Destination Delicious: Regional Queensland’s best restaurants worth the detour

If you’ve been there, done that, eaten at these legendary restaurants, it’s time to take your taste buds on tour; regional Queensland is calling.

Beyond the capital, you’ll find world-class restaurants hiding among palm-fringed beaches, tropical islands and scenic mountain tops – combining scenery with scrumptious food.

If you’re epicurious about what we’re on about, pack your appetite and seek Queensland’s most awarded restaurants worth driving for.

Spirit House, Yandina

We’re not sure if the tropical gates of Spirit House have a Harry Potter-esq magical power, but you won’t be the first person to feel like you’ve apparated from Yandina and into Thailand the second you cross the threshold.

What was once a swamp in Yandina has cemented its place into TripAdvisor’s Top 10 restaurants you must try in Australia – no mean feat for a restaurant 20km from the nearest beach in a destination renowned for its coastline.

If its TripAdvisor pole-position isn’t convincing enough for you, the fact you have to book (often) months in advance shows Spirit House is not just a foodie-favourite among the critics, but us muggles as well. Lending weight to the wait is the coveted one hat from the Good Food Guide (2019).

There’s a special focus on group dining here, and the banquet menu encourages passing your bowl around the table for moreish meals like the hot salmon coconut soup and whole crispy baked fish.

The Fish House, Burleigh Heads

There’s nothing fishy about this seafood saloon, which wears crowns for both its wining and dining with a 2017’s Open Table Diner’s Choice Award and 2015 Gourmet Traveller Australian Wine List of the Year Award. The Fish House is proving it’s not just a flash in the pan taking a single hat and star in the Good Food Guide (2019) and the Gourment Traveller Australian Restaurant Guide (2019).

With water views as good as the menu itself, The Fish House has been savoured by Gold Coast foodies since it opened its bifold doors in 2013.

It’s no surprise though, The Fish House is cut from Simon Gloftis’ cloth, the restaurateur who brought Nobby Beach’s famed Hellenika (and now James Street’s too), which you might have seen in this list of best Gold Coast restaurants. (Simon has since sold The Fish House.)

Whole-cooked fillets make up the bulk of the menu, with everything from Patagonian Toothfish to Petuna Ocean Trout in the lineup – all prepared with the same trawler-to-table philosophy.  

Staying on the GC and want more regional flavours? Check out this list for the restaurants and cafes you can’t miss.

Tamarind, Cairns

Tamarind | Regional Restaurants

Photo by Tamarind via FB

Not many menus come with a glossary of terms but Tamarind’s encyclopedic menu is one that will require your reading glasses if you want to thoroughly examine what’s on your plate.

Thai food is the main event here, delivered in a low-lit dining room that gives nothing away about the casino (Pullman Reef Hotel Casino) just outside its doors.

From organic Tablelands pork sustainably farmed in a sow stall-free environment to desserts concocted using dairy products by the Italian Gallo family who emigrated here in the 1920’s, the ancestry of every ingredient is traced on Tamarind’s menu.

The pièce de résistance is the Penang Duck Curry, defined by its sweet and spicy sauce of caramelised pumpkin, peanuts, chilli, coriander best poured over scented rice.

Looking for more foodie finds in Cairns? Put your taste buds in transit around Cairns, Port Douglas and the Atherton Tablelands with these guides.

Pebble Beach, Hamilton Island

Just like Olympians, some restaurants are overachievers and Pebble Beach (of qualia fame) could easily be the Michael Phelps of the dining world.

Set inside the award-winning qualia (the 2017 Luxury Travel Magazine Best Australian Romantic Property and Australian Traveller People’s Choice Awards Best Luxury Resort, just to name two of its accolades), the food at Pebble Beach has the same attention to detail as the resort’s interior design.

It’s not just us who think it, Chef Doug Innes-Will has taken out a 2018 Chef’s Hat from the Australian Good Food Guide for his dishes, which could be confused for works of art.

Can’t decide what to have? Let chef decide with a signature six-course tasting menu that plays out across four-hours, showcasing the best of North Queensland’s produce (including plenty grown in the Whitsunday region itself).  

With an inevitable food coma served with each sitting, you’ll have plenty of cause for activities from our 48 Hours on Hamilton Island guide. That, or more cocktails by qualia’s infinity edge pool. We’ll let you decide.

Jam, Townsville

Jam | Regional Restaurants

Photo by Jam via FB

Jam has made its mark on the restaurant scene in Queensland’s third-biggest city, Townsville, in the same way its namesake condiment sticks to your fingers (read: this restaurant has a reputation that’s not going anywhere).

It’s so good in fact, that Jam has been awarded an Australian Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat Award four years running.

Start the day in Queensland’s sunniest city on the sweet side with a batch of apple crumble pancakes with warm caramel sauce, white chocolate and walnut crumb, and cinnamon ice-cream. Or simply stick to tradition and order the dish that’s been on the menu for eight years straight – the Asian chicken omelette, made with Saddle Mountain eggs and loaded with snow pea, bean shoot, fried shallots and chilli jam.

More than just serving Townsvillians their most important meal of the day, you’ll also find this foodie-favourite packed Tuesday – Saturday for both lunch and dinner.

Dinner comes a la carte or degustation style, but the real surprise is the vegetarian menu which has no resemblance to rabbit food – gnocchi with shimiji, pickled eggplant, torched goats chevre, cured egg, anyone?

Want more? Get familiar with some of Townsville’s other hero menus by checking out this list.

Zev’s Bistro, Toowoomba

Zevs Bistro | regional restaurants

Photo by @zevs_bistro

Collecting an Australian Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat Award for every year it’s been in business (that’s two for anyone playing at home), Zev’s Bistro proves Toowoomba ain’t no small country town when it comes to its culinary game.

Delivering modern cuisine that’s both on-trend and tasty, the Zev’s kitchen serves up a mixture of hearty and homely dishes.

The lamb neck is the jewel in Zev’s crown, cooked to perfection so chewing is almost optional as you devour it along with onion puree, julienne turnip and enoki mushrooms.

If you’re thinking about trying these meals at home, there’s no need to deconstruct your meal –  you’ll find recipe-book pages adorning the restaurant’s walls, overlaid with art.

Hemingway’s, Airlie Beach

This Airlie Beach haunt wasted no time in winning big, receiving a 2018 Australian Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat Award just seven months after opening its tropical doors.

While it might be named after a certain literary genius (thank you Ernest), it’s this restaurant’s food that will punctuate your Whitsundays adventure.

The must-try for dinner is their duck with mushrooms, foie gras, huancaina and Bunya Nut quinoa. The dessert menu reinvents itself daily, so finish your dining experience with a sweet surprise.

Looking for more eats during your time in Airlie? We’ve got you covered with this list.

Chapter One Restaurant and Bar, Port Douglas

Set in the Balinese-inspired Niramaya Villas and Spa in Port Douglas, Chapter One’s story starts with the 2018 Australian Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat.   

The plotline hits a high around lunchtime when the restaurant serves up its main character, a 45-day dry aged saltbush mutton.

Local ingredients are the protagonists, which pair traditional and modern cooking styles in an exciting fusion of menu-page turning techniques.

We look forward to seeing what’s next for this Port Douglas hot spot. Perhaps, Chapter Two?

Coast Restaurant and Bar, Hervey Bay

The equation for a good time at Coast Restaurant and Bar in Hervey Bay is simple:

Good food + fine winethe fuss x by feast = Coast Restaurant and Bar and the folk at Coast Restaurant and Bar have clearly done their maths correctly.

Everything on the menu is designed to be shared, from small bites to tasting plates to larger, meaty servings.

While you might like a few friends to go halfsies on the roast peanut and chilli chicken, you won’t be blamed for going solo on the signature dessert – a banana cake with chocolate mousse, caramel peanuts and candied corn ice-cream on the side.

Still hungry? We’ve got all your foodie needs covered in this 48-hour guide to eating in Hervey-Bay.  

The Peak Restaurant at Spicers Peak Lodge, Maryvale

Even though you’ll find The Peak at Spicers Peak Lodge 1100m above sea level, this regional favourite hasn’t let the altitude or its 13 cumulative Australian Good Food Guide Chef’s Hats go to its head.

The dining space makes the most of its Scenic Rim location with an open stone fireplace, cosy seating and outdoor terrace.

Chef Minh Le’s Moreton Bay Bug with cucumber, radish and miso broth creation, takes centre stage and is in good company with dishes like the hay farm rabbit, young vegetables, brick pastry and plum jus.

Looking for a romantic getaway? Here’s some ideas on how to spend your Scenic Rim rendezvous.

The Cottage Restaurant, Ipswich

Cottage Ipswich | Regional restaurants

Photo by The Cottage Restaurant via FB

Winner, winner, Ipswich dinner!

The Cottage Restaurant took home the Australian Good Food Guide’s Reader’s Choice Awards in 2017 and 2018, putting Queensland’s most underrated city, ‘the Switch’, front and centre on the regional food map.

Set inside a heritage home that screams ‘Queenslander’ louder than Suncorp Stadium on State of Origin night, you can expect to dine in old-world bedrooms which have been transformed into intimate dining spaces.

The double cutlet and belly of lamb with truffled potato puree and beat hotpot is mouth-wateringly good and makes damn sure your first time to The Cottage will not be your last.

Looking for more? Read a local’s guide to Ipswich’s food scene.

Have you tried any of these regional restaurants? What did you think?