Queensland: Great food, by Neptune

By Louise Richardson

The ocean's bounty boosts a culinary tour of this Australian state, writes Louise Richardson.

The international and local offerings at Eumundi Markets are popular.
The international and local offerings at Eumundi Markets are popular.

In Queensland, the sea is never far beyond the culinary traveller; unsurprisingly its bounty features on pretty much every menu around.

My road trip takes in a smallish but highly diverse piece of territory, and begins at the Sunshine Coast's Eumundi Markets, a well-established and highly professional venue where locals and visitors gather on Wednesdays and Saturdays to experience a cornucopia of Queensland's very best food and craft offerings.

Yes, we're in Queensland, but this is an international experience, with Asian street food, German sausages, and Greek offerings such as spanakopita and souvlaki featuring, alongside Mexican burritos and authentic Japanese sushi. And all served up, of course, with a fair dinkum sprinkle of genuine Aussie flavour.

A little further up the road, at Noosa - where the annual International Food and Wine Festival has become legendary - the waves lap at the town's edge.

It goes without saying that seafood is highly celebrated.

I drop in on Jim Berardo and Greg O'Brien, the enterprising local couple who have brought this small but savvy spot on the Sunshine Coast to worldwide acclaim. Neptune has a noticeable influence on our tasting menu at their self-titled restaurant Berardo's, where a steady stream of fans call by for an effusive personal greeting.

Our expert chef ensures that spanner crab with celeriac remoulade mixes perfectly with Maroochydore swordfish and radish, while a giant Moreton Bay bug benefits from its delicate sweet corn salsa accompaniment.

Jim and Greg are expecting a record-breaking crowd at the event in 2014 - an amazing achievement for a personal partnership originally forged in the world of science and medicine, back in the United States.

"We can't believe how many people come to the festival these days, and we feel really delighted with our local suppliers who keep producing this wonderful food for us," says Jim proudly.

With the Glasshouse Mountains next on my tour itinerary, I'm not entirely sure what to expect in terms of culinary experience. It's something quite different; dinner at a local pub, the Beerwah Hotel with my new friends Rick and Robyn. This is no laidback local, although the blinking gaming machines and rustic furniture might suggest otherwise. Its menu is extensive and draws from the very best home-grown harvest.

Melrose pork produced from grain-fed pigs, and succulent free-range lamb are the lynchpins of an extensive bill of fare. Add to this the farm-fresh poultry delivered daily, plus the delicious local seafood (of course), and dishes such as pork belly sauteed with Mooloolaba prawns, served in sweet port jus with Dutch cream potatoes and broccolini with minted pea relish, really come alive.

The people at the next table are busy with their Guinness and beef bacon pie, served with golden puff pastry, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy, while simple but succulent grilled lamb cutlets are going down a treat elsewhere in the bustling establishment.

Lunch next day at Cedar Creek Vineyard and winery, set among the lush rainforest-clad Tamborine Mountains sees seafood making another major comeback. Out of six people at our table - all locals, bar myself - four order the salt and pepper calamari, which is surely testament to its fabulosity.

And dinner that night sees yet more bounty of the sea at an Irish pub in Tamborine. It's practically still mid-summer so we don't get the experience of a roaring fire - and nor would we want to - but the beer-battered orange roughy is to die for. The huge number of patrons suggests that this is a friendly and reliable dining venue at all times.

My next driving stint takes me to the bright lights of Broadbeach, Surfer's Paradise, where my dining experiences are different again, but no less delicious.

A lunch at Social Eating House + Bar serves to emphasise the very sharing nature of contemporary dining, with tasting plates we all enjoy, washed down with the best of Queensland's impressive vineyard production.

During my next two days in town - or thereabouts - I take in another lunch - at Dbar cafe in Coolangatta where local produce is once again the star, and contrast this with a very sophisticated dinner experience at Glass Dining and Lounge Bar at Marina Mirage. Owner Shanan Harmelin descends on various tables to talk diners through the menu. And what a menu it is.

The entrees are a feast in themselves and include my pick, the pan-seared scallops with pickled beetroot carpaccio, lime and ginger butter popcorn and sugar snap peas. And if there is room for a main after that, the venison with potato and horseradish beaucaire and chocolate and raspberry sauce sound amazing.

Queenslanders sure know how to cook - and how to eat - and the whole process is a warm and inclusive experience that's meant to be shared and savoured.

Bon appetit, mates.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Sunshine Coast Airport from June to October and to Brisbane all year round.

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Australia, Tourism and Events Queensland and Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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