This restaurant is serving food in a petri dish
The white jacket he dons with his metallic gold high tops and crest of freshly bleached blonde hair may say chef, but Josh Lopez is ultimately a storyteller.
For the man in the kitchen and owner of suburban Brisbane bistro The Wolfe, a dish is never just a dish, it's a fable on a plate.
A zealous proponent of ethical farming and sustainability, he uses the medium of food to weave elaborate tales that he hopes may educate and enlighten his diners - or at least spark conversation - about the issues plaguing where our food comes from and how it's raised.
Lopez's wife Krystal, head of front of house, plays narrator, meekly reciting the concepts behind the plot of each plate, such as an amuse bouche entitled Three Little Pigs - with a trio of pork dishes each representing either the house of straw, sticks or bricks.
For some guests, like my dinner date, the spiel will be completely tuned out, while for others the histrionics are a reason to dine.
And how nice it is to dine at a restaurant again. After two months of takeaway on the couch, to be in the comforts of a restaurant, obsequious staff (perhaps because I am known to the Lopezes) at the ready, is a treat.
While the room is almost comically spread out to the mere nine diners (as per rules allowing a maximum of 10 patrons) there's a cosiness and intimacy to the experience.
Krystal is an artist by trade and her muted canvases line the white VJ walls, while a cushion-covered banquette and dark timber detailing further deepen the romance of the space - especially on a chilly evening.
As restrictions are rolled back, the couple is currently offering a set menu at dinner - five courses for $100 per head - while their takeaway service including the likes of tacos, lobster rolls, churros and margarita jars continues from Wednesday to Saturday. A reduced dine-in lunch is also available.
With complimentary additional snacks and palate cleansers, the five-course dinner is terrific value, especially given the quality of produce which is predominantly sourced from Queensland, including the Scenic Rim.
Consider an entree of Fraser Isle spanner crab theatrically served in Lopez's version of a petri dish with a terrine of wafer-thin octopus clinging to the top of the lid, opening to reveal nubs of mayonnaise-dressed crab, native beach herbs, beads of caviar and a lemon gel. It's as kooky as it is delicious.
Or there's the wagyu, with a tartare of beef tumbling over a blushing piece of just-seared eye fillet crowned with paper-thin, jerky-like veal bark. A beetroot puree, beetroot ash and eucalypt ash bring the whole thing together.
Diners will have their adventurous spirit tested by the chef's love for renewable protein, which comes in the form of a scattering of dried ants and crickets over a wedge of cauliflower that has been baked in fig leaves and spent coffee grounds. Thanks to a lickable caramelised cauliflower puree, those insects are barely detectable.
Guests can choose the option of a cheese or fruit course as the penultimate dish, with both classics reinvented - the fruit version to centre around a pumpkin ice cream, while the fromage choice features an almost mousse-like fresh cheese egg sitting in a nest made from melted cheese that has been left to go crisp.
Low food margins are being made up on the wine list, which keeps true to old world styles, whether they be from Queensland or France. There's also a small collection of mocktails, cocktails, beer and spirits.
While some of us have been eager to move out of life in lockdown, others need more of a confidence boost before they're prepared to brave the outside world again. For those in the latter camp, The Wolfe offers just the gentle encouragement and nurturing you need to get out. To those in the former category: Why not book the whole place and celebrate in style?
989 Stanley St East, East Brisbane
Ph 3891 7772
Open Wed-Sat lunch, dinner and takeaway
Must try Spanner crab
Originally published as The Brisbane restaurant serving food in a petri dish