The Libertine crew opens riverside Thai party palace Naga at Eagle Street Pier
After the year we’ve had, we could use a bit of vibrant colour and some fun vibes to brighten our lives. Today, Wednesday September 30, marks the official opening of Eagle Street Pier newcomer Naga – an eye-catching Thai-inspired party palace from the Libertine crew that is heralding spring with a vivid 60s interior aesthetic, smashable (and Instagrammable) cocktails and a zesty medley of bright and fresh Thai eats.
For Andrew Baturo, returning to Eagle Street Pier feels like coming full circle. Decades after he started his hospitality career as a glassie at Friday’s, Andrew and his wife Jaimee (now owners of Libertine and co-founders of The Gresham Bar, Walter’s Steakhouse and Popolo Italian Kitchen & Bar) are injecting some colour into the riverside precinct with Naga, their new Thai-inspired bar and eatery, which opens today – Wednesday September 30. Andrew and Jaimee have long held a fondness for Thai cuisine (their first holiday together was to Thailand), but the idea to open a Thai restaurant of their own only started to grow after chef Suwisa Phoonsang joined the team at Libertine five years ago. The team was blown away by Suwisa’s ability to deftly bring the most out of the intricate French-Vietnamese flavours championed by Libertine, causing Andrew and Jaimee to ponder what Suwisa would be capable of if given the chance to cook her home cuisine. Earlier this year Andrew was approached with the opportunity to take over the former home of Eagle Street mainstay Pony – a highly prized locale boasting views of the Story Bridge and the river. The space, while incredible, came with a caveat – a looming redevelopment of the Eagle Street precinct meant that only a short tenure could be guaranteed. Enticed by the notion of being free to take risks and get creative while not tethered to a lengthy lease (the possibility of Naga securing a permanent home post-development remains), Andrew and Jaimee agreed – bringing Suwisa onboard as head chef for Naga. The planning stages of the concept took place during the uncertainty of our COVID-19 lockdowns, but it fortunately arrives as Brisbane’s dining scene emerges from hibernation. The Baturos are eager for Naga to be the bookend of a bleak period – a timely reminder of the joy and privilege of dining out, as well as a fun and colourful herald of the warmer season ahead.
While the old Pony premises provided plenty of space for Andrew and Jaimee to operate, its industrial bones were crying out for a cosmetic overhaul. Enter lauded interior designer Anna Spiro, who collaborated with the Baturos on an aesthetic that would convey a sense of energy and fun. The logical starting point was colour – Anna devised a palette of fruity hues (orange, lemon, plum and lime) that matched the colours Suwisa was plating up in the kitchen. Anna’s striking colour selection then sparked a second wave of brainstorming, with the scheme’s vivid psychedelic properties prompting the team to adopt a 60s and 70s aesthetic direction with the decor. With inspiration firmly in hand, Anna set about adding expressive pops of colour to the venue, installing a bright-orange bookcase that dominates a feature wall near the entry, alongside retro lamps (not the mention glowing lanterns hanging from the ceiling), curtains and furnishings that offset the sturdy concrete of the bar and kitchen counters. The seating plan (which can cater to crowds of around 150) is customisable and is designed to morph depending on the requirements of social distancing. With that in mind, the layout has been tailored to ensure there are no bad seats. Guests not afforded river views will still have plenty to catch the eye – that’s if they can tear their attention away from the food and drink in front of them.
The food and drink
Much like Anna was given free rein to actualise Naga’s interior, Suwisa has spearheaded the curation of the kitchen offering. Digging into her heritage and upbringing in Bangkok, Suwisa has devised an extensive menu that showcases quintessential Thai flavours paired with premium ingredients. The essence of the Naga dining experience is predicated on fostering connections between people through a shared, fun experience. As such, the menu is designed to be shared. As a beginning point, the menu has a handily labelled section called ‘Start Here’, where massaman beef in house-made milk buns, flower dim sims, free-range Mount Tamborine chicken pandan parcels and slipper lobster with crispy jasmine rice crackers help whet appetites. From there the menu splinters into distinct sections – stir-fry dishes, curry and soups, noodles, rice dishes, salads, sides and desserts. Bona fide highlights include the spicy gold band snapper stir fry, fish-dumpling green curry, coconut and turmeric Valenca pork shoulder curry, chargrilled 150-day Rangers Valley beef sen-yai noodles, Naga pad Thai (which comes with your choice of free-range chicken, Shark Bay tiger prawns, Moreton Bay bugs or vegetables), crispy wok-fried whole Cone Bay baby barramundi, Blue Swimmer crab fried jasmine rice, and, of course, buttery pan-fried roti bread. Naga’s beverage selection is similarly thorough, with a sensational wine list backed by a host of signature cocktails, beers and spirits. Rosé lovers will be titillated to learn that Naga’s wine list boasts a large selection of the summer favourite (a number on par with the amount of whites, red and bubbles), several of which are available by the glass, carafe or bottle. Andrew has designed the cocktail list as a continuation of the venue’s energetic vibe, with concoctions such as the #dontbekoi (an Instagrammable combo of strawberries-and-cream-infused gin, strawberry coconut mousse and Crème de Fraise De Bois), Groovy Chai, Baby (bourbon, house-made chai, coconut cream and chocolate bitters) and the Plum Nagaroni (gin, Campari, maraschino, sweet vermouth, plum juice and bitters) making for colourful feast companions. Naga’s taps are also pouring an assortment of beers (including the venue’s own Naga Lager), as well as Riot Spritz, a pinot gris and ginger beer, with plenty more available in the fridge.
Naga is officially open to the public from today, Wednesday September 30. For trading hours, booking information and menu details, head to the Stumble Guide.
Food and drink images courtesy of Naga/Darcy Starr.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.