It’s six years since Brisbane’s bar and dining landscape changed forever with the opening of Limes Hotel in the back streets of Fortitude Valley.
Since then Limes founder Damian Griffiths has gone on to open a series of bar and dining venues characterised by their quirky, humorous and sometimes slightly outrageous décor.
Damian’s venues include Alfred and Constance, set in-and-around the bones of two old timber homes, and powered by a wood-fired oven. At its heart is a gastro pub serving honest fare like farm-fresh roast meat and side salads, with 20 tap beers to wash it all down. Alfredo’s Pizzeria and Bar serves wood-fired pizzas, pastas and Italian comfort food to Brisbane seven nights a week. Kwan Brothers specialises in Asian-street food, share-plate style, while Chester Street is an artisan bakery by day and neighbourhood bar by night.
Brisbanites love them and they are the places to see and be seen.
I asked Damian how and why it all started.
When you opened Limes Hotel, did you have a vision for where you are now?
Back then we just focused on opening a boutique hotel and roof top bar. By chance, we able to pick the two old Queenslanders that became Alfred & Constance, then Alfredo’s and Kwan Brothers came along next door.
What did you do before opening Limes?
I was running a budget accommodation chain.
You’re the king of eclectic when it comes to Brisbane’s food and bar outlets. Where do you find your inspiration?
I travel as much as I can. I think the USA is great place for ideas for new venues and concepts.
What changes have you seen in Brisbane over the past six years for better and worse?
The breakfast culture is amazing in Brisbane now and we have so many new and exciting options to choose from. I think Australia generally does breakfast very well.
What do you predict will be the next big thing in Brisbane?
I think we are going to see a lot of smaller restaurants and venues where the chef/bar staff maybe own and operate the venue. We also will start to see the return of more neighbourhood offerings. There is a massive interest in food from all ages of customers.
Which are your favourite places to eat and drink in Brisbane and around the world?
I have a real weakness for cakes. The banoffee pie at Chester Street Bakery is, I think, one of the best caramel desserts around.
When I’m travelling, I prefer casual local restaurants. I am not a fan of fine dining. On recent trip to Paris I had dinner at Bones, run by ex-Brisbane chef James Henry. It was everything it was cracked up to be.
In London, you have to try Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store. The take on making vegetables the central focus of the menu is outstanding. If you love comfort food go to Margot Henderson and Arnold and Henderson. Jelly and ice cream was a knock out.
In Bangkok, try Nahm. My god, the Thai food is amazing!
In Hong Kong, dine at Chom Chom. Peter, the owner, is a good friend and has made Vietnamese street food so approachable. The place is packed every night.
I could eat breakfast tacos in LA every day.
I am also a huge fan of wood fire cooking. I would rate Zuni in San Francisco for its wood-fired chicken, Restaurant Ekstedt in Stockholm where the entire kitchen is wood fired and Porteno in Sydney as some of the best dining experiences.
Where to from here for your empire? What’s next on your drawing board?
I am working on a whole new precinct. It’s a forgotten back street of the Valley, Little Street. We are refurbishing a 1920s warehouse into a multi-level bar restaurant and hotel complex. It’s such an amazing old world part of town. We have some really interesting food concepts we are developing.
There are some other buildings in the street that we are interested in as well, so we could get a whole happening street. I think that will be exciting for Brisbane and I want to bring something new to the Brisbane food and entertainment scene. It should open in late 2015.
Sounds exciting, Damian. I can’t wait to be sitting at a table in Little Street and trying the food.