It’s hard to imagine Brisbane ever seeing another year of restaurant openings quite like 2019. Despite a brief lull over spring, almost every week delivered a brand new eatery worthy of diners’ attention. It meant that drilling down on the best of the year was hard (just look at all those honourable mentions). Ultimately, though, these are the restaurants Brisbane fell in love with this year.
After numerous delays, including a last-minute change of ownership in April, Stanley finally opened in the old water police headquarters at Howard Smith Wharves. The two-storey heritage-listed digs have been decked out in parquetry, luscious fabrics, watercolour murals and lanterns. In the kitchen, former EP & LP chef Louis Tikaram has built a menu around fresh regional produce – it includes Hervey Bay scallops with vermicelli and XO sauce; line-caught red emperor or coral trout steamed with ginger, shallot and white soy; and Peking duck prepared over four days, the meat cleaned and brined, blanched and glazed, hung, and then roasted and served to order. It’s backed by head sommelier Thibaud Crégut’s 400-bottle wine list, which drills down on smaller European producers.
Longtime hasn’t closed – it can still be booked for functions – but for all intents and purposes this classic Brisbane restaurant has moved its nightly dinner service down the hill to James Street. The new venue, Same Same, features the same staff, the same kitchen brigade and a similar approach to its predecessor, but also a brand new look courtesy of its Richards and Spence-designed digs in Ada Lane. The fit-out of concrete, cream brick and vermiculate is arranged with a precise geometry. The standout features are the central kitchen and a green-tiled upstairs bar, Los, that boasts a 110-bottle tequila menu. For food, chef Ben Bertei has used the addition of a woodfired grill to subtly update his menu, the much-loved curries and noodle dishes complemented by grilled chicken with lemongrass, turmeric, garlic, ginger and shallots, and grilled pork neck served with toasted rice, spring onion, chilli and fish sauce. It’s all helped down by one of the more thoughtful wine lists in town, with rieslings, rosés and natural wines to cut through the menu’s spice. The only catch? Same Same has 20 fewer seats than Longtime, so arrive early.
Za Za Ta
It took 18 months to conceive, design and build, but Za Za Ta finally opened in early August. Parked underneath Ovolo The Valley in Fortitude Valley’s Emporium precinct, this 140-seat Luchetti Krelle-designed restaurant and bar is an intimate stunner, blending Victorian-style interiors with Queensland architecture, velvet seating, vivid colouring, wooden furniture and globe lights. The food is just as impressive. Executive chef Roy Ner and head chef Dario Manca’s menu is designed to be shared. It contemporises traditional Middle Eastern flavours with approachable touch points for a broad range of diners. Think cuttlefish fasolia (a Greek, Levantine and Cypriot soup) with Roman beans and chilli oil; lamb neck with merguez stuffing and mint; or a Yemenite butter bread prepared using an ancient technique. For drinks, a 100-bottle wine list has a “four-way split” between the Middle East, France, Italy and Australia. The eye for detail extends to an imaginative cocktail list that includes a persimmon Negroni and the Genie in a Bottle – cherry-smoked hibiscus rose tea made from scratch and mixed with sumac-infused gin, chamomile bitters, lemon, honey, dried roses and sugar sticks. In short, be prepared to stay awhile.
Tim and Sarah Scott’s 10-seat omakase-inspired Joy has perhaps been the true standout in 2019. It’s not much more than a kitchen and a handsome compressed-stone counter hidden down a poky Fortitude Valley laneway, but the Scotts boast a combined experience working in some of Australia’s best kitchens, including Urbane, Gerard’s Bistro, Sepia and Sixpenny. The menu changes often, but typical dishes include venison and wagyu tartare with golden sesame and celeriac, and confit squid served with zucchini and fragrant herbs. For wines, award-winning sommelier Russ Berry has helped match the Scotts’ lighter style of cooking by compiling a list that favours low-intervention whites. Just be prepared to book way in advance
Proof BBQ & Booze
Imagine the TV show Cheers but in a suburban car park in Brisbane’s north. That’s what ex-Gresham manager Ryan Lane and business partner Michael Cameron unveiled in July with Proof BBQ & Booze. Set inside the iconic former digs of Harry’s Diner on Newmarket Road, the duo have erased that venue’s rockabilly character and replaced it with warm timber, classic Bentwood chairs, leather bucket bar stools and a generously proportioned bar. The menu’s “food, drink and snacks” layout is a nod to Lane’s love for Kentucky: obscure whiskeys and craft beer help wash down a bunch of Southern staples – smoked meats, shrimp grits, burnt-end chilli beans and mac’n’cheese. “Pitmaster” Cameron smokes all his meats on-site using ironbark and fruit woods. The menu includes beef brisket, beef short rib, half and full racks of pork ribs, and half-chickens served with Alabama sauce. Vegetarian options include salads, a portobello-mushroom burger and watermelon ham.
Hello Please’s Maris Cook and Jesse Stevens teamed up with Movida alum Eleanor Cappa to open Maeve Wine in late March. Housed inside the 90-year-old Ng House opposite QPAC, Maeve is a beautiful upstairs spot with globe lights, dark wooden panelling, marble counters and handsome ribbed glass. Food is share plates backed by a bunch of classy, keenly priced mains – think crispy pork belly with confit witlof hearts and a carrot gastrique, or kingfish with barbequed zucchini, brussels sprouts, labneh and black garlic. Cappa has compiled an 80-bottle wine list that lines up European vino next to new-world drops produced in an old-world style. The best part? Maeve is open until midnight, Monday to Saturday, making it perfect for a post-show supper.
Martha Street Kitchen owners Jen Byrnes and Patrick Laws opened Perch’d in late January in a beautiful old Queenslander shop in Coorparoo. It’s everything the takeaway place of your youth got right (fish and chips made with love) but with a heavy focus on the freshest seafood and prepping everything in-house. Laws cooks a changeable menu of three types of fish (mahi mahi, snapper and blue-eye trevalla have all been regular menu items in the venue’s first year), three burgers and a bunch of sides, including hand-cut chips, calamari and prawn cutlets. Out front, Byrnes matches the food to craft beer and Australian small-producer wines.
It may have converted its wine bar into a pasta joint (which is now here to stay), but Arc remains perhaps the superstar opening of 2019, dominating local headlines. More a bright and airy garden pavilion than a simple restaurant, the space is filled with cane and wrought-iron furniture, and designer Anna Spiro’s love for colour and luscious prints comes out in Arc’s soft furnishings. Former Saint Peter head chef Alanna Sapwell has returned to Queensland to create a local produce-focused menu of dishes such as squid with fermented persimmon and ink crisp, and swordfish served with lilly pilly, almond and celery. For drinks, award-winning sommelier Ian Trinkle has curated a list of more than 400 wines, with the emphasis on sustainable, organic and minimal-intervention producers.
Mosconi is one of the prettiest openings of the year, designer Meredith Burke having completely reimagined an old World War II-era Nissen hut as an immaculate modern diner replete with a mezzanine, pistachio-coloured walls and a curved marble-top bar. The restaurant itself is a compact 60-seater from Vine alum Daniel Rotolone. In the kitchen, Il Centro veteran Catherine Anders takes a widescreen approach to the restaurant’s Mediterranean menu, leaning into broader European influences and techniques. There’s fried zucchini flowers filled with risotto, Brisbane Valley quail served with a beetroot gazpacho, and Parisian gnocchi served with Mooloolaba prawns, porcini and shellfish butter.
Nota chefs and co-owners Sebastiaan De Kort and Kevin Docherty have revived Montrachet’s old Given Terrace digs by creating something very different to that French classic. An approachable, elevated menu of share plates includes quail from Brisbane Valley Quail served on sweet-corn polenta with burnt butter, a sandwich built with tempura market fish and house-made tartare sauce, and a sirloin salad with kipflers, rosemary and garlic. The wine focuses on local and European small-batch producers, with Brisbane beer expert (and regular Broadsheet contributor) Matt Kirkegaard curating a list of bottled and canned beers. Nota also has a more dialled-down fit-out than its predecessor, De Kort and Docherty replacing Montrachet’s startling scarlet leather with black, white and tan alongside exposed-brick walls.
Baja is restaurateur Dan Quinn’s gentle rebuke to the Tex-Mex brand of Mexican that has traditionally dominated in Brisbane. Here, you get refined northern Mexican food with a twist: buffalo burrata with smoked-cashew salsa; twice-cooked octopus served in its own ink with chilli oil and jalapeno-soy dressing; and miso-stewed mushroom tacos. Californian young gun Julio Aguilera is consulting on the menu, with Valerie Frei – of Berlin’s two-Michelin-starred wine bar Rutz – preparing the food night-to-night. Baja’s fit-out is pared-back and elegant, with a clean white-and-green colour scheme, textured walls, rattan lighting and a simple cactus garden planted inside, under the venue’s windows.
Beaux Rumble opened in October in Fortitude Valley’s Ada Lane, fusing classic French Beaux-Arts design with modern Australian woodfired cooking. Taking additional inspiration from New York’s Grand Central Terminal, the restaurant has been brought to life across two storeys of grand staircases, mezzanines, domed ceilings, intricate metalwork, clever feature lighting and a heap of marble. Still, the digs play second fiddle to some excellent food: there’s raddichio with sherry-glazed shallots and a celeriac remoulade; ironbark-charred leeks with almond cream, truffle and lemon; and whole-roasted Victorian rainbow trout with sunchokes, asparagus, seeds and grapes. There's also a Sunday brunch menu that includes house-made crumpets, woodfired sardines with soft-boiled eggs, and French-style scrambled eggs served with oscietra caviar.
Star chef and restaurateur Jonathan Barthelmess opened this two-storey izakaya in November, right next door to his enormously popular Greca restaurant at Howard Smith Wharves. Yoko’s long line of riverside booths is offset by a beautiful bento-box-inspired interior design, plywood walls partly concealing a sizeable kitchen and a bar area upstairs. In the kitchen is Kitak Lee, a veteran of Cho Cho San (another celebrated Barthelmess venue), Kisumé and Momofuku, backed up by Greca and Yoko executive chef Ben Russell. Lee’s dishes include whole steamed reef fish, charcoal chicken with sansho pepper, and kingfish served with sesame and kohlrabi. For drinks, venue manager Nick Ingall has pulled together close to 150 wines with a bunch of drops available via Coravin. Upstairs, star barkeep Perryn Collier has pulled together a collection of cocktail jugs, mocktails and yuzu slushies, best enjoyed late at night when DJs are spinning the in-house collection of vinyl.
One Fish Two Fish
A new contender for Brisbane’s best casual seafood restaurant.
Paul McGivern sells The Wolfe and moves to a slightly more laid-back segment of the market with this classy Woolloongabba diner.
Talking of, star Brisbane chef Josh Lopez takes over one of Brisbane’s best suburban diners and makes it his own with his artful use of local produce.
CJ’s Secret Pasta Club
A tiny front-of-house pasta operation in a West End pasta wholesaler.
Not a new opening – but after an extensive refurbishment, it may as well be. This might just be the best looking restaurant in town.
Classy Thai food in an elegant setting in The Embassy Hotel in Brisbane’s CBD.
Some of Sydney’s most outrageous burgers take on Brisbane inside a street-art adorned Gasworks space.
Arc Wine Bar’s temporary pasta replacement becomes a permanent fixture at Howard Smith Wharves.
This Japanese chain with its perfected salaryman-style ramen finally arrives in Brisbane.
Brisbane’s middle-market Thai food is coming along in leaps and bounds, with this Brisbane Quarter favourite the latest addition.
Manny Rosenberg opens a very legitimate tribute to his native New York’s most iconic sandwich.
Rico Bar and Dining
The old Aria is reborn as an easy, breezy Spanish and South American-inspired riverside restaurant.
Taro’s Ramen Stones Corner
Brisbane’s very best ramen joint gets a new outlet in the south.