Mention hatted restaurants and molecular gastronomy, and the Gold Coast is probably not the first location to spring to mind. Yet over the past few years a world-class food scene has been growing on the Goldie, and these best restaurants of the Gold Coast are now ripe and ready for serious foodies.
The South Coast of Queensland earned its moniker of the Gold Coast in the 1950s, thanks to its expensive real estate and the high cost of living there. It was an easy way to refer to the holiday strip from Southport (which was a hotspot for wealthy Brisbane residents) through to Coolangatta.
Local entrepreneur Keith Williams opened Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens in 1958, which initially offered spectacular water-skiing shows, and over the years has morphed into today’s Sea World. The area’s first theme park Magic Mountain started out as a chairlift at Nobby Beach in 1962, becoming a castle-themed attraction by the mid-Seventies. Dreamworld opened its doors in 1981, and the Gold Coast was booming.
However, ask anyone who spent much time in Surfers Paradise or on the Gold Coast in the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties about the food and beverage offerings, and you’re likely to get similar responses: fried food, takeaway chains, maybe a nice café or two and your local Thai and Chinese joints alongside pubs and clubs.
Fast forward to 2022, and there are more and more fine dining options joining the throng of already established eateries and bars that wouldn’t dream of dishing up schnitty and chips. In fact, the Goldie has laid claim to 22 hatted restaurants for 2022.
Opening image: Citrique, at the JW Marriott, is one of the best restaurants on the Gold Coast. Image: supplied.
Decadence at Citrique
Citrique is tucked away behind an ornate Asian-inspired wooden wall and imposing doors on the first floor of the JW Marriott, which had an incredible $35 million makeover in 2020.
Step into Citrique and you slip into a world where the culinary talents of Executive Chef Paul Smart are showcased in five-course degusations of decadence that bring his love of Australian produce, seafood and Asian flavours together in sweet harmony.
Paul has travelled and worked his way around the world while sharpening his approach to food and cooking techniques, but it was seven years of working in Asia – particularly his times at the Sofitel in Bangkok – that gives his style a sophisticated Asian flair.
Citrique’s Bay bug dumplings with a bisque sauce, kaffir lime, coconut sambal and herbs from the hotel’s garden is one of Paul’s signature dishes, and the scallops white bean cassoulet with smoked ham hock is an absolute delight. The more robust roasted lamb rack with mint gel, pomme purThe staff add to the experience of immersive, dynamic dining with at-table preparations of the dishes and Paul loves to roam the room and chat to diners.
If you’re a seafood fan, order the seafood tower – which includes oysters, spanner crab, Moreton Bay bugs, Mooloolaba king prawns and Hervey Bay scallops in the shell, salt-and-pepper squid, battered fish and grilled prawns.
Paul’s love of molecular gastronomy comes to the fore in a dessert called the JW Raspberry Root Beer. It is a miniature thin-walled white chocolate barrel with The Hot Shoppe inscribed on it, which is a nod to legendary entrepreneur and hotelier James Willard (the JW in the hotel’s name) who launched Hot Shoppes Inc, which later became the Marriott Corporation.
The sublime dessert comes surrounded in a playful smattering of rose petal crumbs, poached rhubarb and popping candy. It arrives at your table with a smoke-filled bubble that you can pop, allowing the smoke to swirl gently across your table.
The art of gastronomy at Palette
Two-hatted Palette inside the Home of the Arts (HOTA) six-storey gallery is an experience like no other on the Gold Coast. The menu not only changes in line with the seasons, but according to what exhibition is on display in the main gallery.
Explore the edgy gallery (which aims to inspire debate) from the top down, and then settle in for a series of perfectly balanced, exceptionally artistic food and wine pairings that bring to life the remarkable culinary talents of Executive Chef Dayan Hartill-Law.
In Dayan’s words: “You can expect all the great aspects of fine dining: fresh, local, high-quality produce with amazing provenance, knowledgeable staff, but no stuffy bowties or waistcoats.”
A tasting menu with matched beverages will set you back around $200, but it’s worth every cent. Even the bread – Burleigh Baker charcoal sourdough, teamed with 96-month-old rice culture whipped miso butter – is out-of-this-world awesome. A single chicken wing appetiser that has been deboned and doused in karage flavours with a light chilli glaze sets the stage for the unique offerings to follow.
From there on in each dish just gets better and better, until it wraps up with a chocolate miniature model of the colourful HOTA building, filled with flavours of strawberries and cream. It looks rather out-of-place set on a Gold Coast table as it’s covered in dry ice “snow” – but that’s what HOTA does too: makes you look and think.
Other standouts are Dayan’s creative take on lobster thermidor (with cheese, beer mustard and fennel) and a 150-day dry-aged beef sirloin which, in line with a recent LEGO-based exhibition, you construct yourself after a plate arrives with the piece of meat sitting alone. A perfectly presented tray of garnishes then joins the table, including parsnip purée, sautéed rainbow chard, hasselback Jerusalem artichokes, mushroom sauce, and a Bordelaise sauce with flecks of bone marrow.
Creating an artwork that looks as good as it tastes would be a tough challenge for anyone lacking Dayan’s talents – but in his capable hands, it’s a masterpiece.
Hot to trot at Uncle Su
Arriving at Uncle Su in the Star Casino is magical. The floorboarded entry has lasered visuals of lapping water so you can part the ocean like Moses as you step into this stunningly detailed Chinese restaurant, which is somehow both bright and light and rich and moody at once. With the thin, pale strip-wood panelling encasing the entire restaurant, it feels as though you are sitting inside an intricate lantern.
Uncle Su focuses on offering its diners the freshest live seafood, so tanks of lobsters, fish, abalone and other marine delicacies line the walls. It also specialises in hand-made lunchtime yum cha and a delicious blend of Cantonese-style favourites, with a selection of signature Beijing and Szechuan dishes. The bar staff put together sensational cocktails with traditional Chinese ingredients. Try the watermelon cocktail with Aperol, jasmine tea and chrysanthemum, which arrives in an intricately painted porcelain cup depicting Chinese flowers and vines, sitting on a bed of ice in a matching bowl.
The chicken san choy bau with prosecco is a great way to start your meal, followed by soft-shell crab with a glass of chardonnay. Both are light and bursting with freshness and flavour. If you’re a meat lover, the Darling Downs sliced wagyu with straw mushrooms and water chestnuts in oyster sauce garnished with fried Chinese donuts is a show-stopper. For chilli fans not afraid to walk on the wild side, try the Szechuan poached beef with some of the hottest chillies on the planet. Wow-ee, is it hot to trot!
To splash out, you can order a superior bird’s nest with chicken soup, which comes with a $188 price tag. That seems fair enough when the waiter explains that the gatherers need to climb a tree to find the nests, as it’s the swiftlet’s hardened saliva that is the delicacy. Chinese people believe the spit helps maintain youth, as well as contributing to a long, healthy life and a strong body.
Finish your meal with a nice red pot of Chinese tea – perhaps a brew that aids digestion. Pu-erh is a popular one, made from the fermented leaves and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant. Because after a few days or a week on the Gold Coast swanning from one restaurant to another, you’ll no doubt need to digest what you’ve eaten, seen and experienced.
Still hungry? Check out our go-to foodie guide to the best foodie experiences around Australia!
Travel to the Gold Coast
You can travel to the Gold Coast with Rex Airlines. Book your flight here.