GO FOR GOLD
Judith Elen samples home style and high-end bounty on Queensland’s holiday coast
ALONG the Gold Coast — that bright strip sweeping north from Coolangatta, threaded with a string of beaches — family getaways and show-off glitz are neck and neck. If Surfers is the shiniest local, its neighbours Broadbeach and Main Beach are the up-and-coming cousins.
Still with an easygoing feel, there are gems here that raise the game: restaurants such as Chill on Tedder ( Travel & Indulgence, March 29-30) in Tedder Avenue’s smorgasbord of restaurants and bars at Main Beach and, at Broadbeach, Sofitel Gold Coast’s Room81, which is cornering the market in stylish eating with Ferran Adria-inspired flourishes in the kitchen and a $7000 Ruinart Champagne trolley on the restaurant floor.
But venture into the Gold Coast’s hinterland and you will find a different world. Here for a long weekend, I am determined to discover both.
Gold Coast City Tourism’s hinterland food and wine trail snakes inland from the Pacific Motorway to Canungra and Mt Tamborine and lists nine vineyard visits. But my time is limited so I pick some favourite themes. I discover there’s a distiller on the mountain with the country’s smallest operating pot still, and it’s not making moonshine but internationally acclaimed fruit liqueurs. There’s also a traditional brewer crafting clean, chemical-free beers strictly for the locals.
I decide to go for these outsiders. But before I head for the hills, I have a double date with two markets. My first stop will be the local farmers market, then Sofitel’s executive chef plans to take me on a tour of a classy gourmet market at Southport.
There is nothing classy about Saturday’s Gold Coast Regional Farmers Market. Alternating between Main Beach and Mudgeeraba, it is as rustic as they come. Today it’s at Mudgeeraba Showgrounds, 30 minutes’ drive from Broadbeach. On hessian-draped trestles, bananas, field mushrooms and lush greens are on display. Earth-crusted potatoes fill lumpy sacks.
One seller spruiks live black crabs, holding two aloft, their claws waving helplessly. In an open-sided pavilion Elizabeth Rore sells homestyle preserves and Jim Stewart offers honey gleaned from the bees working his tropical fruit farm and native forest. Swiss cheesemaker Markus Bucher makes Maleny cheese and butter from milk provided by local dairy farmers. Elizabeth Whittaker’s homemade cakes could furnish a forest fairies’ tea party. And, at the most unprepossessing table of all, Charles Parsons from Charella Goat Dairy — he makes cheeses that are flown to Singapore for the kitchens of Raffles Hotel — cuts me a sliver from a crumbly block of aged goat’s cheese wrapped in plastic.
Southport’s Ferry Road Market, which I visit next with Sofitel chef Daniel Ridgeway, is new and gleaming by comparison. Walk-in shops arranged around a central court of bench tables stock everything from Bangalow sweet pork and Junee Gold lamb at Prime to handmade chocolates at Sweet, where a dream range of rosy-painted, ganache-filled nuggets, green-streaked peppery wafers and squares filled with dense fruit paste are arranged jewel-like behind glass.
Gleaming silver and pink fish are embedded in glittering ice at one counter where a knife-expert fillets and slices. At Flour you can watch bread being kneaded and crusty loaves being plunged into or scooped out of the ovens.
Sevilo Gourmet Delicatessen is my favourite, with sliced to order prosciuttos, fresh antipasti and packaged imports. Olives are here in pink, purple and black, but I fall for a Sicilian: lime-green and marinated with lemon peel and garlic. Segreti Tuscan wraps are meltingly creamy cigars of prosciutto, charred eggplant and gorgonzola; I’m almost prepared to fly back here from Sydney to restock.
A short drive south from my base at Broadbeach, Brennan and Peta Fielding last year opened Burleigh Brewing Company where they produce Duke lagers and a pale ale; a wheat beer and Indian pale ale are planned. Fielding, who has brewed in the US and Japan, is committed with missionary-like zeal to making fresh additive-free brews for the region.
‘‘ We are not trying to be the beer barons of the world,’’ he says. Beer is at its best when delivered within ‘‘ one day’s horse and cart ride from the brewery’’, four hours’ by truck, that is. Fielding’s traditional beers go to Hervey Bay, Noosa, Brisbane, Burleigh, Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour; and are available here at the brewery shop.
Fielding leads tours of the immaculate stainless steel plant most Saturdays and tastings are held in a cosy barrel room; his commentary is a distilled education in beer.
Another alcoholic high spot is the eccentric Tamborine Mountain Distillery. Here Michael and Alla Ward produce something rarely made in Australia, transmuting mountain-grown fruit, herbs and spring water into an array of liqueurs, vodkas, schnapps, eau de vie, arak and absinthe.
Their copper still is tucked away in one of the Tudor-style buildings they’ve created in this village-like compound. Russian-born Alla, who handpaints all the bottles, remembers her father’s still bubbling away in her childhood. The fruits — from tamarillo to passionfruit — with herbs such as lavender and, Aussie touches, lilly pilly and lemon myrtle, are fermented, processed in the still and aged in oak barrels. The quirkiness of this place makes an intriguing visit and the liqueurs are world class, having landed awards in Europe and the US.
Back at base, in Broadbeach, Sylvain Pasdeloup, Sofitel’s food and beverage manager, and chef Ridgeway are overseeing a sophisticated revolution in the hotel’s kitchens. Room81 with alfresco tables in front and a New York-style bar at the back, has settings in front of the open workstation where a chef’s table menu is on offer.
Ridgeway invites me into his kitchen to watch some El Bulli-style antics, using Barcelona chef Ferran Adria’s chemistryclass techniques on luxe ingredients. He makes a foie gras veloute; slices, sautes, deglazes and mixes, to produce ‘‘ spheres’’,
pearls’’ and ‘‘ caviar’’ via doses of Adria’s spherification aids. Don’t ask. But you can see for yourself. Demonstrations can be arranged for hotel guests.
For a longer fix, I sit down to a 12-course chef’s table of morsels. I watch and eat: starting with Breads (from Ferry Road Market), I work through Trout (with orange flower water, baby basil and salmon pearls); Tuna (tartar sparked with roasted peppers, black sesame and chilli) and Flower (steamed zucchini flower with bug meat, prawn and scallop mousse). The foie gras spheres follow, then Scallop (accompanied by confit of pork belly, pea and mint puree); Quail (filled with chicken and truffle, served with trompettes de mort) and Lamb (a noisette with foie gras mousse wrapped in crepinette, pureed potato and truffle jus).
I finish with a shot glass of rose-scented strawberry: coulis, foam, cream and a jewellike cube of jelly; then a baby souffle of blueberries with white chocolate ice cream. I bypass the cheeses and petit fours, in case you’re counting.
This is the final flourish: I’ve tasted hinterland produce and now high sophistication, two sides of the same golden coin. Judith Elen was a guest of Sofitel Gold Coast.
Gold Coast Regional Farmers Markets: at Marina Mirage, The Spit, Main Beach, first, third and fifth Saturdays of the month, 7amnoon; Mudgeeraba Showgrounds, Mudgeeraba, second and fourth Saturdays, 6am-11am; (07) 5525 3525. www.goldcoastcity.com.au www.sofitelgoldcoast.com.au www.ferryrdmarket.com.au www.burleighbrewing.com www.tmdliqueurs.com www.tamborinemountaindistillery.com
High life: The Gold Coast’s famous tower blocks backed by fertile hinterland, top; above, from left, Michael Ward of Tamborine Mountain Distillery; a stallholder at the regional farmers market; Sofitel chef Daniel Ridgeway (right)