The Sunday Mail – July 2, 2006

IT WAS the betel that did it. A wrap of betel leaves enclosing sandcrab, shaved fresh coconut, chilli and coriander. I’d been to the sub-continent, seen the crimson smiles and dodged the red discharge spattered on almost every flat surface while imagining what narcotic effects the addictive betel nut had on those happily gnawing away.

Not that I expected the same from the leaves, but they intrigued me – and many others, according to our waiter, who said the appetiser was one of this restaurant’s most popular dishes.

The restaurant in question is Citron, at Wilston in Brisbane’s inner-north. Citron bills itself as modern Asian, meaning chef Mark Newman can indulge his passion for exotic flavours from our northern neighbours and we diners can benefit. Most dishes feature at least one of the following: chilli, coriander, vietnamese mint, lemongrass, tamarind, anise or various other Asian herbs.

Apart from the betel leaf wrap, the menu – made up of seven entrees, seven mains and a handful of appetisers and sides – features fish (what type varies) with laksa sauce, pumpkin and snake beans with lemongrass and lime jam; or duck and ginger spring rolls with sour plum dipping sauce and nashi pear salad; and the mouth-watering prawns, calamari, mussels and white fish steamed in tom yum broth with udon noodles and Asian greens . . . you get the picture.

Chef Newman and restaurateur Robert Foley enjoyed years of success with Piccolo at Ascot, and opened Citron about 12 months ago. It occupies a spot in Wilston’s village that has seen several eateries come and go without much fanfare.

Citron, though, looks like it will break that cycle. Judging by the crowd the weeknight we went and by eavesdropping on one or two conversations, it was clear most patrons were return visitors, if not regulars.

But back to the betel. I’d never encountered it on a menu here before, and while there was no sign of the red nut popular in many parts of Asia, the leaf encountered in this particular dish on this particular evening had a lasting effect: I’m hooked.

– Chris Bartlett