Ewan McDonald gets a taste of the good life in Brisbane.
Something's happening here. You can see it in the cranes in the sky, the holes in the ground and the orange cones on the streets. Underground rail through the central city, a second airport runway, a cruise-ship terminal, downtown renaissance. New apartment, shopping and entertainment concepts in the suburbs. We're not talking about Auckland. Stimulated by major events, fuelled by a state government-led, private enterprise-funded infrastructure boom, Brisbane is on a roll. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's ministry claims $1 billion is being invested in tourism projects. Good times for visitors. There's a whole new collection and selection of eateries, bars, hotels and spas — especially at the luxe end of town.
Eating / Drinking
Even the most one-eyed Queenslander might have agreed that, a few years ago, eating out was not Brisbane's favourite sport. A degustation of new chefs and restaurants blowing into the city from around Australia and across the globe, and the Sunshine State's advantage in growing superb produce, have changed that.
In the magnificent surroundings of the former Queensland Savings Bank heritage building, Donna Chang blends Chinese influences and Aussie ingredients — crisp-skinned roast duck with Davidson's plum, more yum cha choices than you can shake a chopstick at, knock 'em dead desserts.
Gerard's Bistro might sound Gallic; it's a stunning take on Middle Eastern shared platters, using spices, ferments and breads and — unusually in this part of the world — a contemporary take on plant-based dishes.
Little Valley and Honto trace their pedigree to renowned Rick Shores restaurant in Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast. Little Valley plays variations on Chinese themes while Honto takes a similar approach to Japanese cuisine.
Buzzy Howard Smith Wharves, underneath the Story Bridge, incorporates Felons Brewing, Mr Percival's (an over-river bar), and restaurants including Greca, a modern Greek taverna; Toko, a new izakaya; Stanley, guided by Hong Kong street food, and ARC, for wine and inspired lighter dishes.
At the new hotels, the Calile brings Greek icon Hellenika from the Gold Coast; the Emporium breathes new life into Belle Epoque, its French bistro, patisserie and champagne bar; at the W, Three Blue Ducks is a fun brasserie, the latest in a series famed for its "straight off the beach" approach to cooking and eating. Worth a nibble: Black Hide steakhouse at the Treasury casino; Persone Italian beside the W; Restaurant Dan Arnold, contemporary French; Heritij, modern Indian; Golden Pig, pan-Asian; Philip Johnson's revived, revitalised E'cco Bistro; and Joy, a tiny Japanese-Nordic treasure.
Worth a tipple: Mosconi (Fortitude Valley) and Maeve (South Brisbane) and Corella (Woolloongabba) are excellent wine bars. For cocktail lovers, the Boom Boom Room and the Gresham in the city; Maker (South Bank) and the Press Club (Fortitude Valley).
If your idea of a hotel is a clean bathroom, fresh sheets and a place to sleep, you won't have a problem finding somewhere in Brisbane. But if you want a little more fun, a little more funk, a destination in itself, check into these vibrant new beds, breakfasts, and much more.
When the W Brisbane opened less than a year ago, it was the city's first new five-star hotel in 20 years. The $800 million, 305-room property has panoramic views over the Brisbane River and design inspired by indigenous culture: a perspex "river reeds" sculpture, tide-patterned carpets, earth tones and Queensland artworks.
We are not talking minimalist, though. Each room features custom furnishings, a mix-bar, 55-inch TV and "outback drum"-styled bathtub. Bars and restaurants include the zebra-patterned first-floor Wet Deck bar; there's a luxury day spa, too.
Opulent, glamorous, the Emporium lifted its skirts and moved across the river to South Bank a year ago — to be facelifted into something even more decadent.
The sweeping staircase, the elevators with ever-changing underwater images,the 23m infinity pool on the rooftop, the glitzy Terrace cocktail bar, are standouts. Each of the 143 suites, claimed to be the city's largest hotel rooms, features a gold-framed mirror that transforms into a giant TV-info-entertainment screen and an onyx bar.
In Fortitude Valley, the 1950s Miami-styled Calile is designed to be the resort you have when you don't have a beach. Its 175 rooms surround an elevated pool with outdoor dining, cabanas, sun loungers, hanging gardens and palm trees. At Howard Smith Wharves, just-opened Fantauzzo doubles as a contemporary art gallery, featuring original artworks and more than 500 prints by Melbourne photo realist painter Vincent Fantauzzo.
If there's no room at these inns: the Westin offers the city's first swim-up bar; Ovolo Inchcolm is an art-deco beauty housed in 1920s doctors' rooms; quirky, rock-star-themed Ovolo The Valley is its livelier younger sister.
Step back a few years and Fortitude Valley was a blowsy netherworld of strip clubs, cheap dosshouses and used-car yards. Now, James St is a tree-lined, vine-laden boulevard of 130 specialty shops, entertainment and high-end hotels. Ambitious locals, Australian designers and international labels cluster here; so too the premier fashion labels you'll see in malls and main streets from New York to Newmarket. Ditto homewares. Jewellery. Furniture. Decor, galleries and day spas.
Nearby, two brothers with family connections to the suburb have revived three unloved service lanes: Winn Lane for bohemian boutiques, burgers and live music; Bakery Lane for fashion, craft and cafe start-ups; California Lane for an upmarket choice of coffee, cocktails, food and fashion.