Pavement Whispers: Milquetoast, a soon-to-open wine bar and dining room with a classic British twist, promises to be anything but bland
Pavement Whispers: Milquetoast, a soon-to-open wine bar and dining room with a classic British twist, promises to be anything but bland

Pavement Whispers: Milquetoast, a soon-to-open wine bar and dining room with a classic British twist, promises to be anything but bland

A pair of drink-pouring pros are teaming up to open an inner-city wine bar – but not one you’ve likely seen before. In July, Milquetoast will open in a gritty garage off Elizabeth Street. Here, low-intervention wines and innovative cocktails will be dispensed, while a kitchen pumps out a menu of eats boasting a classic British twist. Don’t mind the name – Milquetoast is a bar that’s all about championing the underdog and promises to be anything but bland. Here’s what we know …

Milquetoast. The adjective, taken by its dictionary definition, is often used to describe something feebleinsipid, or bland. You might think this unflattering designation is an odd name for a wine bar (it’s also the name of a softly spoken comic-book character), but George Curtis (owner of low-key libation spot Before + After) and James Horsfall (former Elska sommelier and current restaurant manager at Blume) think differently. Soon enough, you might too.

In July the duo will open Milquetoast, a laneway haunt serving low-intervention wines, hyper-creative cocktails and a tight menu of eats loosely inspired by the British food revival. On paper, there’s nothing that we would ascribe the label ‘milquetoast’, but the moniker isn’t meant as a literal descriptor. It’s intended partly as a self-depreciating jab, but also as a irony-laced reference to Brisbane’s tendency to spotlight big, headline-grabbing hospitality concepts, which sometimes overshadow independent owner-operated joints with interesting and unique offerings.

Milquetoast, which is taking shape in an empty garage space at the far end of laneway off Elizabeth Street (yep – the same one home to bourbon-soaked boozer, Alice), is George and James’ attempt to create something different for the inner-city, namely a wine and cocktail bar with a food focus. Milquetoast aims to be an approachable and character-filled bar where punters can find quality food and drink outside of contemporary restaurant confines – a kind of venue that is much more common outside of Brisbane.

“I think we were both looking at other international cities, how they do wine bars and how Brisbane isn’t doing that,” says James of Milquetoast’s inspiration, citing Embla in Melbourne and Noble Rot in London as ideological touchstones. “Places where food is a big part of the experience, but there’s cracking selection of drinks as well. They’re probably a little bit at the higher end than we were thinking – for Milquetoast, it’s about dressing it down in a way that’s approachable and a little bit more playful.”

“We want to bridge the gap between bar food – which tends to be just cheese and salami – and restaurant food,” adds George. “You can come for just a martini and just some salami, or you can come for a full dinner or you can come for an amaro after dinner. It’s a full thing – we’re not just trying to tick all the boxes.”

James is relishing the chance to curate a wine list that focuses on small-scale independent producers from across Australia and the globe. His discerning palate will shape a list of approximately 50 bottles to start (plus a clutch of by-the-glass options), with a view towards growing the range as time goes on. Affordable drops will be available alongside Coravin pours, with by-the-glass champagne options also available via Coravin.

“It’s wines I want to see, I want to drink and stimulate me,” says James of his curatorial ethos. “Some low-intervention wines made by smaller producers that are hard to find, hard to get, not overly priced, that are food friendly – they’re the kind of things I want to see.”

Being a smaller venue with limited storage space, Milquetoast’s list will be fluid – changing and evolving daily out of necessity. But James sees this as a benefit, more than a hinderance, as this gives him the opportunity to showcase rarer gear.

“Often the allocations are really small, particularly for a venue of this size – we don’t have the buying power of some of the others,” James explains. “But distributors often end up with a few bottles of allocations here and there that they’re happy to pass onto a smaller bar like us. So we still get access to all these hard-to-find, cult-like wines.”

On the cocktail front, George is handing over the mixology reins to venue manager Aidan Perkins (formerly of Exhibition, Hôntô and Agnes). Aidan will be overseeing a concise list that champions seasonal ingredients and utilises contemporary techniques ranging from fermentations to house-made tinctures and sodas.

“Anyone who has had Aidan’s drinks knows that he can do some pretty special things in a glass,” says George. “It’s definitely been left to him and he’s got some really great ideas. His specialty is fermentation, carbonation and long-term maceration. Again, it’s about bringing something different to the table.”

Leading the concoction list will be the venue’s signature, the Milquetoast – a spritz-style sip that mixes lacto-fermented seasonal fruit with clarified milk-toast soda. There will also be a martini menu, offering classic renditions alongside a bunch of house interpretations of major styles that will rotate monthly. Milquetoast will also offer non-alcoholic options, with house-made non-alc vermouths and amari expected to feature.

As for food, Milquetoast’s offering will be concise, but the fare will be elevated by the use of quality ingredients and top-class cooking. The offering will boast a discernible retro British tinge, but the team is looking to subvert any assumptions of Milquetoast’s menu being stodgy by taking cues from the British food revival – respecting provenance of ingredients and celebrating locality.

“There was a real push towards respecting their cheeses and their meats – taking what the French and the Italian do with their provincial foods and just applying it in the English context,” explains James. “That’s kind of what we’re interested in.”

Milquetoast’s menu will offer hot dishes like chicken-and-leek pie and lentils with sausages alongside desserts, including jam roly-poly with custard, bread-and-butter pudding with amaro-soaked raisins, and rice pudding with seasonal jam. Snacks will not be forgotten – guests can saunter in on a whim for freshly shucked oysters, cut-to-order salumi, tinned seafood, cold nibbles, burrata and beetroot carpaccio.

With a dearth of late-night dining options in The City, George and James are also eager to plug the gap.

“Another thing that we feel Brisbane doesn’t have – and that it should have – is the ability to walk into a restaurant at 11:00 in the evening and have a meal that’s not a kebab or fried chicken,” says George, who confirms that Milquetoast’s kitchen will be open until 11:30 pm on weekends, with a tailored food offering giving night owls and hospitality workers a place to fill up. Overseeing Milquetoast’s front-of-house will be Krysten Swann (ex-sAme sAme, Elska and Tillerman), who rounds out the venue’s elite team of senior staff.

Right now, Milquetoast’s garage space is just that – a garage. Soon, George and James will look to transform the cosy nook into a lively 40-pax joint boasting a mix of inside and laneway seating. Tables will be scattered across the floor, though perches will also be available at the bar and the chef’s station.

The team will be leaning into the location’s gritty appeal, suspending low-hanging lights from the steel ceiling beams (also used as a wine and amaro display), furnishing the inside with repossessed and mismatched mid-century furniture, while also adding character via art, records, knick knacks, props and plants. A streamlined central backbar will be juxtaposed with a busier set of shelves, while a blackboard wall will be used to display daily specials.

“There’s no point trying to change the fact that it’s a garage – we actually want to play on that,” adds George. “We’ll paint it and then we’ll just fit it out with marketplace furniture, lots of plants, wine shelving and the back bar.”

As it stands right now, Milquetoast promises to be a unique and sorely needed addition to the inner-city landscape. Though put together with professional intent and careful consideration, George and James are earnest when they say that Milquetoast will be anything but stuffy.

“We want to be a bar that’s not too serious,” explains George. “We’re just having a bit of a laugh with it, but the product and the service is of a high quality. It’s also a bit self-deprecating, which is a very British attitude and there’s a little bit of irony there. We’re not just naming it for the sake of it.”

Milquetoast is targeting a July opening date. Stay tuned for updates.

The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.


Sign up for our weekly enews & receive more articles like this: