The best restaurants you’ve never heard of

 

FROM tiny places hidden behind a nondescript door to suburban eateries that are only known to those in the neighbourhood, and country gems worth driving well out of town for, here are the best restaurants in Queensland you may have never heard of. 

 

Conger eel cake at Shunsai
Conger eel cake at Shunsai

SHUNSA I

45 Wellington Rd, East Brisbane 3391 1449

shunsai.com.au

Tucked away on the ground floor of an apartment tower, this pocket-rocket restaurant is every bit the hidden gem. With 18 seats - six of them up at the blonde wooden bar - it delivers high-quality, authentic Japanese food, beautifully presented in lacquered bento boxes. Of the six set menus, the most elaborate is the Wagyu, which includes slices of the marbled beef piled high and accompanied with charred asparagus, zucchini and ponzu sauce. The bento itself contains an appetiser, sashimi, a deep-fried dish and a simmered dish. Inclusions change monthly and may include raw kingfish and coral trout, chicken karaage or steamed black cod. All come with steamed rice and dessert. Yukata-clad Japanese waitresses are friendly and efficient while the chef-owner, who trained in Kyoto and Tokyo before working in the Japanese embassy in Switzerland, is ensconced behind the bar and happy to chat. Children are welcome, with a play area outside to keep them amused. Sake, Japanese beer and a clipped but thoughtfully chosen Australian wine list complement the finely executed traditional fare.

 

Grilled calamari with fennel and a ginger and chilli dressing at The Lobby Bar
Grilled calamari with fennel and a ginger and chilli dressing at The Lobby Bar

 

THE LOBBY BAR

The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley, 3607 5888

lobbybar.com.au

Traditionally lobby bars are frequented primarily by hotel guests but they shouldn't be the only diners to enjoy the spoils of The Calile Hotel's flashy watering hole-cum-restaurant. While the modern art deco-inspired fit-out is all glitz and glam with its pink marble bar and brass-rimmed tables, stone floor and high arches, the food by contrast is understated and restrained. The all-day menu, running from noon 'til late, is a tight collection of smaller and larger plates with influences from Europe and the Middle East. They read simply but offer complexity such as silken Parisian gnocchi lacquered in nutty brown butter with capers for a salty pop. Or braised beef short rib made comforting and homely with mashed potato and red wine jus. Desserts are a treat with the likes of a Green Ant Gin and blood orange panna cotta or a classic creme brulee just so subtly spiked with lavender. A generous drinks list is well matched to the fare. Beers favour local craft. With well-trained staff, Lobby Bar is a distinct step above your average hotel hangout.

 

One of the dishes at Iku
One of the dishes at Iku

IKU

1730 Gold Coast Hwy, Burleigh Heads 5568 7300

ikuyakitoribar.com.au

Easily missable behind a fabric-covered sliding glass door along the Gold Coast Hwy's busy strip of eateries at Burleigh is this vibrant, funky Japanese. While the row of tatami seating running almost the length of the narrow, dimly lit room may seem like the cool spot to book, it's best left to the uber bendy, yoga types. A stool against the yakitori bar at the front or cosy whisky bar down the back is far more comfortable. Sticking to Japanese tradition, all cuts of the chicken are given a grilling here, including the skin, gizzards, wings and, pick of the bunch, the oyster - exploding with juices from behind its crisp, fatty skin. But before tackling the skewers, diners will want to share the restaurant's addictive version of guacamole and corn chips - spicy edamame dip with crispy wontons - as well as beautifully fresh, thick slices of ocean trout cured in a zingy ponzu dressing from the raw section of the menu. The drinks list is an all-encompassing affair transcending wine, sake, Japanese beer, umeshu, shochu, whisky and more, or simply ask one of the benevolent bar staff to create you a bespoke cocktail. For an affordable, fun feed with friends, Iku ticks the box.

Get your tentacles into dishes like this from Mosconi
Get your tentacles into dishes like this from Mosconi

MOSCONI

164B Arthur St, Fortitude Valley 3151 1898

mosconi.com.au

From hospitality brothers Mark and Daniel Rotolone, this smart Italian eatery and wine bar oozes classic Euro styling with a modern twist. A curved, walnut-hued timber bar is the centrepiece downstairs, wrapped by bentwood stools. While upstairs, a loft area featuring tan banquettes glows with natural light. It's the perfect date-night venue or a place for friends to catch up over wine, welcomed in by warm and generous staff who clearly know their stuff. As for the food, there are small and large plates - though the small are beyond generous - ranging from easy bar bites like burrata and croquettes to hearty pasta. Start, perhaps, with zucchini flowers battered and deep-fried, with the golden shell bursting open to reveal a creamy risotto centre; or choose expertly cooked quail alongside slivers of beetroot, gorgonzola and walnuts. The deconstructed lemon meringue pie is a standout. Prices are a little on the high side for what's essentially a suburban bistro, but it's a worthy visit.

Oysters at The Peak restaurant
Oysters at The Peak restaurant

THE PEAK

1 Wilkinson Rd, Maryvale 1300 253 103

spicersretreats.com/restaurants/the-peak-restaurant

With a focus on putting "the best of Australia" on the plate, chef Dean Alsford (ex-Hellenic Republic Kew and Vue de Monde, Melbourne) has scoured the country for the finest quality, most ethical and sustainable produce available. This might include wild venison from the north coast of NSW served blushing with notes of chocolate to balance out the meat's gaminess, or octopus from Lakes Entrance in Victoria given a hit of heat from XO sauce. An a la carte offering is available, but it's the chef's tasting menu that delivers the best insight into the kitchen team's skill and innovation, such as a playful ode to Milo with a dessert of malt crumble and custard with dark chocolate from the Daintree and malted milk espuma. Sommelier Nivard Nelson works hard to create an ever-evolving wine list that not only pairs with, but elevates the familiar yet contemporary cuisine.   The dining room is elegant and homely courtesy of a stone-clad fireplace and heavy timber beams but, if weather permits, outside on the terrace overlooking the pool and rolling hills is the place to be. 

Margherita pizza at Tocco
Margherita pizza at Tocco

TOCCO

1 Florence St, Teneriffe 3157 3225

toccoitaliano.com.au

In its spacious digs in inner-city Teneriffe, Tocco offers a welcome as warm as a nonna's hug. There's nothing especially on-trend about the menu, rather it's an array of the classics, with some modern tweaks, executed very well. Service is attentive, the wine list laced with Italian selections and starters range from simple bruschetta with an array of toppings to roasted octopus with green beans, black olive tapenade and broccoli. Next might be a gnocchi special with butter and parmigiana sauce or Moreton Bay bugs with a bisque reduction.  Floors are polished concrete, chairs are upholstered for comfort, there's a bar for warm-up drinks and at the heart of the room, outside the main kitchen, a pizza oven glows with coals, ready to dispense a wide array of rosse and bianco creations, including an excellent margherita. Finish with almond and pear cake with marsala and egg gelato. 

Cauliflower, spiced seeds, hurloom beetroots with sweet corn and bugle pumpkin falafel, hommus and garlic yoghurt at Emeraude
Cauliflower, spiced seeds, hurloom beetroots with sweet corn and bugle pumpkin falafel, hommus and garlic yoghurt at Emeraude

EMERAUDE

8616 New England Hwy, Hampton 4697 9008

facebook.com/emeraudehampton

Google the tiny town of Hampton, about a two-hour drive west of Brisbane, and it's not the region's rolling  hills or diverse farming area that pops up, but a picture of casual cafe-cum-restaurant Emeraude. And it's because owner and chef Amanda Hinds has been putting this sleepy picturesque destination on the map with her standout cuisine, old-fashioned, charming hospitality and pure passion for this little patch of the Darling Downs. Emeraude has become "the spot" for the weary traveller, the road-tripper and the holiday-maker, adored for its simple, unpretentious menu that changes daily depending on what local farmers drop off that morning. There's a purity to Hinds's food, with the chef understanding when to let the produce speak for itself and when to push it in exciting new ways. Take a simple pizza, for instance, topped with potato, rosemary and Manuka honey pork sausages from local butcher Toni's Meats, on a focaccia-like base that is the perfect blend of homely comfort and restaurant flair. A tight, food-focused wine list is in play, but better yet, order a gin spritz using a syrup made from local rosellas and soak up the sun in the wisteria-lined outdoor courtyard.