Our family often shares experiential presents. This year, dinner at Aria in Brisbane is the gift – a two-generation family dinner which embodies excellence in food, venue and service; a time and place to create memories. Sometimes that can read ‘stuffy’, but not in this case! To understand Aria, it’s important to know a little about its chef, Matt Moran, who owns Aria with business partner Peter Sullivan.
Fourth generation farmer, Moran grew up a ‘protein-and-three-veg’ boy in Badgery’s Creek, left school and landed in hospitality due to his butchery skills and passion for farming. He’s a down-to earth celebrity just as comfortable cooking for his kids at home as he is facing challenges: creating cutting edge cuisine across his newly opened restaurants, ranging in appeal across a wide demographic.
The two Aria restaurants (Sydney and Brisbane) form the high end of Matt Moran’s eatery portfolio, yet there’s still an intriguing mix of attention to detail and unpretentious ‘groundedness’ in the food and service.
Floor to ceiling glass offers the split level dining room spectacular views of the Brisbane River from the Story Bridge to the imposing cliffs of Kangaroo Point. Besides a few sprays of orchids, the internal décor is understated, fitting for a corporate lunch or an impressive date night. Dusky brown furnishings and soft carpet soften adjoining conversations and the whiteness of starched cloths. But in rare attention to detail, the plush suede chairs have been brushed in a swathe pattern in anticipation of their occupation; unobtrusive care, just like our service for the evening.
In its location and pricing alone, there’s no doubt that Aria is aimed at the upper echelon of the Brisbane dining scene. Entrées are priced at $33 – 39, Mains $48 – 58 and Chef’s Tasting Menus $125 – $245. But, besides the obvious real estate investment, the food quality soon makes price irrelevant. It’s the best, as is the accompanying wine list, handpicked from some of Australia’s finest vineyards.
Food. Soon it’s all we notice!
Our meal begins (and ends) with extras: an amuse bouche of squid ink and prawn crisp topped with chickpea purée and smoked chorizo shard served on a round of timber, together with house-made bread, is brought to the table as our mains are being prepared.
We’ve chosen main meals and sides only, leaving room for dessert. Our meals are artfully plated, steak plainly with chosen sauce and greens on white plates, the Smoked wagyu short rib and Bass Groper are far prettier, reflecting an eye for visual beauty.
We eat first with the eyes, but the first bite adds to the story. The Smoked wagyu is dark and sulty, of generous proportions, bringing wafts of the bluesy recesses of cigar-filled bars and late night haunts. As enticing as it is, it’s a challenge better shared. Fortunately there are takers around the table eager to experience a taste or more.
Matt Moran had been quoted as saying: “The fire in my belly used to be for beauty — visual techniques to prettify food. Now it’s about integrity of ingredients — breeding our own lamb or growing Japanese daikon from seeds rather than importing it.” (GQ Magazine, 2012)
The passion of chefs Matt Moran and Ben Russell is evident in every ingredient. No need for steak knives; all the steaks melt under a butter knife alone. The sides, too, are delicious, rich with the quality of fields and flame, their heritage marked by flavour.
“My love of produce is what drives me to continually create great food experiences,” Matt says on his personal website.
A main each and three sides between four has pulled us up. No dessert entices us away from satiety to desire, a surprise after the mains, but petit fours of almond wafer, passionfruit marshmallow and salted caramel arrive, with miniature boxed macarons to take away. Of course we innately understand that these gratuities are factored into the menu prices but, together with meal sizes, they’re touches of generosity which warm the heart.
Sometimes we all need a celebration of being, loving and caring, with someone else putting in the hard work! Aria provides an exceptionally comfortable place to do just that!
Note: Watch out for mid-week specials on the Aria website. At the time of writing, Aria was offering a seasonal lunch menu available Monday to Friday, priced from $38 for one course and $58 for two courses.
Fully licensed (no BYO)
2014 Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Awards – Two Chef Hats
GQ 2012, Matt Moran, 13 November, accessed 28 Dec. 2014, http://www.gq.com.au/lifestyle/people/matt+moran,20869
Matt Moran 2014, accessed 28 Dec. 2014, http://www.mattmoran.com.au