"Beautiful one day, perfect the next." The old tourism campaign might still be true of Queensland as a whole, but in Brisbane "busy one day, even busier the next" is closer to the mark. The city is buzzing with activity and teeming with growth, not least in food, drink and travel.
Clues are everywhere across the city. The huge construction crater on William Street, for instance, will be filled by a chunk of the new Queen's Wharf precinct when it arrives in 2022. The $3.6-billion casino resort will bring 50 new cafés, restaurants and bars plus a handful of luxury hotels in its wake, including The Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood and Dorsett Brisbane. A second runway at Brisbane Airport, the fruit of an eight-year project, is on track for 2020.
Howard Smith Wharves, an ambitious $110-million development of a disused wharf at inner-city Kangaroo Point, is due to dock before the end of the year. The setting will provide digs for an upscale 164-room hotel, convention facilities, Felons Brewing Co., and Mr Percival's, a bar designed by local Anna Spiro. It'll also be home to three promising new restaurants. Greca, a modern take on the Greek taverna, is a collaboration between chef Jonathan Barthelmess and designer George Livissianis, their follow-up to The Apollo in Sydney. There's a new izakaya, Toko Brisbane, and Stanley, a two-storey Hong Kong-inspired 180-seater from Brisbane restaurateurs Andrew and Jamie Baturo.
Brisbane scored its first five-star city hotel in two decades with the arrival in August of W Brisbane. Ovolo unveiled the new-look Ovolo Inchcolm in inner-city Spring Hill and is putting the finishing touches to Ovolo The Valley, a rebranding of the former Emporium Hotel in Fortitude Valley.
At South Bank it's full steam ahead with Emporium Hotel 2.0, a $600-million project with eateries including street-level French Pâtisserie and bistro Belle Époque, as well as a rooftop bar with à la carte offerings.
Three Blue Ducks opened its first branch outside New South Wales at the W Brisbane earlier this year. Chef and co-owner Darren Robertson says Brisbane hospitality has a flavour all its own. "Brisbane is more open to where the scene is going. It's ready for an injection of more restaurants and bars and breweries. There's an acceptance and an excitement about it."
Restaurateur-chef Philip Johnson has been a veteran of the Brisbane dining scene for three decades. In March he relocated his flagship E'cco Bistro from the city-fringe site it called home for 22 years to a space in Newstead.
Johnson is on course to fire up a Southeast Asian alfresco sibling to sit alongside E'cco 2.0 in the Haven precinct in October. He believes the tastes of local diners have changed significantly in recent years. "It's all about providing an experience now," he says. "Food only accounts for about 50 per cent – in the past it was more like 70 or 80 per cent. People just want to have a really great time when they go out."
Yet there's no shortage of good-food credentials at one of the city's most keenly awaited projects. The Valley's $100-million hotel complex on James Street, The Calile Hotel, has drafted Kitak Lee, former head chef of The Chef's Table at Melbourne's Kisumé, to oversee its all-day Lobby Bar. And out by the pool sits the Brisbane branch of Hellenika, the celebrated Greek restaurant from Gold Coast restaurateur Simon Gloftis.
Another outfit in expansion mode is the Ghanem Group. Director Nehme Ghanem is bullish about the future of the Queensland capital. His eateries include popular riverside restaurant Blackbird Bar & Grill, and the elaborate fit-outs at the group's latest projects, a neo-Chinese eatery Donna Chang and its bar, The Boom Boom Room, are budgeted at $4 million. Both are located in the city's new Adina Apartment Hotel.
"We want to market to our existing clientele," Ghanem says, "but with the amount of money and effort we're putting in, we're ready – and we think Brisbane is ready – to take it to the next level."
1. Howard Smith Wharves
This bold riverside redevelopment at the edge of the CBD will bolster the dining scene with restaurants, a 164-room hotel, a brew-pub (Felons Brewing Co.), the octagonal-shaped bar Mr Percival's and more. It's slated to unfold before year's end with Greca, the new restaurant from Jonathan Barthelmess and George Livissianis, due to open in November. The chef and the designer's best-known collaboration is The Appolo in Sydney, and Greca promises similar clean lines and fresh takes on Greek cuisine. Expect the likes of grilled lamb intercostals with wild weeds, oysters with lemon and sorrel, and plenty in the way of grilled seafood, as well as flatbreads and tarts from the stone oven. Greca will be complemented by izakaya Toko Brisbane, and Stanley, a two-storey restaurant that takes Hong Kong as its muse. The draft menu includes lobster, chive and ginger noodle rolls, Moreton Bay bugs fried with chilli oil and prickly ash, and hand-picked mud crab and bamboo pith sautéed with noodles, while chef Kym Machin also flags Hong Kong-style roast goose as a highlight.
5 Boundary St, Brisbane, howardsmithwharves.com
2. Donna Chang
A jackfruit soft-serve with green ants. Hong Kong-style milk tea-and-coffee turned into a crêpe cake with wattleseed cream. Dessert is dialled to maximum impact at Donna Chang. There's a sprinkling of Australia, too. Crisp-skinned roast duck could arrive with Davidson's plum, char siu pork neck with rockmelon blossom honey and there's Queensland grouper and Fraser Island spanner crab in the tanks. An extensive yum cha lunch offering will be served in a striking dining room mixing neo-Classical detailing with soft pink, sage and duck-egg blue tones. Three private dining rooms inhabit a mezzanine level, and The Boom Boom Room, a flamboyant table-service bar by the same team, occupies the basement.
171 George St, Brisbane, (07) 3234 4388, donnachang.com.au
3. The Callie Hotel
Kitak Lee, a former head chef of omakase destination The Chef's Table at Melbourne's Kisumé, is aboard as executive chef overseeing The Calile's all-day venue, Lobby Bar, where he plans to offer the likes of duck confit, cured in shio koji, with baby carrots, and honey-cider jelly with grated pecorino. Over by the pool, meanwhile, celebrated Gold Coast eatery Hellenika brings its famed taramasalata, char-grilled
octopus, Junee lamb and Greek salad with a breezy offering that includes cocktails and cabanas.
48 James St, Brisbane, (07) 3607 5888, thecalilehotel.com
4. Emporium Hotel Southbank
There's plenty to choose from at the new Emporium. Belle Époque is an updated reprise of the team's original French bistro, which opened at Fortitude Valley a decade ago, incorporating a pâtisserie and Champagne bar. The Terrace, a rooftop poolside eyrie, has à la carte offerings to go with the dramatic views. As we go to press the hotel's planned fine diner, Opal, is on hold and awaiting a new name, following last-minute changes in the kitchen. Former Gold Coast Palazzo Versace executive chef Chris Norman has replaced Josue Lopez as head of food and beverage.
267 Grey St, South Bank, 1800 346 835, emporiumhotels.com.au
5. Little Valley
This remixed Chinese eating house is a sibling for Burleigh Heads' Rick Shores. There are no dramatic ocean views – instead expect modish warehouse interiors with blond parquetry flooring, black banquettes and striking brass scaffold feature lighting. It creates a buzzy backdrop for the kitchen's fast-paced regional hits, cherry-picked from across China. Dive into dumplings, perhaps chive and lobster har gow, or caviar-topped prawn and XO siu mai served in steamer baskets. Or try remastered classics such as a hand-cut wagyu tartare funked up with Sichuan mayo, potato crisps and pickled vegetables. Roast pork neck comes polished with a char siu glaze, steamed snapper is pristine in a broth of Shaoxing wine, ginger and sesame oil, while mushrooms score a kung pao sauce.
6 Warner St, Fortitude Valley, little-valley.com.au
6. Three Blue Ducks
The Ducks' newest nest is a relaxed design-savvy mix-and-match affair. Three storeys up, it sits in the well-upholstered quarters of the W Brisbane hotel, opening to a curvy balcony overlooking the Brisbane River. Enthusiastic diners have made grilled Moreton bay bugs with XO butter and charry cavolo nero a signature but co-owner chefs Darren Robertson and Mark Labrooy's Thai-style whole fish with coconut brown rice, the rôtisserie chicken slathered in fermented chilli and the dips with puffy flatbreads warm from the wood-fire oven are on high rotation, too. There's a decent line-up of natural wines literally on tap and prices are keen. Or score an A-1 breakfast with great Single O coffee and water views.
Level 3, W Brisbane, 81 North Quay, Brisbane, (07) 3556 8833, threeblueducks.com/brisbane
When Tokyo meets Brisbane in a scruffy Fortitude Valley back alley, good things ensue. A cracking lobster katsu sando, say, or whole snapper karaage with pickles, perhaps, while a nicely diverse wine list is backed up by a strong showing of Japanese whiskies and fun cocktails. This darkly glamorous 70-seater is the latest venue from Tyron Simon, a key member of the original Rick Shores team and co-owner of bustling Thai destination eatery Longtime. Interiors are a study in contrasts with extensive use of shou sugi ban charred timbers, eye-catching chandeliers and an open kitchen commanded by Nathan Lastevec, former head chef of Longtime. Japanese chef Kogi Ohori heads up the centrepiece raw bar. There are no bookings after 6.30pm unless you bring a gang of eight or more but a separate bar called ÔÔ (pronounced "double-O") makes a suitably sophisticated, moodily lit holding pen at busy times.
Alden St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3193 7392, honto.com.au
8. Black Hide By Gambaro at Treasury Brisbane & Persone
The Gambaro family's second steakhouse, a 155-seat city-centre sibling for its Caxton Street venture, occupies high-ceilinged quarters in the Treasury Brisbane casino. The look is clubby, with plush velvet bucket chairs and a mix of marble-and timber-topped tables, built on the bones of a heritage building with tall timber-framed French doors and wood panelling. Service is formal but friendly. As you'd expect, beefy classics are precisely rendered – the tartare of Angus eye fillet, for instance, is hand-chopped, topped with a raw quail egg, and plated with shallot, cornichons and chilli. Steaks include organic and grass-fed options, all accompanied by a haul of potatoes roasted in wagyu fat. The Gambaros' new standalone offering Persone, a smart-casual Italian venture with even better river views, is now open at Brisbane Quarter alongside the W Brisbane. Diners can expect a classic, lengthy menu from crudi to regional treats such as bistecca alla Fiorentina and rigatoni with rabbit ragù and pecorino. Pizze and snacks such as arancini and polpette will also feature at the bar.
Black Hide By Gambaro at Treasury Brisbane, top of Queen Street, Level 1, Treasury Brisbane, Brisbane, (07) 3306 8420, treasurybrisbane.com.au;
Persone, 300 George St, Brisbane, (07) 3369 9500, persone.com.au
9. Restaurant Dan Arnold
Chef-owner Dan Arnold's first restaurant is a family affair, with his French-born wife, Amelie Arnold, managing the floor. It's the owner-operator couple's bid to share all they've learned during 15 years in hospitality. Both Arnolds worked at two-starred French restaurant Serge Vieira and while this background informs the kitchen's ambition, no one takes themselves too seriously here. The complex dishes display contemporary French flair: pink-tinged oca yam carpaccio and confit Jerusalem artichoke come with livers of black truffle and foamed hazelnut cream, while lamb belly and loin is complemented by a celeriac pureé with Espelette pepper, lightly pickled onion and wedges of roasted celeriac.
959 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3189 2735, restaurantdanarnold.com
This joint endeavour by Brisbane restaurateur Nick Pinn (Malt Dining, Malt Traders et al) and Gold Coast operator Sridhar Penumechu (Saffron) is a modern take on regional Indian cuisine. Expect reworked Indian hits and fusion twists from a kitchen overseen by chef Manjunath Mural, of the highly regarded Singapore restaurant Song of India. You might have coconut poached lobster tail with chilli and makrut lime, or perhaps flambé lamb with heirloom carrots, French beans and mint chutney. Street food, small plates and tandoor-cooked treats feature on the bar menu.
Brisbane Quarter, 300 George St, Brisbane, heritij.com.au
11. Golden Pig
Katrina and Mark Ryan's cooking school and café, which was reborn after a lightning rejig in July as a pan-Asian restaurant, is worth tracking down. There's a Thai influence on the street-style menu that reflects Katrina's former tenure at the cooking school at Spirit House on the Sunshine Coast, but you'll also find the likes of Sichuan-spiced half duck, potsticker dumplings and deep-fried ice-cream. Interiors are low-key with polished concrete floors and trailing greenery.
38 Ross St, Newstead, (07) 3666 0884, goldenpig.com.au
12. La Cache à Vín
The new venue from serial restaurateurs Thierry and Carol Galichet is in the cellar of an old Spring Hill tavern. A follow-up to Montrachet, which they sold in 2015, this rustic offering favours the same robust, traditional French fare – pissaladière on buttery puff, plates of duck charcuterie – perfect with a glass or three from the inspiring cache of all-French wines. From gutsy cassoulet to Gruyère-laced soufflés, the Gallic greats rule.
215 Wharf St, Spring Hill, (07) 3924 0501, lacacheavin.com.au
13. E'cco Bistro
A Brisbane institution, E'cco relocated in March to digs on the ground floor of a high-end Newstead apartment building. Smart, contemporary interiors mixing stone, blond wood and marble are in tune with chef-owner Philip Johnson's precise, producedriven approach. Braised short rib might be paired here with pickled shiitake mushrooms and smoky Jerusalem artichoke purée, while fried cauliflower is anchored by fried sage leaves and an anchovy custard. The wine list is concise yet offers a surprisingly broad range, including a line-up of natural wines. Sister venture The Terrace, a more casual alfresco Southeast Asian-influenced 55-seat venue, is set to open this month.63 Skyring Tce, Newstead, (07) 3831 8344, eccobistro.com.au
14. Motorwagen Cafe & Restaurant
Mercedes-Benz's new city-centre showroom brings unexpectedly tasty benefits – a café-restaurant owned by Sam Pask, former restaurant manager at Otto Brisbane. Breakfast might include pipis and housemade chorizo with fermented chilli and spiced cabbage, while lunch and dinner step up with charred king oyster mushrooms with dashi buckwheat porridge, pickled chilli and sesame pressed carrots, and yellowfin tuna sashimi with cauliflower sorbet and squid-ink crisps.
300 Adelaide St, Brisbane, motorwagen.com.au
15. The Westin Brisbane
Having only opened its doors early November last year, The Westin offering includes The Charles', a café-wine bar at street level, and Eden's Table, a smart-casual health-focused eatery on the first floor. The five-star hotel also has Nautilus Pool bar, a resort-style 300 square-metre pool with swim-up bar and a huge deck to match.
111 Mary St, Brisbane, (07) 3557 8888, starwoodhotels.com