Since its early introduction as a laidback, beachside holiday destination, the Gold Coast has done little to shake off its reputation as the perfect getaway for those in search of sunshine, surf breaks and the salty life.
Over the last few decades the Coast has been a popular Australian tourist destination boasting over 60 kilometres of golden beaches on one side and a towering mountain range overseeing the other. With theme parks, world-class shopping centres and relaxation vibes aplenty, its popularity has never been without merit.
In terms of diverse, world-class food venues though, the Gold Coast has long been deemed to have a lot of growing up to do compared to its capital city counterparts.
Until recently that is.
Lately, the beachside city has exceeded all expectations. In 2017 alone, over 60 new venues swung open their doors to the obvious surprise of visitors and uninhibited delight of locals, who had long been waiting for a change.
From hole-in-the-wall, boutique coffee haunts to glamorous, wine and dining venues and dedicated bars for everything from whiskey to waffles, the Coast has every cuisine covered from family friendly to five-star restaurants and with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Some say the transformation began with local restaurateur Simon Gloftis’ foray into the foodie scene. Greek taverna-style restaurant Hellenika was his first venue offering to quality-food starved Gold Coasters and was an instant hit when it opened in March 2010. Bar Hellenika, a casual rooftop venue was added on top of the original restaurant in early 2018.
He says, “We’ve gone through the last five or ten years growing the base of the foodie scene and now there’s a good opportunity to expand on that with some of the world-class restaurants that are opening.”
“They aren’t coming by default either, they’re coming because they realise the market is ready and it’s the right place to be for their businesses.”
So much so that Mr Gloftis, in 2013, set his sights on a beachfront, weatherboard building in Burleigh Heads. The space, complete with uninhibited ocean views, became The Fish House, a specialty seafood venue that flew in only the highest quality produce every morning without fail. To this day, although under new direction now, The Fish House is known as one of the Coast’s premier dining establishments.
Having opened two leading local restaurants, Mr Gloftis now prides himself on a huge personal contribution to the Coast’s continually expanding dining scene. In fact, several of his former members of staff have gone on to open quality venues of their own.
Of his experience he says, “At the time of opening Hellenika it was the first of its kind – there was no share food on the Gold Coast, no BYO and no double sittings. I think Hellenika was the first of the restaurants here that did all of that. It was tough at the start, but it did trigger a bit of a food renaissance on the Coast. Nine or ten of my former staff have gone on to open other venues in the area so we were sort of that catalyst and that impact has been my proudest moment.”
Such was their faith in the potential of the local dining scene, The Star Casino Gold Coast recruited world-renowned chef Chase Kojima to take the Executive Chef position at Japanese restaurant Kyomi when it opened in 2014. The venue then went on to earn a Chef’s Hat three years running.
In late 2016, the Gold Coast food game was changed again with the opening of The Collective. A spacious venue on a corner block in Palm Beach, The Collective offers food options from five completely different cuisines, Mexican, Asian fusion, Italian, Greek, Southern US-style, with diners able to pick and choose from a combined menu allowing for an entirely unique eating experience. A rooftop bar completes the picture ensuring both a family-friendly and late night venue for locals and visitors alike.
Throughout 2017 the Coast saw a host of unique eateries pop up, drawing influence from across the world including Hawaiian-style poke bars, a Japanese yakitori restaurant and, perhaps the most unique of all, a fantasy Victorian-era eatery and cocktail bar.
The diversity of venues, cuisines and, of course, cocktails has been a sight to behold with seasoned restaurateurs successfully opening second and third venues as well as countless first timers stepping up to make their mark.
It’s not only food venues transforming the city though. A wave of bespoke bars have popped up too, lead by passionate young locals with a taste for tipples that will challenge even the most seasoned of tastebuds.
Local entrepreneur Scott Imlach found his way around a restriction only allowing bars to open that also served food by encouraging UberEATS and nearby restaurants to deliver within. Thus, the Coast’s first small bar, Soho Place, came to life in mid-2017 and several others followed in quick succession.
Pre-boom timers Justin Lane, by local restauranteur Adam Haralampou, led the way when it came to a fleet of rooftop bars. The owner of three much-loved locals venues also worked his way around restrictions, removing the roof of an already established Burleigh Heads restaurant. Since then, the open-air establishments have made their way into all the most populated of places finally taking advantage of abundant 180 degree ocean views.
Perhaps one of the most popular watering holes on the Coast is Nobby Beachs’ The Cambus Wallace, a moody, live-music venue specialising in rum cocktails and a guaranteed diversity of characters.
Of the opening, and the Coast’s bar scene in general, co-owner Dave Ferry says, “It was about six years ago we started the Cambus conversation. ‘We’ being a group of friends that grew up on the Coast and loved it but found it to be lacking the nighttime vibe we found when we were traveling.”
“We knew we had to open something that fulfilled that inner nomad; late night eats, delicious classic beverages, live music, good times and just that feeling like ‘this is where you’re meant to be’.”
“Wherever people live or are coming from, we want them to feel like The Cambus Wallace is their local. We’re aiming more for that dream-like place you stumble across when you’re traveling. You know the one, it’s packed with locals and you don’t know a soul but everyone feels like a long-lost friend, the food and drinks are ‘write-home worthy’ and it’s the best memory from your trip.”
In 2017, the bars 20-something owners opened a second venue, The Scottish Prince in Palm Beach specialising in all things whiskey. It was a testament to the growing popularity of bespoke bars and one that was certainly cheered on by locals.
Dave says, “Opening the second venue seemed like the right thing to do to complete the story. We wanted the place to tell a story linked to Gold Coast culture to show people why we love this place so much. The story of The Cambus Wallace was just perfect and really resonated with us being young travellers (or drunkard sailors) who love a good story. The Scottish Prince is just the next chapter of that story. People have finally started to venture out mid-week, like in the big cities and that’s what we wanted.”
It goes without saying the creativity and culinary expertise of the crop of business owners that have seemingly popped up out of nowhere is second to none and, with several venues already swinging open their doors in 2018, the best may just be yet to come.
Already in 2018 we’ve welcomed a Southern-inspired bar and eatery to Coolangatta, a New York-style brunch venue to Nobby’s Beach and a five-star Asian fusion wonderland.
Most excitingly perhaps, was the opening of six-star bar, restaurant and nightclub nineteen at The Star. Headed up by Simon Gloftis and internationally acclaimed events promoter Billy Cross, the exclusive venue is set to rival every other rooftop bar in Australia.
Mr Gloftis says, “nineteen at The Star is a restaurant, pool, cabanas, a lounge bar and a club type venue. I’ve been offered a lot of sites on the Gold Coast so I know what’s coming up and there’s going to be some amazing opportunities for interstate and international restaurateurs here on the Coast.
“It’s real here now. It’s no longer only about what tourists want to eat but venues are opening with specific cuisines, not just mix and match. People are buying the right produce and when that happens you can’t help but move forward. Everyone I speak to is very positive about the growth.”
It seems there’s no turning back now, the Gold Coast is making a name for itself and the crowds are queuing to hit the Coast for reasons that would have been unfathomable five short years ago.
Expect big things in 2018, the unassuming beachside city is becoming a culinary force to be reckoned with, glittery tourist attractions and all.
Words by Kirra Smith.