Elska gets a glow up – the inventive fine diner unveils its new home in New Farm
If you were put through the wringer in 2020, then you’re more likely to subscribe to the ‘new year, new me’ mantra for 2021. Everyone deserves a fresh start after the year that was, but perhaps none more so than the team at Elska. The daring eatery made a splash when it opened in Wilston early last year before, well, you know – but now the restaurant is hitting its stride with a brand-new New Farm premises! Elska officially opened on Merthyr Road over the weekend, showing off its innovative amalgam of native-Australian ingredients and Scandinavian methodology, plus a considered wine list to match.
For Freja Rasmussen and Nathan Dunnell, COVID-19’s arrival was a particularly brutal case of unfortunate timing. Just over a month prior the couple had unveiled Elska – their ambitious 12-seat fine diner that was getting tongues wagging with a degustation menu that blended native-Australian ingredients and Nordic cooking techniques. As the two were basking in the afterglow of their hard work, the proverbial rug was pulled out from under them as Brisbane went into a city-wide lockdown, forcing them to halt service just as the restaurant was finding its feet. Having to pump the breaks on a restaurant still in its infancy is a tough ask for any operator, but Freja and Nathan elected to remain positive under the circumstances, channelling anxiety into action and existential stress into experimentation. For Nathan (a self-professed control freak), this forced downtime helped ease some pressure and encourage further tinkering. By the time the restaurant had reopened in late-May the team was reinvigorated and even more confident in Elska’s potential to reach upper echelons of Brisbane’s dining scene. The remainder of the year saw an influx of positive responses from the foodie community, with indelible impressions left on even the most ardent skeptics of Elska’s Aus-meets-Scando fusion.
Despite its success, Freja and Nathan sensed that Elska’s growth was disadvantaged by the Wilston site’s quirky layout – particularly its alfresco dining space, which was constantly at the mercy of Brisbane’s temperamental weather patterns. As the year wound to a close, Freja and Nathan made the decision to relocate Elska to a site better suited to house its intimate style of dining. After scoping out a few vacant spaces, the team signed on to take over the former home of Allium on Merthyr Road in New Farm in early 2021. A refurbishment process swapped Allium’s dark tones with Elska’s signature sense of hygge (a Danish and Norwegian term for cosiness and comfort), which has been established via a warm palette of white paint and native-Australian wood, as well as some tastefully minimalist decorative touches. Beyond Elska’s front door (which has been fashioned out of an artfully repurposed piece of wood) sits a casual hangout space for early arrivals, which is separated from the bar and main dining space by a low-rise wall. At the rear of the room sits the kitchen, its open pass allowing for a greater flow of energy between restaurant space and its culinary engine room.
The harmonious union of uniquely Australian ingredients and Scandinavian techniques remains the core focus of Elska’s epicurean exploration. Nathan and sous chef Lauren Kinne are once more employing an approach that foregrounds creativity, experimentation and playfulness while fashioning the restaurant’s hyper-seasonal 15-course set degustation, which is tweaked weekly. A typical two-hour dining experience takes guests on a journey that is loosely segmented into stages – a flurry of smaller plates act as a statement of intent, which is then extrapolated and expanded via a procession of dishes taking in seafood, vegetables, proteins and desserts. Curious combinations like mussels with Bull kelp, Bunya nut with radish and smoked yolk, mud crab with finger lime and coconut, macadamia and green ants, wild venison and foraged berries, kangaroo and rye, and liquorice with buffalo milk. James Horsfall has joined the Elska team as sommelier, bringing a curatorial ethos that favours interesting small producers creating technically correct drops. Many of the labels featured in James’ 49-strong wine list boast engaging stories of their own, helping create a more enriching experience when paired with the inventive fare. A cocktail list will evolve as Elska finds its footing in New Farm, but sippers can expect concoctions made with the same native-infused approach that underpins Nathan and Lauren’s menu.
Elska is now open to the public. For booking details and contact information, click on over to the Stumble Guide.
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