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Where the locals eat: The best new restaurants in Brisbane and the Gold Coast

Travel News from Stuff - 20-06-2022 stuff.co.nz

I’m hopping into a mini-van air-sprayed with a koala wearing sunglasses and an emu holding a surfboard. Disco funk is blasting from the radio. I have barely even said hello and my tour guide Alex has broken into an infectious open-mouth laugh. This easygoing character is taking me on a whistle-stop tour around some of the Gold Coast’s top foodie spots, or “where the locals eat”.

Schoolmates Drew Campbell and Alex Baker launched Kiff & Culture in June 2021 with three food tours spanning Byron Bay, Tweed and Tamborine Mountain. The company is an extension of Campbell’s award-winning Kiff Kombi Tours run out of Cape Town. The name ‘kiff’ plays on the South African slang word meaning something that is ‘cool’ or ‘excellent’, and that’s exactly the kind of vibe the pair are trying to capture with their new food tours in and around southeast Queensland’s twin cities.

To begin, it’s a visit to Burleigh Heads restaurant Rick Shores, a beachside favourite run by “a bunch of young dudes,” with the Surfers Paradise skyline on the horizon, water lapping at its feet and apparently one of Australia’s best sandwiches on the menu.

Alex explains that Rick’s famous Moreton Bay bug roll has inspired several knock offs along the coast and attracted just as many influencers. My hand-held brioche roll filled with fried lobster, lettuce and the zingy combo of sriracha and mayonnaise disappears in a few bites.

With a face full of midday sun and fresh breeze off the Tasman, you can’t beat the setting – unless you’re a pair of redheads like us. The sun shade is pulled down slightly so we can still cop the view and count the ocean spray as seasoning. The set banquet menu moves from duck red curry to barbecued quail and crispy lamb wontons. The leftovers are packed for later.

It’s tempting to run across the glistening sand into the surf after lunch, but Luke Ridden is waiting for us at Granddad Jack’s distillery in Mermaid Beach. After pouring a G&T with the signature Greenhouse gin, Luke walks us in the direction of a cease and desist notice from a large American bourbon company. The father-and-son distillery is dedicated to a different spirit, and a different Jack – their spirit-loving grandfather from New Zealand.

There’s evidence everywhere of the Kiwi connection. Grandad’s barber pole and his well-used cane are on show around the tasting room; a single-malt whisky sits inside a book filled with family photos.

At the bar we sample the range of gins and an aromatic take on chicha, a traditional Peruvian corn-based spirit. The smooth and velvety coffee liqueur also goes down far too easy. Visitors during the week can sit down for a tasting and bring their own food to match.

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It’s a short hop around the corner to our next stop, Precinct Brewing, an open garage-like building filled with long tables to knock back Japanese rice lager, hazy pale ale and berry sour.

This is the part of the tour when Alex likes to bust out the biltong, a “sick little thing,” which is another nod to the company’s South African roots. We dig into two paper bags filled with dried meat as I finish the tasting paddle.

Kiff & Culture’s ‘Eat and Drink the Gold Coast’ tour is just one of several new arrivals here since the pandemic. In fact Queensland’s south coast has come to life in the past two years – ask a local like Alex and they’ll probably say it’s “frothing, brotha.”

Before stepping foot inside this high-speed water taxi you need to choose between cider, lager or alcoholic seltzer. Two beverages come with River to Bay’s new brewery cruise up and down the Brisbane River, and you have an hour and a half to clink glasses at three venues. For our twilight outing there are stopovers at Parched, Balistic Beer Co and Sealegs.

The cruise enables passengers to skip the queues and avoid the traffic as well as take in local sights from the water, like the Kangaroo Point Cliffs and South Bank. The skipper keeps things interesting by demonstrating 360-degree donuts. Included offerings at each brewpub range from complimentary schooners to discounted tasting paddles. For our final destination, it’s a beach landing under Brisbane’s Story Bridge for a glass of mango lager. See:

This elegant high-ceilinged restaurant pays homage to the building’s former life as the Bank of New South Wales. The bar is styled like an old bank teller’s desk and the decor's colour palette, including gold booth seating, takes cues from Australia’s banknotes.

Head chef Lucas McMillian serves up traditional European-style brasserie dishes using Aussie ingredients. Our meal moves from local oysters served three ways to steak tartare finished with macadamia and waffle crisps. For the main course, choose between steak frites, seafood bouillabaisse or whole duck, steamed, fried and paired with spicy jus. See:

The smell of smoke hits you as soon as you enter this moody space of charcoal walls and black marble tables in Brisbane’s lively James Street neighbourhood. The unassuming bistro recently introduced Sunday School, a more relaxed weekend offering, only boozer.

On the seven-course menu chef Phil Marchant keep things interesting by flinging out dishes like pickled and charred cucumber, roasted tomato topped with prawn and nduja sausage, and barbecued cabbage stuffed with chicken (which kind of looks like a chou farci). The fried potatoes doused in cheese sauce (which kind of tastes like a mound of sour cream and chives Pringles) is a winner, as is the yuzu meringue finished with lemon murtle. See:

At Rubi Red in Nobby Beach you should assume everything on the menu is spicy. The dining room has also embraced a lively theme, from hanging lanterns to pink booth seating and neon strip lighting.

The menu is modern pan-Asian, featuring softshell crab pancake rolls, kingfish sashimi topped with whipped coconut, and prawn and ginger dumplings with a drinkable XO sauce. The ‘feed me please’ option features dishes that aren't listed on the menu, like Thai curry with wagyu meatballs. See:

What started as a pop-up during Brisbane’s lockdown has become one of the city’s must-visit spots for a mid-morning pastry and coffee. On weekends you’ll face lines stretching around the corner from the heritage-listed cottage in New Farm/Fortitude Valley.

Much like its namesake sibling restaurant, Agnes Bakery cooks with fire to add to the complexity of flavours. Here that means crispy loaves of sourdough and pastries like creme brulee kouign amann, orange and cardamon doughnuts, and potato and rosemary danishes. See:

Head further south until you’re almost at the NSW border and you’ll hit Kirra Beach, home to a sprawling new pink and white eatery in a former Pizza Hut, attached to the Surf Club. Siblings at Kirra is set right beside the beach overlooking the boardwalk. The covered balcony is the place to dine both day and night, and thanks to the balmy Queensland weather, should be a feasible option year-round.

The relaxed surf club vibes spill into the venue. Tiki cocktails are the drink of choice here and the menu has a loose focus on local seafood, from Moreton Bay bug risotto to your classic prawn cocktail. The portions are large so order wisely or take your time and soak up views back along the Gold Coast strip. See:

Air New Zealand operates direct flights to Brisbane and the Gold Coast from several New Zealand airports. See:

Kiff & Culture’s ‘Eat and Drink the Gold Coast’ tour starts from AU$220 (NZ$245) per person, including transport, guide and meals. The three-day ‘Brisbane to Byron Food Trail’ starts from AU$1875 (NZ$2092). See:

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