The Maillard Project was an eatery we had been intending to visit since it opened, both for its promising name (the Maillard reaction is that complex browning process that gives you depths of deliciousness), and for its association with known coffee stop Coffee Anthology. We only occasionally go to the city though, so it took a while to get there.
Located very centrally in the city, the Maillard Project is an eye-catching space along Charlotte Street. The halo of LED lights draw focus to the central service counter, which is also one of the areas they dole out coffee from. The counter, covered in large terrazzo tiles, has the appearance of being hewn entirely from a chunk of stone.
The high ceilings, painted white, accentuate the airy feeling. Pale wood panels along some of the walls, stone hues on other walls, and light wood chairs tap into the theme of natural elements. They had standard table and chair arrangements, as well as counter seats along the service area and in front of their coffee roasting room.
The space was air-conditioned, and speakers played oldies like Build Me Up Buttercup at not too loud a volume. As a whole, it was a pleasant environment.
Staff behind the counter acknowledged us as we stood near the entrance. We told them we would like to dine in, and after we checked in, we were shown to counter seats facing the coffee roasting area (unfortunately they were not roasting at the time, so we only got to look at the stationary equipment and bags of coffee beans). After that though, we were left to our own devices for a long time, without menus, water, or anything else. We ended up getting a menu off the service counter ourselves so we weren’t just sitting there staring out at the rest of the eatery.
Staff did eventually come over, and brought us their food and drink menus. With a focus on coffee, they had an assortment of coffee blends available, and these were presented in a folder, with an individual sheet describing the flavour notes, origin, and composition of each blend. You could then choose how to have your coffee.
The food menu had breakfast, lunch, and all day options printed on one side of a laminated sheet. We had, unfortunately, missed breakfast time, but found more interesting options in the lunch and all day sections anyway. There were definitely asian influences in the menu, with components such as daikon cake and pork kimchi sausage appearing. We ended up choosing the Karaage burger and the Okonomiyaki benedict as our meals.
The Ecuador La Papaya blend was described as having flavours of jammy citrus fruits, malt, and toffee. It was picked for a flat white. It looked quite a pale shade when brought out, and it did turn out to be very weak. There was barely any flavour detectable over the milk. It was also not hot enough. For a place that supposedly has a focus on coffee, it was disappointing.
We had also ordered a soy iced latte on the Feature One blend. This had been described as having tasting notes of milk chocolate, sweet berry, and plum. This fared better. The berry notes carried through. It was fruity, but without being sour.
Because there was still a need for caffeine to replace the disappointing coffee, we ordered another flat white on the Feature One blend. This had a better strength, and the fruity notes carried through even more on the warm coffee. Of note, we had fed back the issues with the previous flat white to the staff, and were told that it the blend was just that subtle. If the blend flavours are so light that you can’t taste them over milk, then perhaps it shouldn’t be recommended for milk coffees.
The Karaage Burger was the first of our meals to arrive. It was listed in the menu as Taiwanese fried chicken, slaw, chermoula, brioche bun, and chips. The naming indicates cultural ignorance, as karaage is Japanese, and Taiwan, well, isn’t part of Japan. Small point, but Asian cultures are not interchangeable. They could just as well have simply named it a fried chicken burger, or Taiwanese fried chicken burger.
The burger itself was presented as a tall stack, with the burger buns separated by a little tower of chicken pieces, grounded by a bed of slaw. Beneath the top bun was a slather of chermoula. This verdant green sauce packed a flavour punch, like a garlicky, nutty, gingery chimichurri. The chicken was juicy, with a crunchy, almost powdery crumb. It had a gingery and lightly salty flavour. The creamy slaw was composed of sliced cabbage, and was not tart, but provided a textural counter to the crunchy chicken. The chips had a steakhouse cut, and were nicely seasoned, and a little crisp outside.
The other dish we had was the Okomiyaki Benedict. This has caught our eye as the most interesting item on the menu. It was described as an Okomiyaki waffle, with poached eggs, okonomiyaki hollandaise, seaweed crumb, and a choice of protein at different price points. We picked the roasted pork belly to have with it. It was presented with the waffle halves stacked on top of each other, the poached eggs balanced on them, and a generous splash of hollandaise over the lot. The pork belly was not what we expected, done as you would get with a Japanese ramen rather than a more Western-style block. It was, at least, in keeping with the cuisine.
The waffles had a bit of crunch on the outside, and had cabbage strips on the inside, like an okonomiyaki would be composed of. It was a clever reimagination of okonomiyaki. It was not very seasoned though, and most of the flavour came from the tangy hollandaise. We appreciated that they were generous with the hollandaise sauce, although if they hadn’t specified that it was based on okonomiyaki sauce, we wouldn’t have guessed. The poached eggs had nicely runny yolks. The crumb on them was crunchy, but only tasted like fried batter, rather than having any umami from seaweed. Our main criticism of the dish was that the pork belly was dry and tough due to that cooking style. In ramen, it is immersed in broth, which counters the dryness. Served in this style though, it remained dry.
Overall, The Maillard Project is a beautifully done-up space. Service was a bit patchy at the beginning, and the coffee was not the knockout hit its pedigree promised. The food also had a few stumbles. Perhaps we expected too much, for all the expectations built up from prior reviews. It is worth trying it for yourself if you are in the city, but if you had to make a specific trip for it, less certain.
Price point: Our dishes $17 and $21 respectively. Other menu items $17 to $23 for more than spreads on toast.
Value: They are city prices.
Address: 119 Charlotte St, Brisbane City
Website: The Maillard Project