Chef’s taste for adventure infuses Spicers urban retreat

February 2, 2024

In quiet, leafy Balfour Street in New Farm, the new head chef of The Balfour Kitchen & Bar, Dann Rowell, is building on the restaurant’s signature Asian inspiration, showcasing new dishes with incredible flavour, simplicity and a touch of class.

Rowell says, “I’ve put a new item on the menu inspired by my travels to Vietnam and Thailand. It’s food that looks so simple but has amazingly deep and complex flavour.”

“We cook squid sous vide in a mandarin oil then char grill it on the hibachi and serve it with a rice noodle salad, dressed in nuoc cham, with a nahm jim sauce on the side,” Rowell explains. “I love to finish dishes over charcoal to maximise flavour.”

Rowell has a taste for adventure. Having been raised in the seaside town Tenby in Wales, where his first job at 13 years was washing dishes in a fresh-off-the-boat seafood restaurant, he’s plied his trade in Copenhagen, Vancouver, and travelled and eaten throughout Asia and Australia.

“Asian flavours and techniques have been a massive influence; it’s how they really respect the ingredients and let it do the talking rather than doing too much to the food,” Rowell says.

Since arriving in Australia 12 years ago, Rowell has made a career cooking at some of the finest luxury lodges Australia has to offer – as chef at the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, he lost his cookbook collection in the 2019 bushfires. Just as well – in 2020 he took a job as a private chef sailing the Mediterranean on the 32-metre Sanlorenzo ‘superyacht’ Triple Fun.

Diverse, moreish menus

The food options at The Balfour Kitchen & Bar rewards grazing and endless revisits, with a judicious mix of meat, seafood and vegetable hero ingredients throughout. The expansive, elegant Queenslander invites guests to dine inside or alfresco on the veranda or leafy courtyard, and enjoy drinks in the hidden gem of a rooftop bar.

Dine a la carte from the ‘taste it all’ menu or choose a more casual fare including poke bowls.

If you want to micro-manage your meal, there’s all-day dining on a menu of small dishes, including innovations like lemongrass and citrus salmon pâté with kaffir lime and chilli crisps, as well as classics like prawn and ginger dumplings with house-made XO sauce.

“Sometimes we forget as chefs to just let things be what they are meant to be,” says Rowell. “Keeping it simple is sometimes better than over-complicating things.”

His philosophy of food is that it should be local, sustainable and cooked with love. “My favourite proteins are those that have been shown love – you can taste how animals have been treated,” Rowell says. “My aim is to achieve zero animal-waste so the animal doesn’t give its life just for one cut of meat.”

One of Rowell’s favourite techniques is sous vide – he loves the precision of cooking something perfectly, like the Balfour’s entree of confit chicken skewer with satay sauce and a tomato and herb salsa, or the main of hot, sticky, sweet beef with red cabbage and nuoc cham.

Mixing in the unexpected

“I love all the ingredients we get to use at Balfour,” says Rowell. “I love trying new things, tasting new things, mixing different flavours together – sometimes the unexpected ones.”

Some of Rowell’s favourite ingredients include the Balfour’s own honey and herbs from the rooftop garden and bee hives, and mushrooms from Urban Valley Mushrooms, which they use in a shiitake mapo san choy bow with smoked macadamia.

The Balfour Kitchen & Bar focuses on seasonal produce and calls upon a host of local producers and suppliers, creating dishes like the main of umami bamboo shoots with chilli, mustard greens and edamame, as well as a fascinating turmeric-broth appetiser with heirloom carrot and spring onion, and a side dish of heirloom tomato, kohlrabi, Thai basil and almond.

Rowell says, “Another reason I love working at the Balfour is our emphasis on sustainability and aiming for zero waste. We recycle as much as possible and re-use by-products to limit what ends up in landfill.”

Aromatic whites and light red wine feature on the Balfour’s extensive wine list, which unashamedly focuses on Australian labels, but like Vietnamese cuisine, there is a strong French influence, especially Champagne, and cameos from around the globe. There’s plenty by the glass and bottle to peruse. To embrace the Vietnamese-inspired cuisine, you’ll find crisp fragrant styles made from riesling and pinot gris, the minerality of Sancerre and Chablis, and careful selections of gamay, pinot noir and grenache blends for the lighter reds.

Regional inspiration

Rowell has lived and worked in some of the country’s most admired regional lodges. Before joining Spicers Balfour Hotel at the start of 2022 as senior sous chef, he was executive sous chef at the Longitude 131° luxury wilderness camp next to Uluru in the Northern Territory, and the Silky Oaks Lodge on the beautiful Mossman River in Far North Queensland.

He describes his time at the spectacular Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island from 2018 to 2020 – “I worked with a really good friend of mine Asher Blackford. He was like a mentor to me, and we were doing some pretty incredible stuff down there.”

Rowell helped run the lodges’ entire culinary offering, including individual menus for each guest according to their specific dietary requirements, and sustaining the entire lodge staff.

Although sadly the lodge burnt to the ground in a bushfire at the end of 2019 (now reopened in December 2023), it took with it Rowell’s cookbook collection. “One cookbook I always used was Spice by Christine Mansfield as it has a great list of all the random ingredients you can think of and then what complements them,” said Rowell.

A feast of seafood

Rowell says that he’s always had a love of food and flavours, “I love the way a kitchen works, the movement of the chefs and how the whole operation runs.”

He grew up in the popular seaside fishing town of Tenby in Wales, with a daily catch of seafood in port and a tourist industry supporting a thriving restaurant and food scene. His first restaurant job was washing dishes as 13-year-old in a local Tenby bistro, and then his first professional chef role came in 2006 in ‘The Mews Bistro’ where he escalated from dishes to chef and to Sous chef before moving to the local Baytree Restaurant 2009.

“We used to get all of the fresh seafood from the harbour straight from the boats into the restaurant and prep it and then serve it that night – lobsters, sea bass, ling, turbot. It was a pretty special way to learn about food. I do love to work with seafood.”

There’s a feast of seafood on offer at The Balfour Kitchen & Bar. As an appetiser you can snap up Shark Bay scallops with tom yum and roti, savour an entree of salmon ceviche with black sesame, soy, katsuobushi and rice cracker, or tuck into gold band snapper main course with ginger and coconut cahn, Vietnamese salad, or marvel at the delicacy of squid with nahm jim, rice noodle and spring onion.

Experience Brisbane’s bounty

The Balfour Kitchen & Bar at Spicers Balfour Hotel is a dining experience in harmony with its leafy, heritage streetscape, just three kilometres from the CBD and only 20 minutes from Brisbane Airport.

The retreat offers 17 rooms and suites, and three event spaces across two properties on Balfour Street. A heritage Queenslander hosting the Kitchen & Bar and the art deco ‘Simla’ built c1921 a few numbers down the street, to provide bespoke, contemporary accommodation with an individual style.

Spicers Balfour Hotel is within walking distance of the glorious New Farm Park and River Walk, and on the doorstep of Fortitude Valley nightlife and the Howard Smith Wharves. Explore the thriving city and surrounds by foot, ferry, car, bike or join a scenic tour along the Brisbane River or beyond to spectacular rainforest and mountain landscapes.