Brisbane’s Mr Vain is a call to party like it’s 1999.
May 30, 2023 11:00pm
To date no decade has served up a potent mix of grunge and glamour quite like the 1990s. And it’s this heady combo that helps mark out Brisbane’s darkly attractive Mr Vain, a slick, ’90s New York-style share-plate venue, that’s accessed via an unglitzy Fortitude Valley alleyway. Restaurant signage is a subtle lightbox on the wall – an unexpected modesty given the venue’s big-noting name. But the hidden treasure vibe chimes with the low-lit basement-like interiors – nailing that retro A-lister feeling of being “in the know”.
Inside it’s all chocolate tones, brick walls and spacious booths divided by chainmail drapes. It’s a set-up that feels half nightclub, half ambitious restaurant. Black and white footage of ’90s supermodels plays continuously and Mr Vain’s beats playlist is raucous but you couldn’t expect somewhere named for a Eurodance classic not to crank it up. Given the good times atmosphere, chef Tim Young (ex-Blackbird Bar & Grill) could get away with taking his foot off the pedal. Instead he doubles down. The $105 tasting menu is a smart move.
Sesame seed-encrusted sourdough comes imbued with sweet black garlic, a salty hit of seaweed creating a tasty match with the tangy kefir butter. It’s a mighty pairing with Merimbula-raised Sydney rock oysters, topped with crème fraîche, a pickle and Oscietra caviar. There are good gluten-free and dairy-free dishes too. A crudo of Spangled Emperor features dabs of dill emulsion, green almonds and grapes. It’s sauced at table with a delicate ajo blanco marbled with green onion oil. It’s so pretty that our server taps our table lamp, boosting it to daylight, so we can appreciate its flower-bedecked beauty.
Buckwheat crackers make crisp scoops for peppery just-seared kangaroo meat brightened by purple rings of pickled shallot. Shreds of briny local spanner crab star in a topping for langos, a golden disc of Hungarian-style fried bread. On top there are more petals, and shavings of radish and apple, with a fiery thwack of ‘nduja. Fine detail lifts every dish – from textbook Hasselback spud with its funky base of washed rind cheese which partners a precisely grilled rump cap; to the semi-frozen Kensington Pride mango cheek that’s accessorised with caramelised white chocolate.
Lest you forget the ’90s theme, the drinks list is a reminder with shots of Helena Christensen hauling up Kate Moss to dance on a table. The wines are mainly natural and small batch, with makers like Sven Joschke and Owen Latta. There’s also a Martini flight and cocktails with names like The Pitt and Angie’s Eyes, a mix of Casamigos reposado and hot honey. If you’re hankering for the ’90s this is not a faithful recreation. But if you’re after a fun night, with refined snacks, Mr Vain could be your new Mr Right.