Seafood is the star at Tillerman, the new riverside restaurant from the Naga Thai team
Aside from the recent closure of Eagle Street Pier’s riverside dining hub, Brisbane’s inner-city restaurant scene is the strongest it’s been in a long time. Tillerman, a high-end restaurant operated by the brains behind Naga Thai and Libertine, is the latest arrival to bolster the ranks of top-tier dining destinations in The City. Tillerman is already making the most of its absolutely astounding riverside location, wowing early crowds with a menu that champions premium seafood and its love for Queensland coastal charm, which it wears proudly on its sleeve.
If you asked Andrew Baturo to sum up the driving inspiration behind restaurant Tillerman – the new restaurant he opened last week alongside his wife Jaimee – in one word, he’d simply say Queensland. The climate, the water, the food – it all plays a crucial part in the restaurant’s identity, from its coastal-inspired aesthetic to its inventive, seafood-heavy menu. To hear Andrew tell it, Tillerman looks to not only embody the best bits of the state, but also reflect its status as a flourishing hospitality hub on the rise. “We know what we’ve got up here and we’ve been shouting to the rooftops for a long time, but people are starting to notice what Queensland is all about,” says Andrew. “There’s an energy about Queensland at the moment, particularly in the hospitality scene, that I’ve never seen before.” He’d be one to know. Andrew is owner or co-owner of some of Brisbane’s best drinking and dining venues, including French-Vietnamese institution Libertine, South Bank Italian eatery Popolo, inner-city destinations Walter’s Steakhouse and The Gresham, and, until recently, beloved Thai-inspired riverside restaurant Naga. A casualty of Eagle Street Pier’s Waterfront Place redevelopment, Naga perhaps sparked Andrew and Jaimee’s love affair with the Brisbane River – an infatuation that continues with Tillerman, which boasts an enviable position around the river bend at Riparian Plaza. The space might be familiar to seasoned diners as the home of long-running steak and seafood restaurant Kingsley’s, and while Tillerman (which has been in the works for more than a year) is a whole new concept, the couple is aiming for a similar longevity and status as that place you’d show off to your pals from out of town. “I want it to be a little bit classic and timeless – and I want it to be something that Brisbane will be really proud of in five years or 10 years time,” Andrew informs us. “I want Brisbane and Queensland [residents] to be really proud of Tillerman and want it to be somewhere they want to bring not only their family, but their friends from interstate or internationally. I want them to sit on the river and go, ‘this is where I live’.”
Having a cracking location already goes a long way to wowing clientele, but the Tillerman team has gone to great lengths to ensure that the restaurant’s 120-seat locale boasts a transportive quality or, in other words, an environment that diners can sink into and forget about life for a few hours. “I think great restaurants throughout the world provide you with a sense of escape at times,” says Andrew. “They let you think that you are not coming there from work. It’s a mini vacation.” Brisbane-based design and architecture firm Hogg & Lamb was engaged to spearhead the site’s aesthetic pivot, armed with a brief that highlighted coastal, nautical and resort-style touchpoints. “In house, we described [the style] as if you built boats and then you built a restaurant, you’d subconsciously build it this way,” says Greg Lamb of Tillerman’s aesthetic undercurrent. The exterior balcony space is now shielded from the plaza by a newly installed wall, creating a sense of unveiling as one ascends the stairs to Tillerman’s new matire d’ station. The restaurant’s interior dining room has been broken into two main seating areas (plus a small private-dining space tucked away in one corner), both encased by waist-high spotted gum timber boundaries and boasting brown-leather banquettes, rattan furnishings and colourful flora-print cushions. Great care has been taken to maintain line of sight to the water from every seat, with mirrored walls at the rear of the space reflecting natural light (and glimpses of the view) throughout the day. Hogg & Lamb has also looked to diminish the external lines of enclosure, with glass doors folding back and removing the barrier between the inside and the balcony. At night, half-moon-shaped mirrors behind the bar illuminate, casting a warm glow that bounces off the mirrors and the restaurant’s semi-open stainless-steel kitchen at the rear.
Tillerman’s kitchen is helmed by head chef Suwisa Phoonsang, who is pairing a set of worldly inspirations with a cooking approach couched in understated simplicity. “We’re not being your typical seafood restaurant with the big seafood platters and sashimi and all that kind of thing, but we’re trying to be a little bit different to that,” says Andrew of Tillerman’s culinary ethos. “We want to showcase the products that we get in a really beautiful light.” The kitchen team has cast a wide net to source top-grade seafood from around Australia, from Queensland staples like Morton Bay bugs to West Australian lobster, with the resulting haul worked nimbly into a menu of curiosity piquing options. Suwisa’s global influences and flavour-driven quirks manifest via the extensive use of sauces, dressings, butters and ghees, best exemplified by dishes such as hiramasa kingfish crepes with citrus beurre blanc, dusky flathead with burnt-orange ghee and fried capers, golden pamano meuniere with Moreton Bay bug boulette chinois, and salt-baked Murray cod with salmorglio. Protein is still represented on the menu, with the likes of barbecued Brisbane Valley quail with sofrito and preserved lemon, Aylesbury duck beignets with pomegranate glace and 700-g Heritage full-blood wagyu flank with suet vinegar and beef jus sure to entice carnivores. Stephen Hazlett has come aboard as Tillerman’s head sommelier, charged with maintaining a broad selection of international and domestic wines (including plenty of champagne by the glass) sourced from coastal regions predisposed to being complementary to seafood. Gizem ‘Gee’ Temizkan is overseeing the cocktail menu, which is anchored by a selection of tropical concoctions (think grilled pineapple mojitos, house-made lychee spritzes and four kinds of daiquiri) that encapsulate Tillerman’s resort-adjacent, Queensland-centric vibes to a tee.
Tillerman is now open to the public. Reservations, menu details and contact information can be found in the Stumble Guide.
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