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Here Are All The Cool Things That Have Opened In Brisbane Since The Last Time You Were There

This city has grown up, glowed up, and put itself on the map.

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Brisbane is no longer the “big town” you once knew it to be. In recent years, the city has grown up, glowed up, and put itself on the map. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, thanks to a slew of hot new openings on constant rotation.

Having grown up in Brisbane before moving to Sydney, venturing back confirmed for me that this river city has well and truly shaken off the shackles of its “little sister” reputation. In fact, it’s the most exciting city in Australia right now.

Here are all the cool things to check out since you were last there — places and spaces that make it difficult to have anything but an absolute corker of a time.

The Coolest New Hotels In Brisbane

First things first, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention The Calile, which solidified Brissie’s renaissance back in 2018. Envisioned by in-demand architects Richards & Spence — responsible for a slew of hot eateries like Hellenika and restaurants in Ada Lane — their take on civil design turned heads on a world stage. The whole precinct is quite the scene these days and the epicentre of Brisbane’s new rep.

 

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But The Calile is not the only impressive five-star hotel to open in the last few years. In fact, you’re now spoiled for choice with myriad amazing offerings. Ovolo The Valley and Ovolo Incholm opened their doors in 2018, along with the lauded and eclectic W Brisbane.

IHG-branded Hotel X is another five-star experience that launched in 2021. Also located in Fortitude Valley, the ultra-contemporary hotel’s rooftop bar Iris is a destination in its own right, with DJs, cocktails and sweeping views of the city, river, and Story Bridge.

Our pick, however, is sustainable five-star Crystalbrook Vincent, formerly The Fantauzzo. The location is hard to beat, right on the heritage-listed Howard Smith Wharves with incredible river and bridge views. My corner room was directly under the famous structure, with bonus vistas over the hotel’s rooftop pool and bar, Fiume – another must.

Centred around an ethos of ‘responsible luxury’, the ultra-contemporary hotel offers bold design choices accented by over 500 prints by acclaimed Aussie artist Vincent Fantauzzo. Alongside sustainable amenities, other beautiful touches include in-house art tours, and eco-friendly car and bicycle hire.

The Best New Brisbane Eateries

On the food and beverage front, Brisbane holds its own against the juggernaut dining scenes of Melbourne and Sydney, from cult bakeries to relaxed fine dining.

South Brisbane and City

The buzzing Fish Lane precinct is as good a place as any to start your culinary explorations. Stretching from South Brisbane to West End, the area is home to some of the city’s best bars and eateries, while surrounded by culture and art.

Within the precinct, Town Square houses Southside (serving up lauded East-Asian cuisine), Kiki (Southside’s sibling, both a bar and cafe), and aperitivo Bar Brutus (sister to the super popular Julius Pizzeria, another must – be prepared for a line out the door).

If you’re in the mood for South-East asian, head to Hello Please for Vietnamese with a cheeky twist. There’s Bay lobster dumplings on the menu and they hand make their own tofu, served with lashings of Gochujang. Another option is favourite Chu The Phat, a vibrant glass-enclosed two-storey spot with a menu inspired by hawker-style street food, plus tasty cocktails.

 

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American BBQ lovers can’t go past Big Roddy’s Rippin’ Rib Shack for its juicy, glazed ribs and house-made sauces. On the flipside, veggie lovers will thoroughly enjoy themselves at El Planta; authentic Mexican street food that’s 100 percent plant based and made from scratch.

La Lune Wine Co isn’t simply about the grapes. This Parisian-inspired wine bar serves up delicious, seasonal food. Ditto Maeve, another elegant wine bar in a heritage-listed building with a European-inspired shared dining menu.

Nearby in West End, boutique restaurant Billykart, helmed by celebrity chef Ben O’Donoghue, is definitely worth a visit for its inventive, seasonal dishes.

Leonards Bar and Bistro is a new city opening headed up by executive chef Jimmy Richardson of Glass Brassiere and Altitude fame, and Banc Brasserie is a new restaurant and wine bar serving French fare in a former bank.

Of course, you can’t go past the Howard Smith Wharves for drinks and bites with incredible views. Stand outs include Felon’s Brewing Co and Mr Percival’s, providing parched punters with two distinct drinking experiences (brews and cocktails, respectively).

Fortitude Valley

The options continue to impress in trendy Fortitude Valley. If you’re looking for ‘the’ scene, this is where you‘ll find it – specifically in the James Street precinct.

From the architect duo behind The Calile Hotel, Richards & Spence, Biànca brings elevated-yet-relaxed Italian to Ada Lane. The striking coral and copper-toned venue is as impressive for its tasty bites as it is for its fit out. Everything from the woodfired bread to the paccheri al pomodoro and cotoletta are executed the way Italian food should be; simply, with excellent produce providing full flavour. To the chagrin of Brisbanites, Sydneysiders might even go so far as to say this is the Sunshine State’s answer to Tottis.

 

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Across the road in The Calile proper you’ll find Hellenika, another triumph of the area, this time of the Greek variety. With a chic neutral tonal palette, this sophisticated taverna overlooks the hotel’s infamous pool while serving up Greek favourites using seasonal produce.

You can’t list Jame Street restaurants without mentioning sAme sAme, an upscale two-storey Thai affair in the trendy strip. The beloved eatery is from celebrated hospitality trio Tyron Simon, Bianca Marchi and Frank Li.

Together with star chef Ben Williamson, this crew is responsible for some of Brissie’s hottest venues, from the likes of Biànca, celebrated woodfired Agnes restaurant and its ridiculously good bakery offshoot, to contemporary Japanese diner hôntô. Any of their creations will impress.

Nearby, fine diners are in for a treat at Essa, where harvest-driven dishes provide the scope for a constantly evolving creative dining experience. Beyond the unassuming facade, moody interiors with deep green marble, concrete and raw brick are the first hint that you’re in for a distinct experience from Phil Marchant, ex-head chef of South Brisbane’s iconic Gauge (RIP).

Sitting at the chef’s line, I gobbled up the likes of fried chickpea beignets with caramelised scallop cream, woodfired tiger prawn with Tabasco, pil pil and burnt garlic oil, and a stuffed jerusalem artichoke bun for dessert.

On the other end of the spectrum, a more casual night out can be found at Valley Hops Brewing – a craft brewery on a rooftop with skyline city views serving up woodfired pizzas and independent beer.

Other Valley mentions go to award-winning Gerard’s Bistro; buzzy Happy Boy, serving up authentic dishes reminiscent of China’s provincial regions, along with their latest venture, Kid Curry; and perennially booked-out Joy restaurant, which seats just 10 diners who are surprised to a set menu only revealed on the night.

Greater Brisbane

We know this is an article about Brisbane city, but Kokomo Beach House deserves a mention for those planning a day or overnight trip to the greater Brisbane region of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island).

This is one uber cool new bar and eatery with stunning ocean views and coastal vibes, serving fresh local island produce and delicious drinks.

The Best Things To Do In Brisbane

River To Bay is a new offering for Brisbane and one worth checking out. High speed boats pick you up in the city and take you out to Moreton Bay. There’s a range of tours including one to North Stradbroke as well as Brisbane River options that visit breweries or city sights, but the Moreton option snorkelling the Tangalooma wrecks is a standout day trip.

A stop by the world-class art and exhibits at QAGOMA is also a must. You can walk Southbank before or after, then toddle over to Fish Lane to refuel.

 

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Gin lovers can rejoice for Brisbane is home to Australia’s only registered Gin School at the Brisbane Distillery Company. You can (and absolutely should) learn how to make the perfect gin for you by choosing from 180 botanicals under the guidance of master distillers. Did we mention this all happens while you enjoy complimentary cocktails, cheese and cured meats?

Brisbane is also brimming with walking paths and cycleways along the river. The Brisbane Riverwalk is a no brainer – this water highway juts out along the most scenic tract of Brisbane river between New Farm and the Howard Smith Wharves, then on to the Brisbane CBD. The West End to South Brisbane walk/ride is another fun way to take in this truly enjoyable city.

Speaking of enjoyable, if you ever decide to hire a driver for your Brisvegas jaunt, Pete from Classy Transfers is a pure delight and will only enhance your getaway. The fact you’ll be driven around in a luxury Mercedes SUV is simply a bonus.


The writer travelled as a guest of Brisbane Economic Development Agency.

Lead Image: Sonia Taylor