Covid-19 was meant to be the end of Brisbane’s restaurant boom. Instead, it’s felt more like an accelerant, as dollars earmarked for overseas holidays are spent in the local economy, and southerners move to Queensland in ever greater numbers. It’s meant that a surprising number of new eateries opened in the first half of 2021. Here’s what you need to check out.

Coppa Spuntino
Coppa Spuntino lives, reborn by the river in the former digs of Il Centro after having closed on Creek Street – seemingly for good – in early 2020. The snack-focused menu includes old Coppa favourites such as the burrata, pork and veal meatballs, pork and beef ragu pappardelle, and the immensely popular gnocchi with kale and walnuts. For mains there’s roasted porchetta with rocket and apple, and a bistecca alla fiorentina designed to share. Drinks-wise, the focus is on Italian wines and styles, and local minimal-intervention drops, but Coppa has also loosened its collar to introduce a slushy machine that spins frozen prosecco and a frozen Negronis. For the design, owners Bonnie Shearston and Tom Sanceau have worked wth architect Adam Laming to reimagine the old Il Centro space as a breezy, beautiful Amalfi-inspired restaurant with tiles, timber, white rendered walls and rattan lights.

Butterfly
Melbourne’s interminable 2020 lockdown inspired chef Alex Kim to migrate from the Victorian capital and open his debut restaurant in Brisbane. The result is an intimate 22-Seat Korean and Japanese fine-dining omakase restaurant on Woolloongabba’s Jurgens Street. Across up to 16 courses, what you eat depends on what’s market-fresh on the day, but might include kingfish sashimi; salmon caviar with sumiso (a traditional sauce made with light-brown miso); a yukhoe tartare sandwich with fermented cod-roe cream; Wagyu bulgogi with hollandaise sauce; or pork and kimchi mandu (Korean dumplings) served with potato puree. Throughout, the focus is on Japanese and Korean cooking techniques applied to local ingredients. The space itself has been stripped back to its raw elements, with concrete-brick walls, a concrete floor, and a three-sided dining counter that surrounds a prep bench and woodfired grill. Its few accoutrements include a small zen garden and a record player spinning classical and jazz music.

Bianca
Arguably the biggest opening of the year so far, Bianca isn’t just another neighbourhood Italian restaurant. The team behind Agnes, Honto and Same Same have collaborated with in-demand architects Richards & Spence to produce a striking, tile-laden venue that’s permanently bathed in a peachy glow, its bright orange branding inspired by the restaurant’s acrylic-handled Sabre Paris cutlery. The menu is a chance for co-owner and celebrated chef Ben Williamson to let his hair down. It includes snacks, entrees, seven house-made pasta dishes and a clutch of mains. Pastas are intended to rotate, but permanent fixtures include a paccheri al pomodoro with stracciatella, and a pork and fennel lasagne. Sending it home is an Italian-made Carpigiani soft-serve gelato machine, used to create the restaurant’s Instagrammable dessert menu. For drinks, there’s a 350-bottle list that focuses on Italian wines and local vino made in an Italian-style.

Melrose
Occupying a breezy first-floor rooftop spot on Bulimba’s Oxford Street, Melrose is Venzin Group’s move into elevated middle-market dining, co-owners Giorgina Venzin and Chris Hollingsworth signalling their intent with the hiring of former Longrain Melbourne head chef Arte Assavakavinvong to lead the kitchen. He’s preparing prawn and pomelo betel leaf wraps, yellowfin tuna larb, a selection of Indonesian skewers (beef, sticky pork or okra), and a mains menu that features soft-shell crab stir-fried with curry powder and Chinese celery, a Malaysian style chicken curry, and charcoal-fired turmeric-spiced spatchcock. For drinks there’s a classy cocktail menu and a 60-bottle wine list. As for the fit-out, the 110-seater is inspired by the lavish beach clubs of Bali and Koh Samui, and is decked out in timber, terracotta tiling and plenty of greenery. The killer feature? A retractable roof that will come into its own during the warmer months.

Bisou Bisou and Iris
The newly opened Hotel X’s one-two punch is Bisou Bisou, a ground-floor restaurant inspired by the casual diners of Paris, and Iris, a rooftop restaurant and bar with stunning views of the city, the Valley, New Farm and Moreton Bay.

Bisou Bisou deals in French icons such as pommes aligot (silky potato puree with melted cheese), steak tartare, and steak frites with cafe de Paris butter. There’s also an oyster and caviar bar, and a cheese trolley with more than 25 French and Australian cheeses. For drinks, a 200-bottle wine list is backed by an adventurous cocktail list. In terms of looks, Design studio Space Cubed has delivered a sumptuous venue full of arched brickwork, parquet floors and marble countertops.

Upstairs, Iris is the more freewheeling affair, intended to capture the feel of the Mediterranean with stone and tiled walls, rich fabrics, olive trees and hanging wisteria. Food is a mix of tapas, flatbreads and bigger share plates, helped down by a classic-leaning cocktail list, a sangria menu, and a tight 80-bottle wine list that mixes Australian drops with vino from Spain, France, Italy and Greece.

Elementi
From Beccofino veterans Mauricio Zarate, Pedro Sanson and Stefano Spataro comes this casual Given Terrace Italian joint, which upon opening in February immediately became a contender for the best pizza in town. A Marra Forni woodfired oven punches out a pizza menu divided into classic rossa options – including the Salsiccia (scamorza cheese, pork sausage and onion) and the Marina (mozzarella, white anchovies, artichokes and watercress) – while the pizza bianca get a little more creative, with choices such as the Trevisana (mozzarella, gorgonzola, radicchio, cherry tomatoes, walnuts and ham) and the Piemontese (mushroom puree, mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella and artichokes). The rest of the menu includes pea and fontina cheese arancini; fried stuffed olives; and a trio of pastas, including artichoke, potato and sweet onion-filled ravioli. The drinks lean hard towards classic Italian wines but also include lesser-known varietals.

Otto
Finally, Otto has found its natural home by the water, moving from 480 Queen at the turn of the year to take over the South Bank digs previously occupied by Stokehouse Q. The layout is the same from the Stokehouse days and Otto chef Will Cowper and restaurant manager Alan Hunter’s respective food and wine menus are much the same, but those unencumbered views of the city lean into Otto’s sense of occasion, giving the new venue its own unique ambience. Beyond the celebrated lobster spaghettini, pastas include ricotta and lemon filled tortellini with mushrooms, pecorino and a chicken brodo, and a potato gnocchi with Otto reserve brisket, roasted onion and gremolata. For mains, there’s Longreach lamb rump with capsicum and salsa verde, and butterflied spatchcock with pancetta, potato, chargrilled lemon and capers. The wine list – up there with the best in town – will happily take you around the world but specialises in small-producer Italian drops. The biggest change is the opening of Otto Osteria, which transcribes the classy Italian eats and drinks into a more approachable bar-style setting, perfect for South Bank interlopers.

Manly Boathouse
The former weatherboard home of the 18 Footers Sailing Club has been transformed into Manly Boathouse, an Instagrammable restaurant, cafe and bar. Inside, just about everything is white – the light shades, the section curtains, the exposed ceiling beams – and the restaurant is lined with French doors to make the most of brilliant views of Manly Boat Harbour and Moreton Bay. Outside, the theme continues with white picnic tables shaded by navy and white umbrellas. For food, chef Braden White (formerly Hatch & Co, The Apo, Ricky’s and Miss Moneypenny’s Broadbeach) has written a menu heavy on seafood – think barbequed Tasmanian scallops with miso mayo, or grilled ocean king prawns with cafe de Paris butter and lemon – washed down by breezy cocktails, 10 beers and ciders on top, and a generous wine list that favours classic Australian drops. There’s also a cafe and a fish and chippery on-site if you’re keeping it more casual.

Opa Bar and Mezze
Moving into Jellyfish’s old riverside premises is this immaculate Greek restaurant and bar from Michael Tassis, best known for George’s Paragon, Massimo Restaurant & Bar, and Rico Bar and Dining. The menu is split between traditional dishes – lahanodolmades (pork and veal wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with avgolemono, or egg and lemon sauce), souvla, soutzoukakia beef tartare (cumin- and cinnamon-spiced meatballs served with tomato and a quail egg), and half a lamb (requiring 48 hours’ notice) – and modernised Greek seafood, including raw ocean trout with citrus, watermelon and fennel; freshly shucked oysters with tomato and ouzo; and chargrilled lobster with capers and ladolemono (lemon and oil) or Cretan butter sauce. For wine, a 200-bottle list heroes a bunch of Greek drops but also pinot noir due to its versatility with food. The design of the open-air restaurant is all white walls and blue-stone flooring with accents of terracotta tiles, pale timber and terrazzo tabletops.

La Costa Restaurant
La Costa is the beating heart of the new mini food and drinks precinct created by Stefano de Blasi and Edoardo Perlo (best known for Salt Meats Cheese, but who have recently added Eterna and La Costa neighbours Cielo Rooftop Bar and The Parlour to their portfolio). The bones of its previous life as Foresters are still there, but gone are the gilded references to Flatiron-era New York. Instead, interior stylist Sarah Vize has helped open up the space and brighten the colour scheme. The food is a variation on Eterna’s uncomplicated style of pasta and Salt Meats Cheese’s Italian pizza, alongside a handful of classy mains. For drinks, there’s an internationally minded, small producer-focused wine list, a bunch of tap beers and a cocktail list designed by superstar Sydney bar Maybe Sammy.

Honourable Mentions:

Mario’s – a classy aperitivo bar and restaurant from the Mama Taco crew.
Barbecue Mafia – some of the world’s best low’n’slow barbeque at a suburban Brisbane footy ground? You better believe it.
La Mexicana – star chef Louis Tikaram is serving lamb barbacoa, kingfish aguachile and grilled street corn, along with a Margarita menu and a back bar stacked high with tequila and mezcal.
South Austin – expect hand-made tortillas, smoked meats and frozen Margaritas from one of the world’s best low’n’slow barbeque teams.