The closure of Brother Espresso late last year marked the end of Valley roastery Fifth Battery. The end of Woolloongabba’s Crosstown Eating House. The end of The Hyde Out in Yeronga. When Miles Graham’s group of eateries folded late last year it left a significant hole in Brisbane’s food and beverage scene.
But as soon as 2016 ticked over new life began to appear. Sorellina’s Cam O’Brien reopened Crosstown as Crosstown Public House. Gavin and Kylie Bartholomew took the vacant Hyde Out and created Seven South, a moody dinner joint that used to do breakfasts becoming a slick, brightly lit breakfast spot that does dinners.
Now, with the opening of a second Nessun Dorma cafe on Margaret Street in the city – where Brother originated – the cycle of renewal finally feels complete. The premises sat empty for eight months before owner Ros Gibbons-Munch picked it up, sensing an opportunity in what was one of the city’s best-loved cafes.
For regulars it still feels like Brother Espresso. The fixed furniture, lights and cement floors are still the same. If you look closely, you can still see the Blu-Tack where the gig posters used to hang on the venue’s long, white-brick wall. “People love this building,” says head chef Matt Kuhnemann, formerly of Il Centro. “They know it. And on days like this, in the middle of winter, it’s a warm place to come.”
But elsewhere things are different. The freestanding furniture and cabinetry is all brand new, offsetting the existing rustic elements. Also new are the twin La Marzocco GB5 coffee machines that pump out Nessun Dorma’s bracing Eduardo house blend (Nessun Dorma, other than being the aria made famous by Pavarotti, is Italian for “none shall sleep”), along with a bunch of single origins from Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia respectively, and an organic blend called Au Naturel. Dominating everything is Nessun Dorma’s distinctive pistachio green branding.
Things are different beyond the venue also. In the months since Brother’s closure, neighbour Coffee Anthology came to dominate this corner of the city; Adam Wang’s skill with espresso is prized by inner-city regulars. But Kuhnemann reckons there’s space for both venues. “There are so many coffee places in the city, but few truly good ones,” he says. “And there’s so much development going on around here. It's going to get very busy."
Kuhnemann hopes a substantial food offering will be another point of difference. He’s still finalising the menu, but for now, all-day breakfast ranges from favourites such as eggs Benedict or Atlantic, right through to curry-spiced cauliflower fritters and savoury mince on toast. For lunch the focus shifts to the cabinets of gourmet, ribbon and toasted sandwiches.
Among those who wander in of a mid-morning there’s a sense the new operators have to prove themselves worthy of taking over this iconic space. But a buzzing back section, a queue of office jockeys at the counter and the familiarity with which they’re served suggests Nessun Dorma is well on its way.