Where the locals eat: The best new restaurants in Brisbane and the Gold Coast

I jump into a minivan sprayed with a koala wearing sunglasses and an emu holding a surfboard. Disco funk blares from the radio. I barely said hello and my tour guide Alex burst into an infectious full-mouthed laugh. This easy-going character takes me on a whirlwind tour around some of the Gold Coast’s best foodie spots, or “where the locals eat”.

Classmates Drew Campbell and Alex Baker launched Kiff & Culture in June 2021 with three food tours covering Byron Bay, Tweed and Tamborine Mountain. The company is an extension of Campbell’s award-winning Kiff Kombi Tours, held in Cape Town. The name ‘kiff’ plays on the South African slang word meaning something ‘cool’ or ‘excellent’, and that’s exactly the kind of vibe the pair are trying to capture with their new food tours in and around the Twin Towns in South East Queensland.

For starters, it’s a visit to Burleigh Heads’ Rick Shores restaurant, a beachside favorite run by “a bunch of young dudes”, with the skyline of Surfers Paradise on the horizon, the water lapping at his feet and apparently one of Australia’s best sandwiches on the menu. .

Alex explains that Rick’s famous bug roll in Moreton Bay has inspired several fakes along the coast and attracted just as many influencers. My handmade brioche roll filled with fried lobster, lettuce and the tangy combo of sriracha and mayonnaise disappears in a few bites.

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Rick Shores famous bug roll.

Love & Culture

Rick Shores famous bug roll.

With a face full of midday sun and cool Tasmanian breezes, you can’t beat the setting – unless you’re a pair of redheads like us. The sun visor is lowered slightly so we can still take in the view and count the ocean spray as seasoning. The banquet menu ranges from duck red curry to grilled quail and crispy lamb wontons. Leftovers are packaged for later.

It’s tempting to run across the glistening sand in the surf after lunch, but Luke Ridden awaits us at Granddad Jack’s Distillery at Mermaid Beach. After pouring a G&T with signature Greenhouse gin, Luke guides us to a cease and desist notice from a major American bourbon company. The father-son distillery is dedicated to a different spirit and a different Jack – their New Zealand spirit-loving grandfather.

Granddad Jack's is in an unassuming building at Mermaid Beach.

Love & Culture

Granddad Jack’s is in an unassuming building at Mermaid Beach.

There is evidence everywhere of the Kiwi connection. Grandpa’s barber pole and his well-used cane are on display around the tasting room; a single malt whiskey sits inside a book full of family photos.

At the bar, we taste the range of gins and an aromatic version of chicha, a traditional Peruvian spirit made from corn. The smooth, velvety coffee liqueur also goes down far too easily. Visitors during the week can sit down for a tasting and bring their own food.

Drew Campbell and Alex Baker (right) of Kiff & Culture Tours.

Love & Culture

Drew Campbell and Alex Baker (right) of Kiff & Culture Tours.

It’s a short hop around the corner to our next stop, Precinct Brewing, an open garage-like building filled with long tables for knocking down Japanese rice lager, misty pale ale and berry sour.

This is the part of the tour where Alex likes to break out the biltong, a “sick little thing”, which is another nod to the company’s South African roots. We dig into two paper bags full of jerky while I finish the tasting palette.

Kiff & Culture’s ‘Eat and Drink the Gold Coast’ tour is just one of many new here since the pandemic. In fact, the South Coast of Queensland has come alive in the last couple of years – ask a local like Alex and they’ll probably tell you it’s “moss, brotha”.

Six more new food offerings

River Tours at Brewery Bay, Brisbane

River to Bay runs up and down the Brisbane River.

From the river to the bay

River to Bay runs up and down the Brisbane River.

Before entering this high-speed water taxi, you must choose between cider, lager or alcoholic seltzer water. Two drinks come with the new River to Bay Brewery cruise on the Brisbane River, and you have 1.5 hours to toast at three venues. For our twilight outing, there are stops at Parched, Ballistic Beer Co and Sealegs.

The cruise allows passengers to skip the lines and avoid traffic, as well as admire local sights from the water, like the cliffs at Kangaroo Point and South Bank. The skipper keeps things interesting by demonstrating 360 degree donuts. The deals included at each brewery range from free schooners to discounted tasting paddles. For our final destination, it’s a landing on the beach under Brisbane’s Story Bridge for a glass of mango lager. See: rivertobay.com.au

Bench Brasserie and Wine Bar, Brisbane

Banc Brasserie and Wine Bar is an elegant dining option.

Bench Brasserie and Wine Bar

Banc Brasserie and Wine Bar is an elegant dining option.

This elegant, high-ceilinged restaurant pays homage to the building’s former life as the Bank of New South Wales. The bar is styled like an old bank teller’s office, and the decor’s color scheme, including gold seating, is inspired by Australian banknotes.

Head chef Lucas McMillian serves traditional European-style pub fare using Australian ingredients. Our meal changes from local oysters served three ways to steak tartare finished with macadamia nut and waffle crisps. For the main course, choose between steak and fries, seafood bouillabaisse or whole duck, steamed, pan-fried and accompanied by a spicy jus. See: bancbrasserie.com.au

Essa, Brisbane

The smell of smoke hits you as soon as you enter this brooding space with charcoal walls and black marble tables on Brisbane’s bustling James Street. The unassuming bistro recently introduced Sunday School, a more relaxed, alcohol-only weekend offering.

On the seven-course menu, chef Phil Marchant keeps things interesting by throwing in dishes like marinated and charred cucumber, roasted tomatoes topped with shrimp and nduja sausage, and grilled cabbage stuffed with chicken (which looks a bit like stuffed cabbage). The fried potatoes drizzled with cheese sauce (which tastes a bit like a mound of Pringles sour cream and chives) are a winner, as is the yuzu meringue finished with lemon murtle. See: essa.restaurant

Rubi Red Kitchen & Bar, Gold Coast

Rubi Red Kitchen and Bar is off the Gold Coast Highway at Nobby Beach.

Rubi Rouge Kitchen and Bar

Rubi Red Kitchen and Bar is off the Gold Coast Highway at Nobby Beach.

At Rubi Red in Nobby Beach, you have to assume that everything on the menu is spicy. The dining room also adopted a lively theme, from hanging lanterns to pink booth seating and neon lighting.

The menu is modern pan-Asian, with soft-shell crab pancake rolls, trevally sashimi topped with whipped coconut, and prawn and ginger dumplings with XO drinkable sauce. The “feed me please” option offers dishes not on the menu, such as Thai curry with wagyu meatballs. See: rubiredkitchenandbar.com.au

Agnes Bakery, Brisbane

What started as a pop-up during Brisbane’s lockdown has become one of the city’s go-to spots for a mid-morning pastry and coffee. On weekends you will face lines that stretch around the corner from the heritage listed house in New Farm/Fortitude Valley.

Much like its sister restaurant of the same name, Agnes Bakery cooks with fire to add to the complexity of flavors. Here, that means crusty sourdough breads and pastries like kouign amann crème brûlée, orange and cardamom donuts, and potato and rosemary danishes. See: agnesbakery.com.au

Siblings in Kirra, Gold Coast

From table to surf at Siblings.

Brooke Darling Photography

From table to surf at Siblings.

Head further south until you’re almost at the NSW border and you’ll reach Kirra Beach, home to a sprawling new pink and white restaurant in a former Pizza Hut, attached to the Surf Club. Siblings at Kirra is located right next to the beach and overlooks the boardwalk. The covered balcony is the perfect place to dine day or night, and thanks to Queensland’s mild weather, should be a feasible option all year round.

The laid-back surf club vibe pervades the venue. Tiki cocktails are the drink of choice here and the menu focuses on local seafood, from Moreton Bay bug risotto to your classic prawn cocktail. Portions are large, so order wisely or take your time and soak up the views along the Gold Coast Strip. See: siblingskirra.com.au


Getting There : Air New Zealand flies direct to Brisbane and the Gold Coast from several New Zealand airports. See: airnewzealand.co.nz

Play it: Kiff & Culture’s “Eat and Drink the Gold Coast” tour starts from AU$220 (NZD 245) per person, including transport, guide and meals. The three-day Brisbane to Byron Food Trail starts from AU$1875 (NZ$2092). See: kiffandculture.com.au

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider alternative ways to travel, bundle your trips and, when you have to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, go to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.

The writer was hosted by Tourism and Events Queensland.

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