Food News

​​Coming soon: Essa, the long-awaited sequel to Brisbane’s Gauge

It's been four years in the making and at last, the Fortitude Valley eatery is set to open this month. That is, if lockdown doesn't get in the way.

Essa co-owner Angela Sclavos and chef and co-owner Phil Marchant.


To say it’s been a slow burn up to this point would be an understatement. But for the new owners of Essa in Brisbane, it will be worth the wait.

Essa, originally conceived as a follow-up to South Brisbane’s Gauge, is set to open in late August. And with gorgeous digs just around the corner from The Calile Hotel in Fortitude Valley, it’s likely to become a popular drawcard at this busy dining precinct.

Like Gauge, Essa will focus on adventurous but approachable, produce-led dining. “It will be understated luxury, share plates in style and fine-dining in foundation,” says head chef Phil Marchant.

Marchant is a former head chef at Gauge who honed his skills at London’s Michelin-starred Pied à Terre. He’s also co-owner at Essa, together with Angela Sclavos, who’s also behind the soon-to-open Lebanese restaurant and deli project, The Green.

There will be other familiar faces at work in Essa’s open kitchen. Gauge stalwart Cormac Bradfield and up-and-comer Fin Burgess are both onboard as joint sous-chefs. Gauge owner Jerome Batten, however, is no longer involved, choosing to step away to concentrate on Gauge.

The long, slim, split-level venue offers a range of spaces for dining and mingling. Essa’s simple street frontage, with its brass mesh window treatment, gives little clue to the handsome interiors beyond. The main dining space is kitted out with dark leather, bottle-lined steel wine alcoves, exposed feature brick and polished concrete; the bar, meanwhile, is clad in elegant green marble.

But at the heart of the 60-seater is the hefty wood-fired grill which will drive Essa’s menu.

“We’ll use this to cook proteins during service but there’s a lot of heat created during the day, so we’ll also be drying produce overnight and cooking stuff in its embers,” Marchant says. “When you read the menu there will be an element of wood-fire throughout. I want to use it in the pastry section and we’ll be smoking oil, garlic and butter to use in dishes.”

The menu might read simply, but the devil is in the detail. Dishes could include chickpea beignets with spanner crab; spatchcocked quail, say, with capers, lemon, brown butter and saltbush; or kohlrabi that’s been scorched, peeled, lightly pickled in chardonnay vinegar, then sliced charcuterie-style over fresh house-made curd with pistachios and pistachio oil.

The raw bar, meanwhile, will operate between 4pm and 5.30pm, and after 9pm, when the kitchen closes. It will serve a tight, concise menu of oysters (with optional caviar), crudo, tartare and charcuterie. “They’ll be simple but creative plates,” says Marchant.

Essa’s simple street frontage gives little clue to the handsome interiors beyond.

And though Brisbane is weathering its current lockdown, Marchant is already eyeing the future. The plan is to collaborate with local farmers such as Loop Growers, a closed-loop farm in Samford, north-west of Brisbane. “I don’t want to say we’ll be farm-to-table but we want to save all our kitchen waste,” he says. “We want to be more [environmentally] aware – moving away from an order sheet and towards a crop or a harvest, and to let that affect our cooking.”

On Sundays they plan to run a fixed-priced lunch as a testing ground for new menu ideas. The wine selection, under the watch of former Fico sommelier Phil Poussart, will become tighter and more focused in time. “In the longer term we’ll be looking towards regenerative agriculture for both food and wine,” says Marchant.

What’s more, the adjacent space is currently being remade as a 24-seat bar, with plans for its unveiling later this year. That is, if lockdown doesn’t get in the way.

“We’ve all been through lockdown a few times now and we know the drill,” says Marchant. “We hope that as soon as lockdown is lifted, we’ll be able to start planning our opening again.”

Essa is set to open in late August 2021, pending lockdown restrictions.

On Saturday 7 August, Essa will be offering a take-home dinner menu. Prices start at $96 per person.

181 Robertson St, Fortitude Valley, Qld

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