For three days every September, musicians, fans and industry heads from around the world converge on Fortitude Valley for BIGSOUND. Now in its 15th year, the event showcases the best in Australian music.
This year’s conference program features internationally renowned keynote speakers such as Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon and Lars Murray, who runs gigs and cross-platform promotion for internet radio station Pandora in the US.
Whether you’re in town for the conference or purely focused on gigs, here are the best places to eat and drink during BIGSOUND.
Reverends Fine Coffee
This is the closest stop to the two main conference venues, CUPO and the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Plum, currant and cherry notes make up the house blend, supplied by local roaster Uncle Joes. Pop in before the BIGSOUND official opening – gluten-free doughnuts are supplied by Nodo every Wednesday.
Ltd Espresso + Brew Bar
Another handy pit stop for conference-goers. Coffee does most of the talking at Ltd, save for a small menu of toast and sweets. On any given day, three different beans are showcased in limited numbers – hence the name. You might end up with a full-bodied Kenya Sasini espresso, or a V60 pour-over from Mt Top Estate.
Located in neighbouring New Farm, Jamie’s Espresso is worth the walk. There’s a no-frills vibe at the cafe-meets-bar, which began life in 1998. Jamie’s serves a full-bodied Belaroma blend from Sydney in one size only. The same simple approach extends to the cafe’s well-priced food offerings, which include spanakopita and toasted sandwiches.
A 10-minute walk from the Brunswick/Ann/Wickham block where all the action is. But like Jamie’s, these breakfasts are worth it. Cult menu classics include sweet corn cakes with smashed avocado, and the generously portioned chowdown (and vego chowdown), Au Cirque’s version of a big breakfast with the lot.
From the same team that’s behind South Brisbane’s popular Merriweather, King Arthur is one of Brisbane's very best cafes. Breads from nearby Sprout Artisan Bakery are stuffed with leg ham and cheddar for takeaway, while sit-down specials change regularly. Staples range from sustainably caught pilchards and locally raised goat, to Mount Cotton mushrooms and Cape Grim beef.
There are only three on the menu: The Classic (a simple beef patty, onions, lettuce, tomato and cheese); The Special (The Classic with jalapeños and special sauce); and The Vegetarian. The only rule? No alterations. You can add bacon and order fries or Ben’s chilli fries on the side. It’s the ideal meal to smash between acts. It’s also open until 10pm on Wednesday and Thursday.
Hit up District 1 for a fresh, light dinner before festival acts start at 8pm. All the traditional Vietnamese favourites are served here, including vermicelli noodle salad bowls, fresh rice paper rolls and banh mi. Like Ben’s, it’s centrally located.
You’ll find these handmade Northern Chinese-style parcels right near the Judith Wright Centre. Go traditional with pork and Chinese cabbage, or try the chicken and asparagus for something contemporary. Mains such as crystal cucumber salad and pork belly braised in sweet soy are also worth digging into.
Green Beacon Brewing Co
During festival hours, the vibe will be strong at this cavernous venue. The brewery’s six-strong core range includes a pale ale, kolsch, amber, porter, IPA and a hoppy American ale. Order a plate of cheese to accompany your brew, or dig into a seafood platter of oysters, king prawns and Moreton Bay bugs.
Newstead Brewing Co
Newstead Brewing Co is close to Green Beacon, and similarly spacious. In addition to six house beers and six others, its list of wine and spirits will satisfy the non-beer-drinker. Chef Peter Swatton keeps it practical, with a menu involving fries and wings.
Eleven Rooftop Bar
Eleven storeys high, with a 270-degree view of Brisbane, Eleven Rooftop Bar is a sophisticated setting for a mid-festival break. Make your way to the marble bar to order from the extensive drinks list, which features a full champagne menu. The substantial selection of spirits is crafted into a wide range of cocktails and is also available for bottle service in the semi-private booths.
The sound system at Barbara rivals that of most clubs. Head there on Friday night to hear DJs play funk, soul, disco and hip-hop before the official BIGSOUND closing party at [The Triffid] (/brisbane/newstead/bars/the-triffid). There are six independent beer taps, cocktails and an unusual wine list.
Classic ’70s dishes such as steak Diane, tuna tartare and chicken kiev are making a comeback. Given a modern spin at Nickel Kitchen & Bar, they’ll play right into your sense of nostalgia. There are 250 wines to match. The restaurant is nice and close to festival venue The Zoo.
Ben Williamson's food is adventurous but always changing. At the APO, you might find coal-grilled octopus with pig cheek and chickpea sitting comfortably alongside potted duck meat with rye and spiced pear. The focus is on snacks and share plates, but there’s also a selection of bottled cocktails – try a rhubarb and vanilla Negroni or Olive Grove Martini – a sly nod to the venue’s medicinal history.
ESCAPE THE VALLEY
Pearl lends a touch of class to dining. Dishes are inventive and nostalgic, but with a refined twist – eggs and dark-rye toast soldiers for breakfast; a Reuben sandwich for lunch; and line-caught local fish for dinner. The globe-travelling seasonal drinks menu offers an impressive range of wine, beer and aperitifs, including Chablis, Peroni and Pimm’s.
Real dining in a food court? Believe it. Dining here is fun, with plates designed for sharing, but Public has a sense of sophistication. Public was the first Brisbane restaurant to serve insects – cans of worms, ant salads and scorpion. Chef Damian Amos also created what must surely be one of Brisbane's foodie bucket-list items: Kentucky Fried Duck. The rest of the menu is a little more conventional, including pork-belly green curry and Texas brisket.
The Gresham is proudly the only remaining pub in Queensland with a heritage licence. The bar’s elegant limestone walls, polished furniture and many framed pictures are a constant reminder the building has been sitting there since 1885. Even the drinks list reflects the nostalgia of the building, offering more than 200 whiskies from the US and beyond, dozens of rums and gins, and other old-timey sippers.
Most evenings at Super Whatnot you’ll hear the soothing crackle of vinyl spun by Brisbane’s finest hip-hop, soul and disco DJs. Those who stay into the night will discover that although there isn't a designated dance floor, one may appear anyway. Upstairs on the mezzanine, try a cocktail, or perhaps something from the bar’s rotating craft-beer selection. The three taps change daily, with a focus on local and national microbrews.
E’cco bistro, a modern interpretation of a classic French bistro, opened in 1995. The menu has evolved considerably since, but the idea of honest food remains at its core. Choose to dine from the a-la-carte menu or settle in for the five-course tasting menu to enjoy dishes such as labneh and pickled walnut tortellini; tahini-carrot puree; and salt-baked celeriac. There’s also a separate vegetarian menu and an impressive drinks selection.
Taking cues from its Sydney counterpart, Otto Ristorante, this cosy 130-seat eatery overlooks the Brisbane River and Story Bridge. In a warm and inviting space, slatted wooden detailing, a lively colour palette and an open kitchen set the scene for a menu that comes straight from the Otto bible – albeit with a distinct southern-Italian influence, tapping into Queensland’s warmer climate.
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