This is a story in three parts – the Pony only imagined, based on PR, hearsay and my own bias; the morphed Pony thanks to a phone call based on a booking enquiry and the final tale following a late night visit.
It begins with a part of me I don’t really like to acknowledge: Tony Harper the bigot.
Pony comes from Sydney where there are two sibling venues, so I’d figured it was bound to be a restaurant-by-numbers with plenty of Sydney-born grandiosity. Add the fact that it abides in the Eagle Street Pier complex, which is the high-rollers room of Brisbane dining and tends to specialize in (with glaring exceptions) popular food, and I was positive we had schmaltz in the making.
Calling to book was a pleasurable experience. It was for a difficult time on a busy night (ridiculously late and dining solo) but it felt like I was booking into a five-star resort, thanks to an accommodating and chirpy voice at the end of the phone.
All the feel-good began to unravel as I wandered toward Eagle Street Pier. What was I thinking: Saturday night, after my bedtime? It’s a world that was as drunk as it was noisy and as I plodded closer to the Riverside precincts the din and mayhem only increased. There was a guy at Pony’s front door sifting undesirables (ok Tony … think fast: sober, only passably dressed and distinctly over 40. Definitely undesirable, but could we play the booking card?). Entry was a cinch and my table was waiting.
The food arrives in minutes: two giant prawns in a light batter with a mound of ‘Szechuan salt’ and a wee bowl of sweet soy. The prawns are succulent, meaty beasts and the dish is ridiculously simple but impeccably executed with the prawn meat still transparent in its core, the batter crisp clean and light.
The focal point of what is essentially a very simple, but nonetheless enticing menu is based around the coal pit and the two slow-roasts – pork and lamb. The pork (always my meat of choice) is off so lamb it is ($44, and large enough for two).
It’s a dish that includes only the meat; sauce is $5 and sides run from $7 to $9.
There’s a wondrous complexity that comes with slow cooking over coals; a sweet, smoky depth that permeates the core of the meat without bitterness or harsh charry notes and the kitchen crew at Pony have nailed it.
The magic of the coal pit is also woven into a chicken salad ($16, lunch only). Tasted on a subsequent visit, it is simple – served with hommus, shards of grilled flat-bread, tomato and spinach leaves – but subtly complex, playing the freshness of the salad against the more brooding notes of the coal-smoke.
Desserts follow a similar theme of cleverly applied simplicity. Thick, ultra ‘cheesy’ vanilla cheesecake came surrounded by fresh blueberries and strawberries and topped with blobs of violet-scented meringue ($14). Given the location the menu is exceedingly well priced. But where the kitchen misses the bar will collect.
Pony’s drinks list is a good fit for the area, mixing good quality, recognizable labels with some more eclectic stuff. It’s very expensive: perhaps fittingly so given the view and the rent, and it’s not breaking new ground; there are plenty of other venues in the inner city with prices to match.
Pony is a cleverly conceived venue. It has good looks, great service and a menu based on simplicity but imbued with depth and character. And it is surprisingly unique in its offerings.
Upstairs Eagle Street Pier, Eagle Street Brisbane T: 3181 3400 ponydining.com.au