Last year, we told you that Brisbane’s obsession with Italian cuisine appeared to have levelled out but as we look back over the most exciting local openings of the last six months, we have to admit we may have spoken too soon – of the six newly opened restaurants that won us over this since January, four of them are Italian. But this is far from a homogenous haze of pizzas and pastas; this year’s most exciting new openings delve into regional cuisine with Sicilian seafood being served in a refurbished bus, a Sardinian restaurant championing charcoal cooking, and an ode to the Amalfi coast.
We’ve also seen chefs of serious calibre making the move to Queensland, with Melbourne’s Guy Grossi and Motomu Kumano opening their first Brisbane venues, an ex-Noma chef in the kitchen at the W Hotel’s New York-style grill, and a coffee roaster from Currumbin who came north to open one of the year’s most exciting new cafes. New venues from the La Lupa, Beccofino, and Clarence Restaurant teams attest to the continued strength of the local scene.
As we take stock halfway through the year, these are the Brisbane restaurant and cafe openings that have caught our eye so far.
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Bar Rosa, South Brisbane
Having already opened three of the city’s best Italian restaurants and bars – Beccofino, Julius Pizzeria, Bar Brutus – Cordell Khoury, Paolo Biscaro, Aleks Dzajkovski, Anthony Nicastro and Stefan Angelovski could have rested on their laurels. They didn’t. In March, the group opened Bar Rosa in the former Gauge space on Grey Street. They’re serving piatti – snacky Italian small plates – that can be scoffed down in seconds or shared with a group. Think pizza fritta with burrata, polpette in sugo, and charred octopus with oregano, lemon and olives. Large plates include rotating pastas, chicken cotoletta with cauliflower gratin, grilled fish and eye fillet.
Corner Deli, Woolloongabba
Clarence Corner has become one of Brisbane’s most intriguing intersections. The precinct has gone from strength to strength with Clarence Restaurant, and Echo and Bounce, joining stalwarts C’est Bon, Brisbane Brewing Co and live music bar, Can You Keep A Secret – and now, Corner Deli. Helmed by Clarence’s Ben McShane and Matt Kuhnemann, (ex-Park Bench Deli, Singapore) brings variety to the daytime dining in the area. Quality is something that Clarence has in spades, with a restored heritage listed space, a Reuben that take four days to prepare, and a confit duck and horseradish cream sandwich. The drinks menu offers both Bancroft coffee and a selection of lo-fi local wines served by the tumbler.
Da Biuso, Ascot Green (currently)
If we’re giving points for creativity, Da Biuso scores into the stratosphere. Inspired by the desire to be their own landlords, the Biuso family converted a 12.5-metre Iveco school bus to become a fully mobile fine diner (with just 12 seats). Patriarch Biagio grew up in Bronte, a small town at the foot of Mount Etna, and his upbringing is all over the Sicilian restaurant. The degustation-only menu includes oysters all’onda served with seafoam, watermelon granita and yuzu, and Australian scampi.
Hawthorne Coffee, Hawthorne
There’s something heavenly about a good grilled cheese. Golden sourdough, stretchy mozzarella, flaky salt: a holy trinity. Given the near-universal obsession with toasties, it’s no wonder than Tom Wilcock’s suburban cafe inspired quite the buzz when it opened in Hawthorne in May. On a light-filled corner with weatherboard cladding and a white picket fence, Hawthorne Coffee has just five indoor tables and plenty of charm. Wilcock previously operated Bancroft Roasters in Currumbin and the roasters have crafted an exclusive house blend for Hawthorne. The menu is concise, with a range of toasties and pastries supplied by Brasserie Bread.
Komeyui, Spring Hill
On the first Friday of the new year, longstanding Melbourne restaurant Komeyui opened in a modern Baenziger Coles-designed space located – rather surprisingly – beneath the former Australian Federal Police building in Spring Hill. Head chef Motomu Kumano grew up in Hokkaido in Japan’s far north before moving to Australia and, from his spot behind the sleek 12-metre-long sushi bar, Kumano has handcrafted some of the state’s best Japanese food. Put another way, “we’re not serving food, we’re serving a piece of art,” (as the chef told Broadsheet earlier this year). With coal-grilled miso-marinated black cod, pork gyoza with yuzu citrus soy vinegar and surgically sliced sashimi, we’re tempted to agree with his self-assessment.
Pilloni, West End
The sequel to Andrea Contin and Valentina Vigni’s Roman restaurant La Lupa, Pilloni is a Sardinian restaurant championing charcoal cooking. As well as regional pasta dishes – culurgiones filled with potato, pecorino and mint, and malloreddus (small, gnocchi-shaped shells) with lamb shoulder ragu and pecorino – the menu’s main drawcard is the porceddu, a quartered and spit-roasted suckling pig with ultra-crisp crackling. The wine list was put together under the guidance of former-Essa sommelier Phil Poussart and includes rare Sardinian varietals like vermentino and the harder-to-find cannonau and granazza. The Alkot Studio and Tonic Projects fit-out was shortlisted for an Australian Interior Design Award.
Guy Grossi needs no introduction. He’s behind the Garum at The Westin Perth – dedicated to Roman cuisine – and a number of restaurants in Melbourne including Grossi Florentino, a dual-purpose venue with a Tuscan-inspired grill on the ground floor and a fine diner on the top level. Settimo, his first Brisbane venue, is inspired by Grossi’s memories of the Amalfi Coast with traditional Campanian dishes such as gnocchi alla Sorrentina, pasta al limone and scialatielli all’amalfitana.
The Lex, CBD
New York-style grills have been popping up across the country with Sydney’s Clam Bar and Melbourne’s Grill Americano both garnering much acclaim in recent years, The Lex is set to follow suit. The menu from an ex-Noma chef offers a melange of high- and low-brow cuisine that’s rarely seen in Queensland. (Think tater tots with Avruga caviar and crème fraîche, and an elaborate take on a hotdog made with barbequed octopus.) The star is The Lex’s selection of dry-aged meat: a hefty marbled tomahawk steak from Warwick, a flatiron steak with smoked bone marrow and charred shallots, and macadamia-crusted cobia with buttermilk and tarragon – a pescatarian option that rivals the richest Queensland beef. There’s a sense of theatre too, with Caesar salads and champagne cocktails mixed at tableside carts.
Additional reporting by Elliot Baker & Matt Shea.