It’s not all bad news, though – there’s still plenty of action taking place along Eagle Street and soon some of Brisbane’s sharpest hospitality minds (who have helped open the likes of Walter’s Steakhouse, Popolo and The Gresham) will open a brand-new restaurant at Riparian Plaza. Tillerman will open in early September, showcasing a sensational seafood-centric menu perfectly suited to the restaurant’s river-adjacent location.
Andrew and Jaimee Baturo knew that Naga Thai would be a temporary thing. When the Libertine owners were invited to take over the tenancy formerly home to Pony, they accepted with the knowledge that the site would one day, in the not-too-distant-future, be redeveloped as part of Dexus’ planned $2.1 billion overhaul of the Eagle Street Pier and Waterfront Place.
Despite this, there was still a palpable air of sadness when Naga closed in July – especially for the diners that had come to love the venue’s vivid 60s-inspired interior and menu of zesty Thai cuisine. “I think my term for it at the time was ‘long-term pop-up’, but it was anything but,” reflects Andrew. “Even though it was going to be a short-term proposition, I really felt like it evolved into something more.”
Naga was, perhaps, an example of what could have been, had lockdowns, Omicron waves and floods never taken place. “It was like having a powerful car, but you couldn’t get it out of first gear. It felt like that the whole time, it felt like I had to hold it back the whole from what it was really trying to be.”
Unbeknownst to the greater public, however, Andrew, Jaimee and Naga Thai head chef Suwisa Phoonsang had been been quietly making moves a year in advance of Naga’s closure, having discussions and putting pieces in place to create a landing spot for the restaurant’s kitchen and front-of-house staff.
Next month the crew will open Tillerman, a brand-new concept situated around the river bend at Riparian Plaza.
The mezzanine-level location may be familiar to frequent riverside revellers – it’s the spot formerly home to Kingsley’s, the long-running steakhouse and seafood restaurant that closed in February 2021. It’s a prime piece of real estate and one that Andrew and Jaimee are looking to make the most of.
“I felt a little humbled and very honoured that [landlords Riparian Plaza and Bloomberg Incorporation] would provide me with the opportunity to go into, what I think is one of the best riverside locations in Brisbane,” Andrew admits.
Brisbane-based architecture and interior-design firm Hogg & Lamb will be running point on the creation of Tillerman’s loosely nautical- and resort-inspired aesthetic, using a broad palette of materials (think spotted gum, sand-coloured leather and botanical prints) to create a sophisticated-yet-inviting look that matches beautifully with the river and Story Bridge views.
In good news for pescatarians, Tillerman’s primary culinary focus will be seafood. While globe-spanning influences will be present across the offering, the team is celebrating the local provenance of its bounty of morsels. “I had to go all around the world to really embrace what’s really important about Queensland and what we love about being Queenslanders,” says Andrew.
“We’re really parochial – we love our seafood, our beaches and our sunshine, and I think that’s something that Tillerman will really embrace. For international or interstate travellers, they can see Queensland at its best, in a venue.”
That said, Tillerman will look to balance worldly inspirations with a cooking approach couched in simplicity and respect. “The best way you can present seafood is minimally and respectfully, in my opinion,” Andrew adds. “The best seafood you’re going to have is something cooked lightly on the grill with a piece of lemon.
“So we want to make sure that we’re doing seafood really beautifully but not interfering with it too much. Where the differentiation can come will be in the sauces, dressings, butters and ghees – what we provide alongside for our customers to complement each specific item of seafood or produce.”
Chef Suwisa and her team will source a bounty of premium morsels, crafting dishes like bacalao croquetas, hand-picked Queensland mud crab with crab butter and chives, and salt-baked Murray cod. Don’t fancy fish or crave something other than crustaceans? No problem – Tillerman’s menu will also feature the likes of Heritage wagyu flank, chicken roulade with mushroom duxelle and seasonal vegetable tarte tatin, plus a host of salads and sides.
Gizem ‘Gee’ Temizkan will oversee Tillerman’s beverage portfolio, which will feature a broad selection of international and domestic wines (some of which dispensed via Coravin) sourced from coastal regions that are predisposed to being complementary to seafood. There will also be plenty of champagne by the glass and a selection of rum-based daiquiris.