Brisbane's first luxury hotel to open in seven years is a mere drop kick away from the Suncorp Stadium - the spiritual home of rugby league in Queensland.
The five-star, 68-room Gambaro Hotel, which has a bird's eye view over the stadium from its sunset terrace, is the place to stay for sports fans in search of style. Situated on Paddington's Caxton Street, the boutique hotel opened on May 1, in time for State of Origin 100th commemorative game on May 28, which saw the Blues beat the Maroons 12-8. The hotel now expects to play host to the League elite on the night of the series' closing game on July 9.
The Suncorp Stadium can hold 42,000 and on the night of May 28, Caxton Street was awash with a surging crowd of Maroon, as they made their way to the stadium.
"Our sunset lounge with its view over Caxton Street and the stadium is the place to get into the spirit before the game and the hotel is the most convenient place to stay," said John Gambaro, at Paddington’s popular Black Hide Steakhouse, opposite the hotel. "But our hotel is not aimed just at sports supporters. We’re in Brisbane’s backyard, 10 minutes from the river, the CBD and South Bank. Visitors to Brisbane couldn’t be better placed."
The Gambaro family, which owns the new hotel, the steakhouse and the famous Gambaro Seafood Restaurant, which opened 40 years ago, has come a long way since the family patriarch, Giovanni Baptista, arrived in Brisbane in the ’50s.
It all started 62 years ago at what is now the Black Hide Steakhouse, then a humble fish and chip shop. Giovanni, John’s grandfather, then a recent immigrant from Calabria in war-torn Italy, was walking down Caxton Street in 1953 when he heard two men arguing about whether they should sell their business. He settled the argument by buying it there and then.
John’s mother, Joyce, remembers those early days. “When it all started, we were at the fish markets every day between 3am and 4am. Then we worked at the shop until between 9am and 10pm, seven days a week.”
Joyce's other son, Donny, says you could get a good feed for "one shilling and sixpence", but the "two bob special", equivalent to about 20 cents today, would get you fish and chips, a meat rissole and a sausage in batter.
The fact that their nearby seafood restaurant has flourished for more than 40 years says a thing to two about Gambaro family’s ability to inspire loyalty. In their steakhouse, the walls are lined with little drawers, each inscribed with a regular diner’s name; inside every drawer is a diner’s personal steak knife.
The steaks and seafood at the Black Hide are superb and though you’ll need to dig a little deeper than the "two bob" of yesteryear, it's the quality that determines today’s prices – the organic 250gm eye fillet (flavoursome and tender) weighs in at $38.90, whereas the vegetable side dishes are only $9.50 for a very generous portion. It’s inspired food served in a sophisticated setting with a wine list to match.
Tucked away at the back of the restaurant is a large black and white print by the internationally celebrated photographer Ruth Orkin, American Girl in Italy, 1951, a beautifully observed street scene in which a po-faced young woman is ignoring the attentions of her young Italian admirers. It's one of those images that evoke spontaneous laughter. One not easily forgotten, like the restaurant in which it hangs.
As for the Gambaro Hotel, it has a touch of the Italian Riviera, a sophisticated décor with a little glitz and an inspiring "art" installation.
There are nine different room types, but a typical suite is decorated in a smoky grey, gold and dark maroon palette and comes with either a king or queen Sealy Dynasty Series bed, a pillow menu with seven options, 40"-55" LED TV, complimentary WIFI, a large desk, balcony with sliding doors, a marble bathroom with rain shower and Appelles products, and district views of Paddington and Woollongabba.
Entry-level rooms look out on a light well. Yes, a light well, but what a light well! It’s filled with a three-storey high chandelier-type installation of white fish and crystal beads. It’s beautiful … a joy to behold. And so appropriate as fish are the foundation on which the Gambaro family’s fortunes are built.
Success and longevity could well be the motto of the Gambaros. After 60 years on Caxton Street, Donny sums up their hopes for the new hotel. "We’ll be happy if the hotel is still here in 100 years." It’s a big call, but after keeping their fish restaurant flourishing for 40 years, who knows.
BRISBANE WATCH: Recently opened in the former premises of the old Rugby Union Club is the Black Bird Bar & Grill on the Brisbane River in the heart of the city’s Wall Street area, next to Eagle Street ferry pier. With sweeping water views of the Storey Bridge, the Black Bird Bar & Grill has a great location. Not that anyone would have agreed during the floods of 2011, when the premises filled with muddy water to its ceiling.
Popular for its steaks cooked on a wood grill, known as Inferno ’96, specially imported from the US, the restaurant serves a wide selection of seafood, including Chilean sea bass and Pacific oysters from its own private racks at Coffin Bay, SA.
A Kobe cuisine Wagyu sirloin is $39, while an O’Conner’s Black Angus rib eye, weighs in at $160 for two. Lamb, pork and superb venison are also on the menu, all supplemented with that special taste only found in wood-barbecued meat.
Walk off your meal along the river or use the waterside paths and Friendship pedestrian bridge to explore South Bank, including its sandy beach, Nepalese Peace Pagoda, rainforest strip and Brisbane’s arts complex.