The Sunshine State is making a serious play to become Australia’s coolest culinary destination, so we've rounded up the best restaurants to dine at in Queensland.
To get to Brisbane’s Agnes restaurant, you have to become a little lost. You won’t find it on the city’s buzzing James Street in Fortitude Valley or at the riverside Howard Smith Wharves but on an unremarkable backstreet that’s near both. The only hint that Queensland’s most-talked-about eatery lies here is the queue that forms at the door before opening time.
In some ways, the woodfire-focused Agnes is the embodiment of what the state’s dining scene has become: hot, modern and unexpected. “We want to captivate people,” says co-owner Tyron Simon, who runs front-of-house for chef Ben Williamson’s kitchen. “We picked up what we wanted to do from travelling and experiencing hospitality around the world then brought it here.”
Agnes may be a leader in the state’s culinary boom but there are plenty in its ranks. In Brisbane, Agnes’s sister venues Hôntô (Japanese), Same Same (Thai) and Biànca (Italian) have created a thriving dining precinct that’s rounded out by two other critics’ favourites, Hellenika and SK Steak & Oyster, both at the luxe Calile Hotel on James Street. All offer high-end dining that draws heavily on Queensland produce, served up in simultaneously polished and unpretentious settings.
Simon says it was the 2018 opening of The Calile that kicked things off. “In the past you maybe wouldn’t have expected people from Sydney and Melbourne to come to Brisbane [for a holiday] but now you have people who want to come up just to stay at The Calile. It’s such a landmark and, for the first time, it’s making Brisbane a destination.”
Restaurateur Simon Gloftis, the man behind the Greek-themed Hellenika and SK Steak & Oyster, agrees dining in the Sunshine State is making a move on the national stage. “People are genuinely excited about South East Queensland.”
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His SK Steak & Oyster, an iteration of a New York steakhouse, has been a kind of test case for gauging whether local audiences – and visitors – are keen for an upmarket experience in the River City. With a menu featuring $200 steaks, Oscietra caviar for $240 a 30-gram serve and seafood dishes that can be supercharged with half a lobster – for a $100 supplement – SK has been packed since opening in December 2019. “People in Brisbane are prepared to buy lobsters on a Tuesday night,” he says. “We just didn’t give them the opportunity before.”
The Calile may have been the catalyst for this culinary shift but it reaches past the hotel’s precinct. Over the river in South Brisbane, an outpost of Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie has been doing a roaring trade since opening in August, while the relocated Otto Brisbane is a crowd-pleaser with its luxury Italian menu and water views. More venues are being planned, with announcements about upcoming eateries expected for Howard Smith Wharves.
This new wave can be seen beyond Brisbane, too. On the Sunshine Coast, slick venues such as Sum Yung Guys can barely keep up with demand. When the eatery revealed it was moving from Sunshine Beach to a Noosaville location earlier this year, more than 4000 people registered for a table within 24 hours. And after 40 years in Sydney’s Paddington, upmarket Lucio’s has opened in Noosa. Dubbed Lucio’s Marina, it’s run by Lucio and Sally Galletto’s children in a neat, next-generation twist.
South of Brisbane, in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, Restaurant Labart has gone from bistro to fine-diner over the past year, after customer requests. “We started Labart more casually, with a bistro feel, but people wanted more,” says Karla Munoz Labart, who owns the venue with her chef husband, Alex.
“We decided we’d listen to that. We’ve moved to a more formal set menu of six or seven courses and people have responded very favourably.”
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In a converted Fortitude Valley warehouse, the personable Tyron Simon greets diners at the door of the restaurant that’s a hymn to the power of cooking with wood (no electricity or gas is used). Chef Ben Williamson offers inventive dishes such as scallop doughnut with preserved lemon, green onion cream and Vietnamese mint, and bluefin tuna with fennel, horseradish and mackerel soy. The food is exemplary, the service warm and the cocktails (named after scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) are a hoot.
SK Steak & Oyster, Brisbane
With an extraordinary fit-out by local design firm Richards & Spence, SK at The Calile is a New York-style steakhouse with bells on. Chef Kelvin Andrews has created a Queensland focused steak menu – try the 400-gram Black Angus prime rib – but there’s plenty of local seafood, too: Mooloolaba prawns, Fraser Island spanner crab, Moreton Bay bug. The rock ’n’ roll soundtrack humming in the background and the whitejacketed waiters lend an edge to this sophisticated diner.
Stepping into Biànca on Ada Lane in Fortitude Valley is transportive, courtesy of another ingenious Richards & Spence design. Airy and contemporary, this eatery feels like a trip to modern Milan. The Italian menu is long and designed for sharing. Build from morsels, such as pickled sardines and kingfish carpaccio, to bigger plates of risotto with scallops or pork and fennel lasagne.
Recently relocated from the CBD to riverside South Bank, this sister to Sydney’s Otto Ristorante is going from strength to strength under chef Will Cowper. Proudly upscale, the sunny Italian menu offers fresh takes on the classics, including a carpaccio made zesty with melon, lime, mint, chilli and finger lime and Cowper’s signature spaghettini with champagne lobster (it’s a bit like a crayfish) with garlic, chilli, white wine, lemon butter and bottarga.
Lune Croissanterie, Brisbane
A branch of Melbourne’s most celebrated patisserie, this newcomer has had long queues since it opened in South Brisbane last August. Lune founder Kate Reid was a Formula One aerodynamics engineer before taking up baking and she applies the same precision she once used on fast cars to her pastry. The result? Croissants often described as the world’s best.
Pizza is a natural conclusion to a day lazing on a Noosa beach. At this eatery, Naples-born pizzaiolo Gianluca Donzelli (ex-Pizzaperta, Sydney) is doing brilliant things with dough. Go traditional with the margherita.
Sum Yung Guys, Noosa
Fronted by former MasterChef contestant Matty Sinclair, this Noosaville restaurant is renowned for its fun atmosphere and umami-rich, mostly Thai and Chinese-influenced dishes. Try the pork rib curry with kipfler, betel leaf and makrut lime alongside a cracking Fraser Island spanner crab fried rice.
Lucio’s Marina, Noosa
The Sydney contingent who regularly spend their holidays on the Sunshine Coast are no doubt thrilled by the arrival of one of the Eastern Suburbs’ much-loved Italian trattorias on Noosa River. It’s no carbon copy of Lucio Galletto’s now-closed restaurant-meets-gallery but expect to see some special artworks on the walls and familiar plates of next-level pasta on the tables.
Restaurant Labart, Burleigh Heads
Rather than relying on sea views, this 40-seater has built its audience on the quality of chef/owner Alex Munoz Labart’s contemporary French/Australian cookery. There’s a set menu for dinner and you might try barbecued Queensland prawns with garlic prawn butter and capers, followed by lamb rump with caramelised onion yoghurt, in a room that’s reminiscent of a classic French bistro.
Tarte Bakery & Café, Burleigh Heads
Tarte is redefining the café game on the Gold Coast with its chic Parisian-style décor and a menu built on bagels and tartines. It’s the second creation from Chloe Watts, former owner of another popular Goldie spot, Paddock Bakery.