Pass­ing the taste test

The food scene at Air­lie Beach is rapidly gain­ing ground

Central and North Burnett Times - - TRAVEL - BY An­drew Back­house The writer was a guest of Tourism Whit­sun­days.

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.

PHO­TOS: MATTHEW NEW­TON/CON­TRIB­UTED

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