It's the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl. It's true of the mollusc world and proving to be the case at the Chinatown end of Fortitude Valley. Because, among the strip clubs, nightclubs and bars, against an electric and sometimes rowdy streetscape, Brisbane's most lustrous new venue has taken form inside the heritage-listed General Post Office building, after a $9 million glow up.
Turns out, grandeur feels fresh in this part of the city. From the outset, Tama's opulent intentions are made clear by the menu, which opens with warm native Akoya pearl oysters in sake butter, or Sydney rock oysters with caviar. Speaking of those decadent briny pearls, caviar pops up again in the snacks (a caviar bun with sesame, crème fraîche), and the sauces (a caviar butter to lavish over lobsters). And for the Tsars in the room, there's a black pearl beluga caviar service to keep spirits high for $300. Huzzah!
Less splashy is the house-made rice cracker topped with raw scallop and finger lime; a creamy chopped prawn roll; and a tender wagyu skewer dressed with a makrut lime-heavy chimichurri.
While the snack game is strong, it's deeper into the menu, where chef and co-owner Richard Ousby lands Tama smack bang in the here and now. That's when we head into sea and onto land via the mighty coal-fired Josper grill.
Fillets of Queensland sand whiting arrive with lovely blistered skin and caramelisation, however, on our visit, the flesh is overcooked. No doubt some teething problems getting used to the 400-degree-plus heat. Fortunately, wagyu rump is cooked just so and pairs well with sides such as charred Brussels sprouts with spicy fermented chilli and vincotto, and a technique-perfect potato galette. Though it's a crab bisque linguine that steals the show with its silky strands tossed with sweet blue swimmer crab, baby tomatoes and slivers of chilli, united by a glossy sauce worthy of a finger swipe.
The 80-seater gets its ambitious streak from its owners, Gold Coast-based group, Artesian Hospitality, joined by Ousby (ex-Stokehouse) and director of restaurant operations, Alan Hunter (ex-Otto Ristorante), who came together to turn the GPO into a three-pronged food-and-drink precinct. This pans out as an Art Deco-inspired bar The Gatsby upstairs, a casual restaurant The Tax Office below, and Tama, the jewel in the crown, split between both levels.
Once the door swings open, it all makes sense. The building was always destined for this – double-storey windows, original staircases and high ceilings complemented by velvet booths and a spectacular chandelier.
The decadence stakes are raised yet again by the wine list, offering one of the best by-the-glass lists in town – where else in Brisbane could you order a glass of Krug or Dom Pérignon? Ditto a Manzanilla sherry or a salty white blend from Portugal with local varieties rabigato, côdega, gouveia and viosinho.
No surprise the experience isn't cheap but when the occasion is right, Tama is a pearl of a place to lavish in.