Creative spirit shines at Pneuma, the new inner-city restaurant from two top culinary minds
Two heralded chefs are breathing life into the northwestern pocket of The City with Pneuma, an anticipated restaurant nestled in the loft-style space previously home to Greenglass. Lauded chefs Matt Blackwell and Dan Arnold are distilling their shared ideas and creative whims into an ever-evolving and highly imaginative menu, with plans already in the works for more to come. Take a peek inside …
What is a pneuma? In the broadest terms, pneuma is the soul or spirit of a thing. Classical philosophy defines it as a life-giving breath or vital creative force of a person, while music fans will know it as a song from from legendary progressive-metal band Tool. It’s also the name of Brisbane City’s newest restaurant, which officially opened in the old Greenglass space last Wednesday November 1. It’s the result of a collaborative effort between two highly regarded chefs – Matt Blackwell (former head chef at GOMA Restaurant) and Dan Arnold (owner-operator of Restaurant Dan Arnold). This isn’t a Tool-themed restaurant, but Dan and Matt’s mutual affection for the band is one example of how the two like-minded maestros are pouring their shared inspirations into Pneuma’s foundational mortar. “I think in just the style of venue we’ve created, you can see that slight contrast in Matt and myself – we work really well parallel, but also have branches that come out individually,” says Dan. “There’s a lot of common ground where we stick side-by-side and a lot of points when we go out, but it always comes back to the middle.”
While it’s rare to see two accomplished culinary talents go in together on a joint concept in the first place, it’s even rarer still for their creative spirits to meld as harmoniously as it has at Pneuma, if early reports are anything to go by. “I think a lot of the guests this week – not necessarily regulars, but customers from either GOMA or RDA – they can see [Pneuma’s menu] as a mix,” says Matt. “It’s not just a replica of either one. It’s definitely my food from GOMA, but crossing it obviously with Dan’s input as well.” Matt is helming the kitchen on a day-to-day basis (in addition to RDA, Dan also owns La Cache à Vín in Spring Hill), striking away from the strictures of fine dining with a cuisine-agnostic menu that will be in a constant state of evolution. “I think here I can be a little bit more honed in on what I want to do,” says Matt. “Not in a selfish way, but in just a directional way – where the food’s going to go and the style of service – rather than it being regimented. That’s the exciting bit.” Pneuma’s a la carte menu starts with snacks like malt tarts with toasted hay, Bay of Fires cheddar custard and Jerusalem artichoke before portions increase with plates of corned ox tongue with tomato kasundi, pickled mustard seed and curry leaf. They increase yet again mains like roasted monkfish tail, smoked onion and mussel beurre blanc, and garlic chive, and wagyu beef cheek, caramelised onion, green peppercorn and bone marrow. Though guests are free to pick and choose from the menu as they please, many first-week feasters are opting for the chefs menu, which comes in a short and an extended form.
On the drinks front, Dan is leveraging his established connections through Restaurant Dan Arnold and La Cache à Vín to amass a reference list sitting somewhere between 100 and 150 wines from smaller producers, which are available alongside a tight cocktail and beer selection. The wine menu encompasses a healthy mix of French and Australian makers, with high-end drops found at the back in a category under the special designation ‘Chocolate Chip Trip‘ – a cheeky nod to Tool’s later material. “It’s our little collection of cellar items – sometimes there’s only one bottle of each,” says Dan. “It’s a lot of our allocations from RDA and some things we’ve been able to have ourselves as well. We just took the name of ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ – it’s all about saying, ‘Just follow us’.”
Pneuma in the nascent stages of its existence. Right now, it’s operating almost like a pop-up, with a swift aesthetic refresher retaining most of the high-ceilinged site’s warmth. Ascend up an inconspicuous flight of stairs off George Street and then walk down a dark hallway and you’ll find Pneuma’s dining room. This high-ceilinged, loft-style space is bracketed on either end by banks of tall windows, which allow natural light spill across the room’s timber floorboards (though word is the space takes on a different personality at night). With plans for a more extensive renovation in 2024, Pneuma’s current aesthetic is pared back for now, with more of an emphasis placed on the little details. Bespoke floral arrangements by Lyndal Bass sit in ceramic vessels crafted by Tracy Murray (who has also made Pneuma’s plates and bowls), while artworks from Matt’s partner, Ru Blackwell, hang on the walls. Like most of Tool’s best songs, Pneuma will evolve and morph over time – both in terms of its menu and interiors. With the calibre of talent at Pneuma’s helm, there’s plenty of cause to be excited. “It’s just the opening and so from here it’s going to evolve,” says Dan. “It’s going to extend, it’s going to shorten, it’s going to go wherever we want it to go.”
Pneuma is open for lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. Head to the Stumble Guide for menu information and booking details.
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