After years spent looking to its big-city southern sisters, the Queensland capital is coming into its own.
The Meccano-set cranes poking up through the Brisbane CBD skyline mean more than heavy construction; they signify a city that’s finally embracing the belief that the only way is up. Demographically speaking, the growth spurt was driven by the great northern migration – in 2022, a whopping 34,545 people moved to Queensland from interstate, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in a pandemic-inspired population shift.
Then, of course, there’s the five-ring circus that’s coming to town. Barely a conversation in Brisvegas takes place without the 2032 Olympics coming up. There are underground metro lines being dug, inventive inner-city and riverside developments powering ahead and a veritable flourishing of the already vibrant hospitality scene. Every new restaurant and hotel now appears expressly designed to take advantage of the capital’s seemingly endless summer. It’s a whole-of-city effort to look towards the light, pull the dining chairs out onto the footpath and savour life under subtropical skies.
“You can feel the wave of excitement and people being proud of the city they live in, no longer apologising for the fact that it’s not Sydney or Melbourne,” says Adam Flaskas, whose inspired revival of the Howard Smith Wharves precinct has placed him firmly at the epicentre of this renaissance (dare we call it a Bris-aissance?). “Brisbane has always had the natural assets of climate, lifestyle and location on the river but it feels like it’s only recently that the city has leaned into them.”
So much so that Flaskas hints he’ll soon be announcing another major hospitality venture in his hometown. Just one more on the growing list of reasons Brisbane is hotter than ever. Here’s what to look out for…
“Brisbane is one of the most exciting places to be right now,” says Melbourne restaurateur Andrew McConnell, whose celebrated eatery Supernormal will open its first outpost in Brisbane later this summer. “The dining scene is so sophisticated but more than that, there’s an energy to the place. A really enthusiastic and receptive clientele primed to be taken on this gastronomic journey that the city is on.” Surely only the brave would bring lobster rolls to a region where the Moreton Bay bug reigns supreme but McConnell is confident Queenslanders will take to his iconic crustacean creation with the same gusto as southern diners, at the new primo CBD riverside location.
With a pedigree that includes turning Tassie’s Dark Mofo into a major tourist attraction and a long history with the Adelaide Festival, Kate Gould has been lured back to her hometown to transform the Brisbane Powerhouse into a contemporary art space of national significance. And she’s betting the fastest way to any art-lover’s heart is through their stomach. Night Feast, a bi-annual showcase of Brissie’s best restaurants, is set to run for four weeks in March and September, featuring dishes from Donna Chang, E’cco Bistro, Gerard’s, Southside and more.
Another Powerhouse denizen and billed as being “Australia’s first vertical restaurant”, Vertigo offers diners a chance to whack on a harness and eat on a platform suspended four stories above the ground. It’s a heady mix of what Gould describes as “adventure tourism meets experiential dining meets adrenaline rush”. Not least because once you finish the sky-high three-course meal from the Powerhouse’s Italian fine-diner, Bar Alto, you’re invited to wrap up the entire experience by repelling 17 metres down the building (or you could just take the stairs).
Joining the list of renowned southern chefs beating a path to Brisbane is Martin Boetz of famed Thai restaurant Longrain, which ruled the inner- Sydney dining scene until closing its doors in 2019. It’s something of a homecoming for the Brissie-raised restaurateur, whose new Fortitude Valley eatery and fresh produce store, Short Grain will once again show off his skill with spice.
Bombora and Mulga Bill’s
With the Olympics and Paralympics only nine years away, there are infrastructure projects in progress across the city and new bridges popping up all along the Brisbane River (aka The Brown Snake). One such structure is the Kangaroo Point Green Bridge, a pedestrian thoroughfare connecting the dramatic cliffs of its namesake to the Botanic Gardens. That same bridge will be home to a new steak and seafood spot from Brisbane restaurateur Michael Tassis, from the end of next year. When it opens, Bombora – an Aboriginal word for the place where waves crash over a submerged reef – will seat 120 and lean into the Tassis family’s long history with local fishermen to source what Tassis says will be “only the freshest seafood”. It joins Fosh, the fourth seafood offering from the Tassis Group, at Hamilton’s food nucleus, Portside Wharf, which serves everything from freshly shucked oysters to your favourite childhood dinner of fish fingers. At the Botanic Gardens end of the bridge, another Tassis-managed venue, Mulga Bill’s, will be a casual café serving breakfast, woodfired pizzas and takeaway hampers that are ready-made for a picnic in the park. “We’re attracting some real stars to Brisbane. It’s like the secret is out now,” says Tassis of the influx of world-class competition to the city’s dining scene. “It lifts the standard for everyone.”
No account of the burgeoning Brissie hospo scene would be complete without a nod to the biggest of them all: the Queen’s Wharf precinct. Anchored by The Star Casino and the soon-to-open The Star Grand – a 340-room five-star luxury hotel – the entertainment complex is like a behemoth in the city. It’s hard to overstate the impact this single development is going to have on Brisbane and its metamorphosis from sleepy country capital to cosmopolitan city. Suffice to say $3.6 billion buys you a lot in terms of amenities: from the biggest local event and ballroom facility to a leisure district the size of 12 football fields with cafés, celebrity chef-helmed eateries and sunset cocktail bars.
The jewels in the Queen’s Wharf accommodation crown will be the Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood and Dorsett hotels. Together with The Star Grand, they’ll add another 1027 high end hotel rooms and suites to the booming accommodation landscape, which already includes The Westin, Emporium, W Brisbane, Crystalbrook and The Calile.
Image credit: David Chatfield, Ellen Moran