Chez Laila Review
Portside Wharf confuses me. I can’t quite get my head around why there are so many cafes and restaurants in the one small precinct and how they all manage to survive. As far as I know, the Wharf mainly caters to cruise ships. For Brisbane locals, it’s not easy to get to the area without a car or a long city cat ride, and once you’re there who wants to be surrounded by tourists?
Portside does have some restaurants that have very good reputations worthy of being a destination in their own right, but those are the exception and not the rule. Once you get there, other than eating and possibly going to the cinema, there’s not much to do; no shopping to speak of and no where convenient to kick-on after your meal. I realise there are some apartments on site but I wouldn’t have thought that alone warranted the number of dining options that prevail.
It made me wonder then, what places like Chez Laila get up to when there isn’t a cruise ship docked. It clearly will never make it as a destination restaurant like Manx or Sono, but it does have the potential to be a great Sunday afternoon hang out-if only it were convenient to get to.
Chez Laila bills itself as having ‘one of the prime locations in Brisbane for alfresco dining’, which I found a bit rich considering the only view from your table when I was there would be the hull of the Sun Princess cruise ship. The café come restaurant actually offers a variety of dining styles with your choice of alfresco, indoor, bar style seating, and comfortable lounges. We decided to spread ourselves out in a corner that had four comfy couches separated by knee-high coffee tables. The interior is well appointed, with rich colours and shiny surfaces, and manages to retain a significant amount of natural light and openness that works very well. Another neat feature is the free wi-fi on offer, which several people were taking advantage of. Wi-fi is one of those great ideas but it carries the risk of turning the place into an internet café, and driving away diners. On the occasion we were there, however, the people using laptops were discrete and inconspicuous.
The lunch menu is a decent selection of gourmet sandwiches ($14.90-17.90), and pizzas ($14.50-19.90) complimented by a range of light meals and tapas choices. If you’ve slept in, breakfast is served until 3pm on weekends and a compact dinner menu is available from 5pm.
We ordered a smoked salmon sandwich on focaccia with brie, capers, Spanish onion and lettuce, served with a garden salad ($17.90) as well as a salmon pizza ($19.90).
Our meals appeared before we noticed they were missing and the sandwich was very good; the salmon generous and the brie slightly melted. The only way I would have improved it would have been to toast the focaccia slightly. The salad, however, was disappointing; it was limp and lacked flavour, and the dressing seemed to be just olive oil to give it some gloss.
The pizza meanwhile, was huge and smothered in topping. On first glance it looked delicious with big chunks of salmon, kalamata olives, capers, and a drizzling of garlic sauce. It was made using a thicker bread style base rather than the crispy flaky pastry base that is more common in restaurants, and was without a doubt the most impressive pizza I have seen in recent memory.
But it was a huge let down when the taste and texture didn’t live up to the incredible appearance.
The toppings were great but it was the pizza base, arguably the most important thing to get right, that was doughy and under cooked. The base is the foundation of the pizza and if the foundation isn’t up to scratch it doesn’t matter what you put on top – you might as well just not bother as it will bring the whole thing down.
So we picked the topping off and tried to work out how it was that Chez Laila had managed to get some things so right while screwing up the basics. A better salad and a cooked pizza base and I would have left extremely happy and would be singing their praises here instead of tearing into them. I find it’s very frustrating as a patron when it’s the little things that let a place down. Chefs work incredibly hard to put good food in front of diners, and to see hard work spoiled by a lack of attention to detail is very disappointing.
Service throughout the afternoon was excellent; prompt when we needed it and invisible when we didn’t, which is something that some cafes struggle with.
So where does that leave us? I’m all for giving second chances but when it comes to food, first impressions unfortunately last. Chez Laila certainly has the potential to turn out some great food and I may indeed head back there at some point, but I won’t be going out of my way to return.
Restaurant & Cafe
Tenancy 3.03 Portside Wharf
07 3868 4235
Visited on Sunday, 12 April 2009