Brisbane boasts a number of small venues in laneways: dimly lit sanctuaries of obscurity where you can curl up in a corner and drink your beer in the dark. It also has airy, spacious venues, full of natural light, lush with greenery and replete with share platters and expansive drinks menus designed to sate any group of friends.
And, when it comes to Isles Lane, don’t be fooled by the name as this is most certainly the latter.
The vast, inviting entranceway and abundance of foliage makes for a seamless transition from grassy Post Office Square into Isles Lane. Once inside, you have the option of sitting at bar tables near the entrance, comfy booths on the right, or on the green leather island seating running down the centre of the venue. Or, of course, there’s the bench looking out over one of the last green spaces in the CBD – perfect for people watching or, for any urban ornithologists among the Crafty readership, pigeon watching.
The aesthetic is a little bit Paris café, a little bit Hamptons, a little bit New York hotel bar. Isles Lane took home a silver medal from the 2018 Sydney Design Awards for its interior design, and it’s easy to see why. It somehow strikes a balance between being welcoming, classy and cool, with its long stretches of green and white tiles, its leather bench seats, its bentwood chairs and the backlit shelves of spirits behind the bar.
It’s not just a bar; it’s not just a restaurant. It’s a pub of sorts, but not an Aussie lager/pokies/bad carpet kind of pub. Think more a fancy English pub but one with a Continental European streak, where the food and drinks stand side by side, are of a high standard, and are generally sourced locally, with a minimal intervention approach to the food offerings.
"Simple food, beautiful produce, plated nicely," says general manager Nick Braban.
Their ethos focuses on farm-to-table, partnering with farmers in the Darling Downs and sourcing food direct from them.
“We buy all our lamb from one guy. All our beef from one family. All our chicken from one family.”
The menu changes all the time, based on what the chef currently has to hand. While you could just order yourself a single plate of whatever nose-to-tail cut is being served up this week – T-bone one week, brisket the next, sausage the following – the best way to order is to choose a large plate to share, such as a whole chicken or a lamb shoulder, paired with salads and sides for the table. Whether you’re there with friends, family or co-workers, there’s something special about passing dishes to each other and being part of a dining tradition that’s been handed down throughout history: share a plate, share a laugh, share an experience.
When it comes to drinks, you’ll find strong offerings to suit everyone in the group. As well as their wines and whiskies, and a solid seasonal cocktail list, there are twelve taps to accommodate drinkers of all tastes, from the non-beer drinkers all the way through to the crafty crowd. Pimms, ginger beer and cider sit alongside an Aussie macro lager and a Japanese lager, plus six or seven independent and local beers, moving from session ales and pales through to specialty releases. And, sure, you could get a schooner of your beverage of choice… but if you’re committed to a long lunch or a serious wind-down at the end of the day, it’s hard to go past that vessel of kings, the stein.
However, if a litre of beer isn’t right for the situation, it might be the perfect opportunity to check out the can list. While the crafty options on tap feature mostly locals, the 30-ish strong can range offers brews from further afield, including southerners like Young Henrys, Modus Operandi and Mornington Peninsula, right down to super-southerner Moo Brew, then across to US masters New Belgium.
In addition to their regular and rotating offerings, Isles Lane is all about experiential events. They have a secondary, semi-circular bar up the back, which was purpose built for for things like beer tastings, where you can sit around and chat with whichever brewer or rep is showing off their latest limited release. And they host long table lunches and dinners, pairing beers with courses of food for a slow degustation that makes you forget you’re in the middle of the buzzing CBD.
It’s not often you find a venue where you could equally take your in-laws for brunch, your sophisticated boss for post-work drinks (the best way to schmooze them into giving you that promotion), or your mates for a hunk of meat and a stein of beer. But when it comes balancing versatility, comfort, and quality, Isles Lane nails it and highlights craft beer's steady expansion beyond its traditional haunts.