I posed this question at lunch recently and although I was tossing up between Kangaroo Island and Tassie, ironically I was in a place that fits the bill nicely; Mount Tambourine on the Gold Coast.
Fear not, this is not turning into a travel blog. I know I haven’t blogged in quite a while, but Mount Tambourine is just so foodie-centric, so it made sense to pick out the foodie bits and share them.
I’ve been to Brisbane many times, but the Gold Coast hasn’t been all that far up my bucket list of ‘must see’ destinations, primarily because of this and this…
But after some light coercing from a good friend, who convinced me that I needed a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, I booked some flights.
Admittedly, I did know that there was far more to the Gold Coast than the sandy beaches of the Sunshine Coast, the high rise apartments and all of those fun parks that, according to my 5-year old, we just “have to go to” and I’d heard that there was some rainforest and a hinterland… whatever that is.
Mount Tambourine is no where near the guts of my perceived Gold Coast vision either, which was a good thing because my visit also (inadvertently) coincided with Schoolies and in no way did I want to be mistaken for one of these.
So, this place was largely on the hook for delivering a promise of good food and wine and it started well. Our first port of call was the MT Brewery, which formed part of a complex that incorporates Witches Chase Cheese and a Bistro and on the day (and irrelevant) a jewellery auction. It was encouraged to buy some cheese and a couple of small baguettes from the cheese shop and then buy some beer to drink with your cheeses at the brewery. We duly followed process and sampled some excellent, creamy blue and a goat’s chevre blended with kalamata tapanade.
MT Brewery make 6 or so beers and offer a tasting board of 4 beers for $10 or 5 beers for $12.50. The beers were full flavoured and of the ones we sampled, the Rainforest Lager, Black Cockatoo Lager (a porter-like beer), were the standouts.
My only gripe was the lack of attentiveness. Much of the revenue generated in and around Mount Tambourine is driven from tourism. MT Brewery only accepts cash, which is quite bizarre in this day and age. I had no cash, so I was asked to go and seek cash out from the cheese shop. The cheese shop advised that they did not provide cash out through EFTPOS and to use the ATM within the complex. The ATM was out of cash… a debacle. I eventually pleaded with the cheese shop to allow me to take cash out and as a result I bought a lovely bottle of caramelised red wine vinegar and some mustard fruits that I later notices were made for Aldi. Anyway, by the time I was cashed up, my already poured beers were a little warmer and a little flatter for the experience. It may sound a little trivial, but this is a tourism town.
Next on the list was sampling of the wares created by Tambourine Mountain Distillery. Alas, they guy on the website, possessing a strange resemblance to Santa Claus, was not there.
A $5 tasting fee is refunded upon purchase and for a fiver you can sample up to 5 different products ranging from liqueurs, schnapps, eaux de vie, vodkas, gins, grappa and so on.
We sampled lilly pilly gin, sloe gin, ginger vodka, passionfruit liqueur , choc-chilli liqueur and a couple of others… far more than five anyway and I bought a bottle of the ginger vodka on the premise that it would make an interesting bloody mary or something. It’s actually quite nice neat, straight out of the freezer. I hadn’t estimated consuming so much alcohol so early in the day, so I was getting a little sleepy. Lucky for me the next stop perked me up to no end.
The strange thing about Mount Tambourine is the European influence. Mount Tambourine is around 7 degrees cooler than the lower lands, so it’s safe to say that cooler conditions area little more conducive to the former European settlers. It’s still humid and tropical, but without the oppressive heat your may experience in other parts of Queensland.
With the European influence comes a few quirky shopfronts; forget to pack your wooden clogs? Done.
Drank too much schnapps and have a hankering for an elaborate $10,000 cuckoo clock with cool looking bears on it? They’ve got you sorted.
Hankering for some Polish stodge? Bingo.
Strangely enough, there aren’t too many places that showcase the overabundance of tropical fruits that are sold so cheaply at roadside stalls; avocados, mangoes, kiwi fruit and rhubarb are the main ones. Someone should open a Mexican place with an emphasis on good guacamole and tropical margaritas.
The real highlight was a 6-course degustation at Songbirds; a quiet and romantic (for others, probably) retreat nestled in amongst the extremely picturesque rainforest. The majorty of the dining ‘room’ is set in the open under a large weatherproof canopy. For the logistics of operating a fine dining restaurant, this is as close as you could get to literally being in the rainforest. I’d like to understand the rationale for deciding the canopy should be red. It’s not the most calming of colours and everything took on a not-too-easy-on-the-eyes pink hue, as you will see in some of the dessert pictures.
Awarded one hat in the Brisbane Good Food Guide for the last two years running, Songbirds could make a claim for a second, based on what we ate, drank and the overall experience.
Goat’s cheese with textures of beetroot, chardonnay-poached pear, tomato heart and walnut crumble was excellent, as was the roasted quail with charred baby leeks, mushrooms, chermoula, piccalilli pickles and some texture from some fried potato skins – nothing wasted.
The Wagyu beef cheek was succulent, slowly braised in masterstock on a base of parsnip skordalia, sprouts, enoki mushrooms, shallots and bits of seaweed.
A perfectly cooked lamb rump was delicious. So much so, I’d already started it and forgot to take a picture. The rump was poached in smoked Butter and thyme and a the soft spice from the accompanyingcumin and butternut puree worked well with the salty black olive coulis and simple grilled zucchini and sugar snap peas. A small, well made squid ink tortellini continaed a mixture of rosemary and sheep cheese. It was delicious, but not neccessarily with the other elements of the dish.
The final two courses were also on the mark, as was the fresh watermelon sorbet that preceded them; a simple wedge of goat’s cheese (the same that featured in the first course… not that I’m complaining) was drizzled in a pungent truffled honey and quenelle of confit shallot.
The last dish was the standout of the day; Tonka bean and muscovado rice pudding with Christmas pudding crumbs, white chocolate namelaka (a Japanese term for “creamy texture” – it’s more or less a ganache made with milk, emulsified, gelatin is added and finished with cream), burnt caramel ice cream and white chocolate brittle shards that contained lots of crunch and crackle. I’m probably the biggest hater of white chocolate, but I could have happily munched through more of this and hopefully Head Chef, Trent Dawson, is willing to part with his recipe!
All of this was a mere $110 or $160 when matched with some most excellent mid-priced and higher-end wines, fortifieds and even a refreshing lychee liqueur on ice with fresh lime, which accompanied our last course.
Mount Tambourine is an abolsute gem of a place that I definitely look forward to coming back to visit soon, although I don’t know if I will be able to get away with a trip to the Gold Coast again, without the kids and without a visit to the fun parks and the other places that the Gold Coast is unfortunately more famous for.
Tambourine Mountain Rd, North Tambourine QLD
(03) 5545 2563
Good For: A romantic getaway if you’re that way inclined, great food in a natural, picturesque setting… Ignore the low urbanspoon score, it’s excellent
Not Good For: People that are scared of snakes. I didn’t see any but they’re always talking about them. I did see a bush turkey though.