Weekend Away: Gambaro Hotel, Brisbane

Anthony Dennis finds a welcome dash of la dolce vita in QUEENSLAND.

THE LOCATION

A site on a small street featuring Brisbane's oldest pub and at least one strip joint that's adjacent to the stadium that acts as an enclosure for rabid Queensland footy fans. It may not seem a suitable locale for Brisbane's newest upscale hotel, but, true, Caxton Street is home to the flash new 68-room Gambaro Hotel. It's a spin-off of the eponymous Brisbane seafood restaurant, an institution for 60 years.

THE SPACE

Nary a cent appears to have been spared by the Gambaro family on its bold new hotel, complete with a small though lavishly marbled lobby. One of the most striking features of the establishment is a dazzling lighting installation that rises four metres in a central atrium. It's not until closer inspection that you realise the piece is composed of interlocking sculptured fish, a tribute to the Gambaro's seafood restaurant heritage. Elsewhere, the majority of the attractively designed and furnished rooms feature balconies, some of which overlook the restored Queenslander houses of hilly inner-city Paddington while others front the enormous Suncorp Stadium, considered by many to be Australia's best venue for rectangular football codes. From my room I can see, just beyond the stadium, the blazing red neon sign of the XXXX brewery.

THE KIT

The hotel's five swishest suites are fitted with Sealy Exquisite Collection beds, which the owners claim are the best mattress manufacturer has ever provided for an Australian hotel. Curiously, considering the Gambaro family's Italian heritage, there was no espresso machine in my room but it did otherwise have the convincing feel of a five-star CBD hotel suite. Exclusive Appelles Black Label amenities - exclusive to the Gambaro Hotel - populate the modestly sized bathroom (with bath). If you tire of your room there's the Sunset Terrace on the third level with a 180-degree view of the surrounding area.

COMFORT FACTOR

The rich, warm tonings of the rooms don't scream sub-tropical Brisbane but they do add to a real sense of cosiness. The smaller rooms feature luxurious Sealy beds with feather and down bed-toppers and the option of a pillow menu. God knows what the NRL's Brisbane Broncos, who were checking in on the day of my departure, made of it all.

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FOOD

In addition to its seafood restaurant their Gambaros have added turf to surf in the form of a recently opened, serious, and seriously expensive, steakhouse across the road. Just a five-minute stroll up Caxton Street on Petrie Terrace is The Barracks, a slick cinema, retail and dining complex. Most of the centre's restaurants, cafes and bars are housed in the restored erstwhile police barracks from the late 1930s and 1940s, which once pumped out Queensland's finest (and not so fine) constabulary. French Twist is a good bet for brekky.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

... and speaking of food, July is a busy month for Brisvegas, a city on the crest of a food boom. The local edition of Good Food Month, staged by Fairfax Media, began earlier this week while Regional Flavours, another public gastronomic festival held in the parklands of South Bank, is on the weekend of July 19 and 20. Elsewhere, the upmarket shopping area of Paddington is a stroll away while South Bank and the city's showpiece Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) are also within walking distance.

THE VERDICT

Along with Spicers Balfour, Limes Hotel and Emporium, the Gambaro Hotel is another welcome addition to Brisbane's burgeoning collection of boutique and design hotels. The attention to detail and the commitment to quality throughout, especially in the rooms, is a model for other Australian hotels where near enough is too often good enough.

HOW TO GET THERE

The hotel, depending on the traffic, can be reached as quickly as under 15 minutes from the airport, about 14 kilometres away, via the new tunnel and M3 freeway. Take the Hale Street exit. If you're taking the train from the airport, Roma Street Station is less than a kilometre up the street.

ESSENTIALS

Rooms at the Gambaro Hotel from $199 a night. 33 Caxton Street, Brisbane. Phone 07 3369 9500, see gambarohotel.com.au; visitbrisbane.com.au.

The writer was a guest of the Gambaro Hotel and Brisbane Marketing.

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