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Review: Bootlegger Restaurant

A few weeks ago, I received a request to review Bootlegger Restaurant in the new part of Westfield Chermside. Even though it’s a bit of a drive for us southsiders, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t seen the new part of Chermside yet and Dylan is a huge BBQ fan.

As we wound our way through the new restaurant precinct at Westfield, we were wowed at the atmosphere. Lavish! I generally dislike eating in and around shopping centres, but I will certainly make exceptions for the outside of Westfield Garden City and now, Chermside. Gorgeous water features, glittering venues, towering palms… it’s certainly a million miles away from the grimy food courts and daggy piazzas of old.

We arrived at Bootlegger and were impressed with the huge smoker and the dark, moody ambience. After being seated by a friendly waitress, Josh the manager approached our table with a smile. We shook hands and before we knew it, waves upon waves of craft beer and tasty treats were being showered upon us!

In all the times I have been invited to restaurants, I have never experienced such generosity and conviviality. Josh is a credit to Bootlegger and I’m certain a part of their success to date is due to his great attitude and friendly demeanour.

First up was Popcorn Shrimp ($18), Calamari Fritters ($16) and Chipotle Mac n Cheese ($14). Firstly, I must say that Bootlegger is really good value for money. The serving sizes of these ‘starters’ are substantial and would constitute a meal for those with less enthusiasm than me!

The Popcorn Shrimp were a lightly spiced, battered prawn with a honey glaze. Tasty, crisp and moreish. I was surprised that I enjoyed the prawns so much as I generally don’t go for battered snacks with a sweet glaze. If you’re a fan of honey chicken or sweet and sour at your local Chinese, these would be right up your alley.

The Calamari Fritters are not ‘fritters’ as you’d be forgiven for thinking, but fried squid pieces with aioli. The crumb is thicker than some, but the result is crunchy, mildly spiced and delicious. The squid was lovely and tender; the single most important thing for squid to be! More squid! More beers!

The Mac n Cheese was comforting, cheesy and absolutely moreish. The chipotle is very subtle, so spice wusses need not fear this dish. Josh served us tasters of several local craft beers to start with and throughout the night we tasted at least nine varieties. Each one was strikingly different and that is what makes modern beer drinking so exciting: there’s something for everyone. I especially enjoyed the Fortitude Ginger Beer, as it was the first alcoholic ginger beer I’ve ever truly enjoyed. Sweet, a little spicy but not too hectic. Really delicious and only 3.5% alcohol.

Bootlegger serves the kind food that marries so well with beer. I can foresee Dylan and his northside mates having many dude dates here in the future.

We were grateful that Josh came and took the first three plates away before we’d demolished them all because there was so much more to follow!

Next up was a Hillbilly Chicken Burger ($16) and Chilli Cheese Fries ($14). I would go back to Bootlegger just for either one of these dishes. The chicken burger especially: buttermilk fried chicken thigh, cheese sauce, chipotle, aioli, slaw and smoky bourbon bbq sauce on a brioche bun. This was everything I want in a chicken burger: the chicken was crunchy yet tender on the inside, the slaw was fresh and the sauces decadent. I ate my half of this burger with gusto!

The Chilli Cheese Fries were also great – a mild, tasty chilli atop some well-seasoned fries that had been dressed with cheese sauce. It was almost like nachos made on fries instead of corn chips. Dylan and I love spice so would’ve loved this to be spicier, but understand the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator of spice tolerance! We learned later that Bootlegger stock a ‘no effing way’ hot sauce that would fix that situation in a flash, too.

Now is the time to mention the fries. I am super fussy with fries and have an unwavering anti shoestring-fry stance. I haven’t even been to Les Bubbles in the Valley yet because the thought of endless frites does not turn me on! I never feel as though I’m getting ‘enough’ potato with each bite and so end up eating loads more, chasing satisfaction and never finding it. Beer battered steak cut fries or wedges would generally be my preference. The fries at bootlegger are some kind of magical in-between chip. Not so skinny as to be frites, not big chunky beer battered numbers, just perfect medium-girth chips. Cooked to perfection and well-seasoned, they remind me of a KFC/Red Rooster/Nandos chip, but better. Yes Mum, I have frequented these fast food establishments once or twice. Sorry for disappointing you!

We were again grateful that Josh cut us off before we finished the huge portions of fries that accompanied both the chilli and the chicken burger. The best was yet to come.

After a brief interlude, out came full portions of four of the most popular barbecued meats on offer: beef brisket, pulled pork, beef ribs and pork ribs. Plus, half a dozen accompanying sauces.

I’m not an aficionado of barbecued meats by any stretch, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed these meats. Sometimes low and slow meats can go dry, but this was not an issue at Bootlegger. Unfortunately I was so full by this point that I only managed a forkful of each but was thrilled that Josh agreed to let us take the remainder home for the weekend. The pulled pork was mildly flavoured and had a great texture. The brisket was tasty and tender. The ribs, however, made time stop and we were awestruck: the most sumptuous ribs you could imagine. The pork ribs were wonderful but the BEEF ribs were on another level altogether. Thick, juicy meat and full of umami flavour – this would be my number one pick of the smoked meats at Bootlegger. It will be impossible for me to choose between the Hillbilly Chicken Burger and the Beef Ribs upon my return. I will probably ask Dylan nicely to get the ribs and I’ll get the burger so we can share. #couplegoals

Josh presented us with a showstopper of a caramel milkshake and a lychee mule cocktail to round out the evening. It must have been twenty years since I’ve had a milkshake and my God, it was tempting to scoff the whole thing. The lychee mule was a little sweet to start off with, but soon enough the liberal helpings of mint and lime cut through and made for a very refreshing palate cleanser. We cheekily asked if we could get a takeaway cup for the cocktail (it was massive) but were informed that unfortunately their liquor license didn’t extend to the Gateway!

Overall, Dylan and I were really impressed with Bootlegger. If you’re a fan of smoked meats and hearty soul food, I would heartily recommend a visit next time you’re in the neighbourhood.

Brisbane Foodie and co-star were guests of Bootlegger for this review. All opinions and photos are our own.

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