In Brisbane, you’re doing something right as a restaurateur when Aria comes calling.
The ambitious property group has taken placemaking to another level in this city, building entire precincts from the top down, apartment towers seeded by quality food, beverage and retail tenancies on the ground level. The most compelling example is Fish Lane in South Brisbane. Over the past decade this old four-block byway has become one of Brisbane’s best food destinations. Maker, Hello Please, La Lune, Wandering Cooks, Saccharomyces, Julius, Gauge, Gelato Messina, Maeve, Chu the Phat and Grassfed all occupy the precinct.
But despite its virtues, Fish Lane has lacked a permanent public space around which to centre its sense of community. Hence the invention of Town Square, a soon-to-open Richards and Spence-designed urban park slotted in under the South Brisbane rail flyover. The park will feature public seating, lighting installations and a whopping 3000 plants. Most significantly, Town Square also comes with a clutch of new food and beverage spaces, and moving in is the Rick Shores and Little Valley team with a new Chinese-leaning pan-Asian restaurant, Southside, alongside a smaller all-day cafe called Kiki.
It might feel like the start of one chapter just as another ends for longterm business partners David Flynn, Frank Li, Nick Woodward and Andrew Hohns, after last week’s announcement of the Covid-driven permanent closure of Little Valley. But Flynn says discussions began with Aria about the new restaurant almost two years ago.
“In terms of actually committing to the project, it was probably about halfway through last year,” he says. “We’ve always admired Aria’s vision for Fish Lane. They want to create a really attractive place for their residents to enjoy, but they’re also adding to the tapestry of South Brisbane with their interpretation of the [nearby] cultural precinct. So while you’ve got QPAC and the galleries, Aria has invested a lot in public art and in Fish Lane Festival, which has a big focus on food and community.”
Flynn shorthands the 150-seat Southside’s feel as that of an “urban jungle meets ruined industrial temple”. In a two-storey tenancy, from the outside all the bracing Richards and Spence hallmarks are there – steep archways, crisp slabs of concrete – but its orange brickwork perhaps mimics the architects’ work at Cornerstone Stores on the Gold Coast rather than its best-known Brisbane designs such as The Calile, Ada Lane or 19 James Street. The intention is for it to feel harmonious with the enormous tree ferns and planter boxes of Town Square outside.
“With Town Square, you’ve got these huge monolithic train bridges and busy Melbourne Street, and then this busy pedestrian area on Fish Lane,” Flynn says. “We wanted it to be an oasis in the middle of that but also to feel urban and edgy.
Inside, Murrarie fit-out company Tonic Projects is helping create a space that's "beautiful and precise," Flynn says. "As you go through the space it drifts into terracottas and concrete surfaces. So, it feels very natural.”
In the kitchen is former Little Valley and Rick Shores sous chef Simon Hanmer (Little Valley head chef Jake Pregnell has moved to the Sunshine Coast to work at Corbins, the Maroochydore restaurant he co-owns with his sister Alicia Pregnell). Hanmer will be overseeing a pan-Asian menu that leans towards Chinese style wok dishes and dim sum, with the restaurant featuring a noodle-rolling room that overlooks Melbourne Street. Flynn says the idea is for something slightly more approachable than Rick Shores or Little Valley, to suit the in-and-out theatre crowd and returning locals.
For drinks, the wine list will feature old-world expressions alongside Australian producers such as Scorpo, Shobbrook and Mac Forbes, and a cocktail list that balances classics with newer creations mixed with South East Asian fruit and Chinese spices. There’ll also be a focus on low and non-alcoholic beverages.
Outside in the square, the team is turning a second circular tenancy into an all-day al fresco cafe named Kiki. It will serve Bellissimo coffee alongside Asian noodle and salad dishes, cabinet treats, and fun takes on banh mi, and peddle natural and biodynamic wines later in the day.
“It was always part of the partnership with Aria to do a cafe,” Flynn says. “They want Town Square to be an area of activity from early morning until late in the evening. The thing people want in the morning is really good coffee and easy food options.”
Southside and Kiki will open in Fish Lane in early December.