Brisbane's best food and drink venues are often hidden in plain sight. The organic cafe tucked down that laneway, the microbrewery blending in on a suburban shopping strip, the rooftop bar perched out of sight atop an office tower. To find Brisbane's best bites, you need to know where to look. Fortunately, we have a cheat sheet to help you do just that.
Brew is not the type of cafe you just stumble across. In fact, unless you have very specific directions, you are likely to miss it entirely. Head all the way down the bottom of Lower Burnett Lane and then turn right into what appears to be a dark corridor. You will emerge into a venue that, despite its subterranean location, is always buzzing. Cafe by day, wine bar by night, Brew has works by local artists on its walls, mismatched crockery and menus tucked inside old LP covers. It also offers a mean cup of coffee.
Brew is not Burnett Lane's only recommended spot for a caffeine fix. At the upper end of the thoroughfare is the airy, loft-style Felix. Although its cafe-wine bar set-up is similar to Brew, the emphasis on organics and the light-filled space make this a very different experience.
COCKTAILS WITH A VIEW
Who wants to be stuck indoors on a balmy Brisbane evening? No wonder that the city boasts a clutch of rooftop bars, including Eleven, sitting high above Ann Street in Fortitude Valley. Its tropical cocktails (its signature Eleven Bar cocktail jazzes up gin with passionfruit, ginger and citrus) and its cushioned banquettes conjure up a Seminyak vibe, while the panoramic views across the CBD and the Valley are pure BrisVegas. Head here for sunset drinks and, while you are at it, order up some pulled pork arancini and crispy soft-shell crab.
Over in the CBD, the Pullman Hotel at King George Square has just opened its own rooftop bar. Sixteen Antlers has a sleek fitout with pops of colour, a glass rooftop to protect against sudden showers, and a wrap-around view that offers an up-close perspective of the City Hall's clock tower. As well as cocktails, the drinks list includes wines from around the world and a range of beers on tap including James Squires and White Rabbit.
Step through The Gresham's towering cedar doors and you move from the bustling CBD streets to an earlier, more peaceful era. The elegant, immaculately recreated 19th century interiors include a seven metre high pressed-metal ceiling, Chesterfield couches and stools covered in red leather, and even a period fireplace. This magnificent building originally housed the Queensland National Bank; until a few years ago, it had been reduced to acting as a story unit. Maintain the old-school mood with a selection or two from The Gresham's extensive selection of whiskies: almost 200 of them, including drops from Ireland, Scotland and the US, among others.
For more classic chic, head over to Corbett & Claude, a lively basement bar and diner tucked beneath the historic Corbett Chambers building. The vintage elements – tiled central bar, arched windows that led the light flood in – contrast with more contemporary touches including the wood-fired pizzas that are the venue's signature dish.
They are brewing up a storm in Brisbane's West End, with a clutch of beer-centric venues vying to tempt ale aficionados. At Catchment Brewing Co, a microbrewery and bar which has just celebrated its first birthday, the rotating selection of home brews usually includes the easy-to-drink Pale Select. Keep an eye out for their more unusual experiments, such as the Schwarz Weissbier, a surprisingly tasty combination of dark beer and wheat beer with notes of sesame and banana. On a sunny day, take a seat on one of the upstairs balconies, or head for the convivial courtyard.
Just a few doors down the road, the quirky Archive features comfy sofas, bars that seem to be supported by stacks of books, and Brisbane's largest selection of beer on tap. Find a spot on one of the comfy sofas while you pick something from the astonishing list, which includes under-the-radar imported ales as well as the best of local microbreweries.
At Brisbane's homegrown Paris-style patisserie, Le Bon Choix, they swing both ways. You can treat yourself to French classics such as tarte citron or tarte aux fraises, or go for one of their avant-garde, jewel-coloured creations: try the Bamboleo (mango, passionfruit, banana) or the Bahati (coconut, cassis, lime). There are now four separate venues but our favourite is the Queen Street outlet, where you can indulge your sugar cravings seated beneath the shady canopy of an ancient tree.
Over in the Valley, Jocelyn's Provisions on James Street is the place to stock up on fresh-baked goods, from seeded sourdoughs to poached fruit and almond tarts. Look for the savoury tarts that come in combinations such as asparagus, pecorino, thyme and lemon zest, or potato, pancetta, leek and brie.
AND THEN THERE'S ...
Fromage the Cow: You expect a fromagerie to sell fine cheese; Fromage the Cow, however, is one of the few to offer an eat-in option. For a full on cheese-fest, the fondue, served inside a hollowed-out cob loaf, is hard to beat; alternatively, dial it down a notch with rabbit loin with confit leek and parmesan.
Hello Please: This new, quirkily-named Vietnamese eatery, operating out of a shipping container beneath a railway bridge, is hipster heaven, but its small plate selection attracts a wider option. Look for offerings such as beef and betel leaf dumplings alongside traditional favourites.
Eat Street Markets: On Friday and Saturday nights, Eat Street Markets at Hamilton Wharf unpacks a foodie feast. The tasty treats range from Japanese pancakes to freshly-shucked oysters, with side serves of live bands and a touch of retail therapy.
Qantas Airways, Virgin Airlines, Jetstar and Tigerair fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Brisbane.
Brisbane's first Art Series Hotel, The Johnson, showcases the work of Australian painter Michael Johnson. Opening rates from $180 per night for a Studio Suite Balcony. See thejohnson.com.au
Ute Junker travelled courtesy of The Johnson Hotel and Visit Brisbane.