Words by Anna Howard
It seems you can't visit your local neighbourhood haunts without passing a new restaurant, bar or cafe that has seemingly popped up overnight. Having come leaps and bounds in the past few food-filled years, Brisbanites are spoiled for choice with a plethora of dining options after the sun sets.
Whether you're in town for a night or a week, we've rounded up some of the best establishments that personify Brisbane on a plate – or 15 plates – for every occasion. So, what's for dinner?
If you've a penchant for panache (and are looking to impress), this riverside mainstay lifts the culinary game tenfold. Lauded as Brisbane's highest-awarded restaurant, Esquire is the standard by which Brisbane fine-dining is measured.
Ryan Squire's three-hatted establishment delivers multi-sensory degustation dining at its most brilliant, fluctuating between a flurry of 12 to 25 dishes reflecting the day's best produce. From air-dried beef and kimchi crisps to the signature Campari sherbet dessert, an evening at Esquire will likely be one of the most memorable meals you ever have.
145 Eagle Street, Brisbane
Any restaurant that pairs black ants with salmon is sure to pique some interest. Public, a lofty, glass-encased space in the CBD playfully pushes the boundaries of the share-plate experience.
Private dining rooms and a moody bar add to its appeal as an after-hours catch-up venue, where you can watch master cocktail shakers mix and muddle new and old favourites before the main event. If you're not quite inclined to try the insects, you won't regret ripping open a steaming paper bag and devouring their famous spice-dusted Kentucky Fried Duck.
Level 1, George Street, Brisbane
Sake is by no means your ordinary Japanese eatery. Brisbane's edition of this upmarket chain delivers dynamic fusion flavours, playful cocktails and a diverse sake list alongside sexy river and Story Bridge views.
I should also mention the menu is huge. For all those times you just can't be bothered, Sake takes out the guesswork, serving up a selection of its favourites – like popcorn shrimp tempura – as part of the chef's selection and signature banquets. Irasshaimase!
Level 1, 45 Eagle Street, Brisbane
THE BIG PLAYERS IN TOWN
Earning praises from locals, gourmands and critics alike is James Street favourite Gerard's Bistro. The relaxed, yet modern Scandinavian and Moroccan aesthetics let the real star shine – chef Ben Williamson's innovative menu.
Complementary meat and vegetable dishes are designed to share, sashaying your tastebuds on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe. There are the intense, smoky flavours of the charred octopus and then there's the slow-roasted wagyu brisket. Don't think, just order it.
14/15 James Street, Fortitude Valley
Brisbane's gourmet spoils aren't restricted to the CBD. On the southern side of the river, Stokehouse upholds the reputation of its Melbourne counterpart, where confident cooking and top-class service shine.
Choose a bright, breezy table by the water's edge with views of the skyline or on the private mezzanine floor. Indulge in a contemporary Mediterranean menu, using Australia's freshest produce and be sure to take note of the wine recommendations from the waiters, too. They know what they're talking about.
Sidon Street, South Bank
Bavarian Bier Cafe
Eagle Street Pier bursts to life on a Friday afternoon, and the boisterous va-va-voom of Bavarian Bier Cafe is a big contributor to the precinct's energy. It's also a great contender for a get-together (read: 'networking') over a Munich Blonde (beer, not the waitress) or two.
Bigger means better here; groups of all sizes are catered for, steins are likened to buckets and the ol' shnitty comes in crumbed, plate-sized heaven. Don't mind the clang of cow bells; they simply signal another wooden plank of schnapps coming off the pass.
Level 1, 45 Eagle Street, Brisbane
THE PERFECT BALANCE
Grab the team and treat them to a contemporary South-East Asian feast at one of the hottest late-night venues in town. Longtime nestles down an unassuming alley in the Valley; the only indication of its locale is a golden cyclo parked out the front.
Communal dining makes for a jovial affair, as do incredible dishes being effortlessly pumped out of the kitchen. Start with the tuna tartare, move on to the perfectly balanced coconut and turmeric Moreton Bay bug curry and wash it all down with a few Thai-inspired cocktails. The more co-workers you bring, the more you can try. Zing!
610 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley
On the city fringe in an unassuming back street of Spring Hill stands the equally unassuming Happy Boy. The converted warehouse-cum-garage space may scream hipster but the food is anything but.
Don't expect any fancy garnishes or elaborate plating; Happy Boy is all about uncomplicated, delicious fare from the Xinjiang, Canton and Sichuan provinces. And unlike the Westernised Chinese restaurants of today, Happy Boy has an ever-changing Australian wine list that perfectly harmonises with the bold flavours of dishes like cumin lamb and fish fragrant eggplant.
2/36 Mein Street, Spring Hill
Do I dare mention the 'f' word? Asian fusion is the hallmark of (another) Eagle Street destination, Madame Wu. This lavish space, complete with cosy nooks and private areas, overlooks the Story Bridge and takes its cue from the culinary influences of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The menu is underpinned by Queensland ingredients and you'll be taken on a journey spanning Taipei to Tokyo, with dishes like the Moreton Bay bug 'sandwiches' with miso mayo and the stir-fried Bangalow pork with padron peppers and soy custard. Prepare to be Wu'd.
71 Eagle Street, Brisbane