Passing the taste test
The food scene at Airlie Beach is rapidly gaining ground
THE huge two-tiered platter arrived brimming with seafood including mud crab, bugs, tiger prawns, South Australian oysters, Tasmanian smoked salmon and more.
It was the culmination of a “gastronomic experience” at restaurants at Airlie Beach and the world-famous Fish D’vine and The Rum Bar didn’t disappoint.
The afternoon began with lunch at the Coral Sea Resort jetty where I was served fish and skewers straight off the barbecue.
I was then whisked away on an Airlie Beach tuk tuk courtesy of Just Tuk’n Around to Walter’s Lounge.
Opened in June 2015 as a cocktail bar, it became so popular it later opened as a restaurant.
As the meals started to arrive I wasn’t sure if my palate was sophisticated enough for the offerings from the restaurant’s Australian Good Food and Travel Guide Chef’s Hat award-winning chefs.
The delicate bite-sized meals included chicken liver parfait, beef tartare with egg yolk emulation and wagyu rump served with onion puree, gremolata and pearl onion.
That was all washed down with a glass of prosecco recommended by sommelier Rebecca Anderson.
Owner and manager Heath Bentley said he had convinced three friends to work with him, giving them a combined experience of about 55 years.
“We’re all super competitive and like to challenge each other,” he said. Mr Bentley said the food scene at Airlie Beach was constantly improving.
“Airlie is realising that there’s more than just a backpacker market and they’re going to start looking at that higher end and introducing a better level of service and food which will be great for the area.”
He said chefs at the restaurant tried to use as much local produce as possible.
“We’ve started looking at what farms are around the area and what we can source locally.”
The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Mantra Boathouse Apartments and overlooks the beautiful Port of Airlie marina which is packed with multi-million dollar vessels.
Mr Bentley said when visitors had spent a few days on their boats eating only rations they wanted to eat something more appealing like the popular zucchini with blue cheese, truffle and cauliflower.
The bar hasn’t forgotten its roots and cocktails are still a big part of Walter’s Lounge and the menu is changed daily.
From there I wandered up to Fish D’vine to try what co-owner Kev Collins proudly described as the “best tasting mojito in the world” made on Angostura white rum, soda, limes, sugar and plenty of mint.
It was then that I turned my attention to the huge seafood platter, which I was to share with my colleague. But his hunger had left him and I was “forced’’ to attack the meal and managed to clean up the plate.
My next destination was the sophisticated and chic restaurant The Deck, which overlooks Pioneer Bay, where I enjoyed a glass of cognac and chocolate cake for dessert.
Almost all the hotels I visited in the Whitsundays are in the process of, or have just completed, redevelopment and their attached restaurants have also been spruced up.
Chefs in the region are well-equipped to cater for those with food allergies too. I am on a gluten-free diet and was well looked after.
For example, following a sumptuous meal at Daydream Island Resort and Spa, the chefs handcrafted a delicate cheesecake for dessert.
I can happily report that people with food allergies will not go hungry.
I also tried out more than my fair share of alcoholic beverages.
During my stay at Mantra Club Croc, I tested the array of cocktails on the menu and thoroughly enjoyed an espresso martini.
From delicious pizzas at Mantra Club Croc to fresh fish at Lure at Abell Point marina, the region’s restaurants punched above their weight and are putting their culinary credentials on the map.
And I now have a dinner party story to tell my friends, the time I ate an enormous seafood platter all by myself.
◗ Heath Bentley behind the bar at Walter's Lounge.
WARM THE HEART: On the same latitude as Rio De Janeiro and Tahiti, the Whitsundays enjoys a year-round tropical climate.