How to impress the food lover in your life on a Brisbane CBD date

It’s food, but not as I’ve ever experienced before.

The 10-course degustation menu at Restaurant II, my prize as the Queensland winner in the 2015 dimmi 10 Millionth Diner promotion, exceeds all expectations. This, gentlemen of Brisbane, is the ultimate place to take your lovely lady if you wish to impress – whether for Valentine’s Day, your anniversary, her birthday, another special occasion or, for extra brownie points, simply to show you care. Especially if she’s a foodie with a liking for the finer things in life.

Sadly for my wife, Paula, I’m not quite the romantic. As a photographer and blogger, I cannot resist the urge to create a visual record of our experience. Although realising there will be limitations to how I can capture the essence of the plates while seated at a table in such a fine dining establishment and I will be working with less-than-satisfactory lighting for food photography, I simply have to take my camera. Luckily for me, Paula is very understanding and very forgiving!

Dining on a Thursday evening, we find we have the venue to ourselves upon arrival and settle on a glass of Chandon in the bar area before being seated for dinner – by which time a few other groups have arrived. It is obvious even from the exterior that this restaurant is a class above and inside the décor leaves you in no doubt that an emphasis here is placed on the exquisite. We know we’re in for a treat.

All the staff are terrific throughout the night, giving us the VIP treatment; despite the fact we’re effectively dining for free. It’s not because we’re receiving special attention either, as all tables are receiving incredible hospitality.

Anticipation is high ahead of our banquet, but there’s just an inkling of nerves too. Will we be able to manage 10 courses?

And what if we’re not fond of any of the plates presented to us? There’s a couple of odd-sounding flavour combinations on the menu, after all.

We need not fear, though. Each course is matched perfectly with a fine selection of wine and as we work through the starters and mains – four and three of each, respectively – the food seemingly only gets better and better.

Owner and executive chef David Pugh takes it upon himself to describe the elements of the first dish to us, as he welcomes us to his restaurant. The corn consommé, which takes on an intense flavour, makes for an impressive start to our feast in partnership with chicken that has been sous vide in buttermilk, tempura enoki mushrooms and a black garlic puree.

We are both torn about the next course, listed on the menu only as “Beetroots + Chocolate + Cumin + Liquorice”, but approach it with an open mind and a willing palate. On paper it sounds like an odd combination of flavours and, although chocolate is undoubtedly her weakness, Paula is not a fan of beetroot at all. I, on the other hand, am generally not overly keen on liquorice. We don’t know what to expect, but we’re both pleasantly surprised.

The dish consists of various baby beetroots – gold, red and pickled yellow – as well as a cumin and beetroot liquid. The chocolate is acidulated, with roasted walnuts and walnut vinaigrette, while the liquorice hit comes in the form of a yoghurt. Somehow it all just works.

Nonetheless, the next two starters – the first consisting of ceviche scallops, avocado puree, cucumber, spicy crunchy chickpeas, yuzu dressing and micro coriander; the second a beef tartare with egg yolk puree, roasted bacon powder and fenugreek dressing – are the favourites for us both. It’s virtually impossible to choose between the two.

Crispy-skinned pork belly is the first of the mains, accompanied by yoghurt and raw garlic puree, cucumber compressed with cumin and salt, blistered cherry tomato on the vine, pickled onion and radicchio to add a nice bitterness to the dish. It’s perfection on a plate.

More acidulated chocolate features in the next course, providing a base for delectable quail, roasted cauliflower in solid and puree form, pear compressed and as a gel, and walnuts roasted and crushed. Unforgettable.

The duck breast that follows is sous vide and roasted, presented among a colour splash that resembles a work of art featuring compressed watermelon, torn mint, pickled pumpkin, puffed barley, pickled watermelon rind, pink grapefruit and burnt butter sauce. Simply superb.

After a round of cheese and crackers – for us, probably the weakest of an exceptional menu – comes the desert lover’s heaven-in-a-glass: Guava Fool + Ginger + Macadamia + Coconut. This is whipped cream and custard folded together with guava puree, ginger and macadamia crumb, macadamia foam and coconut sorbet, and lemon balm. It’s devoured in a flash.

Last, but certainly not least in the creativity stakes, is a desert that again includes lemon balm but also features peas. In more than one way, too: lemon zest puree compressed peas and a pea sorbet. These are arguably secondary to the main elements – cheesecake made from triple cream brie and scented with lemon, with a toasted rye crumb – but they steal the show simply by their presence and make for an extremely interesting end to the meal.

We can’t quite finish the last dish, but leave extremely happy and satisfied, grateful to have been given the experience. It’s easily the best free meal we’ve ever had!

My favourite course: The duck breast.

Paula’s favourite course: The pork belly.

Five-word summary: Fine dining at its finest.

Please note: The Restaurant II degustation menu may have changed since our dining experience. Restaurant II is at 2 Edward St, Brisbane. Phone 07 3210 0600.