Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Official Francie Mays Opening Night in New Farm. Now, unless you have been living under a rock, you’d know that this place has been open for months (you can read my original rave review here) – so the night was really more of an opportunity for the hardworking Francie Mays team to celebrate with their supporters and recognise their achievements. And these guys deserve it…because they are kicking some serious sweet-n-sticky-South-East-Asian-inspired butt.
Local business owners Hayley (the brainchild of this operation) and husband Grant joined forces with Singapore expat and head chef Robert to open what they felt lacked in the area. As a young couple with a young family they loved going out through the week for delicious, authentic and fresh Asian food where they could sit and graze in an easy, laid back atmosphere. They waited, convinced someone would open up such a venue in the ever-burgeoning foodie district of New Farm/Fortitude Valley…and waited…and waited. Until one day Hayley simply said “screw it if no one else is going to do it, we will”. And so, Francie Mays was born.
The name was inspired by Hayley’s grandmother – a hard-nosed, but ever-welcoming, traditional Asian Matriarch who embraces visitors, invites them into her home and guilt-feeds them on miss-matched plates, cutlery and crockery. She is a Tiger Mother – a sentiment shared by many members of the “family” that work here (Francie Mays fosters a wonderful work environment, it isn’t just a “job” to these people and it’s evident in the service delivery). It’s the glue on which the Francie Mays foundation was built and everyone can sympathise, which is what makes Francie’s so unique. Everyone relates to the driving force of good food, good people and no b*llsh!t.
It’s also the epitome of contrasts – a grungy-cool “street bar” on the top level with a cosy, rustic-style “eating house” downstairs. The interior? A collaborate effort between all parties – Hayley with her endless ideas, Simon the architect who took to interpret them and friends of the Francie Mays family who assisted with painting, design and fit out. The transformation from its previous life as the “basement” of the Alibi Room is remarkable. Starting with “the worst possible form of sh!t dag filthy” (aptly described by Simon), and painstakingly scraping back layers of graffitied walls to expose the beautiful original feature red brick, it’s clear the whole project has been a labour of love combined with a resolute belief that this place would succeed. And they couldn’t have been more spot on.
The service is attentive and genuine without the pomp and ceremony, the food ridiculously delicious, inventive and innovative that comes at more than reasonable prices and the dining? A shared experience delivered in a completely new way – think modern tapas of South-East Asia. It’s a place to head after work with friends, family, a big group, just 2 or even on your own for a quick feed. Zone out listening to the fantastic live music or be welcomed and enjoy a chat with the lively and effervescent front of house/marketer/brand ambassador and all round nice guy, Ben.
And on that note here are some salivating delicacies from the opening night! Mr Robert you’ve outdone yourself yet again.
The first dish I tried? The Vegetarian San Choy Bao. A crunchy mix of sautéed snowpeas, capsicum, carrot and shallots served on witlof topped with crispy onion flakes it was a wonderful fresh, salty and sweet start to the evening.
Next up was the Peking Duck Pancake, which was an innovative fusion of a spring roll and a duck wrap. The smoked duck was tender and perfectly cooked with crunchy cucumber and flavoursome hoi sin sauce wrapped inside the thin bread-like pancake.
Then came Popcorn Prawn and Snapper Fish Cakes. OMG. The Popcorn Prawn was unbelievable. Using the smaller shrimp prawns so the focus was on the flavours of honey, szechuan, chilli and seasame, it was simply to die for (meaning there was no way I could stop at one serve). The homemade Snapper Fish Cakes were equally as delicious, with a tasty outer shell and delicate white flesh inside. It went perfectly with the house-made sweet chilli sauce!
Of course it wouldn’t have been a launch event without the famous Lime and Chilli Pepper Calamari (this was my first Francie’s experience), which was – yet again – cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The tangy, zingy coating of spices and crust was sheer tastebud bliss.
Although the last dish is hard to beat, I think this one may have just managed to. My new favourite? * drum roll * the Kung Fu Tofu! This is a dish of lightly fried tofu and edamame pods covered in an intensely delicious peanut sauce with a sprinkling of cassava crisps. Needless to say I went back for a second “bamboo boat serve” to a wave of Robert’s finger “Make sure you save room, there’s still more!”
And more there certainly was. The next platter to be brought out was the Bahn-mi inspired Pulled Pork Sliders. Far out. The pork was so succulent and juicy I may have left a bit of mess on the polished concrete floor when I took my first bite (apologies team). The flavour-packed flesh combined with crunchy purple cabbage and a subtly spicy, sweet and smoky chilli jam is a match made in Asian-street-food-heaven.
Mr Robert’s 21 Spice Fried Chicken followed suit. Biting into the intense herb and spice-crusted crispy skin (you can actually see the different herbs) revealed moist and tender white meat underneath. I don’t know how he does it but Robert cooks the chicken to absolute perfection whilst maintaining a serious deep-fry layer.
After a serve of the richly seasoned fried chicken the Cauliflower Fritters with minted yoghurt was a lovely complement. Lightly fried with a curry-spice coating and dipped in the fresh, punchy raita it was a burst of textures on the palate.
I rounded out my amazing Francie’s Opening experience with a serve of the Oven Baked Crispy Skin Pork Belly, which was so ridiculously sticky and delicious the crackling layer on top stuck to the roof of my mouth! Sitting in a pool of tangy-sweet plum and Chinese wine sauce I couldn’t have asked for a better finale.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Hayley, Grant, Trudy, Robert and Ben for having me and extend my congratulations on what is fast becoming a New Farm icon. The Francie Mays Grand Opening Spectacular definitely delivered on the “spectacular” with utterly marvellous food, incredible live talent an awe-inspiring back story.
Next try? BREAKFAST!