The dining scene up north has been on the boil for a few years now, but 2016 might be the best year yet. The Queensland capital has scene-stealing top-end restaurants, on-trend barbecue joints and overflows from the CBD into the outer suburbs in a way not seen in other cities. Brisbane has also become a key market for Sydney and Melbourne restaurateurs opening second restaurants like Shaun Presland’s riverside Japanese fine diner Sake and the newly opened Otto Ristorante from Fink Group (Quay restaurant in Sydney) that picked up best new restaurant at the Good Food Guide Awards in July this year.
Diners in the city are reclaiming the “Brisvegas” monicker that was once used to sarcastically describe the then-quiet city. Now, like Las Vegas itself, Brisbane is an adult playground for foodies with everything from awarded restaurants to killer cheap eats, and everything in between.
Let’s start at the top end, with one of the newest entries into the thriving food scene. Jerome Batten’s Gauge (77 Grey St, South Brisbane; no website) bolted out of the gate this year winning hearts, stomachs and awards for the popular young restaurateur. Batten and his team – chefs Ollie Hansford and Cormac Bradfield – already had form with the wildly popular Sourced Grocer (11 Florence St, Teneriffe; sourcedgrocer.com.au), a café and providore serving upmarket takes on café staples. And now Gauge takes things one step further so the bread you grab with your coffee might be the black fermented garlic bread with burnt butter and burnt vanilla or a bircher muesli that looks like it should be in an art gallery.
This game of “Am I a café, or am I a fine diner?” might be the signature move for laidback Brissie where diners want new flavours but not the white tablecloths that traditionally come with cutting-edge food. Brisbane’s food is playful, creative and casual but comes with a side order of well-perfected technique from chefs that have worked hard to make the city an exciting place to eat. You will find a lot of owner/chefs drawn north by the cheaper rents and opportunity for a sea change.
Cafés like no other
Another café player is the busy gem that is Pearl Café (28 Logan Rd, Woolloongabba; facebook.com/pearl.cafe.brisbane) where you can get a mulberry and pistachio tart or a plate of South Australian sardines with horseradish, pea and radish. Owner Daniel Lewis has further blurred the lines by opening The Servery, a chef’s table up stairs from Pearl where you can watch all the action in a restaurant-style setting. The popularity of this diner in the south-eastern suburbs is proof that Brisbane’s culinary appeal extends well beyond the CBD.
In fact the Brisbane suburbs are full of celebrity chefs (like Ben O’Donoghue’s Billykart in Annerley), upscale burger joints (Getta Burger in Ashgrove) and great affordable eats (Bird’s Best Yakitori in West End). One of the first to head this suburban charge was Brent Farrell of 85 Miskin St (85 Miksin Street, Toowong; 85miskinst.com.au). Farrell had a suburban pop-up popular with locals before converting to a more permanent bricks-and-mortar home to his French-inspired cuisine last year.
This broad reach of good food in the city gives the scene a depth that is often lacking in Sydney and Melbourne; both cities that can be very inner-city centric when it comes to good food. A geographical spread means diners have a wide range of options and can take the pressure of an oversupplied CBD.
American sunshine state revolution
But Brisbane’s dining scene does take some cues from the rest of the county when it comes to food trends. For the past few years Australia has been going crazy for American barbecue and Tex Mex and Sunshine State diners are no exception.
The Smoke BBQ (85 Merthyr Road, New Farm; thesmokebbq.com.au) offers spice-rubbed ribs, buffalo wings and smoked beef quesadillas. Another suburban discovery in an unassuming shopfront is Carolina Kitchen (38 Macaulay St, Coorparoo) that offers American soul food like chilli dogs and wings from its restaurant and on the go at its mobile food truck (check their Facebook page for locations). For Mexican flavours try stalwart Pepe’s (5/48 Goggs Rd, Jindalee; pepesjindalee.com) whose enchiladas are the talk of the town or El Torito (146 Boundary St, West End; eltoritomexican.com.au) which is a more traditional take on southern cuisine but still has favourites like tacos full or shredded meat.
Brisbane has something for every taste, so head north to discover one of the most exciting foodie destinations in Australian right now.
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