stump stools and watch staff at work in the open kitchen.
Loel, a passionate foodie, says Brisbane is not a city that follows trends like Sydney and Melbourne.
But there is some evidence it is increasingly embracing the laneway trend that has proven so successful in the southern capital. Long-forgotten Burnett Lane, a little-used delivery route off the Queen Street Mall, is home to new cafe bar Brew. The lane was the first to open in the CBD and has a cool graffiti tribute to its namesake, surveyor Charles Burnett, lining one of its walls.
In the inner-city nightclub hub Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar fly to Brisbane. Brisbane’s Airtrain is a quick and easy way to get to and from the airport. Tickets costs $15 or $13.50 if you buy online. See airtrain.com.au
Riverlife offers paddle boarding, kayaking, rollerblading, rock climbing and abseiling. Ph (07) 3891 5766 or see riverlife.com.au The exhibition runs at GOMA until March 4. See qag.qld.gov.au/matisse
The recently refurbished Novotel Brisbane has standard rooms from $179, including breakfast, during summer. Premier rooms are an extra $60 and premier balcony rooms an extra $80. Ph (07) 3309 3309 or see novotelbrisbane.com.au More: queenslandholidays.com.au Fortitude Valley, the lanes are also transforming. It began with Winn Lane, which has a few boutiques, live music every Saturday and monthlymarkets with about 10 stalls. At the end of the lane is local favourite, Flamingo Cafe. With a mural of a pink palm tree and a flamingo face outside, the eatery is decorated with retro furniture, astroturf and fruit such as watermelons, pumpkins and pineapples.
Its homemade sausage roll with pumpkin jam is a must.
There are also plans to develop nearby Bakery Lane and California Lane, with talk of shipping containers and artists’ workshops.
The area is popular with Bodhi Hunter, principal ‘‘ lifestyle curator’’ of the pocket book essential The Good Guide, which claims to reveal Brisbane’s secrets.
‘‘ Brisbane is really spread out, it’s not just all in the one space like Sydney or Melbourne,’’ Hunter says. ‘‘ There are so many cool hidden pockets in Brisbane.’’
New Japanese restaurant Harajuku Gyoza serves an array of delicious dumplings. It has proven so popular you will often see customers lined up to get in. Having been warned in advance, we arrive before noon for lunch. Underbelly actor Gyton Grantley and a friend turn up a few minutes later and nab a spot at the bar.
The energetic staff shout welcome in Japanese every time someone enters and the waitresses wear Minnie Mouse-esque bows in their hair.
Around the corner in Ann St is Cloudland lounge bar. Opened two years ago, the large, eclectic bar spans four levels and has a retractable glass roof. It successfully mixes its garden theme with neon and has cosy booths, a Japanese corner, glass ball bar and China white marble bar.
Locals will tell you Brisbane is more relaxed than Sydney or Melbourne, it has less traffic and the weather is – usually – better. They make the most of it with a man-made beach at South Bank, which is great for families, and an outdoor cinema.
When it comes to aesthetics it hardly compares to spectacular Sydney Harbour, but there are plenty of activities on offer on and around the river.
Riverlife was one of the businesses damaged in the floods that has emerged reinvigorated. Housed in an old naval storage shed that doubles as a function centre at Kangaroo Point, Riverlife adventure centre offers kayaking, rollerblading, rock climbing and abseiling. I try out its newest experience, stand-up paddleboarding.
My guide Blair tells me the muddy Brisbane River used to be clear and green until it was dredged in the 1950s to allow bigger ships in. He has seen it become clearer and greener in that time and believes the floods helped wash out a lot of sediment.
It’s my first attempt at paddle boarding, and to be honest it isn’t that hard – until a Citycat ferry passes and you are left struggling to balance in the waves formed by its wake.
We spend a pleasant half an hour paddling to an inlet and a few minutes floating back with the strong current. Along the way Blair points out sculptured pelicans on top of a pylon made of motorboat parts, which were found and resurrected after being washed away in the floods.
Brisbane’s biggest coup presently is the Matisse: Drawing Life exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). The exhibition, exclusive to Brisbane, combines more than 20 national and international collections and is the most comprehensive exhibition of Henri Matisse’s prints ever mounted.
Matisse drew every day and the exhibition takes you through the stages of his life, from his days as a student in Paris when he learnt his craft copying the form of statues in museums.
From black-and-white charcoal drawings and lino-cuts to pretty pastel watercolours and bold, colourful painted paper cut-outs, described as ‘‘ drawing with scissors,’’ the scale of the collection is extraordinary.
As portraits of family members and friends attest, Matisse had the remarkable skill to draw a recognisable face with just a few lines.
Best of all, at the end you can grab a piece of paper and a pencil and sit down and have a go at drawing yourself.
Feeling inspired, I attempt to draw a naked female statue on display.
Her head ends up looking like a man’s and her fingers look like paws, but it is a relaxing way to end the day. The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland and Accor Hotels.