Matt Preston: His version of the culinary State of Origin
Forget the Cane Toads versus the Cockroaches. This foodie region battle is the true head-to-head clash
THE biggest state versus state stoush right now isn’t the State of Origin, but a battle between two of Australia’s fastest growing gourmet regions.It’s a skirmish for top culinary bragging rights, and to make things interesting, Queensland and NSW have united against Victoria.
So don’t delay – drive your way around two of the most exciting culinary destinations in the world right now.
COAST TO BAY
Where: The strip of beautiful coastline from the party playground of the Gold Coast to laidback Byron Bay in Northern NSW is fast earning a reputation for food that is as good as the waves. Main attractions: My pick of places to eat here is Fleet, which ranks at No.21 in the delicious. 100 list for NSW. Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis’s restaurant in Brunswick Heads is a labour of love.In the kitchen, Lewis creates innovative dishes (such as chicken wings with octopus and kohlrabi), while McCormack commands the floor with her wonderful wine knowledge and hospitable tone.
Paper Daisy (delicious. 100 No.24) is also pushing the envelope in terms of beautiful food, like coal-roasted fish with finger lime and curry leaf. It’s an easy 20 minute drive from Gold Coast Airport.
Also worthy of a mention is Fins in South Kingscliff, the foodie destination of Bangalow, Darren Robertson and Mark LaBrooy’s Three Blue Ducks On The Farm just outside Byron, and the coastal restaurant Beach Byron Bay.
On the Queensland side of the border, there are Jake Pregnell’s bright, panAsian plates at Rick Shores at Burleigh Heads, innovative Japanese at Coolangatta’s O Sushi or lunch at Rainbow Bay Surf Club. Produce stars: This area has it all – avocados, pineapples, finger limes, Nimbin Valley pecans and brie plus that culinary rarity, tempeh, and locally made miso at Byron Bay’s famous farmers’ market. More laid back, and rather special is the farmers’ market at New Brighton, which has the excellent Nomadic Kitchen cooking breakfast. Wine: A great gourmet region needs top restaurants, produce, accommodation and wine. Wineries are the only miss here.The Granite Belt around Stanthorpe is home to Queensland’s wine industry but it’s a couple of hours away. Stay: With the reopening of Rae’s on Wategos in Byron Bay after a major refurbishment by Sydney-based interior designer Tamsin Johnson, and the buzz on the photogenic Halycon House at Cabarita Beach, there are high-end lodgings plus Airbnb options aplenty.
GEELONG & SURROUNDS
Where: Once known as G-troit given Geelong’s reliance on the now-defunct Ford factories, this region originally grew rich off the sheep’s back. Now it’s food, wine and restaurants that are helping make it an emerging culinary locale. Main attractions: The jewel in the crown is one of the world’s great restaurants, Brae, ranked No.2 in the delicious. 100 list and No.44 in the World’s 50 Best.It’s the perfect place to start an eating tour of the region.
Stay in one of the beautiful suites on site and enjoy Dan Hunter’s brilliant food with menus using seasonal produce.
Geelong itself is no slouch with Igni picking up the No. 4 ranking in the delicious. 100 for Aaron Turner’s inventive cooking over coals. I still dream about the chicken skin wafers with tarama and the smoked mussels barbecued inside a zucchini flower. Given the buzz after the recent World’s Best awards in Melbourne, Igni is a contender to join Brae on the list next year, albeit it in the 50-100 category.
The love for Brae and Igni does risk obscuring other excellent places in the area.So don’t forget such eateries as Geelong’s Gladioli (No.24 in the delicious. 100), its sister restaurant Tulip, plus the more casual Flying Brick Cider Company on the road out to the coast, which has fare such as slow-roasted lamb shoulder. Produce stars: There are mussels from Portarlington, snapper at Queenscliff, tomatoes, olives and goat’s cheese from The Bellarine, chickens from Bannockburn and the Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm whose jam is a thing of legends.And that’s just the tip of a very big produce iceberg.
Geelong is surrounded by market gardens and farm gates selling everything from potatoes and pumpkins to hothouse-grown lettuces and capsicums. Farmer’s Harvest Marcus Hill and Magic Meadow seasonal boxes sold around Geelong are great stops for local produce. Also stop by Bellarine Community Farmers’ Market in Ocean Grove and White Fisheries in Drysdale. Wine: Bellarine pinot noirs (Mermerus, Curlewis) and chardonnays and pinots from just north of Geelong by the likes of Bannockburn, Lethbridge and Farr are nothing short of magnificent. Stay: If the rooms at Brae aren’t grand enough for you, check out Campbell Point House on The Bellarine which is a grand, French-style mansion, or the luxury, self-contained apartments at Devlin Apartments in Geelong.