It’s official. Airlie Beach is no longer just for backpackers. The summer all-year-long playground now offers so much more than budget thrill-seeker holidays, backpacker hostels and a $10 Chicken Parm and pot at the pub. (These days the Airlie Beach Hotel offers ‘Whitsunday Food Trail’ Tours where you can meet the growers and producers surrounding Airlie followed by a three-course dinner showcasing the produce).
The cultural shift started when resorts like at Waters Edge, Peppers and Pinnacles Resort appeared on the scene. With boutique accommodation comes the need for better dining options. And Airlie now offers that and so much more.
Relaxed sophistication would best describe the Airlie Beach dining scene. With some of Australia’s best seafood and beef on its doorstep chefs in Airlie have great local produce to work with.
Mr Bones is a backstroke away from the very popular and child-friendly Lagoon. Culinary gems are served up from 9 till 9, 5 days a week. The post-modern interior of exposed brick and industrial lighting contradicts the exciting and innovative dishes coming from the open kitchen.
Start with lots of ‘finger bones’ (the Mr Bones take on entrees) and share a pizza. The menu changes regularly but don’t miss the crumbed eggplant ‘chips’ – crunchy on the outside and luscious and smoky on the inside. Or the oven baked prawns with haloumi, tomato, olives, garlic & oregano.
Pizzas are 12”, crispy, thin and with just the right amount of char and topped with garlicky chilli prawns, aioli and rocket or try the tomato and slow cooked mushrooms with goats cheese and anointed with delicious truffle oil.
Greg Devine (former chef to Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce and now G.G.) heads up the effortlessly chic Tides at Peppers Resort. This is modern Australian fare with a pan-Asian twist.
Four Tastes of the Sea is a great place to start – mini prawn cocktail with a traditional (some might say retro) Marie-rose dressing on baby cos; Grilled ½ shell Hervey Bay scallops with light as a feather champagne mornay, Coffin Bay Oysters with vanilla cucumber noodles and a tempura of soft-shell crab, ponzu dressing and salt and pepper prawns more than satisfies the seafood cravings.
Greg and his kitchen team are masters of the char grill and the menu lists the origin, feed, ageing and portion size of each magnificent piece of beef. The ethereal 350g Wagyu doesn’t come with a provenance but it does come with a 6+ marble score and triple cooked hand cut mega chips and a dish of red wine and brown onion jus. Served exactly as ordered. The perfect accompaniment: a mixed leaf salad of organic rocket and grana padano.
This is a menu that has been carefully created and tended by a chef who knows that great produce doesn’t need to be tortured. If anything the food has been ‘devined’.Which brings us to dessert and the current chocolate dessert plate for 2, includes looks too good to be true Valrhona chocolate cake, ice cream, pot, crumble and brandy snap basket with berries. Or if lots of chocolate is not your thing, the white chocolate sponge cake with raspberry ripple ice cream is a perfect way to cap off a sensational meal.
Another wistful Whitsundays day and another lunch; not just any lunch, it’s the Déjà vu long lunch. It’s spoken with such reference in these parts you wonder if it might be an urban myth. No, it’s legendary for a reason.
Déjà Vu faces the Coral Sea at Waters Edge Resort. You can take a lazy 5 hours or so taking in the view, turquoise Coral Sea and cornflower clear skies, all the while blissfully sipping on a sensational pinot grigio and supping on a 8 course set menu perfect for a warm day in the tropics.
Starting with antipasto of Mediterranean dips, charcuterie, frittata and breads, you meander on to perfect lemon pepper calamari, salad, pizza, roast lamb or Thai beef salad and so much more. The pretty as a picture dessert was one of the finest pannacottas this reviewer has ever encountered – coconut cream dressed with a gingered syrup of cerise dragon fruit brunoise.
At $44.50 per person (drinks extra) the Déjà Vu long lunch is incredible value and is a must do if you’re lucky enough to be in Airlie on a Sunday. With chef Patrice Duverger and Sarah Duverger (also a chef) front of house, you can safely put your palate in the hands of experts with their fuss-free finely tuned menu.
The Coral Sea Resort boasts Clippers restaurant positioned perfectly to take in the cooling sea breeze. The resort could be described as Mediterranean but that only adds to its charm. There is even a gazebo perched on the waters edge offering privacy for six diners and that special occasion.
Unable to contemplate the six-course degustation after the long lunch, we bravely worked our way through mains and a shared dessert, purely in the interests of our TML readers. The a la carte menu sports some of the same dishes in the innovative degustation including a prosciutto wrapped chicken breast all dressed up with a little chorizo pie. But I had the pan roasted duck breast squarely in my sights with its quince potatoes, petit pois of sweet peas and gem lettuce with a quince jus.
And winner of the greatest bit of theatricality was the show-stopping dessert plate for 2: delectable salted popcorn parfait, ruby red strawberry candy floss, strawberry sherbet, sangria wine gums, tingly toffee apple sorbet, pecan nougat ‘lollipop’ and little rhubarb and custard milk shakes. It was more than enough for 3 very satisfied diners.
Today, Airlie Beach is no longer just a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. It is fast gaining a reputation as a culinary hot spot with other restaurants like Fish D’vine, Denman Cellars and La Tabella all highly recommended by tourists and locals alike. Airlie is a destination in its own right with incredible big city quality food at regional prices. With so much amazing food on offer, make sure to pack the cross trainers and work off those mind-blowing desserts.
Mr Bones www.mrbones.com.au
Déjà Vu Restaurant www.dejavurestaurant.com.au
Clippers Restaurant & Bar at www.coralsearesort.com
(ThisMagnificentLife was a guest of Whitsunday Marketing & Development and the restaurants).