Fish Lane was once no more than an anonymous, unloved corner of South Brisbane. Then something happened. A handful of restaurateurs saw the vacant lots, construction sites and overhead railways crossings, not as barriers to business but opportunity.
Aleks Dzajokvski was one of them. The host at popular Italian institution Beccofino, in Teneriffe, Dzajokvski teamed with Beccofino head chef Anthony Nicastro, and owners Cordell Khoury and Paolo Biscaro, to launch Julius pizzeria in Fish Lane in 2014.
“We already had a name from Beccofino,” says Dzajokvski. “Once we opened up on the other side of the river, it got busy quickly.”
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He says the crowd of regulars and visitors attracted to Julius are also drawn by the nearby arts precinct that includes Queensland Museum, QPAC [Queensland Performing Arts Centre] and QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art). “We’ve noticed being near the cultural centre is convenient,” says Dzajokvski. “The restaurant and Fish Lane in general is becoming a destination for people going to shows or one of the galleries.”
Julius only has a few tables available for reservations each night, meaning its side bar is regularly packed with people enjoying a glass from the wine menu. One option is to leave your number and wait nearby at Maker, Julius’ small-bar neighbour.
Maker serves top-notch seasonal cocktails alongside a small list of unusual wines by the glass. Its bartenders often use native ingredients in their drinks, and experiment with savoury elements, such as a black-garlic crumb or smoked jamon. For those without dinner plans, Maker also offers a neat selection of bar foods, including playful favourites like jaffles and sardines on toast. It’s an easy spot to while away the hours in the dark bar, or sit outside on the street watching the action in the lane.
One venue you’ll spy across the way is Hello Please. Splashed with street-art style murals and strings of festoon lighting, the Vietnamese restaurant is a collaboration between Daniel Ward from The Stables Craft Bar & Kitchen, and Maris Cook, whose resume includes stints at Pearl Cafe, MoVida and Gingerboy in Melbourne.
Hello Please operates out of a shipping container situated in a carpark. Trains rattle on the bridge overhead, adding to the urban atmosphere. Underneath, the menu focuses on street-style food, including pork-belly bao, chicken pho, dumplings, rice paper rolls and freshly made bánh mì. Lunch is geared towards grab-and-go eats, while dinner is designed for sharing, with cocktails, craft and Vietnamese beers, or wine.
At the other end of the precinct is Wandering Cooks. One of the first places to open on the strip, Wandering Cooks is a combination kitchen, bar and event space that’s quickly become a breeding ground for Brisbane’s culinary creatives. It encourages local cooks and chefs to use their kitchens to start or further their food careers.
Director Angela Hirst says anyone can use the kitchen at Wandering Cooks as long as they’ve got the right attitude. “Anyone here needs to be working towards a sustainable food culture,” says Hirst. “We encourage them to network with local farmers and be as ethically responsible as possible.”
Wandering Cooks also hosts cooking classes and workshops. Participants can learn how to barbeque low and slow with Shank Brothers; work with local butcher Meat at Billy’s; attend cheese-making courses; and make their own ceramics and crafts. “We celebrate locals and support things that line up with our independent, artisan-based focus,” says Hirst. “You never know what might be going on any given weekend.”
Being one of the earliest adoptees of Fish Lane, Wandering Cooks helped set the tone for the area that every new business now seek to uphold. Hirst says it’s been exciting to see the laneway take off. “For the first couple of years it was probably more just people coming to our food events,” says Hirst. “But now the lane’s expanded, more and more are wandering in.”
It shows no signs of slowing. 2017 has already seen the addition of La Lune Wine Co., a European-style wine bar with a focus on matching charcuterie and cheese boards. Whatever dining experience you’re looking for in Brisbane, Fish Lane is likely doing it – and better than most.