The times, they are a changin’. Heritage hotel and valley icon The Wickham Hotel clearly went on a jaunt to Thailand for a refresher and has returned more lithe and gorgeous than ever. An overhaul of the Corner Bar, the car park and kitchens see The Wick shed her pink short shorts for a smart lounging suit appropriate to every occasion. It’s no longer exclusively seen ‘just for the gays’ (though it never was), with a resounding message of ‘come one, come all’ (though it always was) where refurbished spaces and an all-day menu aims to attract a more extensive crowd.
It’s hardly surprising, in an area where you throw a stone and hit The Elephant, Jubilee, Brunswick and Waterloo Hotels, The Flying Cock, Alfred & Constance and Woolly Mammoth Alehouse with Bitter Suite nearby in New Farm. There might be some considered competition as The Valley locals don a modern edge, but amongst all this macho preening, The Wickham certainly brings a softer side to The Valley’s pub game. This is undoubtedly due to the preservation of the LGBTI customs of old, Venue Manager’s Nick Braban’s gentle touch for turning anything bar-like into gold, and the culinary presence of Executive Chef Gillian Hurst.
From the Corner Bar, the disco ball, that centre platform and special beery smell that only The Wick could ever have has been replaced by light fresh paint, warm wooden tones and modern artworks that give a determined nod to its significant LGBTI traditions. While the local crowd could be depended upon any night of the week, the emphasis has changed from simply the disco and beers, to bottles of Veuve Cliquot, classic cocktails and quality pub nosh. Under the guidance of Gillian (a firm favourite from times of yore with Gillian’s Garden Café in East Brisbane), the kitchen has been elevated into the spotlight.
The previously rarely used car park (asides from Gay Day and other major festival-like events) has been transformed into a more practical space and welcoming courtyard bearing a beer garden feel, complete with overhead sails, communal picnic benches, barrel tables, lovely raised gardens beds featuring herbs and hardy Aussie plants and a converted shipping container for comfortably covered lounging. The menu is contemporary share dining, shining the spotlight on Australian Fusion techniques counterbalanced by traditional Aussie nosh that your parents rarely let you eat but your nanna always cooked.
It’s a free-for-all with the taste buds, from the bánh mì baguettes to the Korean hotdog, Moroccan meatballs and wild mushroom arancini. The karaage chicken, pickled radish and sake soy sauce is a firm favourite for the modern Aussie palate, while the pork belly fritters with maple and bourbon glaze and pickled chillis were a balance of heated sweet savoury satisfaction.
That nod to our heritage continues with nostalgic dishes featuring a modern edge from salt and pepper squid with lemon and black garlic aioli, prawns with lemon and green goddess sauce and fat chips with smoked paprika aioli. The aiolis are a revelation, truly augmenting the pub staple to culinary cleverness. One really can’t go wrong with a leg ham, tomato, provolone cheese and dijon toasty accompanied by the light bite of cornichons though the duck liver pate, cornichons and warm toast proves an indulgent and flavoursome delight.
For more substantial appetites, oriental pulled duck sliders with smoked paprika aioli, a fresh uptake on the chicken parmigiana and sliced medium-rare texas grilled steak with red pickle and chipotle sauce will curb solid hunger pangs, though the brioche cheeseburger is an absolute standout. The softness of the brioche with its lush butteriness is a perfect envelope for classic cheeseburger food treks. In saying that, the richness of the pulled duck sliders competes very well in this foodie tournament where you are always the winer.
For the sweet tooth, there’s no slowing down. The signature Wickham sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream is a visual and full-bodied pleasure. Churros with vanilla custard and chocolate cherry sauce means the combination of fried sweetness and chocolate is lightly guffed by the hint of cherry, all richly uplifted by the custard. But the chocolate ice cream sandwich with honeycomb, mint remains a complete standout. The last time I had a homemade chocolate ice cream sandwich was in the 80s; it was indeed a wonderful jaunt down memory lane. This was an upmarket pub menu to suits every palate, all wrapped within vintage newspaper and served up on wooden boards. With glasses of Veuve and jugs of Sangria, this is enjoyable nosh for any season, any reason at any time of the day, or long into the night.
The Wickham Hotel presents an able and ready face in a space knee-deep in local pubs. Now complementing its 125-year old heritage architecture, it still keeps a firm foothold in the modern-day. The ambience is freshly styled and natural; distinctly and proudly Australian.
Photo Credit: Lady Lex