Wining and Dining
A tale of Ipswich
The ‘grande dame’ of Queensland country towns, Ipswich may not immediately spring to mind as a holiday destination. Yet there’s lots to discover here in our own backyard, a fascinating history which unfolds before our eyes, a laidback lifestyle away from the bustle of city streets and people who will greet you in passing and happily talk about the town they love.
We easily fill up a long weekend with eating, drinking, walking and looking, talking to locals, soaking up history, and promising ourselves that we’ll return to discover more.
Ipswich is a city layered with history and culture. A drive around the city’s streets shows the prominence of this prosperous town which once aspired to be Queensland’s capital. Imposing buildings hold pride of place on street corners, Victorian mansions dot the hillside above the town, with pavilioned parks stretching out around its edges, vestiges of the wealth that flowed from coal mines and service industries.
Boom times brought an influx of immigrants and their traditions. A rich musical culture, the remnant of Welsh and Cornish miners who emigrated to work on the mines, is still evident in Ipswich today, as is a strong educational tradition, Ipswich being home to the first secondary school established in Queensland in 1863, Ipswich Grammar.
Once more, Ipswich is undergoing a renaissance. It is a city brimming with new life. Estimated to have the highest population in Australia of children under 12 by 2030, the influx of younger residents has brought growth and a renewed focus on the young.
Keeping a foot firmly in both worlds, there’s been a rise in niche and boutique shops in the town’s heritage listed buildings, as well as newer developments in Springfield, with further projected plans for Ripley and a $150 million plan to transform the Ipswich CBD.
Top of Town
Starting at the top of the hill near the Post Office off the appropriately named d’Arcy Doyle Place is the Ipswich Art Gallery, in full ‘construction’ mode for children when we visited during the school holidays. Besides housing a traditional gallery and hosting touring exhibitions, the gallery’s user-friendly hands-on approach features interactive creative play experiences for young visitors, an attitude also seen at the The Workshops Rail Museum.
The Top of the Town precinct, the centre of business after World War II, is centred around Brisbane Street (between Ellenborough and Waghorn Streets). It’s perfect browsing territory, a reminder of the specialty owner-operated shops we lost when brand name dominated malls flooded the shopping market. Housed mostly in heritage buildings, the area embraces the town’s history by offering an eclectic mix of cafés, vintage stores, clothing boutiques, homewares and niche products.
In a pleasant wander around a couple of blocks, shoppers can visit gift and specialty stores including clothing and gifts, Oh! JoJo Boutique for women’s clothes, Obsession Shoes and Arttime Supplies which specialises in fine art and craft supplies.
Within reach just across the railway is Kaela’s Patch which carries fashion, quilting and patchwork fabrics and haberdashery and, in the opposite direction, the funky R & R Behind Red Doors in Waghorn Street, a treasure trove of upcycled and restored retro and vintage furniture and collectibles. The Ipswich Antique Centre steps up a notch into antique and collectible vintage wares.
Jeanette, from The Gift Emporium echoes the sentiment expressed by many retail owners we meet: “Look upwards at the façades as you walk around. They’re quite beautiful,” she tells us, adding “I love it here. It’s a constantly changing space, presently undergoing a rejuvenation.”
The owners of C. J. Vogel & Son love Ipswich so much they’ve stayed for generations! It’s the oldest family-owned business in town, dating back to 1877, the owner tells us, standing in the middle of his shop full of model cars. He jokes about how the family sold off the adjoining shop, only to buy it back in more prosperous times.
C.J. Vogel’s is a mecca for hobby collectors and car enthusiasts, a small part of Ipswich’s rail, road and air attractions that include The Workshops Rail Museum, Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway, Willowbank Raceway, Queensland Raceway, Queensland Motorsport Museum and the RAAF Amberley Aviation Heritage Centre – far too much to cover in a long weekend!
Ipswich’s food culture is reason enough to visit the city. From organic farmers’ markets a short drive from town to niche producers and hatted restaurants with magnificent views, the range of food experiences reflects the diversity of Queensland’s cuisine. Top of Town is full of funky cafés and eateries, each one different to the last.
Some are housed in heritage buildings, others in warehouses or newer buildings fronting on to courtyards and open spaces. However, taking a short trip out of Ipswich can open up other foodie adventures: wine tastings at vineyards, five star gourmet experiences and visits to niche producers.
Fronting d’Arcy Doyle Place, Indian Mehfil is a highly-regarded restaurant. Based on the philosophy that ‘the guest is god’, an evening at Indian Mehfil is a highly enjoyable experience. There’s a sense of awe on entering the restaurant, the 4-metre ceilings of the heritage building towering above us, tables clad in linen and walls adorned by romantic Bollywood-style Indian paintings.
Our mixed platter of starters ($18) is a meal in itself. Curries are rich and full of flavour, boasting threads of coconut or strands of ginger, the mark of being made by hand. Frankly, it’s some of the best Indian food we’ve tasted in Queensland. While many dishes are well-known regional specialties, we noticed a Gulab Jamun on the menu served with flambé Cointreau, an interesting twist to a classic dessert.
Service is gracious as well, and there’s a sense that this very affordable restaurant could just as easily house grand celebrations as it could a casual family night out. Locals tell us that Indian Mehfil has become an essential part of their community due to their charitable work and celebrations, performances often spilling out into the park, especially during Diwali.
Indian Mehfil’s ‘sidekick’ business is the 116 Laneway Café & Bar which runs down the laneway beside the restaurant. Laneway serves well-priced meals, snacks and drinks from the bar, dine in and food to go for breakfast and lunch. It’s a quiet place to enjoy a coffee or drink, with service provided from a shipping container.
Rafter & Rose is a family-run café occupying a tiny shop and its adjoining plant-clad laneway. House-made cakes and muffins line the counter top where we line up to order our food, the busyness a great sign of the café’s popularity. It may be lunchtime, but everyone’s still eating from the ‘all day breakfast’ menu, a town tradition, it seems.
Sourcing meat directly from farmers and making all the jams and relishes in house leads to a superior product, packed with flavour. The steak sandwich is one of the best we’ve tasted, with tender meat, delicious bacon jam, aioli and salad sandwiched into an artisan milk bun. Together with the fruit whip smoothies we order, it’s a perfect brunch. Rafter & Rose also serves juices, shakes and excellent Padre and Uncle Joe’s coffee.
Deann’s Coffee House, on the other hand, throws us back to the good times of the ‘50s. Furniture, shop fitout and realia form resemble the set of ‘Happy Days’ as we sit beneath ‘The Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. The menu reflects the retro theme as well, with items such as The Big bopper, The Wanderer, The King and Little Richard.
There are concessions for vegetarians (Veg Out) with haloumi added to a vegetarian breakfast, as well as for food intolerant diners, but this is also the place to indulge in a real milkshake, homemade food, and a great piece of cake! Add in a Nutella cappuccino and you’re done. (We’d stopped at the Veg Out with Dutch pancakes and a chocolate milkshake. Yummo!)
In Bundamba, five minutes out of Ipswich, Thirty Seven Café is well worth a visit. Owner operators Anh and Hien are charming hosts and the café is spotless. Blending their Vietnamese culture with Aussie favourites, the menu is divided into the source of the food: From the Grain, From the Chicken, From the Pig, From the Cow, From the Farm, From the Garden and From the Sea.
There are lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options clearly marked, as well as a few traditional Vietnamese items, to which we gravitate. As pho in on the winter menu, we choose a traditional Bahn Mi and Spring rolls, served with Nuoc Cham sauce and lettuce leaves for wrapping (by request), washed down with a good Merlo and a Viet iced coffee. We’d love to try the lychee tea another time. Anh tells us that she’s a boat person who came to Australia 10 years ago, spending four years interned in a camp in Malaysia on the way.
While the pain of the journey is obvious, she is eternally grateful that her whole family (her parents and their eight children) arrived in Australia safely, each one now either in a profession or their own business. There’s a quiet deck at the side of the café under the shade of a fig tree. With such congenial service and interesting food, Thirty Seven Café is the perfect place to stop on the Brisbane-Ipswich journey.
Right in the heart of town, the fame of Heisenberg Haus goes before it. When we ring and book, we face the question: “How many pork knuckles would you like to order?” Served with sauerkraut, a dumpling and gravy, the knuckle is legendary. Be among the 5% of diners who finish the plate and your photo will be added to the Hall of Fame. Little wonder!
The knuckle we’re served feeds two and there’s meat left over! Our menus, attached to a Grimm’s Fairy Tales book, show us a range of dishes: burgers and German classics for lunch; schnitzel, 300g pork belly, steak and various traditional sausages etc. for dinner with sides of potato salad, sauerkraut and spätzle. The restaurant is situated in an historic building, the inside much like a beer hall surrounded by exposed brick walls, a prominent bar along one wall serving eight German beers on tap in three sizes, cocktails, wine, cider, spirits and schnapps.
The tap beer is so specialised, it comes by boat from Germany, the waitress tells us, being ordered six weeks in advance. Leave room for Apple Strudel, a rustic dish in composition and size laced with cinnamon and currants, easily serving two. It’s large enough to keep you warm on a cold winter’s night! Popular with groups, Heisenberg Haus has great atmosphere, abundant food and drinks, but don’t be afraid to share!
Tucked in behind Heisenberg Haus, Dancing Bean Roastery is a newcomer to the town. Founded by Rob Mergard in 2009 in Banyo, Brisbane, the business moved to Ipswich in 2016. We’re greeted by Nao, the roaster/barista, who has been roasting for eight years. Using only the highest grade of coffee beans from about 13 different countries, Dancing Bean is a small roaster which tailors its coffee to customer needs.
Nao designs a new blend every year, his Ipswich Blend earning two silver medals in the Golden Bean, adding to the 24 medals he’s earned in the past five years. Dancing Bean coffee is sold throughout Queensland, including on the Gold Coast at Up Espresso, Old Danube and Marzi’s Café Apfelstrudel. Dancing Bean is the major roaster in Ipswich, its warehouse and adjoining café open daily to the public for the sale of light food, coffee, wholesale beans, barista supplies and equipment. And the name? Nao says that the last bean always dances, not wanting to take the journey down into the grinder.
If there’s one place which exemplifies the progressive attitude of the town, it’s the Pumpyard Bar and Brewery. Home to Wade Curtis’ award-winning 4 Hearts beer, first released commercially in 2011, the brewery takes its name from the site’s historical role: the place where in the 1860s locals came to collect their four free buckets of water daily at a pump tapping a natural underground spring. We take a quick tour of the Pumpyard’s buildings and beer with GM Shaun Hunt, whose bubbling enthusiasm is infectious.
With tasting area and bar integrated into the brewery, 20 taps run straight off the fermenting tanks. There’s plenty of beer to try: the low alcohol Ipswich Challenger, Red IPA, Seasonal (which tastes much like a German ale), 1910 (which packs a massive punch in both flavour and alcohol), Coalminer’s Stout and Wabbit Saison (beer made with Scenic Rim carrots). How local can you get! I settle on the sessionable Slippery Slide, and indeed it is!
Time to eat! Our food is on point and well-priced to match a session. Choosing Hot wings and Sweet potato fries to start, we soon launch into mains: Harissa lamb with harissa, roast pumpkin and quinoa salad, and Flat Iron Steak cooked 12 hours in the sous vide then laced with chilli, lemon and oregano butter and served with corn and black bean salsa, slaw and fries. If you saved some room for dessert, try the Bacon Ice Cream Sandwich or the Chocolate Macadamia Brownie served with salted caramel sauce and chilli stout ale ice cream. Devilicious!
There’s also a separate kids’ menu, making the venue suitable for young families. Comprising four compellingly gothic, institution-like red brick buildings opened in 1901, the site was used as a technical college before being sold to use as a brewery. Unused wood from the site has been upcycled into dining tables, the bar has been constructed from an old Esk bridge, and some remnant machinery of the old woodwork workshop remain.
But there are far grander developments planned for the site. In April 2017, the Pumpyard will open their new conference centre with an à la carte dining restaurant and a huge deck extending out from the buildings to overlook the park alongside. With so much potential and positive attitude, we leave on a promise that we’ll return later in the year.
Next morning, we stop for a coffee at Smith, a tiny espresso bar in an old corner store close to our accommodation at Mary’s Place B & B. New owners Peter Tate and Jolie Beckett form a formidable partnership of world-experienced chef and coffee roaster. Having worked in high profile city restaurants, we asked Peter why they’d chosen to settle in Ipswich. “I love this town,” he tells us. “There’s less hustle and bustle. It’s more my speed.” We get the picture. Many facilities are in walking distance, and parking within a block is easy.
Not only do the couple roast their own True Grit coffee, but Jolie is also a part-time roaster at Nessun Dorma coffee, Brisbane. Jolie tells us that she’s a fan of the characteristics visible on single origin coffee, which are often disguised in blends. Their Columbian-sourced ‘Bruselas’ is roasted a little darker than most, with a fruity apple acidity when served black. Smith is a space to watch, as the couple have plans to offer quality local food as well as barista classes in the near future.
Half an hour’s drive beyond the town, we arrive at Peak Organics at Ivory’s Rock. A volunteer-run market open to the public is held every Saturday from 9am – 2pm on part of the Ivory’s Rock Conventions and Events property at Peak Crossing. Although the market is small, prices are very reasonable for certified organic produce. On sale when we visited were pumpkins, tomatoes, kale, herbs, finger limes, lemons, and sunflowers -no chance we would come away empty-handed! The group also wholesales produce to several Ipswich retailers.
Ironbark Ridge Vineyard, in Purga, about 15 minutes’ drive from Ipswich, is the oldest vineyard in the Scenic Rim, the lifetime work of Barry Hoffensetz. Established in 1984, the vineyard has eight acres under grape with varieties including Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Verdelho, Marsanne, Viognier, Rousanne, Shiraz and Grenache, the grapes transported elsewhere to be made into wine, then bottled on site.
With the property sold in 2016, its new owners are undergoing a steep learning curve to get up to speed with the world of wine. An original 1920s miners’ cottage makes a picturesque tasting room and cellar door. Our tasting includes the smoky, smooth Shiraz Grenache 2007, and we walk away with one of Hoffensetz’s own creations, an ‘Old Friends’ tawny fortified shiraz, it’s raisin tones begging to be paired with a chocolate tart. Delicious!
Another morning, in what proves to be the highlight of our visit, we head out through Grandchester, past the oldest railway station in Queensland, to Homage at Spicers Hidden Vale. The historic homestead housing Homage occupies the crest of the ridge, giving it an eagle’s eye view of the surrounding 12,000 acre working farm. Beautifully curated with garden-fringed lawns, tennis courts, swimming pools, the inner area features once used farm equipment and regalia as still life art.
The accommodation cabins scattered around it, each named after a breed of cattle, carry their own perspective of the countryside, framed through doorways or from balconies. We sit on the veranda for lunch looking out across an infinity-edged pool, rolling hills leading to the mountains beyond. Homage’s menu carries several choices: a two or three course meal ($70 – $80), a degustation menu ($110pp), or the keenly-priced ‘Homestead’ menu ($22 – $26). With the consent of the kitchen, we choose one casual dish and a degustation for one (usually served to a minimum of two people).
Our ‘Homestead’ pasture-fed chicken is brimming with goodness; a delicious bowlful of garden greens and roast vegetables topped with a Maryland of rustic organic chicken with a spiced yoghurt dressing. It would be perfectly delightful as a dish to share with friends, to relax and have a chat over a glass of wine.The degustation, on the other hand, is a completely amazing experience. Every foodie’s dream, it’s an outstanding example of why the restaurant holds a hatted status.
Head Chef Ash Martin pays homage to both land and beast as he takes us on a journey through the landscapes of nature over the course of several hours. It’s a visually artistic culinary delight; a rather whimsical montage of carefully crafted scenes using food as the milieu; locally sourced, seasonal produce mapped out in the menu which maps its local source, including local produce and seafood farms, vegetables from the resort’s own garden, house honey and local free range organic meat from the farm next door.
There’s a Homage experience to suit your occasion and budget, from a light lunch to a completely stunning gourmet meal in your choice of format. To us, it’s one of those memorable experiences that we’ll think back to and relive, the expansive view from the shaded veranda with the light breeze blowing on our faces, the procession of still life scenes arriving on each plate, and the intense flavours in each dish. Magnificent!