Oh Damien how we’ve missed you! Since Burleigh’s beloved The Fishhouse closed down for development (no, we’re not over it), Head Chef Damien Styles had left a hole in the Gold Coast dining scene. So we were jumping for joy to see Damien recently head up Broadbeach’s new Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and bar, Sofia’s. Expertly running and educating teams of chefs at some of Australia’s best restaurants from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast, we sat down for a chat with Damien about his career to date, what’s in store for the upcoming year and his favourite spots to visit on the Gold Coast.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I came to the Gold Coast in 2018 when I took the position of head chef at The Fishhouse in Burleigh Heads and to be closer to my beautiful son Otis.
What do you love most about living here?
Growing up in Noosa, the Gold Coast offers me the same beach culture that I grew up with and the ocean has always given me an energy that fulfils my life.
Tell us about your chef journey thus far.
My career spans over 30 years of working in fine establishments trying to become the best that I can be at my chosen craft. When people ask me what is your favourite thing to cook, my answer is always “food”, it’s what I do and what I love.
What’s your proudest chef moment?
Opening Charcoal Lane in Melbourne for Mission Australia mentoring young Aboriginal adults and enabling them to become amazing young chefs. Also obviously winning two chef hats at The Fishhouse made me feel good to be recognised for cooking quality food.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw most of my inspiration from myself by always wanting to improve every dish I create, to make it better than the last time I served it. Also my love of all things seafood and using Mother Nature’s bounty.
What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
Slow cooked lamb roast and veggies because I can bang it in the oven, have a few beers and four hours later it’s ready and tasty!
Tell us about Sofia’s.
Sofia’s is a wonderful place where you can come for a quick bite or sit and have a long lunch with tasty snacks and an impeccable wine list, great service and accommodating staff that will tend to your every need and desire.
What else is in the works for you in 2021?
I have been doing some consulting on the side because I feel after Covid I have a calling to help restaurants become better at what they do and with my experience, I feel I can offer a world of knowledge and guidance to them.
What are your predictions for SE QLD’s foodie scene over the next few years?
Simplicity is key, source good products from reputable suppliers and don’t make it to fluffy.
Any advice for someone wanting to become a chef on the Gold Coast?
Come and see me first and I will help you find the right place that suits your needs and desires.
Tell us your favourites on the Coast…
Café for breakfast: Commune in Burleigh
Coffee: I have a coffee at home, drop my son to school and then I have a coffee at Sofia’s each morning 🙂
Restaurant for dinner: Oi Izakaya in Burleigh is amazing I eat there at least two times a week and the yaki soba is outstanding!!!
Bar or pub for a drink: I really like Coda in Broadbeach, they are always welcoming and have Kirin on tap.
How does your weekend usually look? When I get one I love hanging out with my son Otis.
It’s been a minute since we brought news from Broadbeach but what we have to share today will make up for that. You guessed it Gold Coasters, it’s a new eatery for the bustling suburb but not just any old eatery. It’s a sophisticated stunner that’s already amassed a horde of fans and you’re going to be one of them the minute you lay eyes on the place.
It’s called Sofia’s Restaurant & Bar and it’s the work of Henry Hunt whose foray into the restaurant owning business is an impressive one and we think you’re going to adore it as much as we do.
His hospitality rap sheet is filled with some of Sydney’s finest and when it came to creating the newbie, he wanted to offer something truly unique (which he has) where absolutely everything is made in-house.
Found at The Oasis Shopping Centre, where Bloke in a Bar once lived, Sofia’s is the epitome of sophistication fit out with fresh coastal whites, exposed brick and glossy black tiles. It’s an entirely outdoor dining situation (undercover) but with an open kitchen and beautifully appointed bar, you won’t be far from the action.
Let’s talk about the best part though and that friends, is the food. Former Head Chef of award winning The Fish House in Burleigh Heads, Damien Styles, is now the Head Chef at Sofia’s Restaurant & Bar in Broadbeach. Drawing on flavours from coastal European cuisine, Sofia’s is serving simple, fresh seafood and salumi.
Dishes like Grilled Marinated Artichokes, Fresh Figs and Vincotto and Kingfish Crudo with Blood Orange dressing grace the share menu and we can confirm that it’s all absolutely exceptional.
The Cheese and Salumi menu allows you to choose from an extensive range of high end goodies, there’s also fresh oysters, stunning pasta dishes and a mains menu filled with treats like Grilled Mooloolaba King Prawns (some the most incredible we’ve ever sampled) and a 700g Grilled Whole Baby Snapper.
To drink, you’ll have the pleasure of choosing from a VERY impressive wine menu (one of the best in Broady we think!) with drops from across the world. There are cocktails like a Sgroppino Italiana, a Limoncello Pisco Sour and a Barrell Aged Negroni (made in house) and you’ll be hard pressed to choose just one.
Of course there are beers, champagnes and a section of ‘celebration’ sips if you’re in need of something special.
All in all, Sofia’s is something very special and one you’re going to want to return to again and again.
See, well worth the wait for some Broadbeach news.
LOCATION: The Oasis Shopping Centre, Surf Pde, Broadbeach
HOURS: Monday to Sunday 6am until late
Words and photos by Kirra Smith
Two of the most passionate people in the local hospo industry, Mitch and Nerissa are the brains behind two of your favourites – Commune, in Burleigh, and Etsu, in Mermaid Beach. The pair, who might just be the busiest (and happiest) couple on the Coast, are now on the verge of opening a third venue.
We sat down with Mitch and Nerissa to chat about the new yakitori restaurant and building a late night bar-hopping scene in Burleigh.
How long have you been Gold Coast locals?
Mitch: We were both born here. Next week it’ll be 39 years for me. Nerissa’s moved away a couple of times. We met in the hospitality industry out at Varsity Lakes then Nerissa moved away to the snow and I started managing Bumbles in Budds Beach. When she got back, we got in contact again and started working together.
What do you love about the Coast?
Nerissa: I’ve tried to move away a couple of times but it’s just nice, easy, healthy living here. I love being able to walk around with no shoes on. I quite often walk from our house along the beach and to Commune and you can’t do that in Melbourne and Sydney or most other places. It’s just nice, it’s our home and we know everyone, people from school. The people here are happy and you really get to see that, especially in the café, we love building relationships. In the city, it’s so different.
How do you come up with such different concepts for each venue?
We build restaurants we love and that we know our community will love. Because we were born here, we want to give back to our mates around the Coast. You just have to wait for that perfect storm – the right idea, the right time and finding the right venue. We weren’t looking to open a place but we were sick of our jobs and thought this location (Commune) would be perfect and we were just ready to do it. Then with Etsu, which has been open a few years, we knew we wanted to open a Japanese restaurant and that it would be all inside. I (Nerissa) love long, dark places and Mermaid was the perfect location for us. We have never forced anything, it just always works out.
Tell us about the new place you’re opening in Burleigh?
When we got back from Japan this year, all we ate was yakitori and everyone else seemed to be talking about it too. Yakitori means grilled chicken – the restaurants in Japan mostly just make dishes from all parts of the chicken – thighs, hearts, skin, liver, neck, inner thigh, everything and they all taste really different. It’s really sustainable using the whole chicken too. We’ll make a chicken liver pate and a chicken soup too. We’ll also definitely cater for the vegos and have some really amazing Wagyu for the boys too. There’ll be a couple of raw dishes, but it’s a really different menu to Etsu. We’re looking at opening early to mid October.
Have you got the fitout sorted?
It’ll be a bit similar to Etsu where you walk in and there’s a dining bar but we’ll have a kitchen dining bar. Everyone will sit around it and the chefs will be cooking right in front of you – we’re just going to focus on that as our main feature. We’re right next to Lockwood Bar so we’ve put a hole in the wall for back door access so we’re hoping to make a cool little late night bar hopping trade. We’ll also dedicate a little area to a small Japanese whiskey type bar, people can access that from another entrance or just sit down there if they’re waiting for a table. Dining-wise, people will sit on the floor with their legs crossed, which is how it’s done in Japan.
What are your thoughts on the Coast’s growing dining scene?
We go to Melbourne and Sydney just to check out restaurants but now the Gold Coast has so many new places opening we don’t need to. Even just in Burleigh there’s so many, tacocat just opened and all these new places are popping up everywhere. It means we can just ride our bikes to dinner, it’s so good. It’s the perfect time for us to be able to do what we want to do too with all these things opening, it gives us the freedom to get a bit more experimental. It means everyone’s more appreciative of our industry, which is really good. It works here now, where it wouldn’t have a few years ago.
It benefits us in so many ways too. It’s more attractive for people to come and live and work here. Finding good, professional staff and lots of them can be challenging, so having that pool of staff wanting to live here, especially chefs, is great. Even in terms of produce and suppliers, the bigger the industry grows, the more everyone has available. We can get our hands on more and better products. It keeps us on our toes too, if someone new opens, we have to get better. We’re constantly reevaluating what we’re doing. If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards.
What are the biggest challenges for you in the industry?
We find the hardest thing is staff – finding the right people for what we want to do and having them be as passionate as we are. We always find staff who want to open their own places, which works out really well for us because they’re super passionate and we encourage that. Our Head Chef at Etsu came from us advertising in Melbourne.
What’s the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?
Mitch: We work hard and lead by example and that makes it all rewarding.
Nerissa: You should go to work and be excited, if you don’t love it, don’t do it. We love what we do and it doesn’t really seem like work, it’s just our lifestyle now.
Being Gold Coast locals, we have to ask your favourites…
Beach: Burleigh. Before we lived here we lived in Mermaid and loved it there too
Café: There’s a few, we love No Name Lane and we go to Alfred’s, down to All Time. There’s quite a few around now, Double Barrel Kitchen is cool. Elk is really good.
Restaurant: We love Rick Shores, sitting out in the sun is so good. The Lamb Shop, Glenelg Public House and Lupo just opened which is great.
Weekend hang: We ride our bikes around, Sunday arvos on the hill are always good.