Gold Coast places to eat: Now one of the best dining regions in Australia

It's 5.30pm on an autumn Friday on the Gold Coast – one of those afternoons when the offshore breeze is so gentle that the sea might be made from glass. The sun is sinking, soon to set in the hinterland, but it's still warm enough to swim. 

It seems entirely counter-intuitive to take myself away from the beach, into a tiny European-style restaurant (which was once a Chinese eatery) where curtains block the world outside. But it's busy in here: diners sit side by side, watching chefs in the open kitchen, entranced by the show inside, oblivious to the one outside.

This is the new Gold Coast: food is in, views are out. It's an ethos that's helped a region previously known for its surf-club cuisine become one of the best food regions in Australia. 

Restaurant Labart epitomises this. You may recognise the owner's name, Alex Munoz; he was executive chef at some of Australia's most awarded eateries, including Sydney's Monopole and Cirrus Dining. Wanting a sea change, he established the 60-seater restaurant with a "cosy, Parisian feel", then waited to see if the region was ready for it. It was. You'll do well to secure a table if you don't book ahead. 

"The Gold Coast has always been forgotten when it comes to national culinary attention," Munoz says. "That's a shame because the dining scene has come a long way from the old tourist traps of Surfers Paradise. 

"There's more high-level culinary dining experiences to be had on the Gold Coast than in Byron Bay and Noosa combined. Lots of Melbourne and Sydney diners tell us they used to fly to Noosa or Byron Bay for 'foodie holidays' but now they'll be coming to the Gold Coast."

Burleigh Heads is at the epicentre of this new foodie scene. Barely 100 metres from Restaurant Labart, I find Iku Yakitori Bar down a labyrinth of back lanes. I push through a big wooden door with no sign into a darkened eatery where four Japanese chefs are cooking food over white-hot Binchotan charcoals. The beach is barely 200 metres away, but the curtains are drawn.

Further up the four-lane Gold Coast Highway, at Mermaid Beach, some of Queensland's best meals are served up at The North Room, in a space barely bigger than my home dining room and across the road from a Cash Converters. 

I'm eating on a cloudless Saturday afternoon, but I can't see the sky. Inside, 16 diners sit at tables set on brushed concrete tiles, eating a tasting menu serving only local produce.

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"The number of exceptional venues that are away from the water views is growing," says The North Room's co-owner, Shannon Stewart. "The European style of bistro dining is an experience that was missing from the Coast. There are fantastic chefs here moving away from city life, finding work/life balance and producing exceptional food."

A little further north, you'll find some of the best Japanese food in Australia tucked in an alcove on the mezzanine level of the Star Casino, with a view of the lobby below. You can sit at the long sushi bar at one-hatted restaurant Kiyomi and enjoy a meal curated by internationally renowned chef Chase Kojima, who led restaurants across the world for the iconic Japanese restaurant group Nobu. 

Back in Mermaid Beach, beside the ever-busy Gold Coast Highway, a secret world lies beyond an old barn door and a red lantern (there's no sign) at unassuming Etsu Izakaya, while nearby Lupo has the look of a neighbourhood Italian trattoria but with diners congregating inside around a horseshoe-shaped, copper-topped cocktail bar. And you'll need Google Maps to find Asian eatery Eddy+Wolff in suburban Robina. Located in a former laundromat within a strip of shops, it's one of the best new Asian restaurants in Queensland. 

And there seems to be no end to this revolution. "I've seen the whole place transform before my eyes and I've been here since I was nine," says Simon Gloftis, one of the Gold Coast's best-known restaurateurs. 

The things we associate with the Gold Coast – sun, sand and surf clubs – are all still here. But dig deeper and you'll find the best meals today don't all come with chips and salad. 

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 16.  To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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