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Gold Coast's Finest Restaurants
Photography by Joanna Hall
Queensland’s Gold Coast may be legendary for its beaches, surf and endless summer, but it’s also gaining a well-deserved reputation as a gourmand’s paradise.
It’s a hot summer Sunday afternoon, and we’ve chosen to break with a long-held Gold Coast tradition. Instead of hitting the beach to soak up the rays at this iconic holiday destination, we’ve headed out for a long lunch.
Relaxing into a glass of sauvignon blanc at Main Beach’s Ristorante Fellini, there’s no question we’ve made the right decision. For one, the breeze gently skipping along the Broadwater, and through our open-window table-for-two, is a welcome respite from the midday heat. Then a pair of resident bottle-nose dolphins appear in the marina below, as if to put on a show especially for us.
But for this restaurant’s patrons, the main drawcard isn’t the scenery, instead it’s Tony Percuoco’s innovative menu of modern Italian cuisine. Fellini’s is one of the Gold Coast’s most award winning restaurants, and over the past 13 years, charismatic owner and chef Percuoco has earned a deserved reputation for top notch cuisine.
When he first set up shop, however, the story was quite different. As he tells it, you could count the number of notable Gold Coast restaurants on the fingers of one hand. Today, however, a true gourmand doesn’t have to look too far to find something to whet his appetite, and Fellini’s is a great place to start.
The simple-yet-stylish décor is elegant yet informal, and the cuisine doesn’t disappoint. Backed by generations of traditional family cooking, the menu is influenced by several Italian regions - in particular Naples and Tuscany - and it’s supported by a wide variety of the finest, fresh local and Queensland produce.
There’s pork from Mudgeereba, buffalo mozzarella from the tropical north, local spanner crab, and figs from the Granite Belt. And with a burgeoning pasta factory out back, you can rest assured the homemade linguini or ravioli will be exceptional.
If choosing proves too difficult, you opt for one of three degustation menus. And if you can’t decide between the seafood ($75 pp) or meat ($70 pp), Percuoco has saved you the hassle with a mixed menu ($90 pp), which combines the best of both worlds.
Surfers Paradise may be more famous these days for schoolies’ antics than fine dining, but one local eatery has continued to wow food lovers and critics since it opened its doors three years ago. Absynthe is an intimate 50-seat restaurant sitting the foot of the Q1 building, but what it may lack in spectacular views it more than makes up for in delivering a unique culinary experience.
The talent behind it is French-born Meyjitte Boughenout, an amiable chef who earned two highly coveted Michelin Stars as executive chef of Restaurant Scholteshos in Belgium. He says he created Absynthe for people who appreciate beautiful food and wine, and although there is an impressive à la carte menu to pick from, the degustation menu ($110 pp food only or $160 pp with wines) is a must for both newbies and gourmands in the know.
Two things of note. First, this is a menu which certainly lives up to its self-titled moniker, ‘A Journey into Taste’. Presented as a six or seven-course smorgasbord of French-Australian cuisine, it showcases the very best produce from the sea, the coast and the land, and is topped off with delectable desserts which would lure even the most resolute dieter. The other is that it isn’t a dining experience to hurry; book early, and take your time.
For those times when you are hankering after a great steak with a slice of style, however, you won’t go wrong heading for the aptly named Moo Moo Wine Bar and Grill. Overlooking the park in Broadbeach, it’s been drawing a loyal band of locals through its doors for more than three years, and now has a spruced-up look to match its top notch food.
The newly overhauled decor, inspired by the finest North American steakhouses, features natural stone, cow hide, luxurious leather chairs, and solid wood tables topped with leather. There’s also an open kitchen so diners can keep an eye on all the culinary action, and a fascinating lighting arrangement which subtly changes colours up to 12 times.
Although there are non-beef offerings on the menu, steak is king at Moo Moo. The signature dish is a spice rubbed Wagyu rump, a highly marbled carnivore’s dream which weighs in at a hefty one kilo and is carved right at your table.
But for the smaller stomachs such as ours, lighter options include a 350g Wagyu rib fillet, or a 200g grass-fed certified organic eye fillet, both of which possess a wow factor. And whatever your choice, make sure you save time to relax in the Moo Bar, one of the area’s hottest watering holes for a pre or post-dinner cocktail.
Elegance is just one of many adjectives which springs to mind as you walk into Zen - the high end Chinese restaurant located on the ground floor of Conrad Jupiter’s Casino in Broadbeach. And for anyone who’s a regular visitor to Hong Kong or China, this is as close to an authentic fine dining Chinese experience as you get.
The welcome is warm, and the atmosphere charged with a combination of enthusiastic service and the animated sounds of happy diners, including the clacking of chopsticks. And as you are escorted to your table, the delicate aromas of the Orient gently waft around on the air conditioning as if to whet your appetite for the feast to come.
From the décor to the service, everything about this restaurant exudes class. And that includes the cuisine. Zen does an exemplary job of showcase the best of Cantonese, Szechuan and Peking cuisine, disproving the myth that all Chinese food is equal.
This is one kitchen which prides itself on the variety of dishes on offer, and such is the menu that you will want to return multiple times to try them out. There are too many top picks to mention, but we went for a somewhat traditional route with our choices and were not disappointed. From steamed shrimp dumplings and deep fried fresh squid to start, and the boned duck with pancakes and spicy king prawns northern capital style to follow.
Fine dining in the Gold Coast has truly come of age, and compared with a decade ago there’s a wide variety of cuisine types and restaurants waiting to give visitors a warm Queensland welcome. The only problem for most visitors will packing them all into one visit. Then again, it gives you one of many excuses to return.
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Ristorante Fellini, Level 1, Marina Mirage, Seaworld Drive, Main Beach, (07) 5530 0300, www.fellini.com.au
Absynthe, Ground Level, Q1 Building, corner of Surfers Paradise Boulevarde, Clifford Street and Hamilton Avenue, Surfers Paradise, (07) 5504 6466, www.absynthe.com.au
Moo Moo Wine Bar and Grill, Broadbeach on the Park, Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach, (07) 5539 9952, www.moomoorestaurant.com
Zen, Conrad Jupiter’s Casino, Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach (07) 5592 8181, www.conradjupiters.com.au
The Best of the Rest
Songbirds in the Forest: This famous hinterland restaurant has won many awards for a unique combination of fresh, innovative cuisine served in a stunning environment. Tamborine Mountain Road, North Tamborine, (07) 5545 2563, www.songbirds.com.au
Cav’s Steakhouse: Owned and operated by the grandson of a Gold Coast pioneer, this popular eatery offers an impressive menu of steak, ribs, and seafood. 30 Frank St, Labrador, (07) 5532 2954, www.cavssteakhouse.com
Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club: Aside from its lovely bistro and bar, the major drawcard here is the breathtaking view over Surfers Paradise beach. 51 Garfield Terrace, Surfers Paradise, (07) 5539 8091, www.northcliffesurfclub.com.au
The Rice Paddy: This award winning cafe offers a menu packed with tempting Vietnamese cuisine made from fresh produce. 3100 Surfers Paradise Boulevarde, Surfers Paradise, (07) 5592 1390, www.thericepaddy.com.au
Mermaids Restaurant and Bar. Located on the surfing mecca of Burleigh Point, Mermaids enjoys an alfresco beachside setting, and offers a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. 43 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads, (07) 5520 1177, www.mermaidsonburleigh.com
Earth ‘n’ Sea Pizza and Pasta Family Restaurant: This is the place to head for innovative pizza, pasta and fresh salads made from locally bought produce. Showcase on the Beach, Coolangatta, (07) 5536 3477, www.earthnseapizza.com.au
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