A little smoke goes a long way, but restraint is one of chef Ben Williamson's triumphs at wood-fired-only Agnes. While the menu leans unapologetically meaty and the flavour of the grill is put to excellent use, the brilliant ingredients never taste like they've escaped a house fire. Instead, stewed leeks and almonds have a fine, clean, acidic balance, perfect with spectacularly tender lamb sweetbreads or slivers of grilled ox heart lifted by gorgeously rounded miso hollandaise. Other dishes, meanwhile – a betel-leaf roll filled with prawn and pork mince; sweet clams with frothy potato velouté and house-made hot sauce; a dessert that successfully teams charred lemon with white chocolate – barely whisper "smoke". The renovated warehouse embraces the feudal firepit spirit, with the black furniture, double-height ceiling and flickering firelight giving off Game of Thrones vibes – albeit with less slaughter and more great wine that embraces old-world classicism and new-world experimentation.
22 Agnes St, Fortitude Valley, agnesrestaurant.com.au
This pint-sized, chef-run venue isn't quite a portal to Shibuya, but as you push aside ochre-hued noren curtains and slide back the glass door, you certainly leave the Gold Coast behind. Interiors are distinctive, with dark walls, blond timbers and bent cane; tables capped with freeform bluestone slabs. A daily changing menu showcases an equally winning blend of Australian and Japanese sensibility, with local bounty centreplate. Silken chawanmushi might arrive topped with salmon pearls, sweetcorn and briny swimmer crab. Lightly torched strips of Watson's leaping bonito also shine paired with a citrus-forward house ponzu, smoky yuzu kosho and crimson rosella petals. Crisp school prawns crown a claypot of rice and mushrooms, zingy with sansho seasoning. The hits continue to dessert: yuzu-coconut ice-cream and pineapple cake providing an elegant finish. Bustling staff are clued-up about everything, from the sake and small-scale wines through to ingredient provenance. Tiny yet mighty.
Cnr Swan La and Railway St, Mudgeeraba, anekawa.com.au
This impressive 24-seater, an hour's drive southwest from Brisbane, is proof inland Queensland is beginning to blossom. Charming interiors – pressed metal and a posy on every table – set a bucolic scene for chef-owner Jack Stuart's region-focused handiwork. The prix fixe menu might start with charry, crisp-pickled zucchini with mint, followed by "street-style" barbecued baby corn in its husk, with raw-milk cheese sauce and popcorn. It could conclude with blood plums and sheep's yoghurt gelato dusted in fennel pollen. In between, dishes are often enlivened by house ferments – anything from mackerel garum to chilli-fuelled Trinidad Death sauce. Beef short rib arrives teamed with oxheart tomatoes over fermented cashew cheese, with curry leaves and vadouvan. A chicken-fat-imbued kipfler potato is enriched with toasted yeast and chicken-skin crisps. The tight drinks list shows equal consideration, with house-made kumquatcello a fitting conclusion.
5 Church St, Boonah, blumerestaurant.com.au
You'd be crazy to forgo the flavour-forward $75 prix fixe menu at this bastion of fair pricing, but be sure to add a turnip cake or two. Here, the rejigged dim sum favourite employs turnips in place of the usual daikon, creating a crisp-edged base for layered raw scallops, blinged up with inky XO sauce. At $6, it's a tutorial in making magic on a shoestring budget, and that same cleverness pervades the entire dining experience, overseen with assuredness on the floor. The "all-class, no-fuss" theme is just as evident in the historic brick-and-timber digs and short all-Aussie wine list as it is in the simple desserts: plum granita with yoghurt mousse, say, or peach polenta cake. Sides such as duck-fat chips and a righteously dressed leaf salad show an eye for detail, too, standing up to the likes of house-aged duck with greengage plum and butter-soft sugarloaf cabbage with ease. An inner-city diamond.
617 Stanley St, Woolloongabba, clarencerestaurant.com
Even those averse to fussy fine dining can relax at RDA. Sure, there's a lot going on, but it's delivered with such compelling flair. Take the suite of intricate snacks, for instance – perhaps citrus-cured whiting crudo with confit yuzu on tapioca chips, or rectangles of beef tartare with cornichon purée and potato crisps. And what of the wide-ranging, French-leaning drinks list? The impeccable house brioche, cheese trolley and petits fours to finish? Exceptional produce and rigour are constants throughout. Think Ben Collison's line-caught coral trout with slippery jacks and beurre noisette, or duck presented as a slow-cooked leg and textbook breast, with celeriac and black garlic. Come dessert, a dark chocolate gavotte biscuit piped with rosella cream is a test case for considered maximalism, embellished with pickled rosella and a ripple of perky Davidson's plum ganache. Interiors are just as polished, all dark walls and tactile materials, providing earthy contrast to the culinary pyrotechnics.
10/959 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, restaurantdanarnold.com
Details matter here in this split-level dining room, with its swish marble bar and hard-working wood-fired grill. Like the butter, churned with Jersey cream from the Scenic Rim. Or the thick-cut sourdough, made with sustainable wheat. You'll want an extra slice to mop up the citrusy macadamia milk and lemon-myrtle oil used to dress pristine snapper crudo swathed in black-edged slices of kohlrabi. Charred sweetcorn and ricotta ravioli is similarly adventurous, coated in grated mortadella and a smoky, buttery corn-husk sauce enriched with kombu and parmesan. Rolled organic Longreach lamb saddle, meanwhile, arrives stuffed with the trimmings and served over spinach, pepitas and zingy gremolata. Desserts lean savoury, too – perhaps a play on pumpkin pie featuring pumpkin curd and piped meringue dusted in chilli. Factor in attentive service and a wine list that balances new-wave locals and old-world prestige, and it adds up to a satisfyingly grown-up experience.
181 Robertson St, Fortitude Valley, essa.restaurant
Mind-blowingly complex snacks launch the high-kicking, overachieving culinary performance that takes place in this moody 24-seat basement diner. Perhaps paper-thin wagyu beef wafers dotted with shiitake and chestnut mushroom creams, or dry-aged marlin sashimi brightened by shiso vinaigrette and yuzu kosho. There's free-flowing smoky duck consommé, too. Larger plates, delivered by the chefs, display the same honed skill and reverence for flavour. Like hand-cut fallow deer tartare with crisp folds of celeriac on top and a roasted sesame base. Or gloriously marbled wagyu yakiniku glazed in fermented cherry sauce with brown butter and heirloom corn. A Thai tea and salted coconut milk dessert with mandarin oil is equally well-tuned. While stellar drink pairings double down on the sense of adventure, shooting the breeze with affable sommelier Jemima Phillips is a joy all its own. A truly world-class exhibition.
109 Edward St, Brisbane, exhibitionrestaurant.com
Few spots compare to Hellenika's terrace on a balmy Brisbane evening, with its trailing greenery, cushioned garden seats, the glitter of the hotel pool and promise of what could be Australia's finest Greek cooking. It's a mighty combination, made even more so by a discerning drinks line-up that marries rare Hellenic hits with good-time global labels. Whether you opt for a fixed-price feast or choose to freewheel, be sure to include something from the notable fish selection. Think local mahi mahi with fragrant dill sauce, or luxe Athenian makaronada – tomatoey spaghetti gussied up with garlic, chilli and white wine topped with southern rock lobster. The village salad is rightly considered a yardstick, but fasolakia rocks too, all squeaky Tabasco-dressed green beans and (yes) more tomato. Dolmades stuffed with minced veal are non-negotiable as is the baked lamb shoulder, which ticks every box. To finish? A bougatsa custard slice with bronze, cinnamon-dusted filo smashed at the table. Smashing stuff, indeed.
1st floor, The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley, hellenika.com.au
On paper, it sounds almost unworkable. But tiny Joy – a dégustation-only 10-seater – remains one of Queensland's hottest bookings, not least due to owner-chef Sarah Baldwin's exceptional clarity of vision. The best way to snag a seat is via an Instagram cancellation, which could take months. Luckily, perseverance is repaid with a unique dining experience enjoyed beside the calmly purposeful kitchen. Expect an explosion of contrasting flavours and textures. Intricacy is a given across a handful of snacks, followed by a benchmark chawanmushi spiked with lime and stacked with toasted quinoa, salty-sweet roasted enoki mushrooms and salmon roe. Hot cumin-spiced brown butter gives ocean trout ceviche a new edge, with focaccia for dipping. Beef tartare arrives with pine nuts, seaweed and fresh pear, while beetroot and bee pollen sherbet ensures an apple and lemon myrtle cream cheese dessert zings. Brilliant off-piste drinks pairings – Chinese pineapple beer, say, or an oloroso sherry and sobacha cocktail – also spark true joy.
Shop 7, 694 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, joyrestaurant.com.au
Eating coral trout within the vicinity of one of the world's most impressive reefs is a sensible choice, and it's made all the better by chef Benjamin Wallace who dresses it in heady lemongrass and makrut lime. A taste of the tropics can also be found in the bold and balanced small dishes – betel leaves topped with pomelo, coconut and just-set prawns, say, or ma hor with watermelon underpinning a scoop of salty-sweet caramelised pork. While mains stick more closely to the traditional Thai playbook, there are exceptions; mushroom larb, for instance, makes a strong case for more vegetarian takes on typically meat-focused classics. As for the room, there's as much vibrance on the walls as there is on the plates, thanks to co-owner Rachael Boon's murals – yet another way Jungle Fowl brings its brand of finessed fun to Far North Queensland.
2/28 Wharf St, Port Douglas, junglefowl.com.au
In a region often associated with doing the opposite, this comfortable European-style bistro nails the "underpromise and overdeliver" brief. A creative and precise entrée of plump figs, scallop crudo and jamón dashi is a case in point; you might not even notice the shavings of house-cured mojama or the creamy walnut sauce pooling alongside, but you'll taste their impact. An anchovy and hazelnut vinaigrette, meanwhile, revs up a barbecued mackerel fillet on a soft mix of burnt tomato and shallots. Juicy Brisbane Valley quail is brined, steamed and air-dried before hitting the charcoal and joining smoky eggplant, tahini and fermented cabbage on the plate. Nectarine sorbet might seem like a straightforward dessert, but the finer details – jasmine granita, white chocolate cream, tiny herb sprigs, a fine dice of accompanying fruit – and perfect serving temperature prove it's anything but. Affable, attentive staff and a plunder-worthy lo-fi wine list complete the first-rate package.
8 West St, Burleigh Heads, restaurantlabart.com
Don't let the location – in the heart of Maroochydore's new CBD, surrounded by construction – put you off. Once you've settled into the elegant trappings of Market Bistro, what with its foolproof combo of watchful service and unpretentious, well-executed food, it's easy to forget what's happening outside. Here, even the simplest things demand your attention: grilled flatbread with French onion dip, say, or burrata atop a spiced semi-dried tomato fondue with crisp crackers. Chef Daniel Dobra has a way with seafood, and it shows through tender char-grilled octopus tossed with an oily mix of garlic, dried chilli and oregano, or delicate fillets of pearl perch in a butter-rich Champagne sauce, speckled with diced Mooloolaba prawns. The benefit of having an attached bottle shop is the ability to buy at retail price and pay a small corkage fee. Pop in, ask the friendly staff for advice and they'll point you in the right direction. Big wins all around.
8 Market La, Maroochydore, marketbistro.com.au
Pilloni's crack team knows just how to celebrate Sardinia in all its glory. Crisp, wafer-like pane carasau arrives unprompted to kick things off, with fluffy goat's curd and a blizzard of house-cured bottarga. It's a generous, gratis opener, perfect with a glass from an exceptional drinks offering packed with vini seldom found in Australia – layered, honey-scented granazza from Mamoiada, perhaps, or a full-bodied nasco di Cagliari? Wood-fired is the way here, from the hay-smoked butter on herby anchovy crostini through to the burnt mango lending depth to olive-oil cake with milk gelato. Request seats in the luxuriously rustic "camino" dining room to watch the open kitchen pump out crackling-topped suckling pig, nimbly charred octopus or fermented roast carrots with yoghurt and macadamia. Or be seduced by the picture windows, lime-washed terracotta floors and pale blue tones of the light-filled terrazza. No matter where you land, it's a vivid snapshot of sun-kissed island life.
166 Hardgrave Rd, West End, pilloni.com.au
Same Same's main room provides dining drama aplenty: flames flashing, woks hissing in the central open kitchen, communal tables channelling Thailand's streets through a glamorous lens. The window bench seats facing Ada Lane, by contrast, offer unparalleled opportunities to observe well-heeled Brisbanites at play. Both are good options, made all the better by excellent, on-theme cocktails and fresh, clean-lined Aussie-Thai food served by a truly impressive floor team. While the cooking may not rock any chilli-salty-sour boats, it thrills with balance from the start, in snacks such as sprightly prawn "tacos" in rice-paper shells. Kampot pepper, meanwhile, accentuates a brilliant pork green curry, just as a dousing of black vinegar turns morning glory into a knee-weakening side dish. A smart wine list, equally enamoured with funky and classic, plus desserts fond of tamarind and pandan also make this a sterling example of Brisbane dining right now.
Shop AM3, Ada Lane, 46 James St, Fortitude Valley, samesamerestaurant.com.au
There's an appropriate seafood skew at Brisbane's top Chinese fine-diner, named after Hong Kong's Stanley Bay. And you should certainly revel in Queensland painted crayfish tossed through buttery lo mein noodles, tank-fresh Tasmanian rock lobster and pristine steamed coral trout. However you decide to play it, though, don't skip the barbecue. Chef Louis Tikaram's five-spice roast duck is a benchmark; ditto his char siu. Richly savoury Fujian fried rice with sweet blue swimmer crab is always on lock, as is much of the dim sum and the baby pineapple granita with lime sago jelly – a signature since day one. Stanley's home, a heritage gem at Howard Smith Wharves, spans two humming levels with evocative parquetry and low-lit murals, while out on the deck the city and water views set the mood. The deep cellar, as broad as the river alongside, has an answer to every question you throw at it, too. A cracker.
Howard Smith Wharves, 5 Boundary St, Brisbane, stanleyrestaurant.com.au