Wedged between two holiday playgrounds – the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, Brisbane has struggled to create its own travel brand despite weather that makes southerners green with envy.
Things have been changing. Dramatically. After a bumper year of new hotel openings, a flurry of festivals and some very people-friendly developments, the River City is pumping and creating its own sub-tropical style.
The new and particularly eye-catching Emporium Hotel at South Bank has been turning heads since opening last November. The Terrace complete with killer views, retractable roof and a backlit floor that seemingly ‘dances’ is the place to be seen every Friday night. Executive Chef Chris Norman is pegged to open a ‘modern elegant’ restaurant next month.
Last year also saw W Hotels re-enter the Australian market with a new ‘Gold Coast-glam’ riverside hotel. Three Blue Ducks have come along for the ride at W opening their first restaurant outside NSW.
Westin opened a resort in the city while Ovolo gave their unmistakable touch to not one but two CBD adjacent properties. TFE Hotels opened the much-anticipated Calile upping James Street’s cool factor even more with the very photogenic Santa Monica-style pool deck. The Gold Coast’s favourite Greek restaurant, Hellenika slips in here seamlessly.
Perhaps it is the very bold $100m Howard Smith Wharves which has generated the most buzz. Styled for the future but embracing the Wharves historic past has given this part of the CBD new life. This isn’t like any other development in the country.
With world-class events like the World Science Festival taking centre-stage, the first Curiocity Brisbane is currently creating quite a few oohs and aahs around the city. The fun runs from augmented reality to music and interactive installations known as ‘Curiocities’ until April 3.
Under the umbrella of Curiocity Brisbane, QODE is a global technology and innovation event for those looking to shape and influence the business landscape. Over two days, more than 1,000 delegates will experience the new event with 15 international speakers, 70 exhibitors and 50 start-ups.
Close to the upcoming Queen’s Wharf action, Treasury Brisbane sits serenely in all its classic, sandstone finery. Utilising two historic and former government buildings, Treasury offers something very different.
Built to house the offices of Treasury, Registrar General and Land Administration. The public spaces of the hotel are both grand and intimate with cozy nooks under soaring 5.5m ceilings.
With the space of a small apartment, Parlour King Rooms are luxuriously appointed. You feel quite regal swanning about in your plush robe and slippers in this elegant, old-world space. With well-lit full marble bathroom, the chance to relax in the over-sized tub makes it all seem extra special.
You may have to tear yourself away, but breakfast at the Lab is most definitely worth getting out of bed.
Black Hide by Gambaro at Treasury Brisbane
Black Hide by Gambaro at Treasury Brisbane is the sort of restaurant you want but rarely get in a casino. With magnificent views of the river and the Brisbane Wheel, you know from the start this is going to be special. No expense has been spared in the glamorous fit-out, but it ‘s what’s on the plate that really dazzles.
The Gambaro family is legendary for their seafood. A few years ago they also opened THE place for beef at nearby Caxton Street. This is the baby of the trio. A very well raised baby. There is beef dry ageing in the cabinet and a wall of very good wine keeping it company. Chateau Margaux anyone? No, the Rockford 2017 Frugal Farmer Grenache/Mataro/Alicante Bouchet will be just fine, thanks.
Service is friendly and polished. Not merely for the high rollers, the wine list and menu are simply a delight to read. We’re pacing ourselves so start with calamari to share. Served on a bed of lightly cooked zucchini and radicchio drizzled with some balsamic love, the calamari is faultless.
Stanbroke Beef is billed as Australia’s best and now I know why. Both our 5+marble score Wagyu eye fillet and 3+ Angus sirloin are cooked exactly as ordered – rare but not bloody. Bearnaise on the left, steamed veggies to the right; what more could you need? This is fine dining at its finest.
Chocolate, Caramel and Coffee is quite wonderful while the date and cardamom tart is refined but dreamy.
The Boom Boom Room
Another 2018 addition, the Boom Boom Room is not easily described. A bar with live music, well-considered cocktail list and an eclectic, retro vibe. The days of expense accounts and long lunches come to mind in what was once the basement of the State Government Insurance Office.
Settling into buttoned, red velvet stools we take our time with cocktail choices, while a two piece outfit belt out pop standards. Based on songs you know and love, the Funk cocktail ‘playlist’ starts with ‘Don’t stop until you get enough‘ – a glamorous concoction of Tanqueray flor de Sevilla, Ruinart, rhubarb and blood orange sorbet, honey and a lick of rhubarb paint for extra pretty. Superb.
‘Fallin’ – Bombay Sapphire, strawberry Vermouth with strawberry and house-made rhubarb wine, Ruinart and lemon oleo is less splashy in presentation but still very good.
Bar food runs from the charcuterie and cheese plates to the more substantial burgers and toasties.
With a night of walking and checking out the Queensland Museum Up Late program we opt for ‘Something Larger on the Menu’ – A Grilled Reuben with pastrami, sauerkraut, gruyere and Russian dressing and a pulled beef rib burger with pickled carrot, coriander and spring onion. Perfect with cocktails or just about anytime.
Howard Smith Wharves has gone from dilapidated, deserted, riverside buildings to a place that locals have been clamouring for. Under the bridge, HSW really enjoys some stellar views – especially as night falls. The casual Felons Brewing and more high-end Mr Percivals were two of the first to open. They’ve now be joined by Fish n Chippery, Arc Dining & Wine Bar and Greca – a modern take on a Greek taverna.
Queues stream out the door as we arrive on a sultry or should I say stifling Sunday afternoon. Inside and out this whitewashed space is filled with tables of laughing families and friends sharing plates and enjoying Aperol Spritz by the jug.
Our ever-smiling, Canadian waitress Haley explains the menu before bringing some of the house specialties and two icy Karpouzi Spritz – Vodka, with just enough watermelon to counteract the astringent Aperol.
Saganaki comes in their own mini frypans – sizzling with cheesy goodness with honey and oregano. The split pea dip with chickpeas comes with the finest bread this side of Athens.
Spoon-tender Lamb shoulder arrives with tzatziki and roasted potatoes and makes my carnivore’s heart sing.
The Village salad is the ideal side – autumn ripe, red, yellow and orange tomatoes with juicy cucumber and crunchy radish, olives and a very Greek slab of feta on top. Along with a cool glass of Greca Rose (Mudgee’s Logan supply the very good house wine), life really can’t get much better.
When dining at Greca someone has to order the Watermelon, Ouzo, Mint for the table to share. Somehow the soused, neon pink melon manages to stay upright on the plate. The lemon meringue pie is not too sweet with puffs of bronzed pavlova-like meringue bursting out of the seriously good lemon curd.
As I write, openings in the River City are coming thick and fast.
• Art Series Hotels have just swung open the doors at The Fantauzzo – named after celebrated portraitist Vincent Fantauzzo.
• The City Winery is sourcing grapes from around Australia and making wine in New Farm.
• Word on the street is Ovolo The Valley will launch a modern Israeli/Mediterranean restaurant soon.
• Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood is due to open a brewery soon.
Breaths are being held for the $3.6b Queens Wharf Casino/Resort/Dining precinct that will add feature Australia’s first Rosewood, Ritz-Carlton and Dorsett hotels. Alongside there’s more than fifty restaurants, bars and cafes on the drawing board. Collectively, Brisbane’s hospo game is being lifted as we speak.
Watch this space!
Disclaimer: This Magnificent Life was a guest of Tourism & Events Queensland, Curiocity Brisbane, World Science Festival Brisbane, Queensland Museum, Treasury Hotel and Casino, The Boom Boom Room, Black Hide by Gambaro and Greca.