Brisbane is a city of contrasts. A buzzing metropolis boasting some of Australia’s best fashion boutiques, art galleries, live music venues and fine dining experiences, it’s also the kind of CBD where you can choose to simply hop on a kayak and let it all pass you by.
So if you’re only in town for a whirlwind visit, there’s little time to wast. First, base yourself somewhere central. The Hilton Brisbane – designed by Harry Seidler, one of the Australia’s most lauded modernist architects – is conveniently central to CBD shopping, but also offers a short stroll to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, riverside dining and the bustling South Bank arts precinct.
Set yourself here and head out into town on foot to make the most of the day like a local.
Laneway spot Felix for Goodness is a five-minute stroll from your hotel. Drop in for an especially feel-good breakfast, such as the hemp-milk vanilla bircher or the mini breakfast bun, all made from ethically sourced ingredients. Smoothies include seasonal green, acai watermelon, choc banana and turmeric banana, and a display cabinet bursts with a tempting array of cakes, muffins, frittatas and scones.
Two of the CBD’s best midweek spots for coffee are here in Strauss and John Mills Himself – the latter a subterranean lair five minutes’ walk from your hotel, accessed via a secret door at the back of Archives Fine Books on Charlotte Street. (Tip: from Tuesday to Fridays it transforms from a go-to cafe spot into a decadent bar from 4pm to late. Keep this one in your notes.)
Over on nearby Margaret Street, Coffee Anthology, open Saturdays, is another establishment that takes its beans very seriously, each week rotating some of the world’s best and most exotic across three grinders. Afterwards, depending on the weather, take advantage of Hilton’s rooftop pool and tennis court (if you’re not too full of coffee).
Once fed and adequately caffeinated, turn the corner on Edward and stroll just a few minutes up to Queens Plaza in the CBD – home to Aesop, Gorman and Zimmermann. The precinct is undergoing a glamorous $36 million redevelopment, due for completion in 2019, that will see a crop of high-end retailers including Aje, Camilla, and Scanlan Theodore take up residence.
Head up Queen Street to the sleek, redeveloped 480 Queen building and have lunch at Otto, a quintessentially Brisbane fine-dining experience with an unbeatable view of the Story Bridge. Chef Will Cowper here presides over a Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring Sicilian-style oysters, a selection of luxe pastas, succulent lamb rump with eggplant, capsicum and salsa verde, and Moreton Bay bug with lemon, black-pepper butter and charred peppers. Just the sort of lunch you’ll want to linger over.
If you’re running short on time, downstairs at 480 Queen is Taro’s Ramen, a budget-friendly lunch option that doesn’t stint on flavour. Rich broth, homemade noodles and quality ingredients makes this ramen a worthy candidate for the country’s best.
Lunch done, walk a little further into the chic suburbs of Fortitude Valley and New Farm to find James Street. Once an industrial area, this shopping strip now hosts a variety of local fashion and beauty heavyweights, from Dinosaur Designs, to Zimmermann, Sass & Bide and Gail Sorronda, as well as smaller creative outlets peppered throughout.
Shopping bags tucked away, slide into a kayak and see Brisbane from the river. Available to hire from a handful of operators dotted along the river, paddle under the picturesque Story Bridge or by the bustling cultural hub of South Bank – an idyllic spot to soak in the afternoon’s rays. Note: tours start at 1pm.
For those craving a dose of culture, hop out at the QUT Art Museum, an institution that hosts exhibitions by touring contemporary artists, as well as QUT staff and students. Wander from the gallery into the nearby City Botanic Gardens to Bunya Walk by the river as the sun begins to dip.
With shopping loot back in your room and a costume change, head downstairs for a pre-dinner wine from Hilton’s Vintaged Bar + Grill, which alongside snacks and dinner fare hosts an 1,000-bottle glass-walled Wine Room, boasting 120 definitive labels from premium Australian varietals both well-known and boutique.
From there it’s a four minute walk around the corner to Urbane and one of the city’s best degustation menus. Andrew Gunn, executive chef, earned his stripes in top restaurants including Becasse in Sydney, and Paris’s Le Cinq, which was awarded its third Michelin star during Gunn’s tenure there.
Diners are required to make just two choices: omnivore or herbivore, and five or eight courses. Descriptions are tantalisingly brief: scampi bisque, zucchini flower consommé, buckwheat with miso, and rice pudding with lilli pilli. It’s creative fine dining that borrows from global cuisines, using quality Queensland ingredients from local producers where possible.
Not all Brisbane offerings are out in the open. The Cloakroom Bar on Elizabeth Street has no signage to hint you’ve arrived – just a well-heeled bouncer to lead you up a fire escape, through an unmarked door and into a dimly lit space. Moody monochrome photographs of some legendary men (JFK and Michael Caine among them) line the walls.
The bar is a spin-off of bespoke suiting service The Cloakroom and the same tailored approach to creating suits is applied to its cocktails: each drink is prepared to order, emerging in all their delicious glory once the bartender has engaged each customer in a tête-à-tête to establish their preferences.
Finish the evening with a whisky nightcap at The Gresham, a historical pub that dates from 1885. Named in honour of the infamous, now-demolished hotel across the street, The Gresham is a stately sandstone and limestone edifice filled with cedar and marble fixtures and soaring pressed-metal ceilings that befit its former life as a bank. Choose from 200 local and international whiskies and retire to a Chesterfield couch to enjoy your tipple before hopping across the road to slide between the sheets of your beckoning bed nearby.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Hilton Discover. Hilton Discover encourages travellers discover a destination like a local.