Freja’s Cafe transforms into degustation-style fine diner Elska
There’s a shake-up underway in the heart of the Wilston Village precinct. On Thursday February 6, beloved brunch spot Freja’s Cafe will transform into Elska, an intimate restaurant dishing up degustation-style dinners that incorporate native-Australian ingredients and Nordic-inspired techniques. Imbued with a sense of passion and connection, Elska (an old Nordic word for love) aims to help diners broaden their culinary horizons without subjecting them to the intimidating atmosphere of contemporary fine dining.
When Freja Rasmussen and Nathan Dunnell opened Freja’s Cafe in 2018, they did so as first-time hospitality operators. A cafe seemed a logical place to start for the two – both could get a handle on how to run a dining venue while enjoying enough breathing room to make mistakes and grow. Nathan, a chef fresh from stints Brisbane fine-dining institutions Bar Alto and Stokehouse Q, brought his culinary pedigree to the brunch space, scoring top marks from locals with dishes such as savoury croissants topped with pulled beef cheek and pear waffles with vanilla-bean ice-cream, strawberry mousse, elderflower and vanilla fairy floss. While the cafe flourished, Nathan yearned to push his craft beyond brunch’s bacon, egg and avocado-centric paradigm, and soon he was craving an opportunity to pivot back to his gastronomic roots. Coincidentally, Freja and Nathan had been fielding suggestions from guests who were seeking a new dinner option in the area, so in mid-2019 the couple began discussing the feasibility of a conceptual shift. During these conversations, the two kept returning to the ideas of intimacy, connection and hygge (the Danish and Norwegian word for cosiness and comfort), and soon inspiration struck. Freja’s would transform into Elska – an intimate restaurant specialising in degustation-style fare, served within an approachable and casual atmosphere. Nathan would spearhead the kitchen, free to indulge his wildest ideas, while Freja’s devoir would be handling the front-of-house duties, employing her friendly and personable charm to put guests at ease.
After the seeds of the idea started to germinate, the couple’s next step was to retool the Freja’s Cafe space to suit the kind of convivial experience they envisioned. Warmth and simplicity was key – a less-is-more approach that served to draw attention to the fare first and foremost. Freja and Nathan scaled back and overhauled the aesthetic until it was reminiscent of a Nordic cottage. The main dining space sits outside (curtained off from prying eyes and shielded from the elements), with a cushioned timber banquette and scattering of tables accomodating 12 guests at any one time. The minimalist interior bar area is largely devoid of furniture save a small nook boasting low-set chairs, and guests that arrive early can enjoy pre-drinks in the patio space near the entry.
The food and drink
Elska offers two two-hour dinner sittings (one at 6:00 pm, the other at 8:30 pm) which will see diners treated to a procession of up to ten dishes segueing through from amuse-bouche to larger plates and desserts. When it comes to the food, Nathan (accompanied in the kitchen by fellow Stokehouse Q alumni Lauren Kinne) is playing with textures, techniques and ingredients to create something with a discernible wow factor. The cuisine is best described as modern Australian prepared using Scandinavian techniques (think pickled, fermented, brined, salted and smoked morsels), with a hyper-seasonal focus capturing the best produce of the moment. Foraged native-Australian ingredients are a specialty, exemplified by dishes such as Tasmanian wallaby served with brown-chicken jus, split eucalyptus, charred leek and wild-onion puree, white-chocolate yoghurt mousse with fennel-pollen ice-cream and compressed sour apple, emu with sour grapes, sea herbs and purple carrot, and dry-aged barramundi with fermented peach and macadamia. Nathan hopes that guests will come with an open mind and the desire to expand their palate, and is eager to instigate conversation around each dish and increase the profile of Australia’s unheralded produce. A wine list has been curated to complement the fare, with classic varietals selected based on their ability to enhance the overall experience. Craft beers and a clutch of cocktails boasting native-Australian ingredients also feature. Freja and Nathan aren’t stepping away from brunch entirely – Elska will open on weekends, serving up dishes that blend influences from Freja’s Cafe and Elska. Bookings are available online, with February sittings almost booked out! Sittings from March through May are online now, but are expected to be snatched up quickly.
Elska officially opens to the public tomorrow, Thursday February 6. Head to the Stumble Guide for more details.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.