Tasting is believing: The remarkable dining transformation of my home town

Tasting is believing: The remarkable dining transformation of my home town

It’s taken a while, suffering through food fads and bad wine, but I can honestly say that Brisbane’s dining scene has finally come of age, and there are more exciting times ahead.

We used to tell ourselves we were matching it with the best from Sydney or Melbourne years ago, when I began the dream job of Food and Wine Editor at The Courier-Mail in 1997, the same year Philip Johnson’s e’cco bistro shocked foodie snobs down south by snatching the title of Australia’s Restaurant of the Year.

But truthfully, while the likes of great chefs like Johnson, David Pugh, Russell Armstrong and Gillian Hirst and the wave that followed in PJ McMillan, Alistair McLeod, Paul McGivern, Javier Codina and Michelin-starred Bruno Loubet led the charge in lifting Brisbane out of the stodge, we still had a way to go.

It would take massive confidence in the potential of the Queensland capital, from small-scale entrepreneurs to big-buck investors, to deliver the Brisbane dining, bar and hotel scene we enjoy today.

Entire lifestyle precincts have been created, in previously unloved parts of the city, and they rival or exceed what I’ve experienced elsewhere, including overseas.

Take Southpoint, a $600 million development by the local John family. It includes the incomparably glamorous Emporium Hotel, which has the swishest bar in town with illuminated marble floors and an intricate metal ceiling that opens up to the heavens.

You can stay there, in one of the suites featuring the custom work of Queensland artisans, or you can live there, in the Southpoint apartments that put you right in heart of South Bank Parklands, the famed site of World Expo 88 that was all but forgotten for many years.

A northern stroll down Grey Street, past the popular Spaghetti House Trattoria, and you’re in the once dingy Fish Lane, now an uber-cool mix of edgy food (Gauge is a standout), street art and neon displays.

Across the river is the $800 million Brisbane Quarter, shaking up the conservative legal-eagle end of the CBD with Australia’s first purpose-built W Hotel and two levels of dining that includes Persone (the latest Italian offering by the Gambaro family).

Zip over to the New Farm side of the city and our glorious river - largely shunned by architects and developers until Eagle Street Pier in the 1980s - is again showcased in the impressive makeover of Howard Smith Wharves.

What an undertaking – making good of virtually derelict land under the iconic Story Bridge and creating a lifestyle hub that incorporates the design flair of interiors queen Anna Spiro and, after staggered openings of Felons Brewing Co, Mr Percival’s over-river bar, Greca and Arc (my pick of the four), there is The Fantauzzo, the latest from Melbourne’s Art Series hotel group and celebrating the portraits of Vincent Fantauzzo.

New life has been breathed into other historic sites, including the Brisbane Showgrounds and King Street in Bowen Hills, where no expense is being spared – try $2.9 billion – to deliver a dining and entertainment precinct like no other. Already up and running is French bistro Montrachet.

Over in bohemian West End, the heritage-listed Peters Ice Cream and Cone factories are being gentrified into a master-planned lifestyle precinct simply but suitably known as West Village.

Think bespoke living and working spaces, boutique eateries and arguably the most eclectic event venue in this state in Bromley and Co, a New York-inspired warehouse which doubles as a public gallery displaying the art of David Bromley and others.

If this all seems like a lot to take in, there is more to come before 2025, and I can’t wait.

Work has kicked off on the $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf Brisbane integrated resort development, which spans more than 26 hectares of state-owned and currently underutilised land and waterfront in the CBD, and will feature four new hotels, including The Ritz-Carlton Brisbane and, when only six stars will do, the Rosewood. Let’s not forget it will also feature 50 new restaurants, cafes and bars!

I can hardly believe the remarkable transformation of the city I have been privileged to report on since 1997.

From covering food and wine for The Courier-Mail to becoming the longest-serving editor of Brisbane News magazine, rejoining the paper to head up Qweekend magazine, and now as the paper’s Associate Editor and an award-winning columnist, it really is “pinch me” stuff.

Many passionate foodies and hospitality stalwarts would agree. Remember those chefs I mentioned earlier? All but one are still rattling the pans and contributing to the rich flavour profile of our city.

Seriously, why would you be anywhere else but here?

Kylie Lang is Associate Editor of the Courier-Mail