Printer Friendly

An ocean of delights await the food lover Down Under.

It is early summer and the temperature is in the low 80s with a refreshing breeze fanning in off the meandering Brisbane River.

I am facing the waterfront in an open-fronted, sleek modern building, all curved timber and shimmering glass, drinking cool white wine amid the tranquillity of South Bank Parklands. I am thinking that things really couldn't get much better than this when it does: a dish of the most divine risotto is placed before me. It's a rich mixture of asparagus, saffron and lemon but it is the seafood luxuriating on top that sets this apart. The risotto is crowned with the sweetest Mooloolaba spanner crab. Welcome to Queensland.

The risotto is the first course at the recently opened Stokehouse, which has a sister restaurant in Melbourne. Stokehouse (www.stokehouse.com.au) sums up all that is right and refreshing about modern east coast Australian cuisine. The ingredient is the star, allied to a loving technique. And the ingredients don't come much better, or fresher, than this spanner crab.

The meal constitutes my first proper lunch in Queensland, of which Brisbane is the state capital. Unfortunately, it is also the first and last as other destinations are calling us in this gargantuan, sunsplashed paradise to the north-east of Australia's vast land mass. So I make the most of things and have a main course, which like the A-list starter, comes from the daily specials board.

The fish, if anything, is fresher than the crab, possibly by seconds - a delicious tranche of gold band snapper under a crispy skin, with soubise, tarragon, fresh peas and smoked bacon and a couple of light honey-coloured scallops.

Although I am in Brisbane for only a day and a half, it doesn't take long to get a taste of this city's exciting food culture. Brew (www.brewgroup.com.au), a trendy hang-out in the central business district, is a great place for breakfast. The cafe is at the end of an unassuming dead-end off a busy shopping street and its presence reflects a movement to open up neglected corners of the city. It's a terrific idea and would work brilliantly in central Birmingham, bringing new life to those forgotten nooks and crannies which currently serve as little more than wasted space. Clearly, if the product is good enough, diners will come. At Brew, there is fresh banana bread, avocado toast, truffled mushrooms, sardines with organic ciabatta, goat cheese and lemon and the unmissable "bigger breakfast" - two poached eggs with a mountain of jamn de serrano, slowroasted Roma tomatoes, avocado and toast (17AUD, Australian dollars - just over a tenner).

Brisbanites have an insatiable appetite for interesting new cooking and The Survey Company Bar and Bistro (www.surveyco.com.au) is among the city's new wave of openings. It's a short stroll from Brew, again located down an unflashy backstreet, and is the latest venue for restaurateur Simon Livingstone.

Like everywhere round here, the kitchen is spoilt for choice when it comes to fish and shellfish so you've got to try the full flavoured red claw yabby and I also have to have the bouillabaisse ($34, pounds 21) which turns out to be one of the chef's favourite dishes. The kitchen also knocks out a great cannoli (chestnut, orange and tarragon).

Sadly, there's just not enough time which means I have to give Sak a miss. This contemporary Japanese restaurant, which has a sister in Sydney, is renowned for its nigiri sushi and sashimi (ocean trout belly, cuttlefish, scallops, octopus... the list is very comprehensive) and innovative mains like a galantine of quail stuffed with yama-gobo & shiitake mushrooms, coated with orange-soy glaze. Ah, another time. See you soon, Brisbane.

Lovers of the finest red meat should head south to the Gold Coast where the brilliantly named Moo Moo (www.moomoorestaurant.com) offers steak with everything. This small chain has an outlet in Brisbane, and one in Fiji, but it's dinner at Broadbeach, a bustling resort abutting the famous Surfers Paradise, that I try. Since it opened in 2005, this place has won just about every steak award going in Queensland and the emphasis is on meat sourced from family farms and nationally renowned breeders, be it grass fed, grain fed or organic. The steak menu is epic and you may want to set a couple of hours aside to study it. It's a beef-lover's fantasy list. If you are going to go for the Moo Moo signature dish, do not eat for several days beforehand.

Executive chef Damien Draper oversees the preparation of the spice-rubbed 1 kilogram Wagyu rump roast, which is sealed on the chargrill before being slammed in the oven. It comes with duck fat sauted kipfler potatoes and is best accompanied by a bucket of red wine.

If you want to push the boat out, there is VIP la-belled "supremely marbled" rib fillet from 30-36 month old grain-fed Wagyu. I have the grain-fed Stockyard Wagyu from the Kerwee Feedlot in south-east Queensland, cooked medium rare. It's awesome steak, a 300g striploin for 49AUD (pounds 30).

Any trip to Queensland would not be complete without a totally insane dining experience and you can't do much better than take lunch at Charis Seafoods (www.charisseafood.com.au) on the Broadwater, a 15-minute drive from Broadbeach. This teeming fish and chip shop is linked to an amazing fish stall boasting the most comprehensive selection of seafood on the Gold Coast. If comes out of the sea, it's on the slab, including Moreton Bay bugs, a medium/strongly flavoured crustacean, not dissimilar to lobster but a lot cheaper.

The real fun starts at Charis at 1.30pm when the local pelican population swoops on this waterfront take-away (recommendations: barramundi in batter, prawns and chips) for a feed. If you have a phobia of flying things, you may want to stay in the car. It's like Hitchcock's The Birds meets a British seaside scene - in 28C heat. Very strange, but unmissable.

South-east Asian food is hugely popular and there is an abundance when you head to the tropical north. Cairns is home to the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant (www.bayvillage.com.au/bayleaf), located "at Bay Village Tropical Retreat & Apartments, just back from the ocean. It's the only Balinese in town and if you are coming all this way, you may as well dive in for the rijsttafel ($43, pounds 27) a banquet showcasing the variety of preparations. Appetisers might include a green papaya and vegetable salad and pork, chicken and minced seafood with peanut sauce, chilli and soya sauce.

After a soup, there are several heaving trays of dishes like besampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut), hasil laut bumbu kuning (squid and fish fillets in yellow coconut milk) and tum bebek (steamed minced duck parcels in banana leaf). End the meal with steamed black rice with fresh coconut and palm sugar.

" For me, one of the highlights of dining in Queensland came at the most northerly point we reached: Salsa Bar and Grill at Port Douglas (www.

salsaportdouglas.com.au), where the rainforest hits the ocean and the lapping waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Set in an elegant Queenslander building, this restaurant has been serving up "tropical modern Australian cuisine" to the lucky local population, holidaymakers, celebs and the occasional US President, for nearly two decades. Salsa is near the striking chapel of St Mary's by the sea, popular for weddings, and the ingredients used in the kitchen, together with the chefs' touches, makes for a loving union.

Exotic starters include grilled local tiger prawns with watermelon gazpacho, fattoush salad, house feta and chilli calamari with green paw paw spaghetti.

Then there is the outstanding linguini pepperincino, which comes as both a formidable starter ($26.50, pounds 17), which I had, and a main. The pasta comes with red claw (crayfish) from the Atherton Tableland, revved up with garlic and chilli. It's just fabulous.

Mains are eclectic (coffee and chilli rubbed kangaroo with steamed polenta pudding, tandoori spiced lamb tenderloins with red lentil khichdi and eggplant). But the Pacific's on the doorstep, so it's got to be fish. The catch of the day, a reef fish, echoes back to that memorable fish at Stokehouse and goes insanely well with a (very) chilled bottle of 2008 Tasmania pinot noir from 42[bar]S. Dinner finishes with a spectacular assortment of dishes from the desserts list including a Valrhona chocolate marquise, passionfruit crme brle and Madagascar vanilla semi-freddo with Tableland strawberries and a chocolate pencil.

Salsa picked up the award for Best Modern Australian Restaurant in Queensland for 2012 in the "I Love Food" people's choice awards. It's got my Pommie vote, too.

Another option is to hunt for your own dinner with the help of the Kubirri Warra brothers (www.bamaway.

com.au), who lead treks across the coastal mudflats and mangroves on the beaches north of Port Douglas.

Following a beginners' course in spearing fish, you are good to go. All you need is a steady hand and a bucket for your crabs. Just watch out for their claws though.

* Richard McComb travelled to Queensland courtesy of Tourism Queensland. For more information, go to www.experiencequeensland.com

CAPTION(S):

Richard hunting for crabs in mangrove waters near Port Douglas. Pork belly and scallop at Salsa in Port Douglas. Beautifully sweet freshwater yabbies. Sashimi and dipping sauces at Sake in Brisbane. The wonderful Stokehouse restaurant in Brisbane has magnificent views. Charis Seafoods on the Gold Coast has a huge selection of seafood and a fish and chips takeaway
COPYRIGHT 2012 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Article Type:Restaurant review
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 12, 2012
Words:1592
Previous Article:Wayne is all set for Games challenge; Athletic stars from the West Indies will get a taste of home in the West Midlands when they arrive at their...
Next Article:Long Wagner epic holds no fear for Rachel; Principal singer Rachel Nicholls can't wait to hold the stage for four hours, four times in one week, in...
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters