Restaurant Reviews

Brisbane's best restaurants right now (plus one Gold Coast stand-out)

The top restaurants in Brisbane sway between artful fine dining to fine interpretations of Middle Eastern and Thai cuisine. Plus, a Gold Coast diner worth the road trip.

The dining room at Essa in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.
GT's 2022 Qld Restaurant of the Year
The antler on your table is a useful reminder that things can get a little wild at Elska. Not service-wise – floor staff at this intimate, Nordic-influenced, 12-seat dégustation-only fine-diner are exemplary. Décor too, avoids the outré – Scandi-blond dining chairs and sizeable round tables, and the odd reindeer skin hardly raising an eyebrow. It's menu details that can sometimes feel mind-bending over 15 courses. Dried and savoury powdered crickets scattered (surprisingly tastily) over a disc of gamey Marburg-raised emu crudo, say, or the tart green ant garnishes on your crocodile tail dumpling, or perhaps that deeply flavoursome cream laced with marron brain and abalone XO in a puff of brioche bun. Trust the chef and let it flow. A tribute to the Crunchie bar is a cracker pud, intersecting sweet hexagonal tiles filled with fermented honey, salty chocolate and burnt honeycomb. It's a tall order but James Horsfall's canny wine list packs in sufficient quirk to match the kitchen's high-wire performance.
148 Merthyr Rd, New Farm, Qld, elska.com.au
As if Ada Lane wasn't enough of a diner drawcard, along comes Biànca, all rosy-hued terracotta tiling, soft lighting and come-hither charm. Sure it's a scene, but it's so approachable. Cool Italia doesn't take itself or its Europop backing track too seriously, speedy service simply adding to the buzz. Covetable bottles arrayed around the room underline the breadth and depth of the cellar here. And there's lots to pore over at the bar, too, including a stellar line-up of Italian gins. Breads pulled from the wood-fired oven are a standout. Ditto those sage anchovy flavour explosions from the fritti section. Hit the antipasti hard, then round it out with something from the grill; perhaps a butterflied blue mackerel fillet slathered with herby salmoriglio. Or pile into house-made pasta. The paccheri al pomodoro is a signature. Dolce should not be snubbed. There's room in everyone's life for a retro lemon sorbet enchantingly served in its skin over ice.
Ada Lane, 46 James St, Fortitude Valley, QLD, biancarestaurant.com.au
It's a different restaurant to the one originally envisaged, but Essa fits seamlessly into its swish just-off-James Street neighbourhood. Since its late-August launch, the moody, split-level space has been thronged; a mix of dark charcoal walls, exposed brick and striking green marble creating a bolthole for diners to happily disappear within. Phil Marchant's (ex-Gauge head chef) understated menu is created with an eye to sustainability and underpinned by meticulous technique. Grilled Brisbane Valley quail arrives plump and rested – its paper-thin skin is crisp, the bird's meatiness magnified by brown butter and offset by a garnish of tart pickled caper leaves. Airy chickpea beignets score a slick, bisque-like caramelised scallop sauce; while hand-rolled malloreddus shells come bathed in a 'nduja and carrot sauce that showcases the co-starring Fraser Island spanner crab. Service might suffer occasional teething problems but sommelier Phillip Poussart's (ex-Fico, Hobart) list delivers a lively mix of classic and more on-trend choices. Essa is an elegant take on progressive dining.
181 Robertson St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, essa.restaurant
The dining room at Essa, Brisbane. Photo: Brock Beazley
In pursuit of flavour? Gerard's kitchen draws inspiration from its owners' Lebanese heritage but also from chef Adam Wolfers' Sephardic and Ashkenazi roots. This rich multi-layered mix is boosted with an arsenal of techniques – from coal-grilling to fermentation and beyond. A kibbeh snack – crafted from slipper lobster, not the more usual minced meats – sums it up tastily; the sweet oceanic tumble brightened with blood lime and arrayed on a savoury walnut biscuit. Punchy coriander chutney enlivens sweet bar cod, offset by the tang of tiny green tomatoes; coal blistered eggplant is a silken base for crab-a-ganoush – a fluffy spanner crab spin on the dip. Wolfers' breads are exceptional. Service can sometimes be uneven but the pace is smooth, while Mid-century inspired interiors are evergreen. Just like the strawberry booza – a surprisingly classic vibe with its sesame tuile and piped halva cream. Expect a drinks list as cliché-free as the rest of this unique game-changer.
Gerard's Lane, 14/15 James St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, gerardsbistro.com.au
Blow-torched Hervey Bay scallops on a half-shell, accessorised with burnt peanut cream and fiery nam jim. Teriyaki veal sweetbread nuggets crumbed in panko dotted with puffs of salt and vinegar rice. Crisp-fleshed Mooloolaba prawns brightened with macadamia nam prik, then napped with creamy tom yum poured at the table. Surprise is the tasty name of the game at this far-from-typical gallery restaurant, which artfully embraces its location in Brisbane's impressive Gallery of Modern Art. Carefully curated ceramics ensure everything arrives as pretty as a picture, a charcoal-hued bowl framing tandoori glazed barramundi to advantage. The tight drinks list squeezes in four Queensland wines, a chance to sip Granite Belt saperavi, or wild ferment pinot, perhaps. Only open lunchtimes, service is aptly up-tempo. A cheesecake using fromage blanc from local camel milk provides a tasty excuse to linger, its creamy richness balanced with tart freeze-dried raspberries, chewy honeycomb chunks sending diners sweetly on their way.
GOMA, Stanley Pl, South Brisbane, Qld, qagoma.qld.gov.au
Refinement and understatement are words not often thrown around in connection with Queensland's thrusting Gold Coast, but you'll find both qualities in abundance at Labart. The compact Euro bistro-style dining room with sea-green walls and bronze banquettes is confidently low-key chic, while the kitchen's skilfully conceived, classically underpinned dishes ensure the pick of this region's riches are centre-plate. A humble wedge of grilled skin-on pumpkin overachieves in a rich sunshine-hued pumpkin broth, chicly accessorised with its nutty seeds. Briny whole local king prawns arrive split, grilled to perfection, reclining in an intense slick of molten seafood-infused butter. Wagyu hanger steak is anything but prosaic teamed with a crisp rectangle of millefeuille spud, pickled onion strands and a tuna sauce; while chilled bowls ensure popcorn ice-cream arrives in peak condition at dessert. Service is equally smooth. A concise drinks list succeeds, like the experience as a whole, in achieving a balance between old-school and on-trend.
8 West St, Burleigh Heads, Qld, restaurantlabart.com
The entrance to Labart.
Handsome new light-filled riverfront lodgings – in the former digs of Stokehouse Q – mean modish Otto is now an even more alluring prospect for diners keen to push the boat out. A bravura Italian-focused wine list offers plenty to attract buffs, including bio and organic options; and if the menu is more about fine-tuning and luxury extras than gastronomic reinvention, there's a level of polish here that's rare. Local bounty shines in the likes of the signature spaghettini, buttery pasta strands loaded up with sweet chunks of Champagne lobster, dusted with bottarga and brightened with lemon and chilli; or in a classic vitello tonnato that conceals crudo yellowfin tuna slices beneath the traditional caper and tuna cream-blanketed veal. Dapper staff are affable and attentive and there's dry ice theatrics to close as a meringue-capped limoncello-fuelled limone dessert descends. The former occupant's legacy as the home of the long lunch is in deft hands.
River Quay, Sidon St, South Bank, Qld, ottoristorante.com.au
Whether you opt for a three- or five-course tasting – or push the carte blanche button and leave it to the chef – expect a battalion of stellar snacks to start. Each one will be an intricate display of prowess – perhaps seaweed sago crackers laden with lightly soused kingfish, or pitch-black spheres with centres of molten foie gras. RDA is the sort of place where you'll score three breads, two butters (citrus and bone marrow) and service savvy enough to nominate the tastiest combinations. For main, plump duck breast could arrive with a buttery leg-meat kromesky and a geometrically faultless round of celeriac remoulade alongside, sweet black garlic reining in its mustard punch. There's elegance too, in the flatteringly lit room; settings created with comfort as well as aesthetics in mind. The France-favouring drinks list copes adroitly with culinary fireworks, and a showstopping yuzu jelly and mandarin cream dessert in its white chocolate dome is a tour de force finish.
10/959 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, restaurantdanarnold.com
Savvy owners, cleverly textured interiors and lodgings on the hottest strip in town make this casually smart player a true crowd-pleaser. Fare is described as elegant share-style street food but the offer is more nuanced than that, with precisely crafted cocktails and a natural-leaning wine list laced with spice-enhancing varieties. Pull up at the bustling open kitchen and watch dishes fly to the thronged communal tables beyond. Chilled coconut lon (dip) is laden with swimmer crab and makrut lime, a hillock of golden shallots and salmon pearls atop, ready for scooping with crisp wonton wrapper crackers. Tender squid chunks are woven through a vibrant herb salad with a four-chilli dressing. Beef cheeks shred in a burnished dark red curry sauce are crowned with a glutinous pork dumpling. It's fast paced, and confident service is correspondingly fleet-footed. Chill out with a mango gelato and pineapple granita dessert topped with crème fraîche then tucked beneath brittle meringue tiles. It's considered and tasty, like the rest of the package.
Ada Lane, 46 James St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, samesamerestaurant.com.au
Prefer your chargrilled rib served with a side of glamour? Despite its surf and turf allusions, SK is about more than seafood and steak. Although, this glorious venue, all lofty ceilings, epic concrete pillars and pale horseshoe-shaped booths, offers some of Australia's finest examples of both. White jacketed waitstaff are vigilant, monitoring pace discreetly, suggesting sides from the menu's nine-strong potato section – perhaps wagyu fat kipflers – or a salad gussied up with eggs mollet and briny chunks of Moreton Bay bug. One of two sommeliers advise on pairings from a mammoth list, discuss obscure Spanish offerings and grower Champagne, or anything you please. Frock up and relish the meticulous care evident in everything from the Champagne mignonette for Duck Bay bivalves, to the balance achieved by a yellowtail kingfish crudo with jalapeño and white soy. You'll need two to do the signature strawberry cake justice, perhaps an elegant yuzu parfait to finish instead?
Ground level, The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, sk-so.com
Same Same, Fortitude Valley, Queensland. Photo: David Chatfield