The round-up: the biggest food openings of the year (so far)
While it’s hard to get our head around the looming threshold that is 2022’s half-way mark, once we take stock of all that has happened this year it becomes easier to see why time has moved at such a blistering pace. Rain, floods and election campaigns aside, the first half of 2022 has been filled with a host of hospitality openings, from ultra-luxe sushi restaurants and resort-style rooftop bars to punk-inspired boozers and sandwich-slinging general stores. We’ve decided to take a beat and reflect on the past six months, collating a list of what we think have been the biggest foodie openings of the year so far.
Sushi Room, Fortitude Valley: It’s been a big year for the STK Group. The culinary kingpins behind Hellenika and SK Steak & Oyster (as well as fellow 2022 newcomer, the colourful Sunshine) expanded its portfolio of restaurants at The Calile in June with Sushi Room – a sophisticated fine diner that might be the team’s most luxurious concept yet. The 60-seat restaurant occupies a new custom-built space in the hotel, with lauded architects Richards & Spence drawing upon traditional Japanese design and mid-century pop culture for the restaurant’s design, described as something akin to the neo-futuristic style of the 1960s. Sushi Room’s monochromatic dining floor, which boasts a 9.3-m solid Japanese Hinoki timber sushi bar as its centrepiece, sits below a custom-built mezzanine level housing a red-hued private bar and dining space that seats an intimate eight diners. Ex-Kiyomi sous chef Shimpei Raikuni is helming the restaurant as head chef, putting his razor-sharp skills to work executing a predominantly sushi and sashimi-focused menu. Exceptional fresh seafood like Hiramasa kingfish, Tasmanian uni and New Zealand alfonsino is transformed into sashimi and nigiri imbued with a dignified simplicity, while caviar toro toro sushi, tempura lobster, Kagoshima sirloin yakimono and ponzu-dressed oysters also feature. The jewel in Sushi Room’s crown is its 18-course two-hour omakase, where diners are guided through a sensational gastronomic adventure by chef Shimpei. Throw in an attentively assembled list of Japanese sake pairings and whisky, alongside an extensive globe-spanning wine list, and you’ve got what might be the most impressive debut of the year.
Exhibition, Brisbane City: Tim Scott is a chef that knows what he likes. When Tim left Joy., the acclaimed restaurant he co-founded with Sarah Baldwin, in 2019, he immediately started putting ideas together for his next project – a restaurant that was designed to offer something more than just a good meal. Exhibition, the intimate semi-subterranean eatery and bar that Tim opened on Edward Street in early June, is looks to create an indelible experience via a sense-enlivening mix of art, design and food. Tim has carefully curated every detail of the restaurant, from the floor plan to the calligraffiti adorning the entrance steps to the extensive range of serving ware (which Tim has assembled with the help of a cadre of artisans). Taste and texture are core elements at work at Exhibition, with Tim’s detail-oriented approach perhaps best exemplified by the menu. Drawing inspiration from Japanese-style kaiseki, Tim is showcasing uncommon ingredients across an ever-evolving multi-course menu that traverses snacks like sashimi scampi, churros with sturgeon caviar and abalone liver parfait into larger plates of roasted duck crown with beetroot in a duck dashi masterstock, and wagyu yakiniku with sweet and sour cherry, sugarloaf and black truffle. Exhibition’s ten-seat bar is where the beverage selection is concocted and distributed, with short list of wine from small ethically minded producers, craft spirits and sake joining a concise cocktail list that has been designed to be complementary in nature to the kitchen.
Hervé’s Restaurant and Bar, Albion: What do you get when a front-of-house superstar and a couple of nationally renowned chefs team up to open a restaurant? You get Hervé’s, a chic artisanal restaurant boasting an undercurrent of flavourful French influences. Hervé’s is operated by seasoned sommelier and managerial maestro Hervé Dudognon, who, along with dynamic chef duo Chris and Alex Norman, has created a gorgeous locale atop Craft’d Grounds – softening the old timber mill’s industrial bones with lashings of contemporary flair. The team is taking a back-to-basics approach with its menu, building its foundations out of phenomenal ingredients and then letting them do the talking. This unadulterated approach has resulted in some seriously sumptuous options, with Chris and Alex turning out the likes of coal-grilled Moreton Bay bugs, pate en croute boasting Ayeslbury duck and fois gras imported from Dordogne, and hand-cut black Angus steak tartare. In addition to all of this, a 150-strong wine list spotlighting small environmentally conscious winemakers from Australia and abroad gives oenophiles plenty of quaffing material to explore. All told, Hervé’s showcases upscale hospitality executed expertly.
NUG. General Store, Fortitude Valley:
Tucked away at the end of Fortitude Valley’s Bakery Lane is a candidate for the most charming opening of the year, NUG. General Store. The brainchild of Joy. co-founder Sarah Baldwin and Finnley Home’s Jarrod Applebee and Shane Phillips, NUG. is a hybrid of the trio’s interests and passions – part casual cafe, part deli, part homewares store. Here, chef Sarah is putting her culinary skills towards creating a cabinet full of eats made with of-the-moment seasonal ingredients – think chicken katsu sandos with tonkatsu sauce and dijon mustard, tofu and miso-pumpkin baguettes, gluten-free pasta salad with Mediterranean-style marinated vegetables, and crumpets with blueberry and ricotta jam. A nearby pantry space is stocked with items needed to build a meal from scratch or complete one, such as fresh fruit and veg, boxes of vegan oat mix, jars of gourmet olives, tins of artisanal sea salt, dehydrated citrus, olive oils, passata and more. The homewares space is where the team is showcasing an assortment of wares from Australian makers, pulling from trends they love to curate an ever-shifting selection of decorative items, ceramics, tableware and glassware. Package all of this into a space described as “Mediterranean villa meets Tasmanian shack” and you’ll see why we’ve fallen head over heels for NUG.
Clarence, Woolloongabba: The year started on a great note with the arrival of Clarence, a modern-Australian bistro that is reminiscent of the humble neighbourhood eateries of Paris. Chef Ben McShane and front-of-house expert Franklin Heaney opened their collaborative concept in the old Vespa Pizza space in Woolloongabba, transforming the street-front dining room into a rustically minimalist nosh spot where food is designed to draw the attention. Light and approachable fare (shaped using European and Japanese cooking techniques) is what’s on offer here, with pine mushroom and leek tarts, coral trout carpaccio, John Dory with golden beetroot and nori butter, and wild-shot venison with black truffle showcasing some of Ben’s culinary talent. Franklin’s drinks program boasts the same ever-evolving versatility as the food, with a tight wine list of all-Australian drops joined by a small selection of classic cocktails.
Lina Rooftop, South Brisbane: Love a restaurant with a view? Wait until you get a load of the vista from Lina Rooftop. This sky-high beach-club-inspired restaurant and bar is the work of Ross Ledingham and Stefano De Blasi – two epicurean entrepreneurs with an eagle-eye for locations. Following on from last year’s launch of their Argentinian restaurant Evita, the duo has caused gazes to turn upward and jaws to drop with this concept, perched 12 storeys above terra firma at the top of Mobo South Brisbane. In addition to panoramic views of the Brisbane City skyline, Lina boasts a suite of luxury amenities including a pool deck complete with lounges and day beds, a bar and lounge space, and main 128-seat dining space with communal tables and curved blue-hued booths. The menu of Mediterranean and Japanese delicacies adds to Lina’s established sense of luxury, with scampi caviar, Moreton Bay bug raviolo, octopus roulade, and snapper meuniere, lobster thermidor as alluring to the tastebuds as the view is to your eyeballs.
Stranded, Fortitude Valley: A punk-inspired cocktail bar for grown-up punks – that’s how Luke ‘Boo’ Johnston illustrates the core concept of Stranded, the new Fortitude Valley watering hole he opened with business partners Cat Clarke and Shane Chidgzey. No strangers to the dingy dives and back-street boozers popular among the rebellious set, the trio of entrepreneurs (also the ownership group behind storied live-music temple The Zoo) have sought to make a home for music-loving set seeking something a bit more polished that your usual seedy saloon. Not to say Stranded is devoid of rock ’n’ roll – it’s actually full of it. First, it’s named after the seminal punk-hot hit from Brisbane icons The Saints. Second, the joint is draped in music-inspired accoutrements, from the vinyl DJ booth to the Nick Cave posters on the wall to the Naughty Corner – a secluded corner for the sinful to sip in peace. Speaking of sips, at Stranded tequila and mezcal are king – 50 varieties take pride of place in the middle of Stranded’s bar shelf, with smooth sips sourced from independent makers and distillers of Mexico. Also in the mix is a menu loaded with pizzas (including a Mexican-inspired number topped with chilli con carne and crushed tortilla chips), pumpkin arancini, burrata caprese and large rigatoni stuffed with buffalo ricotta and then fried. If we could pick any bar to be stranded at, it would be this one.
Stratton Bar & Kitchen, Newstead: This spacious 150-seat cocktail and casual-dining destination might take the cake for most impressive use of a building. In Decemeber 2020, Ben and Tarryn Brown – the brains behind Mrs Brown’s Bar & Kitchen – signed on to take over a pair of old World War II-era hangars on Stratton Street in Newstead (one of the rarest and most unique locales on the hospitality market at that point) with the aim of converting it into something Brisbane foodies hadn’t seen before. A significant fit-out process saw the couple maximise the structure’s industrial bones (think its curved ceilings and exposed brick walls), accenting it with eye-catching accents (sea-green banquettes, glass-encased sun-roofed courtyard and eight-metre-long stained-hardwood table) to create something singularly special. Stratton Bar & Kitchen is all about cocktails, with 35 signature concoctions on the menu ranging from oaked and smoked to fruity and punchy potions. These libations, plus a menu of inventive share-style snacks like chicken karaage milk buns, cacio e pepe udon noodles and Korean pork pull-apart buns served with kaffir lime butter sauce, are the chief reason why Stratton packs out on weekends.
Cartel Del Taco, Hawthorne: You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic taco spot in Brisbane than Cartel Del Taco. Owners Marco Ramirez and Erick Martinez have put years of work (and thousands of kilometres) into sourcing an astounding array of furniture, accessories, cutlery and decor for their Hawthorne Road tacqueria – and it’s paid off. Guests are regularly seen jostling for tables inside the neon-lit eatery, each one eager to sink their teeth into one of Cartel Del Taco’s, well, tacos! Roughly ten tongue-tantalising kinds are on offer, with the kitchen’s Trompo spit grill cooking al pastor tacos to enjoy alongside carne asada, birria, brisket and octopus tacos, as well as two vegetarian-friendly options. What’s a Mexican-inspired taco spot without tequila? Margaritas and mezcalitas will be a specialty at Cartel Del Taco, but folks can also expect a host of cheekily named signature cocktails as well as Dos Equis on tap, bottles of Tecate, Pacifico and Modelo, and hard seltzer from Topo Chico in Monterrey.
Frog’s Hollow Saloon, Brisbane City: A few of Brisbane’s best bartenders got together to open a bar in an overlooked nook of The City and, ever since, it seems that Charlotte Street has come to life. Frog’s Hollow Saloon is a whisky-slinging barroom boasting a cheerful swagger and an excellent selection of hooch. Owners Pete Hollands, Nick Winter and David Robinson have pooled their considerable expertise to create the kind of bar that the inner-city needed – an approachable tipple temple that favours simplicity, substance and service above all. Its home with the John Reid & Nephews building has been given a warm refurbishment consisting of ample timber, with its 12-metre bar the centrepiece and gathering point for drink-craving drop ins. Frog’s Hollow’s back bar boasts a huge range spirits with independent labelling a major area of focus. Roughly 320 whiskies are available on the menu, from crowd faves to rare labels, alongside plenty of gin, a decent selection of tequila and mezcal, and a growing selection of amaro. The bar team (consisting of a wrecking crew of hot-shot drink makers) has collaboratively constructed the cocktail list, boasting ten inventive cocktails to enjoy alongside snacks devised by Jamie Fleming from Alba Bar & Deli.
Bavay Distillery, Morningside: Brisbane’s distillery scene continues to grow, and Bavay Distillery is already gunning to be considered one of the city’s best. The distillery’s home in the old Commonwealth Acetate of Lime Factory at Rivermakers is a key influence on the spirit maker’s ethos and conceptual drive. Inspired by industrial chemist and bacteriologist Auguste de Bavay, who used the building’s old stillhouse to pioneer early brewing and distilling techniques, Bavay Distillery looks to bridge past and present by using old-school methods and unusual botanicals to create a contemporary range of spirits. A 500-litre copper-pot still is tasked with creating Bavay’s range, which spans gin, vodka, molasses-based cane spirits and espresso liqueur. The Rivermakers-based distillery doubles as a cellar door on weekends, opening for tastings (best accomplished via one of Bavay’s eight inventive riffs on classic cocktails) and take-home purchases.
The Lodge Bar & Dining, Fortitude Valley: Picture this – an upscale restaurant with Michelin-starred talent in the kitchen and a high-end menswear boutique attached. Only on James Street would you find such a venue. The Lodge Bar & Kitchen is the flagship location for Rodd & Gunn’s culinary arm, which boasts a string of restaurants across Queenstown, Auckland and Melbourne. Spread across a stunning two-level Queenslander, The Lodge is a versatile spot housing a slick corner bar, a beautifully appointed dining space, a luxurious upstairs lounge area and a balcony overlooking the intersection of James Street and Robertson Street. In the kitchen, executive chef Matt Lambert and head chef James Evangelinos are championing seasonal and local produce with dishes like wood-roasted cuttle fish, heritage pork terrine, Berkshire pork chops and a whole section dedicated to shells – think oysters, crustaceans and eggs. A globe-spanning wine list and a clutch of signature cocktails ensure there’s plenty to wash down snacks and feasts alike – be sure to have a peek inside Rodd & Gunn shop next door for outfit inspo ahead of your next visit.
Honourable mentions: Other great openings include Mina Italian in Bulimba, Doughcraft in Albion, South Brisbane’s Lisboa Caffe and Cordelia Sourdough Bakehouse, Priorities in Alderley, Mountain River Patisserie in Runcorn, Scarborough Harbour Brewing Co., Mamak in Brisbane City, Brooki Bakehouse in Fortitude Valley, Wilburs General Store in Holland Park, Neighbour in Milton, If You Say So in St. Lucia and Antica Pizzeria in Wilston.
What’s still to come: The year is far from over – in six months time this list could double (or triple) with stellar additions. We already know of a bunch of strong candidates that are shaping up to be noteworthy newcomers, including Giorgina Venzin’s Mediterranean-inspired bayside restaurant Citron, Rosmarino’s pizzeria sibling Etna, two new venues from the Julius Pizzeria team (Fish Lane’s Bar Rosa and a yet-to-be-named restaurant in Newstead), Yamas Eat + Greek in West End, coffee spot and wine bar Gastown in Ashgrove, Ramona Trattoria in Coorparoo, Lune Croissanterie’s Burnett Lane store after-dark drinking spot Butler Wine Bar, JuJu Bar & Dining in Sunnybank Hills, and a host of venues coming to South City Square from the team behind Sasso Italiano. We’ll see you in December for the yearly recap!
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