NO HUR­RIES

Ju­dith Elen dis­cov­ers a gourmet ta­ble amid the tree­tops of the Gold Coast hin­ter­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

DAP­PLED light and green­ery em­brace us as we ar­rive at Song­birds in the For­est, the award-win­ning restau­rant at Song­birds Rain­for­est Re­treat on Queens­land’s Tam­borine Moun­tain, about 40 min­utes in­land from the Gold Coast.

I’ve driven up the moun­tain with my friend T. K., who’s sta­tioned at Main Beach, for a leisurely Sun­day lunch. We park and as­cend an an­gled walk­way amid stark land­scap­ing, which gives a sense of cer­e­mony to our ar­rival even be­fore the bun­ga­low-style build­ing comes into view.

Wel­comed in a small re­cep­tion area, we’re led into a wide veranda-room, roofed but open to the sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion and full of fil­tered light. The kitchen, on the in­ner side, is shel­tered from the din­ing area but open on one end so din­ers can gaze in as they walk through to an in­ner court­yard.

The re­treat has six vil­las among the trees on the hill­side be­hind, while the fluid spa­ces of the restau­rant in the main bun­ga­low ap­pear to merge with the for­est. Our ta­ble edges the green­ery. A cush­ioned ban­quette, square with the veranda’s edge, faces back into the room; want­ing to keep my eye on things, I choose this seat. T. K. takes the chair look­ing out, ready to re­port on brush turkey sight­ings, of which there are sev­eral. Birds swoop and call among the branches, just out of reach, and we are all an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Our waiter ar­rives with the menus and, soon af­ter, a cou­ple of slices of bread with a dip­ping dish of oil, dukkah and (weirdly) a dol­lop of stiff herbed­potato mash.

T. K. or­ders tem­pura soft-shell crab with an or­ganic veg­etable and Viet­namese mint rice pa­per roll and green chilli dip ($24). The menu, while lib­er­ally laced with meat dishes (from wagyu to kan­ga­roo), has a pro­foundly healthy base in veg­eta­bles and herbs. For my en­tree I choose Three Tastes of the Sea: a ce­viche of scal­lops in blood­or­ange oil, tem­pura Kan­ga­roo Is­land cray­fish with wasabi aioli and Thai sashimi of hi­ra­masa king­fish ($25).

We or­der a bot­tle of San Pel­le­grino wa­ter ($9) and glasses of wine (Cloudy Bay Chardon­nay and or­ganic Astro­labe Awa­tere Sauvi­gnon Blanc, both from New Zealand’s Marl­bor­ough re­gion, $16 and $11). We are in leisurely mood, but about 40 min­utes pass be­fore our first cour­ses ap­pear.

T. K., per­haps peeved by the wait, is dis­sat­is­fied with hers: she finds the crab unin­spir­ing and of­fers me a taste of the Viet­namese roll, which we both find heavy rather than crisply fresh. My seafood trio, how­ever, is beau­ti­ful: fresh, meaty morsels lined up on a rec­tan­gu­lar plate, the pale ce­viche on a half scal­lop shell, the tem­pura float­ingly light and with just the right hint of rich­ness from the wasabi aioli, and four neatly over­lap­ping slices of king­fish with a sliver of lime and a lit­tle mound of pink Hi­malayan rock salt.

I, at least, am feel­ing bet­ter, and I en­cour­age T. K. with her wildlife spot­ting. Again we wait, al­low­ing am­ple time to ob­serve the brush turkeys, the birds flit­ting in the branches, the decor and, fi­nally, our neigh­bours and their oc­ca­sional ex­pres­sions of dis­con­tent.

Our mains even­tu­ally ar­rive and my pork with a parme­san crust on a bed of ap­ple and cele­riac mash ($36) is just the right mix of crisp and ten­der, the meat com­ple­mented with a gen­er­ous curve of crack­ling. The sub­tle mash of­fers the per­fect bal­ance to the rich pork, and steamed spinach sup­plies a sat­is­fy­ing quota of greens. The salad we’ve or­dered, how­ever, is a sorry af­fair. Of baby beet­root with roasted hazel­nuts, shaved parme­san and wild rocket ($8), it is pre­dom­i­nantly rocket, the odd leaf sus­pi­ciously faded, and when we toss through its dry top layer, we re­lease a dress­ing that tastes like un­mixed oil.

T. K. is not hav­ing a good day. Her poached salmon ($36), quite hot on one side, has oth­er­wise cooled on its way to the ta­ble. It comes with a spicy, trop­i­cal mango salsa and sits on a fresh-look­ing mound of sliced snake beans, cherry toma­toes and bean sprouts scat­tered with peanuts. But she wants the fish at least warm and asks the waiter if some­thing can be done. Af­ter a short wait the salmon reap­pears, heated but in­ex­pli­ca­bly bro­ken into large chunks.

We are dis­con­certed by the slow ser­vice and what seems to be a lapse in kitchen su­per­vi­sion, but this is a beau­ti­ful set­ting and we’re not ready to give up. We or­der a Val­rhona choco­late souf­fle pud­ding ($15) with two spoons, and cof­fees ($4 each). Our faith is re­warded. The warm pud­ding is filled with rasp­berry choco­late ganache and comes with toasted al­mond ice cream and is good, as is the cof­fee.

Song­birds is not a low-cost restau­rant. The set­ting is stun­ning and the dishes well de­signed. While some have ful­filled their prom­ise to­day, oth­ers have not. It is the Sun­day of a long week­end and per­haps some staff are not reg­u­lars, but on to­day’s ex­pe­ri­ence they could do with a shot of Gor­don Ram­say’s rigour in the kitchen. It would be a tragedy for this beau­ti­ful restau­rant to be al­lowed to lose fo­cus. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

Song­birds in the For­est Tam­borine Moun­tain Road, North Tam­borine, Gold Coast, Queens­land; (07) 5545 2563; www.song­birds.com.au. Open: Lunch daily from noon; din­ner Thurs­day to Satur­day. Cost: About $75 for three cour­ses ex­clud­ing drinks and sides. Set price of $60 for two cour­ses, $75 for three, plus a sur­charge, on Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days. Drink: Wines from Aus­tralia, NZ and France in 13 cat­e­gories, plus liqueurs. Good range by the glass. Rea­son to re­turn: To try the new au­tumn menu and to in­sist on the kind of at­ten­tion to de­tail that this place de­serves.

Brush with na­ture: Song­birds restau­rant is open to the lush rain­for­est of Tam­borine Moun­tain

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