The hottest dining trends of 2018
THE search to find the hottest eateries from Cairns to Coolangatta saw our team of reviewers travel thousands of kilometres and dine on hundreds of dishes, looking for meals that moved them.
Their epic eating adventures not only led to a few extra kilos and some raised cholesterol levels, but the discovery of the coolest food trends taking Queensland by storm.
From gourmet sandwiches to the rise of a new protein favourite, here are the trends we've seen that are defining Queensland dining in 2018.
THE NEW BEEF
Regarded as the most sustainable meat in Australia, kangaroo has been hopping on to menus around the state.
South Brisbane's Stokehouse Q and La Lune Wine Co both feature the marsupial as a carpaccio, Stokehouse with beetroot and pickled blueberries, and La Lune with wattle seed, butternut and coffee; while Vaquero in Albion, in Brisbane's inner north, creates a cute, tail-shaped dumpling from the meat.
With the protein exceptionally lean, well-priced and great for the planet, we welcome more of it.
RAW AND ORDER
It seems a menu is barely complete these days without a raw section. Dedicated to everything from freshly shucked oysters to ceviche and steak tartare, cooking our food has become almost unnecessary.
At Gold Coast Japanese eatery Kiyomi the lengthy raw offering includes scallops with ginger and watermelon as well as salmon with daikon and mustard ponzu; while Asian-fusion restaurant Spice Bar at Mooloolaba offers fish tartare and beef tataki. Italian eateries are also getting in on the trend with Persone, in Brisbane's CBD, for example, serving up scampi crudi, tuna crudo and beef carpaccio.
With raw dishes usually better for the waistline, diners' new obsession with eating lighter and healthier is no doubt driving the trend.
ON A ROLL
The beloved old sanga has been getting a facelift at restaurants around the state as chefs create gourmet versions of the Aussie lunch staple.
At new modern Japanese Honto in Fortitude Valley everything from prawns and lobster to karaage chicken get stuffed between layers of bread to deliver drool-worthy bites. Beachside eatery Rick Shores on the Gold Coast serves up crispy tofu sliders, katsu beef rolls and their signature fried bug roll with punchy sriracha.
There's also, of course, the influx of Asian-inspired, hamburger-like baos, such as the pork and apple slaw version at Newstead's Golden Pig; and the steamed buns at eateries including Chu The Phat at South Brisbane and Brisbane city's Madame Wu.
And the best thing about the trend is that we get to eat with our hands.
As the saying goes, there are plenty more fish in the sea and diners are finally starting to embrace catches other than Atlantic salmon.
Slivers of the pink fish are being replaced by citrus-dressed kingfish and ocean trout; while the fish of the day can be anything from export-grade swordfish caught off Mooloolaba to the highly revered, pork belly-like Patagonian toothfish from the waters around Argentina
At East Brisbane's The Wolfe, chef-patron Paul McGivern serves grilled Murray cod with puffed buckwheat and "fish milk"; while executive chef at Brisbane City's Donna Chang Jake Nicolson orders North Queensland-caught giant grouper for their live fish tanks. These are then served whole and wood-roasted in paperbark. And at Aria in Brisbane, you'll find the beautifully meaty blue eye trevalla served with clams and parsnip. The fine diner is also serving another creature from the sea having its moment in the spotlight - octopus. The riverside restaurant plates the squid with spicy spreadable salami nduja, tomato and zucchini; while Noosa Waterfront teams it with potato and orange puree, and borlotti beans.
DRINK TO THAT
There's almost no need to head to a bar for a drink before dinner these days, with restaurants expanding their beverage offering to rival some of the state's best watering holes.
Whether it's to increase spend per head or just because they love experimenting with the exciting new breed of Aussie-made spirits hitting the market, creative cocktails are becoming a staple at eateries.
At Brisbane City's modern Indian-fusion restaurant Heritij, boozy creations reference the subcontinent with the likes of a dirty chai martini and darjeeling tea-spiked mint julep.
Meanwhile, Little Valley in Fortitude Valley excels with its fun and quirky Asian-inspired cocktails including the "silk palace" with coconut cream and orange blossom, and the "jade empire" blending gin, the Japanese citrus yuzu, cucumber and soda.
Restaurants are also ditching mainstream beers from the likes of CUB and Lion for local craft offerings - think Gold Coast favourites Burleigh Brewing Co and Balter, Sunshine Coast player Brouhaha, and Brisbane darlings Newstead Brewing Co, Ballistic and Green Beacon.
Wine lists are also favouring smaller, boutique and family-run producers over big name wineries, with a particular focus on biodynamic and minimal interference vino to add spark and interest to solid offerings.
Getting its start in Scandinavia, the trend of cooking over fire is showing no signs of slowing as chefs around Queensland embrace their inner caveman.
Mermaid Beach's Lupo ignites its wood-fired oven to give smoky notes to everything from whole cauliflowers with truffle and cheese to roast pork shoulder; while Three Blue Ducks in Brisbane adds the kiss of flame to dishes such as steamed mussels with chilli jam, porchetta and whole fish with lime leaves and lemongrass.
Homage in Grandchester, about an hour's drive from Brisbane, goes one step further. Everything is cooked over fire in its entirely outdoor kitchen, with not a stove or traditional cooktop in sight.
Expect sirloin baked in hay and milk, emu gently warmed over flame and pork neck roasted over fire.
BACK TO BASICS
Deconstructed desserts and liquid nitrogen-puffed everything are falling out of favour, to be replaced by simple, old-fashioned classics the way your grandmother made them.
Cheesecakes are now actually cheesecakes rather than a crumb here and a smear of cream cheese there, while tarts are just that - a pastry shell with a decadent filling.
Doing the traditional best are the likes of Hellenika in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which serve Greek favourites including rice pudding and bougatsa that will have you wanting to lick the plate clean.
However, there is still room for creativity with South Brisbane's Gauge blowing the mind of sweet tooths with its spin on the beloved Terry's Chocolate Orange, using mushroom.
As veganism becomes the hottest diet craze to sweep Australia, chefs are understanding the importance of including more vegetable-based dishes on their menus.
Detour at Woolloongabba continues to lead the movement, serving an offering split into omnivore and herbivore dishes with the veg-centric plates the star.
Coal-roasted broccoli with miso and seaweed will give you an entirely new appreciation for the brassica; and the smoked pumpkin with maple and mustard will ensure you never complain about having to eat your vegetables again.
Cauliflower has almost orgasmic qualities at Rick Shores at Burleigh Heads, roasted whole and smothered in a pepita satay.
A tartare of smoked beetroot with bitey mustard sauce and ember oil takes the crimson vegetable to new heights at Yoyo Bar and Restaurant in Noosaville.
Even hardcore carnivore joints like Black Hide Steakhouse have slipped vegetarian-friendly dishes into their offering and degustation restaurants including The Long Apron in Maleny and Urbane in Brisbane City also provide vegan and vegetarian options.
Once the cause of scarring childhood mealtimes, offal is making a comeback as chefs look to the cheaper cuts to provide better value for money.
Lambs' brains come fried with baba ganoush and eggplant skin at Fortitude Valley favourite Gerard's Bistro; while they're served KFC-style at Ballandean's The Barrelroom alongside another offal cut - tongue.
The Wolfe ran a winter specialty of calf livers, while Burleigh Heads favourite Iku Yakitori serves skewers threaded with the likes of chicken gizzards, liver, hearts and cartilage.
With sustainability now at the forefront of many chefs' minds, embracing nose-to-tail cuts is only set to continue.
Wattle seed, muntries, finger lime, saltbush - native Australian ingredients have been replacing European imports in restaurants up and down the coast of Queensland.
As chefs look to add a spin to their menu and use more sustainable produce, we're seeing everything from local seaweeds to berries being picked and plonked on our dishes.
With a passion for embracing all things local to North Queensland, chef Nick Holloway fills his menu at Palm Cove's NuNu with everything from lillypilly teamed with beetroot juice-poached kangaroo to bunya nuts served with rhubarb in a spelt tart.
You'll also find Sunshine Coast chef David Rayner at Thomas Corner Eatery making the most of what's in his backyard, cooking up duck breast to go with pickled cumquats and sashimi kingfish dotted with finger lime pearls.