Clockwise from top left: Hellenica at the Calile; Nineteen at the Star; the Bloom Room; Beirne Lane.
Clockwise from top left: Hellenica at the Calile; Nineteen at the Star; the Bloom Room; Beirne Lane.

Best and worst dining experiences of 2018

"WHAT'S your favourite restaurant?" It's the question I get every time someone finds out I'm a restaurant reviewer.

"I don't have one," is always my response as it's critical I stay impartial in my role.

What I will happily tell you though is where to go for a cracking meal out and where you should avoid at all costs.

Last year was a momentous time for the Queensland dining scene with some of the biggest restaurant openings seen in years. And as we prepare for another onslaught of hospitality hotspots, here's my list of restaurants and cafes that brought me both joy and pain in 2018.

DUDS

Proud Mary's, New Farm

The latest incarnation of the riverside restaurant at Brisbane Powerhouse, this New Orleans-themed eatery once again failed to live up to its stunning location. Though not terrible, it's heavy, cloying, deep-fried food seems to jar with the exercise-loving crowd that frequent the area.

 

Country pancakes at Where the Wolves Eat. Picture: Annette Dew
Country pancakes at Where the Wolves Eat. Picture: Annette Dew

 

Where the Wolves Eat, Morningside

It was the Wolf country pancakes at this suburban cafe that had me howling. Described in my review at the time as a "bizarre and unpalatable, sweet-savoury combination … with a pork and fennel sausage crumble akin to what those wolves would have chewed, spat out and left to dry in the sun" it was the worst meal I ate last year. With a wonderful fit-out and beyond friendly staff, let's hope the chef has changed the recipe.

 

The Bloom Room in Birkdale. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
The Bloom Room in Birkdale. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

 

The Bloom Room Cafe, Birkdale

Run by the successful Venzin Group, this Redlands cafe failed to live up to the standards of its sister venues like the hugely popular Pawpaw in Woolloongabba and Piggy Back in Jindalee. Shrivelled, old peas and undercooked carrots should have never been allowed on the plate in what quickly become the most controversial bubble and squeak dish of 2018, bringing about threats of law suits from the cafe owner and a social media campaign.

 

STUDS

Beirne Lane, Fortitude Valley

An all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch package for just $79 every Sunday had me sold. The food and drink at this beautifully restored heritage building is worth far more than its price tag, while the vibe, thanks to attentive, well-trained staff and ever-changing entertainment, is fun, footloose and fancy-free.

 

Beirne Lane in Fortitude Valley.
Beirne Lane in Fortitude Valley.

 

 

Emeraude, Hampton

Good, old-fashioned country hospitality meets the freshest of local produce to create a rural restaurant well worth the 90-minute drive from Brisbane. Do yourself a favour and order the breakfast board with some of the best doughnuts you'll ever eat.

 

Hellenika at The Calile, Fortitude Valley

TV chefs often talk about "respecting the produce" but there are few venues which take this mantra as seriously as Hellenika. The Greek favourite uses only the finest of ingredients to create dishes that truly wow. From the unforgettable simple Greek salad to the wickedly good zucchini chips and meltingly tender, oregano-spiked calamari, it's the type of food you would happily eat every day. Have one of the charming and charismatic team members help you pair the dishes with a glass of wine from the tome-like list and you will leave with a full tummy and happy heart.

 

HOLD for Sunday Mail's Best and Worst restaurant experiences of 2018. Bar manager Lauren Smith, with Calile Hotel's traditional Greek salad, New Farm. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
HOLD for Sunday Mail's Best and Worst restaurant experiences of 2018. Bar manager Lauren Smith, with Calile Hotel's traditional Greek salad, New Farm. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

 

Greca, Brisbane

Faultless service with equal parts personality, passion and knowledge wins the day at this riverside restaurant at the new Howard Smith Wharves precinct. The Medusa Seducer negroni and the signature Greca Spritz are both a must as you fill up on saganaki, breads and taramasalata.

 

Rick Shores, Burleigh Heads

There are few restaurants with a better ambience in Australia than that of Rick Shores. But it's not just the uninterrupted ocean views from its beachside perch that will have you coming back to this modern Asian eatery. For me, it's their signature Ricks fried bug roll and the roasted cauliflower with pepita satay and cauliflower leaf kimchi. While cauliflower seemed to be on every menu last year, this was hands-down my favourite rendition of the vegetable. Knowledgeable, benevolent service and a stellar drinks list also give plenty of reason to return.

 

Executive Chef Ben Williamson poses at Gerard's Bistro on James Street in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Mr Williamson talks about mental health and suicide. (AAP Image/Claudia Baxter)
Executive Chef Ben Williamson poses at Gerard's Bistro on James Street in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Mr Williamson talks about mental health and suicide. (AAP Image/Claudia Baxter)

 

Gerard's Bistro, Fortitude Valley

Sadly head chef Ben Williamson has now left the kitchen to start his own project later this year, but his creative take on Middle Eastern food will always be cherished. The signature harissa-based beka chicken wings was one of the best dishes I ate all year, and the new chef will have big shoes to fill.

 

Gauge, South Brisbane

If it didn't narrow my arteries with every bite I may just live on the crispy fried sebago potato crowned with a malt vinegar-infused creme fraiche, grated egg yolk and onion salt at this hipster, casual, city-fringe eatery. With a wine list guaranteed to challenge and food that moves far outside the box, Gauge serves up an experience for the serious foodie.

 

Nineteen at the Star for Best of the Gold Coast rooftops
Nineteen at the Star for Best of the Gold Coast rooftops

 

Nineteen at the Star, Broadbeach

Owner Simon Gloftis is dedicated to sourcing only the best quality produce money can buy and it's evident in every bite at this colourful restaurant on the 19th floor of The Darling at The Star. Along with ocean glimpses and impeccable service by a friendly and charismatic team, you'll fall in love with the food from head chef Kelvin Andrews. The marron and crustacean risotto is a must with a glass of wine from the cracking drinks list.

 

Yoyo Bar, Noosaville

This Sunshine Coast newcomer delivers a far superior package than its minimal, unpretentious fit-out would suggest. An interesting and well-conceived wine list meets a clever and sophisticated, share-style menu from chef Ash Warncken, while if you're lucky enough to nab a spot on the deck, you'll be treated to views of Noosa River.

 

Homage, Grandchester

With not a traditional kitchen in sight and ingredients cooked over fire, this regional restaurant led by chef Ash Martin delivers flavour profiles unlike anything else in Queensland. Backed by a knowledgeable and charming service team inside a cosy barn fit-out, Homage creates a dining experience, not just a meal out.



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