New Farm is nestled in a crook of the Brisbane River two kilometres east of the CBD and characterised by ornate Queenslander houses and jacaranda-lined streets. It's home to the Brisbane River Walk, which provides cyclists and pedestrians with a pleasant route into town. Once known as Brisbane's "Little Italy" because of the influx of Mediterranean immigrants who settled in the suburb, New Farm went through a period of decline before undergoing slow gentrification, thanks to its convenient locale, period housing and tranquil cul-de-sac position. Spicers Balfour shares its name with the street it fronts, cresting a rise with views towards the Story Bridge.
The original Spicers Balfour Hotel is a re-purposed Queenslander that first accepted guest bookings for nine individually designed queen and king-sized executive rooms in September 2010. A separate Georgian apartment block (called Simla) three doors down the road was renovated so it could accommodate guests under the same umbrella, officially opening in September 2015. Eight suites are split evenly across two levels. There's an upstairs honesty bar opening onto an intimate terrace overlooking the street and a lower level function room at the rear. A stairway leads down to a basement car park.
Each suite has been meticulously refurbished to reflect its 1940s art-deco origins, with black and white colouring and trimmings, curved cabinets, solid timber doors, leadlight windows and trapezoid ceiling cornices. All measure a roomy 38-square-metres, separated into a bedroom and a bathroom with a standalone shower recess and oversized bathtub. An adjoining sitting area contains a kitchenette, twin wicker chairs, a desk area and TV – one of two (the other is mounted on the bedroom wall). Bi-fold doors open onto a private terrace with creeping vines. Other features include Bose sound systems, iPod docking stations, a De Longhi coffee machine and complimentary Wi-Fi. The mini bar contains a selection of boutique beers, wines, champagnes, various savouries and assorted New Farm Confectionery. Thoughtful additions include hangover packs (Berocca, paracetamol) and suncream, available for purchase. Filtered water ($10) comes in decorative Aqua Chiara bottles.
Balfour Kitchen at Spicers Balfour Hotel Photo: Hamilton Lund
The highly-regarded Balfour Kitchen restaurant was awarded a chef's hat in the 2017 Brisbane Times Good Food Guide. It's located in the original Queenslander three doors up from Simla, and all meals are served here. Guests can dine inside or, better yet, sit outside on the wrap-around verandah. Alternatively, you'll find a healthy selection of eateries strung out along Brunswick Street around the corner.
You could feasibly confine yourself to New Farm for a few days and not feel you'd have to see the rest of Brisbane. Apart from the proliferation of restaurants and cafes immediately around the corner, there's an even greater selection of pubs and nightclubs further along Brunswick Street, towards Fortitude Valley. Stock up on popcorn and Choc Tops at the nostalgic New Farm Six Cinemas or catch theatrical performances and concerts inside The Powerhouse, a former electric tramway power station opposite the 14-hectare New Farm Park. Weekend farmers markets are also held at The Powerhouse.
I slept in one of the Balfour Hotel's Executive Queen Rooms during a previous stay and it was arguably a touch cramped due to the design restrictions imposed by trying to re-configure a century-old Queenslander into guest accommodation. The Balfour Suites flip that idea on its head – only committed, habitual whingers could possibly complain about a lack of space. These are not ordinary hotel rooms, and would be equally suitable for business stays or romantic getaways.
Spicers Balfour Hotel, 17 Balfour Street, New Farm. Room and gourmet breakfast from $279 per night. See spicersretreats.com/spicers-balfour-hotel/
Roominess and attention to detail in retaining and accentuating period features.
No one is on-site if there's an issue with your suite. Then again, the reception desk is just a phone call away.
Mark Daffey was a guest of Australian Eco Trails.