Lo­cal’s Guide: Bris­bane

Dine, drink and dance your way through the Queens­land cap­i­tal with Aria head chef Ben Rus­sell.

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i’LL BE THE first to call it: I am not your typ­i­cal Queens­lan­der. I was born and raised on Tas­ma­nia’s north-west coast, spent a large chunk of the 1990s liv­ing in Mel­bourne (my wardrobe re­mains mostly black to this day), and I called Paris, Lon­don, Monte Carlo and Syd­ney home at var­i­ous points be­fore set­tling in Bris­bane in 2009 to open Aria as head chef. But, as a paid-up, vo­cal mem­ber of the Bris­bane Bron­cos rugby league club, a per­son with a year-round tan who has lived through two ma­jor floods and brings his own stubby holder to so­cial gath­er­ings, I’m pretty well as­sim­i­lated. More to the point, I love this town.

Aus­tralia’s third-largest city was some­thing of a boom town dur­ing the 1980s un­der the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of Joh Bjelke-Petersen (a man some­times re­ferred to as the ‘hill­billy dic­ta­tor’) and some pro­gres­sive en­trepreneurs. That ra­pa­cious ex­pan­sion, plus a lot of white shoes and bold fash­ion moves, earned it the nick­name of ‘Brisve­gas’ in the ’90s. But in more re­cent years, Brissie, with its sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate and a fa­mously re­laxed life­style, has qui­etly grown into a mod­ern world city. In 2017, it’s quite sim­ply a great place to call home, and a great place to visit as well.

For rea­sons that I still don’t re­ally grasp, Queens­land doesn’t par­tic­i­pate in day­light sav­ing time, un­like the rest of the east coast of Aus­tralia. This means that for much of the year, the sun rises in the mid­dle of the night, peo­ple get up early and — this is the im­por­tant bit — the city’s break­fast game is strong.

One of the best places to start the day is the Pearl Cafe in Wool­loongabba, two kilo­me­tres south-east of the CBD, where you should or­der the baked eggs with duck ham and wash it down with some of the ex­cel­lent cof­fee. In the West End, Bil­lykart’s ‘Aussie Asian eggs’ is a dish that’s al­most too good to be true — think fried eggs with ba­con, chilli, shal­lots, prawns and oys­ter sauce; it con­tin­ues to draw a crowd, and for good rea­son.

As is the case al­most ev­ery­where across the civilised world, the thirst for qual­ity cof­fee has reached fever pitch in re­cent years, with sin­gle ori­gin and ex­trac­tion meth­ods be­com­ing com­mon ta­ble-talk among the Ly­cra-clad and the pram push­ers. For re­li­ably ex­cel­lent stuff, check out John Mills Him­self and Strauss in the CBD or head over to Rev­erends Fine Cof­fee in For­ti­tude Val­ley.

Un­like Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, Bris­bane’s food scene was slow to feel the culi­nary and cul­tural ef­fects from early waves of Asian im­mi­gra­tion. The more re­cent phe­nom­e­non is now mostly vis­i­ble in the scores of ca­sual eat­ing and drink­ing houses be­ing opened by hip Korean kids all over the city, adding much-needed late-night op­tions to the food land­scape.

I’ve had more than a few great young Korean chefs work with me in the kitchen at Aria — and so, af­ter fairly ex­ten­sive re­search, my Korean picks are Chi MC, for the grilled spicy chicken with cheese sauce, en­joyed along­side ice-cold Cass beers, and Wara Wara Iza­kaya, where you should eat kimchi pan­cakes, spring onion chicken and any of the hot-pots on the menu while watch­ing K-pop on the big screen.

For my money, the best Ital­ian food in the state is still 1889 Enoteca in Wool­loongabba. Visit to eat hand-made, Ro­man-in­spired pasta dishes, choose from one of the coun­try’s best Ital­ian wine lists and talk nat­u­ral wine with cool guys sport­ing beards.

To flip the script and go Chi­nese, Happy Boy is a ren­o­vated garage of sorts in the sub­urb of Spring Hill, serv­ing mod­ern Chi­nese food such as mapo tofu, ground pork with spe­cial sauce, flash-fried lamb in Sichuan oil or prawn omelette with XO. It’s loud, it’s fun and it’s de­li­cious.

Thirsty? You’ve come to the right place; Bris­bane’s bar scene punches well above its weight. Your first stop should be The Gre­sham Bar, housed at the back of a her­itage-listed bank in the CBD. It’s the sort of joint where you can slurp from the city’s biggest and fan­ci­est col­lec­tion of whisky — chased down with tins of XXXX Gold — while tap­ping your boot to the beat of a re­ally nicely put to­gether playlist rich in ’70s rock.

The ap­par­ently seam­less trans­for­ma­tion from one-time gen­tle­man’s club to rock­ing coun­try mu­sic sa­loon has made Lefty’s Old Time Mu­sic Hall a firm Bris­bane favourite; it’s open late and has live mu­sic most nights. For a less bois­ter­ous drink­ing op­tion, head to Maker, a se­ri­ous cock­tail bar on a se­cluded cor­ner of Fish Lane in South Bank. Bar snacks are ex­cel­lent: think oys­ters, house-cured meats and luxe toasties. The drinks are care­fully crafted, orig­i­nal and al­ways evolv­ing.

A short walk from the CBD you’ll find the sub­urb of New Farm, home to most of Bris­bane’s Art Deco build­ings, plus fancy re­tail bou­tiques, mi­cro-brew­eries, art-house cin­e­mas and a thriv­ing cafe and bar scene. Visit the re­cently re­fur­bished New Farm Cin­e­mas on Bruns­wick Street, a stun­ning 1920s build­ing re­stored to main­tain much of the orig­i­nal char­ac­ter. For all your green smoothie, felt hat and fresh pro­duce needs, there’s the Jan Pow­ers Farm­ers Mar­ket, which is held ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing in front of the Bris­bane Pow­er­house. In the nearby sub­urb of New­stead you can find The Trif­fid, an amaz­ing live mu­sic venue and cham­pion of the lo­cal mu­sic in­dus­try, housed in a for­mer com­mer­cial hanger. The Green Bea­con Brew­ing Co in Tener­iffe is also worth a look for those keen to get off the beaten track and un­der the skin of the neigh­bour­hood.

Bou­tique ac­com­mo­da­tion is on the up, and a pair of names that should be at the top of your list are the Spicers Bal­four Ho­tel — an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of Art Deco restora­tion, within walk­ing dis­tance of ev­ery­thing in this guide — and The New Inch­colm Ho­tel & Suites, which is on the out­skirts of the CBD.

Cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties worth ex­plor­ing in­clude a visit to the city’s Gallery of Mod­ern Art (GOMA), which is ex­cel­lent. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a pub­lic hol­i­day or AFL Grand Fi­nal week­end, you can head to the Break­fast Creek Ho­tel and drink orig­i­nal-recipe XXXX from old wooden bar­rels. Now that’s what I call cul­ture.

GET­TING THERE TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT TO BRIS­BANE, VISIT WWW.VIRGINAUSTRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

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