuile added for good measure. The mango ice cream inside was not overly sweet either, which was perfect as the majority of the sweetness came from the fresh mango and passionfruit coulis. I had a massive case of food envy, which ultimately saw SC and I swapping desserts halfway through.
It's funny, SC would have preferred the Vanilla Cheesecake with fresh berries and violet meringue, but was scared off with the prospect of raspberries and blueberries being included with the berries. It's only recently that I have started to enjoy cheesecakes and this was a great example of a deconstructed version. The cheesecake had an interesting and slightly firmer texture than I was expecting, and was in a weird shape, almost like it has been unwrapped from a cloth bag, it had dimples all over it. It tasted great though and mixed with the berries and the meringue, was delightful. But...... it was not as nice as the Bombe, so I convinced SC to swap and we both ended up happy, sort of!
There have been some mixed reviews of Pony Dining online but I have to say that our experience was wonderful. We found the staff to be really helpful and friendly and while the food was not without fault, on the whole it was flavoursome and really quite good value. I did not leave even the slightest hungry, in fact I was stuffed! You should not go to Pony Dining expecting a true fine dining experience, its just not that sort of place. It's essentially an up market grill and it really does deliver the goods.
Pony was humming along quite nicely when we arrived at 6:30 and by the time we left at 8:30 the place was absolutely packed. There was a great vibe and a real exciting feel about Pony, one which I will be sure to experience again soon.
|The Kitchen is right in the centre and there are great tables surrounding it|
|We saw no Pony's about, but we did see the saddle|
|There is a great bar at Ponys as well, called the Gin Garden|