Ethan Dou is best known for Street Lab Specialty Coffee – both the much-loved original in Fortitude Valley with its collections of sneakers and Star Wars memorabilia, and now the stripped back sequel that opened in 2019 inside the lobby of the Crowe Horwath Centre. It’s now regarded as one of the best specialty coffee joints in the city.
But coffee was only ever one part of Dou’s passion. He'd always wanted to add a food component to Street Lab, but the space never allowed for it. His solution was The Garner, which opened in late 2019 in the handsome old Browning Street Queenslander formerly occupied by Duo West End. The Garner retains much of Duo’s moody fit-out inside, with its dark VJ-board walls and and wooden counter. The killer feature, though, is the courtyard out front – it’s dotted with hanging plants and boasts a winsome zen garden Dou has built along one side of the space. It’s a beautiful spot.
In the kitchen is co-owner and chef Jerry Huang, who has done time at Chu the Phat and Madame Rouge, among others. Dou and Huang saw a need in Brisbane for Asian fusion brunch similar to Sydney cafes such as Room 10 and Boon Cafe.
Huang’s menu doesn’t hold back. There’s black rice pudding; a seafood congee finished with a 63-degree egg and charcoaled chicken skewers; baked miso eggs with eggplant and pumpkin; and a chicken katsu sandwich in which the bread is substituted with miso-glazed rice patties (if you’re sensing a theme, the word garner – besides meaning to gather or collect – is an archaic term for a rice granary).
The food is backed by house-made juices, Somersault slow-brewed organic soda and of course a whole lot of exceptional coffee. First-pour comes courtesy of Tweed Heads’ Therefore Roasters, with Dou offering batch-brews and pour-overs from a rotating roster of Australian roasters including Reuben Hills, Single O and Toby’s Estate.