Ethan Dou remembers his first specialty coffee experience.
“It was with Luke Shilling, [then owner] at Ltd Espresso,” Dou remembers. “He poured me this coffee and it tasted like blueberries. I was amazed. And I asked him, did you put blueberry juice in there? No, he said – the coffee just tasted like that.”
It turned out to be something of a life-changer for the Chinese-born Dou, who had moved to Brisbane to study hotel management. Fascinated, he says he “went home and starting researching it, and even got into roasting for a while”.
Dou is now 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 the stripped back sequel that opened earlier this year 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. “I actually wanted to put a proper kitchen into Street Lab in the Valley,” he says. “But installing a grease trap was an issue. That was partly why I left.”
His solution was The Garner, which opened earlier this month in the handsome old Browning Street Queenslander formerly occupied by Duo West End. Inside, The Garner retains much of Duo’s moody fit-out, with its dark VJ-board walls and timber 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 what Sydney cafes such as Room 10 and Boon Cafe provide.
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 serving a rotating roster of Australian roasters such as Reuben Hills and Single O using specialty brew methods such as batch-brews and pour-overs.
“There are a lot of great cafes in Brisbane, particularly in the inner-north,” Dou says. “[But] there’s nothing quite like this in Brisbane just yet.”
27 Browning Street, South Brisbane
(07) 3844 3295
Wed to Sun 7am–3pm