December 25, 2023

Post-pandemic becomes pre-Olympic: Brisbane dining’s 2023 in review


Eating outBrisbane

This city is suddenly on the international radar. Many of our restaurateurs are stepping up to the plate, even in the face of industry and economic difficulties.

Matt Shea

December 25, 2023

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The Americans were huddled around a table in the middle of the restaurant.

It was one of those swollen Brisbane evenings, a punishing humidity finally breaking into an ungodly storm. It began chucking it down just as I arrived at Bar Francine, in West End.

Hellenika at The Calile Hotel, which reopened in August after a minor refurbishment.Markus Ravik

I’d been summoned to brief this bunch of food and travel journalists about the city’s restaurant scene. They were straight off the plane, ashen faced with jet lag. Outside, the rain was now coming in great horizontal sheets. But they leaned in and the questions began to come thick and fast. They wanted to know about Brisbane.

“When one of my other editors found out I was coming here, they said, ‘You’re going to Brisbane? We want stories about Brisbane,’” one of them told me later.


After Bar Francine, they were booked to experience some of the most high-profile spots around town: Agnes, Essa, Stanley, Pilloni, Exhibition.

Pilloni in West End.Markus Ravik

They travelled west to visit specialist growers and suppliers such as Neighbourhood Farm and Thai Hoa Grocer. They went north to Mapleton Public House, and north again to Orpheus Island, where they sailed with Chris Bolton, who supplies some of the state’s best line-caught seafood.

These were writers for some of the big players in the United States’ food media: Esquire, Eater, Saveur. They came in search of these food experiences, and Brisbane delivered.

And that’s our reality now. This city is very much on the international radar. If the narrative of Brisbane’s dining scene these past few years has been post-pandemic, in 2023 it started to feel very pre-Olympic.


Our operators are, for the most part, stepping up to the plate. From the high to the low end of the market, there’s a real sense of purpose around town.

Venues that opened in the lead-up or during the pandemic – Stanley, Agnes, Yoko, Rothwell’s, Bianca, Baja, the list goes on – have settled into a post-Covid groove and are now joined by a stack of new operators, full of ambition.

Take Establishment 203, which opened in the Valley in November. Owners Stanbroke and star executive chef Ben O’Donoghue intend for this glamorous spot to be ranked among the best steak restaurants in the world.

Achieving that goal will be an enormous challenge, particularly when Stanbroke is a beef company, rather than a dedicated hospitality operator. But with O’Donoghue in the kitchen, Remon Van de Kerkhof out front and Tamsin Johnson having a hand in the design, they’re clearly not messing around.


Establishment 203 opened in November in Fortitude Valley.Markus Ravik

Similarly Tama, in the refurbished GPO building a few blocks down Ann Street, which is Gold Coast club operator Artesian Hospitality making a play for elevated Brisbane dining. With a flash $9 million fit-out (on the entire building), it would’ve been easy to phone in the food and beverage. Instead, they brought on former Otto restaurant manager Alan Hunter as partner and hired award-winning Richard Ousby as executive chef. That’s a statement of intent.

These big, cashed-up openings were a major feature of 2023, coming after a period where it tended to be smaller, self-funded operators making the moves.

Opa Bar & Mezze and Yamas Greek & Drink owner Michael Tassis opened two new restaurants – slick West End steakhouse Rich & Rare and light-filled Portside seafood restaurant Fosh (while announcing plans for four more venues). And Westin Hotels & Resorts again teamed up with star Melbourne chef Guy Grossi to open Settimo at The Westin Brisbane.

Our best independent restaurateurs were busy too.


There was Simon Hill’s Bosco in Newstead – Hill has always had a penchant for a good-looking dining room, but Bosco, occupying a converted warehouse on Austin Street, is an understated stunner. Or Pilloni in West End, which is La Lupa’s Andrea Contin and Valentina Vigni turning their hand to Sardinian cuisine in a beautiful farmhouse-influenced restaurant. Or the strikingly reimagined Gerard’s Bistro, which was designed by Richards & Spence alumnus Jared Webb. Or Martin Boetz’s Short Grain, which is relatively low-key but has clearly invested where it matters.

Bosco, Simon Hill’s new restaurant in Newstead.Markus Ravik

Elsewhere, Bar Francine and Pneuma went the other way, delivering relatively straight-ahead fit-outs (in the case of Pneuma, chefs Dan Arnold and Matt Blackwell have hardly touched the old Greenglass space) that let the food and drinks do the talking.

While our restaurants seemed to get bigger and bolder in 2023, our cafe scene further divided itself into more specific offerings. Full-service openings such as Mitch & Antler and Sorelle Eatery are rarer these days. Instead, its sandwich shops like Corner Deli in Paddington, or coffee spots such as Straits in Coorparoo, or pastry shops such as Beurre Pastries in Milton.

James & Antler, a James Street spot from the Mitch & Antler team that drills down on gooey croque madames, pretty much sums up the trend. The era of the “breakfast restaurant” is behind us – for now, anyway.


Corner Deli in Woolloongabba.Dean Swindell

It’s away from the food where you could argue Brisbane is lagging slightly. Our drinking scene is currently dominated by brilliant cocktail bars that, as one operator put it, don’t have much to them beyond being brilliant cocktail bars. But there are signs that’s turning around.

We added another of those brilliant cocktail bars with Antico; a fabulous open-air taproom, Patio by Range; and a knockout rooftop bar in the form of Sunsets in Kangaroo Point.

Otherwise, most of the interest was found in more offbeat boozers such as the vinyl-spinning Ruby, My Dear; Super Whatnot creator Simon Hill’s Flying Colours; the plush Nixon Room; and subterranean dive bar, Alice. More of this, please.

Ruby, My Dear in Newstead.Kirsty Sycz


And not everything is peachy around town.

There’s still a stack of pandemic-era debt being carried by the industry – expect more operators to sell up in the next 12 months in order pay it down, before moving on to new projects. Or witness the brewpub scene, which after years of growth, is wrestling with high production costs and what’s arguably an over supply in the market.

The Nixon Room in Fortitude Valley.Dean Swindell

Higher interest rates and inflated building costs mean it’s harder for new operators to enter the industry – in that sense, the trend towards blockbuster openings this year made sense.

Still, talk to the top restaurateurs around town – particularly in that elevated middle market space – and they’ll tell you they’re doing some of their best numbers ever this holiday season. If the economy holds, expect that trend to continue as we hurtle towards the Olympics.

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Matt Sheais Food and Culture Editor at Brisbane Times. He is a former editor and editor-at-large at Broadsheet Brisbane, and has written for Escape, Qantas Magazine, the Guardian, Jetstar Magazine and SilverKris, among many others.




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