You probably know Ng House. For more than 90 years it’s watched over the corner of Grey and Melbourne streets in South Brisbane, its classical architecture these days sticking out against the brutalist QPAC and Queensland Museum complexes opposite.
The building most recently housed an accountancy firm, Roger Ng and Co (the Ng family still owns Ng House, with Aria holding the head lease), but like a lot of surviving heritage in Brisbane it was originally a bank. And in turn, like so many old banks (see Donna Chang, The Boom Boom Room, The Gresham), it was reborn earlier this month as a wine bar and restaurant. Maris Cook and Jesse Stevens have teamed up with Movida alum Eleanor Cappa to open Maeve Wine.
Hello Please co-owners Cook and Stevens originally secured the property before opening Ol’ School early last year, but getting heritage approval to install a food and drink business ended up taking 10 months. Only then did they enter a development application with council, starting the build in January.
It was worth it. Maeve Wine is a beautiful upstairs timber-floored spot fitted out by Woodsters in dark wooden panelling, marble counters and ribbed glass. Globe lights illuminate a relatively narrow space split into a bistro and bar, and guests enter the venue via an enormous copper door and a burgundy staircase.
Cappa, Cook and Stevens wanted to create a European wine bar. This feels like a European wine bar.
Cook says Stevens was “excited to get back to European flavours” and it shows on the plate in dishes such as steak tartare with horseradish creme and cured egg yolk, and buttermilk fava bean cassoulet with crispy kale. Main plates include charcoal grilled hanger steak frites, and kingfish with roasted mushroom, golden raisin and caper relish.
It’s a menu designed to be cooked until midnight and suit pre-show drop-ins and dedicated diners alike. It’s also keenly priced with no main over $30. “I don’t know how people can charge $40 for main courses that we see in Brisbane at the moment,” Cook says. “I’m going to buck that trend, I don’t want to see it. If it’s a chuleton steak, I get it, you’ve gotta charge some big money. But you can do it well and at an affordable price point for the customer.”
Cappa is in charge of vino and has assembled a list of 80 bottles of European wines alongside new-world drops in a Euro style. An Italian Visintini friulano sits comfortably next to Margaret River winemaker Dormilona’s chenin blanc, or a Hungarian Wetzer tokaji furmint lines up against a Sato riesling from Central Otago.
It’s all impressive stuff but also strategic. Running Hello Please in Fish Lane doubled as market research for Cook and Stevens. QPAC is in the midst of an almighty surge in audience numbers: 1.5 million bums on seats is predicted for the 2018–2019 financial year. Cook reckons that beyond a couple of star players (see Julius, or perhaps Gauge) local operators have been a touch slow to tap into the growth.
“It makes sense that the crowd coming every month, regular season-ticket holders, needs a nice place to drink,” Cook says. “Being on the front corner of Fish Lane you want people to be comfortable with the offering, and European wines and European food go really well.
“Also, the hospitality crowd in Brisbane. There aren’t a lot of places where you can get a bite to eat after doing a 12-hour service … A lot of restaurants out there don’t feed their staff, so I’ll do it.”
Level 1, 39 Melbourne Street
Hours: Daily 4pm–midnight