For years I’ve been visiting the Gold Coast and sadly, always come away disappointed with its food scene. Time and time again we’ve had disastrous dining experiences with over-priced and dated food served on paprika dusted plates. But the times they are a-changing.
Having just returned from a recent trip to Surfers Paradise, excitingly, along with the accommodation, the restaurants and cafes are greatly improving.
Just across the road from where we stayed at Peppers Soul is the Hilton and on its first floor is Salt Grill, a Luke Mangan restaurant. Luke is one of Australia’s celebrity chefs whose resume wears you out just reading it. He owns 19 restaurants, has Salt Grill restaurants on five P&O cruise liners, is the consulting chef for Virgin Australia, the consulting chef for the Eastern and Oriental Express and has written and published four books.
I’ve previously written about my dining experience at Salt Grill onboard the P&O ship, Pacific Dawn and as I really enjoyed that experience, I was really thrilled to find Salt Grill in the Hilton Hotel at Surfers Paradise.
The restaurant has a beautiful and spacious interior with an open kitchen. The waitstaff are impressive; like nurses, they walk with pace and purpose. They are friendly without being intrusive, attentive without being imposing, and professional without being severe. Above all, they seem genuinely happy to be there which sets diners at ease and enhances their dining experience.
The tables are very well spaced allowing you to talk with your fellow diners without groups surrounding you being involved in your conversation as well. The seating is comfortable and the lighting flattering without being so dark you need to shine a torch on your menu.
The menu is modern Australian cuisine and it is food that’s well presented without being tortured and the menu reads well – none of that tongue-twisting pretentiousness with long and drawn out descriptions using language that may as well be foreign. What you read on the menu is exactly what arrives on your plate.
Luke does have some self-promotion going on that I don’t think is particularly necessary (his name is on all the plates and the plates are positioned in front of you so his name is at 12 o’clock), however, it is much more subtle in this restaurant compared with what I experienced on Pacific Dawn.
There’s a tapas menu and also an a la carte menu. We mixed things up and ordered a few items from both. Drew started with the salt and pepper calamari. I liked how the dish was served on ‘newspaper’. The calamari had a light and crunchy batter with a good kick of seasoning that was tempered with the aioli.
Unable to decide between two tapas, I ordered both. Definitely my favourite was the steamed pork bun with crunchy pork belly that contrasted well with the softness of the bun. Drew and I could have had a few of these.
The second tapas I ordered was the zucchini flower and while it was pretty on the plate and there was great originality in the way it was served, and it allowed the delicate flavour of the zucchini flower to shine, I think I would have preferred the more traditional Italian way of serving the flower; stuffed with something surprising and served in a crunchy but light batter.
Drew loves his seafood and so ordered the grilled salmon with spinach and lemon. The salmon had a lovely crunchy skin with very soft salmon underneath.
I ordered the pork belly with pink cabbage and apple gel. Absolutely perfect crackle that I enjoyed with the apple gel. The meat was tender and having been twice cooked, very soft as well as juicy. There was plenty of smooth sauce and the braised cabbage gave lovely colour to the dish.
Sides can be ordered to go with your main course. We ordered the very rich truffle mash that was very creamy with a lovely hint of truffle.
We also ordered the steamed broccolini so we’d appear health conscious and feel better about ourselves. Not really, we just enjoy broccolini.
For dessert we ordered the very pretty panna cotta and meringue with mandarin and pineapple. This was very well balanced with sweetness while also being refreshing. I loved the little violets on the top of the dish that added a beautiful touch of colour.
With our dessert we enjoyed a glass of dessert wine. Not that we needed anything else but, when you’re in a restaurant with a great sommelier, why not just go ahead and try a few of the selections.
This is not an inexpensive restaurant. With main courses costing close to $40.00 and sides needing to be ordered at around $10.00 each to accompany the dish, the total cost of a main course ends up at around the $50.00 mark. And then there’s the drinks! This is not a restaurant where I would dine three times a week; it’s a special occasion restaurant where you can walk away with wonderful memories. Given the setting, the staff, and the quality of the dishes presented, our experience at Salt Grill was absolutely worth it.
Verdict: I’ll be seeing you again.
Salt Grill Surfers Paradise: Hilton Hotel, 6 Orchid Avenue, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
Ph: (07) 5680 8100