Twenty years ago, who would've thunk that a tropical town best known for its relaxed lifestyle would turn into a culinary hotbed? Like a fine red, Townsville's food scene has been quietly maturing and has recently burst onto Queensland's foodie scene with flavour and intensity that's surprising. What's not surprising is that tropical, seasonal produce and seafood are clearly the order of the day when it comes to menu compilation… and they're served up with sophisticated techniques in the kitchen and a side of the exotic.
So, without further ado, here's our Townsville dishes of the day, served six saucy ways.
With a name like Jam Corner, it's a no-brainer that breakfast is going to be the hero, though their daytime and dinner offerings are equally delightful. In this chic little restaurant, on bustling Palmer Street, Chef Matt Merrin and his team are inventive and quirky, mixing locally-sourced seasonal ingredients into culinary masterpieces like their Romanian omelette – a must on the brekkie menu – or their citrus-cured coral trout with finger lime, preserved lemon and tequila granita.
Verdict: Best for breakfast and even better for coffee – they're got the rep for having Townsville's best coffee. http://www.jamcorner.com.au/
Move over Melbourne, there's a cool creative laneway precinct in town and it's a chip off the old block! Street art adorns the walls and there's industrial chic and exposed brick at every nook and turn in this uber-chic cosmopolitan hub.
Amongst the restaurants getting in on the action, Donna Bionda serves up wood-fired eats, barramundi done with an Italian twist and a decadent Nutella and caramelized banana calzone. Shaw & Co's local lobster roll with fennel remoulade and pink salt is a winner as is The Courtyard's extensive range of craft beers and ciders served with Americana-style street food. Sakana serves scrumptious sushi and The Tap House's tapas round out a list of impressive eats. And when the eating's done and you wake the next morning feeling like you've overindulged – which you will have done – the Paleo Cafe's bone broth will put a healthy zing in your step.
Verdict: A taste of Melbourne town in the tropics. http://citylane.com.au/
Man Friday Here's a top tip, always go where the locals go… and Townsville locals always make a beeline for this modest Mexican joint - complete with fairy-lit garden - on mountainous Magnetic Island. The restaurant itself might be named after one of Daniel Defoe's characters in Robinson Crusoe, but nothing will be lost in translation on this menu… which serves up a little Mexican magic on the plate alongside a Western buffet. Here, you can feast on fajitas, sip on Sangria and enjoy the company of Nelly Bay's resident possums, birds and wildlife who wonder freely through the joint. Ole!
Verdict: Nosh that's just perfect for those Girl Fridays amongst us. The alcohol selection is limited, so BYO, but the Sangria is out-of-this-world. No website
From being to bacon, Backfatters have earned their meaty reputation as purveyors of fabulous free-range pork meat in Queensland's tropical north. The super-smoky flavours of their 'cooked' signature Berkshire and Large Black breed pigs will have you salivating at first whiff but, be warned, if you visit the farm, the uncooked ones are slightly more earthy to the nose.
Hilariously, one of their porkers, by the name of Romeo, earned quite a name for himself as a ladies' man and has contributed significantly to the farm's ever-growing parcel of piglets… so much so that Townsville's finest establishments – including Jam Corner - will have you chewing the… erm… fat with Backfatters' products on their menus.
Verdict: Romeo, Romeo where for art thou on my plate, Romeo? http://www.backfatters.com/
Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms
These 1860s tea rooms are World Heritage-listed, but that's not what attracts all the attention. Here, you'll get the traditional jams and scones you'd expect from a heritage establishment, but it's not served with a weak side of tea, but rather with a taste of the exotic – Kopi Luwak (or Civet Coffee) to be precise. This is one signature is most definitely not for the faint-hearted nor the tight-of-pocket.
For the uninitiated, Kopi Luwak is coffee… but that's one rare bean that's whipping through the grinder at a lightning pace. You see, the Kopi Luwak coffee cherries are actually rendered drinkable after they pass through the digestive system of the Asian Palm Civet - a cat-like creature that lurks in South-East Asian jungles. The beans are then defecated, collected and voila! Producers claim the digestive process improves the flavour profile of the bean. If that process doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, then be prepared for a $50 per cup drink that tastes like… coffee.
Verdict: It's ethical, digestible and infinitely instagrammable. Are you keen to try this famous bean? http://heritagetearooms.com.au/
Townsville Brewery & Malt Restaurant
Pub grub this ain't! If you like your brew with a view and fresh and frothy to boot, allow the barkeep to serve up a Townsville Bitter that's been brewed and bottled just metres from where you sit. It took two skims of Malt's menu to ensure the ubiquitous pub steak sanger or fried fish 'n chips were delightfully absent… replaced instead with a beef carpaccio with baby beetroot/fennel salad and crisp bread or fresh reef fish cooked to your liking by the kitchen.
Verdict: Malt's tasting plate (starters matched with craft beers) gets three oi oi ois from us. http://www.townsvillebrewery.com.au/
Located 1500 km north of Brisbane, Townsville (North Queensland), has a population of approximately 190,000 and offers a mix of rainforests, reefs, sandy beaches and heritage outback towns seasoned with the friendly, easy going lifestyle which is a Queensland trademark.
Word Count: 948
Author: Jodi Clark
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