Housed in an historic inner-city terrace, Clarence doesn’t appear avant-garde but it’s quietly radical.
Jun 09, 2023 3:00am
You know that feeling when you’re leaving a restaurant and just can’t scrub the smile from your face? In theory, we should experience it after every meal out. But sometimes the fanciest fit-outs and the most whiz-bang culinary pyrotechnics fall surprisingly flat.
At Clarence, an unassuming bolthole in Brisbane’s Woolloongabba, there’s a happy energy at play that feels a bit like restaurant magic. It’s hard to define but it’s fundamental and it’s something that pervades the entire dining experience.
You can taste this energy in even the smallest of snacks, like chef-owner Ben McShane’s rejig of the dim sum classic, turnip cake. Earthy-sweet bronzed rectangles of hashed turnip provide a platform for slices of raw Tasmanian scallop, deftly weaponised with house XO sauce and a scatter of chives. It’s a powerful $6 mouthful, that shows it’s possible to conjure inspiration on a shoestring.
The turnip cakes feature on Clarence’s à la carte menu. But you’d be mad to ignore the prix fixe for $75. Particularly as it includes three starters, a choice of main, a couple of sides and one of three desserts. You might kick off with a shared salad, with sharply dressed tomato and creamy stracciatella, red shiso adding complexity to the mix. There could be a take on cauliflower cheese, where al dente fioretto blossoms are served on a bed of rich yet light goat’s curd, along with musky, sweet segments of fig. It may not be the cauliflower cheese you used to dream of, but you will now. Sides of duck fat chips and a leaf salad work well with precisely grilled house-aged duck breast. Beneath the bird there’s a sweep of plum mustard to add funk and fruitiness. A soft slab of sugarloaf cabbage, topped with salty dry-cured ham, sits alongside.
In April, Clarence’s co-owner Franklin Heaney stepped away and young chefs Matt Kuhnemann (ex-Park Bench Deli, Singapore) and Mitchell Tucker (ex-Nineteen at The Star, Gold Coast) joined Ben McShane. The trio will steer Clarence through its next phase. The changes coincide with the launch of Clarence sibling, Corner Deli, a New York-style sandwich bar next door.
McShane who served as sous-chef at London’s Umu and at Nineteen at The Star, says the ambition now remains the same – try to be the best neighbourhood venue possible. The all-Australian drinks list will continue, ditto the exceptional prix fixe.
It’s early days, but lucky locals should have even more reasons to smile, going forward.