A taste of sunshine

By Shane Boocock

Waking up to the sun rising over mist shrouded valleys and the sound of kookaburras squawking in the hinterland above the Sunshine Coast is more than going to make your day; it whets your appetite and taste buds for what lies ahead.

I was relaxing on the deck of a private retreat, aptly named Freestyle Escape, delving into a fully cooked breakfast and envisaging what gourmet surprises the Sunshine Coast had in store for me over the next seven days.??In the heart of the hinterland, I zigzagged back-country lanes in search of the three M’s … Mapleton, Montville and Maleny, quaint Queensland towns with old fashioned frontages that entice tourists and locals alike with coffee shops, high-end restaurants, lovely old taverns, book shops, gift stores, soap and candle sellers, wine and cheese tastings and lodging from B&Bs to luxury lodges in vineyard estates.

If you’re staying at Noosa, Coolum or Maroochydore, make the effort to spend a day up in the hinterlands and you’ll discover craft markets, rainforest walks, cascading waterfalls and, by following your nose, you’ll also discover great food and wine opportunities galore.

Lunch on my first day was at the newest fine dining restaurant on the Blackall Range, politely named the Reserve Restaurant, located just seven kilometres from Maleny. Their signature dish is seared Hervey Bay scallops wrapped in pancetta on a bed of sweet pea puree with salmon caviar and beure blanc. Their other specialty is roasted half duck with braised red cabbage and mashed potato. This is a delightful spot to lose an hour or two, with views over the hinterland.

On the outskirts of town we casually dropped into Maleny Cheese for some tasting treats. This little place has been producing cheese since 2004. Milk is sourced within a 10km radius for their licensed restaurant, deli shop and factory. Funnily enough, it’s not cheese they sell the most of – its yogurt. Their Greek style yogurt is considered to be the finest in this region of Queensland. Try the mixed berry, or their award winning passionfruit – sensational. For something out of the ordinary, try their buffalo cheese … and, yes, it comes from buffaloes. For visitors who like soft cheeses their Le Brochon or triple cream Brie is to be savoured with a glass of Pinot Gris.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also fitted in an hour at Flame Hill Vineyard for a little slurping of their fine wines. It is named after the flame tree, locally known as ‘Kurajong’ a native rainforest tree, which is abundant on the property. There are just three acres of vines planted, with Vedehlo making up 50%, 35% Shiraz, with some cabernet and chardonnay making up the rest.

Over in Montville, a thriving mountain holiday town full of craft shops of every description, I stayed the night at the Spicers Clovelly Estate, a special place to base yourself for some hinterland adventures. Dinner was at their newly opened fine dining restaurant, a richly decorated and somewhat French inspired setting with a open fire for cold winter nights. There are only ten rooms and suites so the atmosphere is definitely intimate. Without question, the chef’s signature dish was the bouillabaisse with pipis, mussels, and fish in a tomato, garlic, saffron and Pernod broth. To accompany the meal we sampled a glass of Catching Thieves ‘07 chardonnay from Margaret River, and a Ninth Island ‘08 Pinot Noir from Tasmania – to die for.

On my way back to the coast, I strayed off my route and stopped off at Eumundi Markets, the area’s largest outdoor markets boasting hundreds of stalls selling everything that might be handy inside wardrobes, garden sheds, kitchens and bedrooms! You’ll find produce such as macadamia nuts, fudge, crêpes, breads, herbs, and organic fruit and vegetables. Food-to-go includes Spanish tapas, Japanese desserts, German sausages, Mexican fajitas and traditional Thai dishes.

Now I’m not a golf nut, so the Hyatt Regency Coolum might seem a strange place to find me, but it was their restaurants I was here to uncover. Located on 150 hectares with its own private beach, I soon realised the best way to traverse between my room and the dining options was to either walk, hire a bike or hop on one of the resort’s golf cart shuttles.??Their signature fine dining restaurant is Eliza’s – a pavilion style long room with a central fire and high vaulted ceilings. We started with a glass of Edwards chardonnay ’07 from Margaret River. For entree I choose the wood smoked king salmon, and for mains I went with the chef’s suggestion of pressed Bendelle farm duck with an anise glaze, vegetable rampah rampah with a sesame seed steamed baby bok choy and a truffle mash – a very rich meal indeed. Finally I was enticed to sample the Belgium double chocolate soufflé with marinated orange fillets and vanilla bean ice cream – an indulgence for sweet toothed guests.

The hub of the resort is the Village Square where many guests hang out when they aren’t hitting golf balls or playing tennis. Here you’ll find Bruschetta Restaurant and Bar, a pizzeria, takeaway food at T’go, a wine store, noodles cafe, a fashion as well as gift shop.

My next stop was The Spirit House, a little bit of Thailand tucked away on the Sunshine Coast. Its reputation is such that folk flock here for lunch or dinner from all over Queensland. Their signature dish is Whole Crispy Fish – using Gold Band Snapper, but I particular liked the crispy salmon straws and the Mooloolaba barbequed king prawns.

Noosa Heads is sometimes described as a culinary destination, and why not with over 240 eateries in the vicinity. Arguably the best known street on the whole Sunshine Coast is Hastings Street, where Berardo’s Restaurant and Bar is located. White on white is the restaurant’s theme, with the most colour emanating from its owner, Jim Berardo, and his love of food. I choose Hervey Bay scallops for starters and Nobby Head Snapper for my main course with a superb dish of cauliflower and broccoli, all accompanied by a stunning bottle of Tatachilla ’04 Shiraz from McLaren Vale.

For those without cars, taking a day tour is very popular … and is where I met eight Kiwi holiday couples from Christchurch, Hamilton, Wellington and Cambridge taking a food and wine tour to the Noosa Hinterlands. It was a perfect opportunity to meet local growers and producers and to sample some of their labours, from high-tech tomato and organic farming to lunch and wine tasting at vineyards, a chance to tour a freshwater crayfish farm, and ending with a local tasting at a boutique winery. ??Knowingly, the Kiwi’s didn’t squawk but smiled with blushed cheeks, appreciating how good a day their little sortie into the hinterlands had been.

??FACTS:

Completely hands-on cooking classes in purpose-built kitchens where everyday cooks can feel like gourmet chefs at Freestyle escape, daily at Spirit House Thai restaurant, +61 7 5446 8994 and the Bunderim Ginger Cooking school, which caters for individuals or groups and can take up to 24 people at a time on a four hour course.

Reserve Restaurant: 840 Landsborough-Maleny Rd, Maleny. entrees from a$18.50, mains from a$35.50. T: +61 7 5435 2288, www.reserverestaurant.com.au?

Maleny Cheese: 1 Clifford St, Balmoral Ridge, Maleny, T: +61 7 5494 2207, w: www.malenycheese.com.au

Flame Hill Vineyard: 249 Western Avenue, Montville. wine from a$18-a$29.70 a bottle. T: +61 7 5478 5920, www.flamehillvineyard.com.au?

Freestyle Tout Restaurant: 500/1000 Ann Dt, Fortitude Valley. all day menu prices from a$14.90 to a$22.50. T: +61 7 3262 3077, w: www.freestyletout.com.au

Freestyle Escape: 123 ThompsonRd, near the Dulong lookout above Nambour. www.freestyleescape.com.au?

Spicers Clovelly Estate: 66 Balmoral Road, Monteville. Prices from a$259 a room including breakfast until 31 December 2009. Spa suites a$329, Honeymoon suite a$499. T: +61 7 5452 111, www.spicerscloverlyestate.com.au?

Hyatt Regency Coolum: Warren Road, Coolum. mains at Eliza’s restaurant from a$29 to a$41. rates: standard King room a$240 per night. Two Bedroom Villas from a$480 per night. a round of golf for in-house guests a$140. : +61 7 5446 1234, www.coolum.regency.hyatt.com

Eumundi Markets: Memorial Drive, Eumundi. Free, parking $4.00, Open only on wednesdays and saturdays. T: +61 7 5442 7106, www.eumundimarkets.com.au?

Spirit House Thai Restaurant: 20 Ninderry Rd, Yandina, T: +61 7 5446 8994, www.spirithouse.com.au?

Sheraton Noosa Resort & Spa: 14-16 Hastings St, Noosa Heads. Prices from a$350. T: +61 7 5449 4703, www.sheraton.com/noosa

Noosa Food & Wine Festival: 29 Spril/1 & 2 May. Ticket prices vary depending on what events you attend. T: +61 7 5455 4455, www.noosafoodandwine.com.au

Berardos Restaurant & Bar: 50 Hastings St, Noosa Heads. T: +61 7 5447 5666, www.berdardos.com.au

Noosa Food & Wine Trail: every Friday, adults a$105, seniors a$95. ?Other tours include: Saturday – Eumundi markets (adults a$20, children a$10), Sunday – Hinterland wine Tasting (adults a$65, seniors a$60), Wednesday – Montville in style – includes Eumundi markets, morning tea, scenic stops, 2 hours in Montville, wine tasting and guided walk (adults a$79 seniors, a$75, children a$35). T: +61 7 5448 6111, www.noosahinterlandtours.com.au

The Buderim Ginger Cooking School: 50 Pioneer Road, Yandina. Courses range from a$90 to a$120. T: +61 7 5447 8465, www.buderimgingercookingschool.com.au??

Getting There:?With thanks to Tourism Queensland and Tourism sunshine Coast. We flew to Brisbane courtesy of Air New Zealand.