How to create a hotel restaurant that stands on its own two feet. That was the challenge laid down for food-and-beverage manager Alex Hall and executive chef Gavin Lewis when tasked with opening Tumbling Stone, Brisbane’s very first taste of its very first Art Series hotel, The Johnson.
The Johnson is an imposing, Karl Langer-designed edifice on Boundary Street, scheduled to open early next month. Built in 1967 and once home to the Department of Main Roads, its 2014 heritage listing came replete with a startling Ken Reinhard monument out front, originally commissioned to commemorate the 1986 opening of the Gateway Bridge.
What it didn’t come with was the long outbuilding that sits at the front of the property. Spanning almost half the length of the Johnson itself with corrugated walls and bi-folding windows and doors, Tumbling Stone feels like a line of shipping containers spliced together and thrown open to the elements. (The nomenclature might feel a little dubious but the hotel is named after Australian contemporary artist Michael Johnson, Tumbling Stone one of his most iconic works.) Its wide main entrance opens directly on to the Boundary Street sidewalk, willing pedestrians to step inside.
“Part of the purpose of the restaurant is to help activate this area,” Hall says of the surrounding Spring Hill precinct, for so long an inner-city dead zone when compared to Paddington, Fortitude Valley, New Farm or South Brisbane. “It’s a restaurant connected to a hotel rather than a hotel restaurant.”
The inside is also very un-hotel. There’s no acrylic carpet or table skirts. Instead, its stone fixtures, wooden floors, vertical slatting and lush, hanging greenery. A heavy wooden feature table dominates the Boundary Street entranceway, while different areas are discretely sectioned off by mesh curtains. At the back of the venue is a cosier lounge with reclined seating, designed for business meetings.
Hall has experience creating hotel restaurants that locals would actually choose to frequent. He was part of the team behind Stone Restaurant on Grey Street when it enjoyed a brief period in 2007 as one of that precinct’s go-to eateries.
More recently, he worked for Zen Catering, where he first partnered with Lewis. Together, they’ve created a menu anchored in wholesome, unfussy communal eating with a touch of Asian influence: maybe braised oxtail with deep-fried bone marrow, or blackened Bangalow pork belly with kim-chi dressing. Desserts tend towards refined comfort food – French toast with vanilla mascarpone and lemon balm, or rhubarb crème brûlée. An all-day breakfast menu ranges from spiced-pumpkin hotcakes to pork bacon and black pudding served with free-range eggs.
The drinks list bucks major brands to focus on local spirits and beers – craft outfits such Four Pillars, Balter and Newstead Brewing Co are all represented – backed by a fine selection of both Australian and international wines.
It’s a compelling offering on one of Brisbane’s forgotten high streets, and with the hotel and its accompanying residential and commercial tenants providing a built-in clientele, a massive injection of life into the area. With the Alliance Hotel up the road already churning out highly evolved pub food and rambunctious Happy Boy down on Mein Street, there’s hope for Spring Hill yet.
477 Boundary Street, Spring Hill
(07) 3085 7474
Mon to Sun 7am–10pm