The round-up: the biggest foodie openings of the year
Well, here we are. The end of the year is imminent, which means it is time to take stock of the year that was. Even with a succession of snap lockdowns and the continuation of dining restrictions, Brisbane’s dining scene continued to flourish. New eateries appeared at a rapid rate, forcing us to scramble just to make sure we covered them all! All told, 2021 brought us new glamorous bistros, high-end diners, killer cafes, brilliant bars and much, much more. We’ve compiled a list of stand-outs from the past 12 months. While not an exhaustive selection, it does offer a snapshot of the diverse array of arrivals we had the privilege of checking out this year.
ESSA, Fortitude Valley: It was a long, four-year journey from inception to opening, but James Street’s progressive eatery ESSA was worth the wait. The restaurant, co-owned by ex-Gauge head chef Phil Marchant and restaurateur Angela Scavlos, wowed discerning diners with its moody split-level space and innovative menu. ESSA utilises a simpler style of cooking artistry (think raw dishes and woodfired techniques) to make the most of consciously sourced produce harvested on a micro-seasonal scale. This approach translates into dishes like wild venison tartare subtly seasoned with bergamot, buckwheat and hibiscus, grilled spatchcock quail with brown butter, caper leaves and salt bush, and hand-rolled malloreddus pasta with Fraser Island spanner crab, ‘nduja and carrot. ESSA’s 130-strong wine list features a well-rounded mixture of new- and old-world expressions that fluctuate and change in tandem with the food menu.
Rothwell’s Bar & Grill, Brisbane City: When we heard word that Dan Clark, the owner of 1889 Enoteca, was teaming up with Ben Russell, the former head chef of Aria Brisbane, to open a restaurant inspired by iconic bistros like The Savoy Grill, The Wolseley and The Musso & Frank Grill, we knew we were in store for something good. Rothwell’s Bar & Grill lived up to expectations, debuting a sophisticated-yet-approachable eatery that brought the big-city restaurant experience of London, New York and Los Angeles to the ground-floor level of the Rothwell’s Building on Edward Street. Steak tartare, niçoise salad, tagliarini with sea urchin, five kinds of steak and beef Wellington are just a fraction of the stand-out items on Rothwell’s menu, while ice-cold martinis and a stellar wine list help give a sense of what kind of epicurean experience awaits. That said, there’s nothing like dining in to really understand Rothwell’s dynamic appeal.
Biànca, Fortitude Valley: The anticipated arrival of fire-and-smoke centric restaurant Agnes was the story of 2020 – and its sibling Biànca might just snag the title for 2021. Tyron Simon, Ben Williamson and Frank Li continued their trend of acclaimed openings in April, launching the restaurant (named and inspired by Ty’s partner Bianca Marchi – a Milanese transplant) on Ada Lane, just two doors down from the group’s other acclaimed eatery sAme sAme. A Richards and Spence-led redesign of the space has resulted in one of the most attractive restaurants in Brisbane, with peach, muted pink and terracotta hues setting the stage for a menu of Italian trattoria classics and cocktails that showcase the fun and frivolous side of the storied cuisine. As one would expect, bookings were (and are still) in high demand, but the dining experience at Biànca is worth the wait.
Agnes Bakery, Fortitude Valley: Bakeries were a big story in 2021 and one of the biggest bakery arrivals was the bricks-and-mortar iteration of Agnes’ widely-praised pandemic pop-up. Agnes Bakery secured a permanent home on James Street, bringing its woodfired wonders – including its malted sourdough loaves, cinnamon-coated doughnuts and charred and flaky Basque cheesecakes – to the thriving promenade. Ever since its doors opened, folks have patiently lined up to get a fix of Agnes Bakery’s kouign-amanns, choux, ham-and-gruyere pithiviers and blocks of Agnes’ famed house-cultured, churned and smoked butter – a trend that’s likely to continue well into the new year.
Lune Croissanterie, South Brisbane: We can’t mention bakeries without touching on the landmark arrival of world-renowned croissanterie Lune. Few pastry producers command as much respect as the Melbourne-born concept, which opened its anticipated South Brisbane expansion in the middle of a week-long lockdown. Those brave enough to join the socially distanced line (which stretched around the block) were blown away by Lune’s state-of-the-art space, which boasts a space-age production area and modern-industrial retail section. The latter is where you’ll find Lune’s assortment of goodies, from its signature zonts (including the traditional kind to almond croissants and a ham-and-gruyere-filled variety) to pain au chocolat, caramelised kouign amanns, fruit-and-cream-loaded danishes, and lemon-curd cruffins. Brisbane is a carb-lover’s paradise right now and Lune is making all of our pastry dreams come true.
Melrose, Bulimba: The crew behind beloved Woolloongabba cafe and restaurant Pawpaw outdid itself in mid May when it opened Melrose in Bulimba. Summoning the essence of Seminyak and channelling the luxury of Canggu, this Bali-inspired bar and restaurant is perched above the crew’s popular patisserie Darvella, making good use of its elevated position by creating a stylish escape for travel-starved foodies. Melrose’s kitchen, helmed by former Longrain head chef Arté Assavakavinvong focuses on Indonesian and Thai cuisine, with a menu that relishes simplicity in presentation, but complexity in depth of flavour. The spicy fare is accompanied by a 70-strong wine list and plenty of smashable cocktails – the right combination for taking tastebuds on a holiday.
Gemelli Italian and Bar Tano, Fortitude Valley: This year was a big one for Italian and one of the biggest names to plant its flag in Brisbane’s booming dining scene was Gemelli Italian. The Gold Coast-born crew, helmed by brothers James, Alec and Paul Carney made its way north in the latter half of the year, opening a gorgeous split-level restaurant on James Street. Crispy pizza fresh from Gemelli’s imported pizza oven, hearty serves of pasta, an assortment of antipasti and a tome of a wine list make any outing to Gemelli an ecstasy inducing epicurean adventure. That’s not all the Gemelli crew brought to the strip, though – they slotted Bar Tano, a 55-seat Milan-style aperitivo street bar, right next door. Here the local drinking crowd frequently pop in for a pre-dinner bite or late-night tipples and antipasti, with artfully crafted cocktails a specialty.
TakashiYa, South Brisbane: Takashi Nami has championed the omakase cause in Brisbane over the past few years. His beloved but short-lived Fortitude Valley eatery Shishou gave diners a glimpse of chef Takashi’s skilful take on the exquisite form of gastronomy, but its at TakashiYa – an intimate restaurant located at the base of Emporium South Bank – where the acclaimed chef is truly showcasing his mastery of the culinary art form. The venue, which boasts an informal bar and a 12-seat private omakase room at the rear, offers a host of expertly crafted morsels to try. Degustation die-hards are advised to snag a seat in the latter, where chef Takashi and his team delivers a premium procession of dishes ranging from one-bite tasters and fresh sashimi to flavour-rich soups and hand-sliced, assembled and presented nigiri. The multi-course indulgence, in which you place control of your taste buds in Takashi’s capable hands, is the opulent pinnacle of Japanese cuisine and one of the few spots in Brisbane where such an experience is available.
Rosmarino, Fortitude Valley: Did we mention 2021 was a huge year for Italian food? Rosmarino is the brainchild of Lauren Smith and Andrea Gatti, two Hellenika vets that turned relocation plans dashed by border closures into an excuse to open a restaurant and wine bar of their own. The fetching venue, nestled within the Stewart & Hemmant Merchants building in The Valley, boasts a 12-seater wine bar at the entry that caters to walk-ins, while the main 30-seat dining space sits near a glass-encased 800-bottle wine cellar. Rosmarino’s menu, overseen by head chef Dario Manca, traverses light antipasti bites, pasta dishes, heartier mains and sides. Signatures include the must-try culurgiones cacio nduja, casarecce al coniglio and steak al cioccolato (tri-tip with a five-plus marble score aged in white chocolate). Andrea has built a stunningly diverse wine list comprised of organic and biodynamic drops – Italian reds are a strong focus as are mineral-heavy wines cultivated from the volcanic soil around Mount Etna in Sicily.
Dr Gimlette, Brisbane City: When the team behind Death & Taxes opens a new venue, Brisbane’s cocktail-loving set sits up and takes notice. So did we. The newest sipping spot from Martin and Wiebke Lange and Belinda and Blake Ward is an ambitious, experience-driven and cocktail-oriented drinkery located on the ground-floor of the old Metro Arts building on Edward Street. The lovingly maintained interior is the perfect setting for experiential interactivity, with booths and wing-back chairs allowing guests to recline with all their cocktail-oriented whims catered for. Dr Gimlette looks to do justice to the classics, with the bar’s accomplished crew of muddlers, shakers, throwers and swizzlers taking pride in its collective ability to research and recreate a vast Rolodex of recipes – serving them as they were meant to be served. Want something signature? Dr Gimlette’s cocktail list also boasts more than 30 concoctions divided into categories such as fruit forward, highballs, technically driven, stirred down and boozy, luxe and gimlet variations.
Bisou Bisou and Iris, Fortitude Valley: The Ghanem Group – the highly regarded hospitality group behind Donna Chang, Blackbird Bar & Grill and Byblos Bar & Restaurant – caused a stir with its latest double-header opening at Fortitude Valley’s Hotel X. On the ground floor sits Bisou Bisou – a flirty French-inspired bistro that recontextualises quintessential French tastes for a Queensland palate. Steak tartare with tête de moine and cured egg yolk feature alongside whole New Zealand sole and Australian shorthorn rib eye, while a beverage list encompasses more than 200 wines (including some high-end labels served via EuroCave enomatic dispensers), seven house concoctions and eight reserve sips. On the rooftop sits Iris, an alluring bar and restaurant that traverses the tastes of the Mediterranean coast with a side of some near-unbeatable views. Not short on colour-soaked luxury, Iris has quickly become a popular spot for sundowners and sky-high snacking, with share-style plates and drinks that evoke the Greek Islands, Spain and parts of the Middle East.
Elementi, Paddington: Any opening spearheaded by a team with experience working at the likes of Beccofino, Julius Pizzeria and Maeve Wine is bound to catch our attention. Elementi didn’t disappoint. The brainchild of Pedro Sanson, Stefano Spataro and Mauricio Zarate has caused quite a buzz since opening on Given Terrace in February, with the trio’s unique take on Italian cuisine accented with multicultural twists, a no-boundaries approach to beverage curation and personality to spare. It should come as no surprise that Elementi has gained a huge following from the jump, with almost all of its regular clientele waxing lyrical about the ironbark-fuelled woodfired oven pizzas (including the baciata – a large pizza sandwich stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and mortadella).
The Green, Fortitude Valley: What started life as a simple pandemic-inspired nursery and coffee spot evolved into a fully fledged cafe, green space and retail hub in 2021, adding to James Street’s run of breathtaking openings. The Green – a foliage-filled cafe, deli and nursery owned and operated by Angela Scavlos and Christina Habchi – turned heads when it opened in September with its array of Lebanese-inspired eats, express deli dishes, lush greenery and dreamy decorative homewares. The interior, shaped by internationally acclaimed designer Borhan Ghofrani and Craig Channon from Channon Architects, favours an eye-catching juxtaposition of raw materiality and greenery, providing an alluring setting to indulge in chef Warren Turnbull’s menu of Lebanese sausage and egg muffin, breakfast mezze with Turkish eggs and spiced makanek sausages, hawaij-spiced Bannockburn charcoal chicken and grilled zhug-marinated lamb cutlets.
Kid Curry, Fortitude Valley: One of the biggest pandemic success stories was Kid Curry, the takeaway-centric pop-up concept from the Happy Boy and Snack Man crew. After keeping the kitchen afloat with its range of South Asian-inspired eats, the team decided to give Kid Curry a space of its own, snagging a convenient slot on East Street for the eatery to inhabit. Charting the rich culinary history shared by countries like India, Thailand, the Phillipines, Malaysia and Indonesia, Kid Curry gives diners insight into origin of dishes, migration of flavours and cross-pollination of ideas. Kid Curry’s famous smoked-tomato butter chicken is a must-try item, but we also suggest sampling the likes of the kinilaw (Filipino-style ceviche with coconut milk and lime juice), seekh kebab (Indian flame-grilled lamb skewers with pickled onions and mint chutney), and kua kling (dry-fried king salmon). Much like its sibling venues, Kid Curry’s wine list is considered – boasting drops with body that can stand up to spice-laden dishes.
The Princess Theatre, Woolloongabba: After two years of pandemic-arrested progress, Brisbane’s live-music scene scored the kickstart it sorely needed with the opening of The Princess Theatre. The heritage-listed icon scored a new lease on life when it was taken over by the crew behind iconic music house The Tivoli, receiving a makeover that saw its two-level auditorium revitalised (with a slick new sound system), its on-site cafe transformed into fairy-tale-inspired locale Fables, a courtyard space built (with its own bar and DJ platform – curated by the team at QUIVR), and the addition of a glam upstairs bar and function space. A broad and inclusive booking mandate will see The Princess become one of the most beloved music venues in town – we just need to wait patiently a little while longer for the borders to open …
The Arsonist, Manly: Moody, thrilling, memorable – these are just three words that serve to describe the dining experience at The Arsonist. Manly’s new fire-and-smoke-powered restaurant might be one of the newest venues on this list, but praise for the concept is already pouring in. A custom-made fire deck is utilised to cook all manner of local ingredients over flame, with various woods employed to create different smoky flavours. Menu items like smoked beef-fat doughnuts and barbecued local king prawns, woodfired figs with stracciatella, suckling pig from The Schultz Family Farm and 63-day dry-aged Stockyard OP rib on the bone showcase fire cooking at its best. Meanwhile, a stellar whisky selection, wine list and cocktail menu offer the perfect luxe libations to complement the crackling atmosphere and sizzling offering.
Paella y Pa’ Mi, Coorparoo: Kevin Fredes and Manuela Volpe were tantalisingly close to moving overseas. When the pandemic put the kibosh on their move, the duo turned lemons into lemonade with Paella y Pa’ Mi – a positively charming eatery that, as the name attests, features paella at its core. Here, Kevin (who cut his teeth working in Sydney’s hospitality scene under the tutelage of culinary mentor Miguel Maestre) builds upon a foundation of traditional Spanish cooking to create mouth-watering modern interpretations of the cuisine’s staple dishes. Tapas like seared scallops with salsa salvitxada, cured and fried pork belly and Kevin’s take on his abuela’s empanadillas serve as tasters for the main event – four kinds of paella designed to be shared. Throw in a wine list boasting predominantly of Spanish drops, Spanish gin and vermouths, sangria jugs and a range of smashable signature cocktails and you have one of the best Spanish restaurants in town.
Honourable mentions: As you’d probably expect, whittling down this year’s openings to a succinct list is a near-impossible task. While all of the above venues are incredible, there are plenty of other newly open locales that are well worth a visit, too. The rest of the best include retro-cool Italian eatery Sasso Italiano in Woolloongabba, Bulimba patisserie Darvella, Paddington wine bar Noir, the Albion-based expansion of Gold Coast-born distillery Granddad Jacks, COPPA’s Eagle Street evolution, glamorous Greek-inspired restaurant Opa Bar + Mezze on Eagle Street, Windsor’s Instagrammable brunch superstar Bear Boy Espresso, Fortitude Valley’s rooftop brewery Valley Hops Brewing, Woolloongabba’s charming deli, bar and eatery Mr Badger’s, Slipstream Brewing Co.‘s updated and expanded brewpub in Yerongpilly, Brisbane City’s glamorous Banc Brasserie & Wine Bar, and Revel Brewing Co.‘s Morningside restaurant and production facility.
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