All the conversations around Brisbane's current food game being lifted to never-before-seen heights coalesce beautifully at Agnes. Most satisfyingly, this dark-hued, wood-fired bistro in a Fortitude Valley backstreet triumphs as a sum of its parts.
Chef Ben Williamson's mastery of Agnes's multiple fire pits is obviously the main draw and with good reason. In many restaurants that centre fire and smoke, you can leave feeling like you've been chewing on a lump of coal. Williamson understands the value of light and shade with wood-fired cooking, turning the smoke factor up when necessary (as with brilliant dishes such as slivers of grilled oxheart teamed with a miso hollandaise) but then muting it to little more than a whisper in a dessert that partners charred lemons and white chocolate or a leek and almond side dish centred on clean acidic tang. His balancing act is even more impressive (and important) because all the cooking at Agnes happens without electricity or gas, a decision that brings a level of volatility and chance to every service.
But it's not only this artisan cooking style making Agnes noteworthy. The service team here is one of the best in the country, displaying expertise, enthusiasm and hospitality in equal measure. It's a team which delivers the kind of well-honed and carefully nurtured service that pays attention to each table's order, capable of intervening to suggest adjustments should they feel the meal is becoming unbalanced. Then there's the offer of smaller serves, should you be dining alone or in a small group and wish to sample more of the menu. And it's all accomplished in a way that suggests this crack team is either truly committed to you having a good time or deserving of an Oscar.
There's similar attention paid to the wine list, again focused on the artisan in an intelligently assembled collection of mostly smaller producers (many dwelling in the "natural" space) from across the planet. It's the kind of drinking well suited to all of Agnes's spaces, from the dark hued, fire-lit main dining hall to the upstairs outdoor terrace, and the superb wine bar that's increasingly – and deservedly – establishing itself as a destination in its own right.
In some ways, this dark, shadowy, mostly inward-facing restaurant lit by fires and sporting an almost medieval vibe is not what many would expect from a restaurant in Brisbane. But Agnes is proof that old dining tropes can change, replaced by exciting new ones tapping into a new energy that has Brisbane in its grip.
To see the full list of winners in this year's Gourmet Traveller Annual Restaurant Awards, head over here.