Swap the thermals for holiday warmth, basking in the urban pleasures of embracing Brisbane. Snaking around the inner-city like a serpentine artery, Brisbane River sets the stage for the city’s photogenic appeal, inter-connecting so many distinctive pockets of goodness. Just ten years out from hosting the Olympics, Brisbane’s eyes are firmly future-focused.
In a city that seems to be in a constant state of self-improvement, the monumental Queen’s Wharf construction project is well on the way to endowing the city with another world-leading entertainment precinct. It will transform the CBD and river’s edge with an iconic design that embraces Brisbane’s inviting subtropical climate and celebrates the precinct’s indigenous and European heritage. As part of the makeover, the spectacularly ornate Treasury Casino building will be transformed into a designer shopping emporium that could well emerge as the Harrod’s of Brisbane.
Dipping into the city’s treasury of sparkling culinary venues, across the road is Banc Brasserie and Wine Bar. Open just nine months and housed within the 170 year old heritage Bank of New South Wales building on Queen Street, this sizzling entrant brings a classic French feel to the river city with an Australian twist. The menu changes with the season according to the fresh produce available and champions local ingredients such as Bowen Trout. Between the heritage marble floor and the towering ceiling, there’s a variety of inviting dining spaces, including high tables by the bar. The hardest choice is choosing your poison from the extensive 300 wine menu.
As a history-hound and culture buff, I definitely recommend taking a Public Art walking tour with one of the passionate guides from the Museum of Brisbane. Meeting up for a private 90 minute stroll with my convivial guide Brian, my walking Wikipedia brought to life the back-story across a swathe of monuments and masterpieces, studding the city centre, from grand-scale confections to whimsical laneways, easily missed. https://www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/
I gazed in admiration of City Hall as Brian pointed out the curious sculptures comprising its magnificent pediment frieze. Designed by Daphne Mayo in 1830, alongside the obligatory kangaroo, the sculptures include naked convicts. The view from the building’s clock tower is a stunner, accessed by one of the oldest lifts in Australia – it’s free to do. We took in a wealth of prized sights, including Queensland’s oldest catholic church, St. Stephens Chapel, a gorgeous vestige of pioneering spirit, built in 1850. Next door, its 1874 successor, St Stephens Cathedral, predominantly built out of Queensland tuff, a rock formed from volcanic ash, crowned with soaring sandstone towers.
Don’t miss Macarthur Chambers on Edward St, headquarters for General Macarthur and the US-led campaign in the Pacific during World War II. There’s a great museum within the building, dedicated to its legacy. In Queen Street, I admired the neoclassical grandeur of the gorgeous old General Post Office, where public hangings were previously staged in Brisbane’s early colonial days. Taking in other heritage nuggets in Queen Street Mall, Brian pointed out Room with Roses, a city institution for splendid high teas in a sumptuously designed setting, situated in evocative Brisbane Arcade.
Crossing the river, the South Bank Cultural Precinct spills forth with arty offerings. Collectively, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art house more than 17,000 artworks from Australia and around the world, split between permanent installations and a constantly rotating schedule of visiting exhibitions. South Bank is also home to the Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum and the Maritime Museum. Strung along the southern banks of the Brisbane River, its 17 hectares of lush parklands boast a plethora of enticements and obligatory photo-stops – including in front of the iconic Brisbane sign. I first visited Brissy as a teenager during World Expo ’88, when the city took its first meaningful strides in stamping its mark as an international city.
If you’re a nostalgia tragic like me, don’t miss the beloved Nepalese Pagoda - a treasured vestige of Expo 88, as it was the Kingdom of Nepal’s offering. It took more than 160 Nepalese families two years to complete this hand-carved timber delight. Another South Bank showstopper is Streets Beach, Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach, boasting a sparkling lagoon surrounded by white, sandy beaches and sub-tropical plants. Then there’s Boat Pool, The Wheel, leafy picnic spots and playgrounds my perennial favourite: The Arbour. This one kilometre-long walkway is comprised of 443 curling, galvanised steel posts that are each clad with a blaze of magenta bougainvillea.
If you’re catching a performance at night along South Bank, pair it with some trend-happy dining in Fish Lane. I ventured to Southside Restaurant a recent arrival to the lane, strung across three levels. Bedecked with ferns that lend it the feel of an industrial temple swaddled by jungle, Southside sits tall and narrow in Fish Lane, riffing off the inner-city energy. Pan-Asian cuisine takes centre stage with fast paced dumpling and noodle dishes that suit the buzzy location. From the dim sum menu, chicken wontons are drenched in black vinegar and chilli oil, while the pork xiao long bao comes spicy. Another must-try is char kway teow stuffed full of Moreton Bay bugs.
Sticking with the gluttony, I also headed over to Eagle Street Pier, abuzz with premium dining options. A locals’ favourite is City Winery, a cellar door, restaurant and wine experience right on the water’s edge. I adore the swish Greek mezze bar, Opa, which opened on the waterfront last year. The pier is also home base for Kookaburra Showboat Cruises, offering a winning blend of great food and entertainment with a spectacular cruise. Crossing the river on a City Cat ferry to the leafy embrace of Kangaroo Point, make a date with a lofty ramble on the Story Bridge.
This superstructure is as synonymous with Brisbane as the coathanger is with Sydney – they share they same designer, John Bradfield. Do the Story Bridge Climb at twilight as the slumping sun gilds the city and the sky throws up bewitching hues like the pink tinged clouds. We lucked in big time on my walk, as we got a massive rainbow theatrically arching over the city, too. Connecting Fortitude Valley to Kangaroo Point, it is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia, and central to Brisbane’s architectural personality.
At the base of the bridge, Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) is another on-trend and characterful hospitality precinct to add to your Brisbane check-list. Felons Brewing Company is the flagship resident of HSW, one of the first outlets to lay its roots in the precinct – and it’s kept sprouting. Enjoy their freshly-brewed classic Brisbane riverside beers, and chomp down on their incredibly tasty potato pizzas. Felons Barrell Hall is the sister venue - a modern Australian take on a German beer hall, with picnic-style tables, ping pong tables and live music every weekend. Another in-the-know nocturnal haunt at HSW is the overwater bar, Mr Percival’s. Fawned over for their inventive selection of cocktails, the late-night atmosphere is cranked up with a DJ perched above their 360 degree bar.
From HSW, it’s just a five minute stroll up to the thriving hospitality scene of Fortitude Valley. With every twist and turn through this famed inner-city ‘hood, you'll discover something new. Here’s a round-up of some of my favourite finds. Fuel up at Chur Burger, located on Constance Street. Hoe into the signature burger of crispy pork belly, chilli caramel, slaw and aioli. Throw in a side of buffalo wings with blue cheese mayo and you’re onto a winner.
Sink a late night cocktail with a side of sophistication at The Palace Lounge. The Valley is also home to the glittering parade of eateries, homewares and boutiques radiating out from James Street. Try
Winn Lane for new threads, California Lane for cute boutiques and international bites and Bakery Lane for bustling eateries. James Street’s hospo scene pushes the glamour bar high, swooned over by the glitterati. It’s where the pretty-people come to preen and play. A newcomer to James Street fast cultivating a following is Sushi Room. Don’t be misled by the simple name. The sushi here is premium with a price to match the theatrical dining experience. Think fatty Japanese tuna, Tasmanian sea urchin and prawns from New Caledonia.
Where to stay? Live like a New Farm local in the lap of James Street luxury, ensconced at Miss Midgley’s. One of Brisbane's oldest heritage homes has been resplendently transformed into chic lodgings, under the adaptive reuse command of mother-daughter duo, Lisa and Isabella White. The project was named after Annie Midgley, an ambidextrous artist and teacher who opened a private school in the building in 1905, called Miss Midgley's Educational Establishment. Drawing on Annie's legacy, the project has a pointed focus on detailed and playful design while conserving some captivating heritage elements, like the exposed interior tuff walls -rusts, pinks and browns amplify the stone's colours.
Constructed out of Brisbane's ‘tuff’ stone, the two storey, 160 year old building has five self contained suites, all boasting a private outdoor space. Then there is the outdoor pool, a gorgeously curated space wrapped in a lush tropical garden and small sun deck. Added extras include an off-street car park per apartment, bike storage and a petite laundry room. Cradled by a distinctly neighbourhood feel, this boutique accommodation celebrates its own sense of place in the fabric of this historic suburb. You’ll just love it. https://www.missmidgleys.com.au/
Further afield, for a quick city detox, head for the Scenic Rim, backed by the Main Range National Park. Just 40 minutes from the urban arms of Brisbane, there are two headline stops I highly recommend. First up, call into the Scenic Rim Farm Shop, established last year by Gen and Ed Windley last year, on the soothingly bucolic Martin Farm. The 13-hectare property is located in Kalbar, just off the highway, dotted with a clutch of rustic farms sheds and characterful cottages.
The Farm Shop and Cafe is radiantly positioned, wrapped with lush lawns leading down to casual seating shaded by huge jacaranda trees with century-old branches forming cooling canopies. Inside the shop, stock up on fresh local produce, browse the local arts and crafts, and order up a light. The coffee-rubbed 12-hour slow roasted brisket served with a taco full of fleshy ripe corn is a runaway favourite. The desserts are equally delicious. How could you say no to honey yoghurt cake coated in ginger lime pearls?
Freshly refuelled, I then took the short drive to Summer Land Camels, Australia’s largest camel farm and dairy operation. The 850 acre farm is home to 550 camels, humanely rescued from te roaming herd of camels in the Australian outback. Summer Land produces 85% of Australia’s camel milk. Not only is the milk used to remedy a range of health complaints, from eczema to age spots, but research is underway to see if camel milk can minimise flu symptoms.
No trip to Summer Land is complete without a camel ride. Plus the professional cameleers can guide you on a behind the scenes tour of the wild’s largest wild camel training centre, the dairy operation and production facilities which craft on-site cheese, gelato and skincare products. I adored their soft and smooth Persian Feta. The gelato is creamy, smooth and naturally low in fat. They’ve also branched out into vodka production. Try their Small Batch Camel Milk & Honey Vodka - the first spirit in the world made from Camel Milk Whey and Honey. https://summerlandcamels.com.au
Discover the soul of Brisbane, Queensland’s cosmopolitan capital for arts, culture and destination dining. With stunning natural assets, a laidback charm and a subtropical alfresco lifestyle, Brisbane
fast lays on the seduction factor. For timely tips and trip inspiration, start your exploration on the Sunshine State’s official visitor website. www.queensland.com
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.