A local’s guide to Ipswich’s burgeoning foodie scene
Foodies, welcome to the undiscovered next-big-thing that is Ipswich.
You’ll be glad to know the dining scene has come a long way since Pauline Hanson’s infamous fish ‘n’ chip shop (*phew*), with the last few years seeing an explosion of palatable delights from boutique coffee haunts and late night dessert bars to multicultural fare and microbreweries.
But it’s not just the food that’s worth the (not even) one hour journey from Brisbane. Ipswich has been seriously underestimated when it comes to mini break appeal, and we’re not the only ones who’ve caught on.
Since settling into the slower pace and charm of this heritage city, Jolie Packett and husband Pete Tate from Ellen and Rod cafe have been impressed by the growing street cred and want to share what this not-so-sleepy city has to offer.
From award-winning art galleries and museums to organic markets and some serious architectural porn, you’ll be adding Ipswich to your travel-to radar after this local low-down.
When Jolie and Pete aren’t behind the counter at Ellen and Rod, they enjoy nothing more than turning the tables and having someone else cook for them, and rightly so.
Top of Town is where most of the culinary magic happens; for morning delights and lazy lunches, try laneway cafe Rafter and Rose or Cactus Espresso Bar (which resides in the old Adam’s Cake Shop from the early 1900s).
“Both provide really fresh options, made on the premises, with a good range of options,” says Jolie, from gluten-free baked cheesecakes and brownies for those with a sweet tooth, to the more hearty Eggs Benny and Big Breakfast stacks.
As the day wears on, so do the edible surprises. “For dinner, we have just recently discovered Mehfil; the Indian restaurant is the best Indian we’ve had in a long time.”
Further afield, the new Market Organics in North Ipswich has set itself as the holy grail of healthy eating, home to an organic grocery store (with fresh and seasonal produce sourced from Aussie farmers) and in-house cafe, Evolve. “The outdoor space is fantastic, the food looks great, and the shop prices are better than elsewhere in Ipswich.”
The hubby and wife duo pride themselves on delivering the best brew in town with their own trademark coffee grinds, True Grit, roasted by Jolie herself. (Goes down a treat with their Nutella and banana bread, just FYI.)
“I am my own harshest critic, and we are constantly checking what we are producing to make sure it is the best it can be,” she says. “Part of that includes using the amazing milk from the local dairy, Scenic Rim 4Real Milk.”
For those who get their daily high from green rather than caffeine, try the naturopathically-inspired smoothies and juices from Nourish Real Food Cafe packed with superfoods for a healthy kick.
When the sun goes down and the clock strikes beer o’clock, mosy on over to Pumpyard Bar and Brewery as much for the locally brewed beers as the great atmosphere.
Set in the historic former Technical College which opened in 1901, the scene is straight outta Pinterest with its chic industrial interiors and red brick facade, topped off by an outdoor area with a shaded garden perfect for chilled-out live acoustic tunes on Sundays.
Take a leaf from Pete and order the Ipswich Challenger, a light ale that is easy on the booze content but full of flavour with hints of mandarin, green tea and spice. And don’t forget a side of munchies. “We both like the frickles, which are fried pickles.”
Dusty’s Bar and BBQ is also a great chill-out space for wine ‘n’ diners who like their meaty mains bathed in Kentucky bourbon or spicy Texan chilli sauce.
When it comes to accommodation, Jolie recommends sticking close to the CBD to make the most of all the
Metro Hotel Ipswich International is about as central as you can get, located just a 10-minute stroll from the bustle of Top of Town, with the Ipswich Civic Centre and Market Square Park your neighbours on either side.
If a BnB is more your style, try the cosy ensuites of Parkview Colonials Bed and Breakfast on Limestone Hill opposite Queen’s Park. True to form, the interiors are decorated tastefully with period and antique memorabilia to give it that charm of yesteryear.
Travelling with the family? Try the self-contained apartments at Quest Ipswich just 1km from the CBD, complete with outdoor pool and a mass of greenery two streets down at Limestone Park (perfect for little ones who need to burn off some energy).
While there are perks to staying close to town, Jolie admits there’s also reward for those who don’t mind a commute. Just 38 minutes from the CBD, Spicers Hidden Vale is a luxurious country retreat set on 12,000 acres of Australian bush, home to beautifully restored heritage cottages and one of the sexiest resort pools in the state.
If you’re a train lover, Jolie recommends choo-choo-choosing The Workshops Rail Museum as numero uno on your Ipswich to-do list. Even if you’re not a transport fanatic, you’ll still come away impressed and full of locomotive trivia knowledge after a few hours exploring Australia’s oldest railway workshops still in operation.
Families needn’t fret about keeping the kids occupied either, with playgrounds galore, nature trails, and an award-winning art gallery renowned for being the first in Australia to dedicate a permanent and interactive gallery space solely for children.
“Ipswich is a great jumping-off point for lots of activities in the Scenic Rim,” says Jolie, so why not put some more miles on your out-of-city escape and explore what Brisbane’s World Heritage-listed backyard has to offer.
Top of Town is where it’s at, not only to swoon over the gorgeous heritage buildings and original shop facades but to browse the eclectic mix of boutiques ranging from fashion and homewares to collectables and vintage stores.
Like any foodie worth their salt (and pepper), Jolie and Pete’s favourite retail therapy fix consists of perusing the unique, high-quality kitchenwares of Gemütlich on Brisbane Road.
Did you know Ipswich is the oldest provincial city in Queensland?
But if you think it’s only history buffs who’ll get a kick out of the region’s rich heritage (fun fact: in the 1850s, Ipswich aspired to become the capital of Queensland, but lost this honour to Brisbane), guess again.
“Most people don’t realise how amazing some of the architecture is in Ipswich. There are some really beautiful homes, so as a real estate ogler, I always recommend people check out some of the buildings,” Jolie says.
Put on your walking shoes and get strolling with the city’s Heritage Trail Guides, available from the Visitor Information Centre or online via the council website. When you’ve ticked off the CBD, take your cue from Jolie and extend your search to the ‘burbs for a squiz of the Pinterest-worthy historical houses and cottages.
When to go
Spring hits the right spot in Ipswich, says Jolie, with flawless weather – not too hot, not too cold, and sunshine for days – and a buzzing feel throughout town.
“[It’s] almost as if everybody is emerging from hibernation.”
As Jolie points out, nothing is very far once you’ve landed in the CBD so you can ditch the four wheels for two feet or a cute cruiser (bike hire available from Ipswich Cycles).