There are some Gold Coast restaurants that stand the test of time. Usually when exceptional menus, exceptional service and simple, community good vibes combine to create something people return to time and time again.
One such place is Burleigh Heads’ Willow Dining Room, an Asian fusion meets Spanish tapas-inspired venue owned by Ian Jul Banghal, who doubles as Head Chef.
Originally opening on the Lower Gold Coast Hwy in Burleigh Heads in 2016, Willow quickly became a firm local favourite thanks to the cosy, quirky interior and dishes absolutely packed with flavour.
Having moved from the Philippines (where he was an architect) Banghal creates dishes that are not only beautiful to look at, and usually intricately built into some type of tower formation, they are all extremely tasty.
Back to the space for a sec though, the newbie can be found right next door to Beleza Food House on the beach side of the Gold Coast Hwy.
It’s an eclectic space, echoing the vibe of the old with mismatched tables, chairs and lightshades, plenty of greenery, a wood block wall Banghal built himself (over many months) and a stunning mural taking up one side wall.
It perfectly emulates the welcoming, homely vibe you’re used to from Willow but with lots more space to spread out in.
The menu has stayed the same and there are a few favourites we would like to bring to your attention.
The Rare Seared Beef Fillet accompanied by sweet potato and with a garlic and soy dressing was the winner in our books, perfectly tender and flavoursome and a dish we could (and would) eat every single day if we were able to cook like that.
The Seared Scallops in a ginger, chilli and seeded mustard sauce and topped with crispy sweet potato was also a delight, as was the Jerk Chicken with zucchini and haloumi on saffron rice with a beef reduction infused with apple hickory smoked woodchips. Yep.
For dessert there is a life-changing Salted Caramel and Dark Chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream and mango puree and a Passionfruit-infused Crème Brule you should probably sample too.
Of course there are also Asian-esque cocktails that go perfectly with every single dish on the menu so why not treat yourself to a few of those too.
While in the initial space, Willow would often book out well in advance and although that will no doubt still happen, a larger space means more opportunity for feasting.
So get in quick, they really are serving up some absolute gold in the food department. Plus, they’re very lovely people and the service is second to none.
An oldie(ish) but a goodie.
LOCATION: 1957 Gold Coast Hwy, Burleigh Heads
HOURS: Monday to Thursday from 5.30pm until 11pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am until 2.30pm and 5.30pm until 11pm
Words and photos by Kirra Smith