Credit: Hilton Brisbane/Instagram

Whenever Sydney is in the grips of a heatwave, mouth a silent prayer for Brisbane.

“The city has two seasons: spring and summer, hot and hotter” my housemate, a Brisbane émigré and alabaster skinned climate refugee, so succinctly put it today as we stepped out into our own city’s oppressive heat. And while the sub-tropical climate’s warmer than warm embrace is invariably the first thing to greet you on first stepping onto Sunshine State soil, a quick readjustment of attitude will put you in good stead to tackle the city’s quietly thriving dining scene.

If you can handle the heat in 2017 – and it’s only rising, thanks to the city’s nightlife precincts, abundant green al fresco spaces, world-class galleries and gateway to the state credentials – you’d be well placed to spend a weekend stepping into some of the city’s most exciting kitchens, before seeking respite and relishing in some of its time-honoured cultural oases. Here’s where to head.

Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir a.k.a. Shoplifter, Iceland/United States, Nervescape V 2016, commissioned for Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything
Credit: Courtesy of the artist/GoMA

Vintaged, so adorable
World-class architecture rarely comes to mind when one conjures an image of Brisbane, save perhaps for the city’s singular Queenslander residences. While the future looks bright for the city skyline (development is underway on three residential towers designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Dame Zaha Hadid, for example) finding Brisbane’s pre-existing architectural gems requires you look a little closer, often in unexpected places. Perhaps no other address exemplifies this idea better than the city’s Hilton Hotel, designed by the late, eminent Australian architect Harry Seidler.

Located in the bullseye centre of the city’s central business district, the building’s unassuming facade – set back from the street and accessed first through a nondescript street level lobby – belies an interior that never fails to induce awe, thanks in no small part to a towering atrium that’s punctuated by a magnificent domed glass ceiling. At 83m in height and with high-speed glass walled elevators delivering guests to each of the hotel’s greenery fringed floors, it’s an aesthete’s delight and an acrophobic’s worst nightmare.
Newly refurbished interiors update Harry Seidler’s Modernist designs for the hotel’s third decade
Credit: Courtesy of Hilton Brisbane

Now in its 30th year, the hotel’s classic Modernist design – and a recent rejuvenating facelift – has shored it against the many of the signs of ageing that have befallen the remainder of the CBD. As one of two Seidler-designed projects completed in Brisbane the late 80s, the hotel’s five star credentials, design significance and enviable proximity to the city’s drawcard attractions will surely ensure its ongoing relevance for the foreseeable future.

The hotel’s adjoining restaurant, Vintaged Bar + Grill, continues to enjoy year-on critical acclaim, having recently earned a single hat for its devotion to showcasing local produce in a contemporary Australian fashion. Think a wine list that’s equal parts accessible and adventurous; an open ravioli with red martini flambé scallops in a prawn bisque; an outrageous deconstructed strawberry milkshake; and for the high roller, a perfectly cooked two kilogram Rangers Valley tomahawk – the colossal scale of which is only fitting, all things considered.

At left, the atrium at the Harry Seidler designed Hilton Brisbane; and right, open ravioli with red martini flambé scallops at the hotel’s Vintaged Bar + Grill 
Credit: Courtesy of Hilton Brisbane/Shot on iPhone

Gauge the mood
That René Redzepi, Danish chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma, made a surprise appearance at Gauge during a visit to Brisbane last year speaks depths to the talents of 25-year-old chef Cormac Bradfield and his colleague Phil Marchant. Spearheaded by the owner of haute Teneriffe providore Sourced Grocer, Jerome Batten, Gauge is as good a measure as any for the new standard of contemporary Australian dining.

The South Brisbane arts precinct venue functions as a popular café by day before transforming into a bar and restaurant at night, once their revolutionary spin on Bircher muesli takes a backseat to dishes like peppery kangaroo tartare cut with aged beetroot and quandong, or wild peach. The interiors are as bright and airy as you could hope for on a stifling afternoon; it’s tempting to call the fit out Scandinavian in flavour, but to do so would do a disservice to its all-Australian fit out of raw Blackbutt timber and leather, or the custom made Japanese ceramic flatware that the open kitchen’s sensational dishes are served on.

Clockwise from top: The scene at Gauge; Silken almond tofu with eggplant and caper leaf is submerged in a smoked dashi broth; and a dessert of sweet potato with spiced shortbread, buffalo ricotta, salted meringue and honey 
Credit: Courtesy of Gauge/Shot on iPhone

A dish of Fraser Island spanner crab, sansho pepper, pickled kohlrabi and seaweed tastes impossibly of the ocean. It’s light as foam; the culinary equivalent of plunging headfirst into the ocean to stave off a hangover (perhaps one incurred by their wine list, one that favours some sensational natural wines). A dish of silken almond tofu, eggplant, fresh peas, tarragon and caper leaf submerged in smoked dashi is spring incarnate. It does for tofu what Kanye did for Kim’s wardrobe: which is to say it makes venerable what was once considered by many to be vulgar. That only one dish on the menu cracks the $30 mark during my visit only adds to Gauge’s appeal – it doesn’t miss a single beat from service to the final courses: black garlic bread, burnt vanilla and brown butter on one hand, and beetroot sorbet with white chocolate, yoghurt and fried rosemary on the other. The resulting dishes are works of art.

It’s only fitting then that a visit to Gauge should be chased with one to the nearby Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. GoMA celebrated its first decade at the end of last year with a free exhibition, Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything (on until April 17), that includes a major original work commissioned of British artist Anthony McCall; a new public artwork by Queensland Aboriginal artist Judy Watson; a re-staging of Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation of live finches; a cascading large-scale installation of Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir’s technicolour synthetic hair and, most recently, several performances of American artist Nick Cave’s HEARD, which was recently staged in Sydney to spectacular effect.

At left, beetroot sorbet with white chocolate, yoghurt and fried rosemary; and right, chargrilled red cabbage with spicy pork bolognese
Credit: Shot on iPhone/Courtesy of Gauge

Story time
Press a Brisbane native for one of the city’s architectural highlights and you’ll most likely hear ‘The Story Bridge’ in reply. Otto Ristorante, a relative newcomer to the Brisbane dining scene courtesy of Sydney’s Fink Group, whose coterie of lauded fine dining restaurants you’ll no doubt be familiar (think the many hatted Quay, Bennelong, Sydney’s iteration of Otto and Firedoor). It’s incredibly lucky to enjoy uninterrupted views of Brisbane’s premiere viaduct, and it certainly makes the most of them.

That is, provided you can tear your eyes away from Les Danseuse, the restaurant’s hypnotic ceiling fans. They’re made by Italian lighting brand Artemide in collaboration with Swiss design studio Atelier Oï, and they’re redolent of drunk flamenco dancers. At times, I found they gave Otto’s brand of modern Italian food a run for its money, though it bears saying that an unmistakably fresh, salty and sweet housemade strozzapreti with banana prawns and a tomato and calamari sauce put up a good fight.

Add to that a sophisticated take on tiramisu (liquid nitrogen treated espresso semifreddo, coffee soaked savoiardi, marsala mousse and a chocolate crunch) and you have two standouts from a much-anticipated new arrival this side of the border – and perhaps an even more captivating sign of things to come.

At left, housemade strozapretti at Otto Brisbane; and right, the view of Brisbane’s Story Bridge from the restaurant
Credit: Otto Ristorante/Instagram

GRAZIA travelled to Brisbane as a guest of the Hilton. For more information, visit their website.

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Hilton Brisbane/Instagram