Casa Chow is a statement of intent. Not only for owners Vince Lombino and Jared Thibault, but also for the South City Square precinct that’s home to their growing fiefdom of food and drink venues.
It would’ve been easy for developer Pellicano Living to phone in this Woolloongabba destination with its stacks of apartments, a Woolworths, a soon-to-open cinema and a planned Hyatt hotel. Install a Grill’d and a GYG; maybe throw in a juice bar and a cookie-cutter cafe or two. Job done.
Instead they’ve gone ambitious and let Lombino and Thibualt have the run of the place. So far the duo have opened Sasso Italiano, their funky Italian restaurant. Soon will come a wine bar, a brewpub and a 40-seat Mad Men-inspired chophouse, among other venues. Still, Casa Chow feels like the star of the precinct, a beacon that will draw diners and drinkers from across town. There’s absolutely nothing else quite like it in Brisbane.
Working with their regular interior design partners Collectivus, Lombino and Thibault have created an open-air venue that pops with colour and light and music. The defining shades are pink and blue neon, the ceilings and entranceways curve ostentatiously, and there’s a DJ booth up behind the bar punching out Latin-American beats. One of the inspirations for Casa Chow was Chispa, a restaurant Lombino co-owned in Miami, and this feels like Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas might saunter in through the bi-folds at any moment.
“The look and the feel of the place is exactly what we wanted it to be,” Lombino says. “But actually it’s come up better. I think we went through five or six iterations with Collectivus. That’s when the curve started coming in and then also those private areas – those little nooks where you can break off. You could come in here and it might have 30 people or 100 people, but it will feel amazing.”
A long bar sweeps across the central floor and signals Casa Chow’s intent as a drinks-led restaurant and bar. Barkeeps shake a Pisco Sour menu and signature cocktails that include a Plum Pisco Negroni (Barsol quebranta pisco, Davidson’s plum amaro, Cinzano Rosso vermouth and an orange coin) and the Sichuan Chilcano (Barsol acholado pisco, Sichuan pineapple cordial, AZ Bitters Lab Mi Casa bitters, house-made ginger beer, fresh lime and mint). There are also flaming Scorpion Bowls to share, a rice lager on tap courtesy of Aether Brewing, and an efficient wine list that includes bottles from Argentina and Chile.
Not that you should think of the food as an afterthought. Chef Gabriele Di Landri has been charged with capturing traditional Chinese-Peruvian chifa cuisine, and in particular the recipes of Thibault’s former partner, Fiorella Aguila, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The result is a spectacular collection of skewers, ceviche, dim sum, and larger wok and grill dishes.
“We’ve had this concept swimming around in our brains for a while now, but matching it to chifa and that story,” Lombino says. “It’s not just a concept now – it has its own life.”
“It’s good timing with chifa really exploding in popularity in the States,” adds Thibault. “I saw Jessica Alba posting about it in LA the other day. Being right on trend or helping create a trend is something you always want to do.”
You might start with salt and Sichuan calamari served with a peanut dipping sauce; pippies with lap cheong, garlic chives, ginger and chipotle; or Wagyu karubi skewers with chilli oil and coriander. For dim sum, there are scallop-and-prawn wontons served with a master stock and chicken fat; pork and cabbage pot stickers; and XO crab spring rolls. From the wok and grill there’s chaufa, a fabulous, fragrant Peruvian prawn-and-pork fried rice; Fremantle octopus with coconut, fragrant vegetables, lime and rice noodles; and a lomo saltado stir-fry that comes with chips and rice.
It’s a bold food menu, big on flavour, that matches the energy of the surrounding venue. Still in the pipeline for Casa Chow are Rum Cha Sundays, which will feature roving rum-cocktail and yum cha trolleys.
Perhaps most of all, Casa Chow feels like Lombino and Thibault’s reaction to decades of developing food and beverage concepts for hotel groups, from Noble House back in the United States to QT and then Ovolo Hotels in Australia. Now out on their own, they’re free of the piles of stakeholders that used to have an input on their venues.
“We know what we’re doing,” Lombino says. “It really set in when we were doing Sasso – ‘Ah, this is what it feels like when you’re not in eight hours of meetings a day for a hotel company.’
“Take some risks. Be bold. You’ve gotta be bold. There’s nobody telling us what we can or can’t do, or what we should do. We’re just doing what we need to do, the way we want to do it, and having fun.”
Casa Chow opens this Wednesday July 27.
148 Logan Road, Woolloongabba
(07) 3507 1100
Wed to Sun 5pm–10.30pm