Just before Christmas I had the opportunity to be a tourist in my own backyard when I was invited* to enjoy the hospitality of Hilton Surfers Paradise and visit Luke Mangan’s Salt Bistro. Quite a few years ago, I stayed in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast in what was one of the first ever Schoolies Weeks. Several *ahem* years later, not a lot has changed. Sure, the buildings are taller but there are still gaggles of tourists coming to enjoy the white sand beach and rolling surf of Surfers Paradise.
Hilton Surfers Paradise could not be more centrally situated, a hop step and jump from bustling Cavill Avenue. Just under five years old, the hotel is a combination of rooms and self-contained apartments. We were staying in a Sky Residence apartment on the 41st floor with sweeping views over the beach and out towards Southport to the north (confusing I know) and Burleigh Heads to the south.
Our residence was well-appointed with all the things you need for a comfortable stay including large beds, a spacious bathroom, crockery, cutlery, a washer and dryer and, as my travel companion pointed out, a vacuum cleaner. That’s one thing I could holiday without. I was pleased to see cotton robes and good quality toiletries. The mandarin body was a delicious way to rinse off the pool chlorine. The residence was remarkably well soundproofed with no noise from the common areas or lifts and the blackout curtains in the bedroom also did their job the next morning. As a frequent business traveller these small details make a huge difference in the quality of a stay and contribute significantly to my decision about return bookings.
A quick visit to the pool deck in the afternoon revealed two swimming areas, with a large central pool and quieter pool off to one side. The larger pool had seats built into one side so you could enjoy the water without being in the middle of the action. With plenty of deck chairs and seating undercover for sun and shade seekers alike, it was a popular spot with families in the late afternoon.
Tip: Towels can be hard to come by in the pool area so bring a spare from your room, to be on the safe side.
Breakfast was a buffet, taken in Salt Grill. The peak breakfast period on weekends is around 9am so you might want to sneak in a little earlier. There was the usual hot and cold breakfast fare including cereals, bacon and, eggs cooked to order. The buffet is regularly topped up and tidied, meaning a leisurely breakfast is possible without needing to rush for the last waffle. A selection of Asian breakfast items including congee, cold pickles and rice were also on offer. After some fruit, a soothing bowl of miso was just the ticket to restore some electrolytes after an evening of wining and dining. One final cup of coffee on our balcony watching the first surf class of the day on the beach below and it was time to depart and return to the real world of living at sea level.
Tip: With 50+ floors in the hotel, consider checking out 30 minutes earlier if you can to avoid long waits for lifts.
Hilton Surfers Paradise
6 Orchid Avenue
Surfers Paradise Qld 4217
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
I don’t think of the Gold Coast when it comes to destination dining. Beaches, yes. Fine Dining, no. So I was a little surprised to learn that Luke Mangan has established a Queensland outpost at Hilton Surfers Paradise. Like his other ventures, Salt Grill focuses on seasonal ingredients. Dishes are simple and elegant with no need to rely on tricks or illusions to impress diners. This is not to say they don’t have interesting techniques or presentation but the key ingredient always holds the starring role.
The dining room is large, seating over 150 people however we were tucked behind the wine room, creating an intimate space to enjoy* a degustation of the best that Salt Grill had to offer. Our menu had seven courses starting with Hiramasa Kingfish Sashimi, ginger, shallot and feta. This is one of Luke’s signature dishes. Delicate slices of fresh kingfish, lightly dressed in vinegar, soy, olive oil and zingy fresh ginger. Just a few small morsels that left the palate cleansed for the meal ahead. What a delight it was.
Another dish of Crumbed Buffalo Mozzarella, charred asparagus and truffle oil featured just two simple spears of asparagus atop a small ball of crumbed mozzarella. When cut, the cheese was soft and chewy without oiliness. A tangy grape chutney provided a contrast to the cheese and asparagus. Wagyu short rib in a sticky chilli jus was tender and incredibly rich. The papaya, peanut and pickled cucumber salad freshened the dish with the perfect spicy citrus dressing that left the lips humming and coming back for more.
After the cheese course, we finished on Assiette dessert tasting plate featuring a deceptively light as air churro, a small but rich peanut, caramel and chocolate ice cream bite and very generous crème brûlée with a pleasing crack when hit with a spoon. A glass of 2008 Sauternes from Bordeaux sealed the deal.
Dishes were expertly paired with wines from Australia and further afield. The cleverest pairing was a Barossa Valley 2008 Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillion with the asparagus. With its distinct flavour, this is not an easy ingredient to match but the acidity in the Semillion cut through the creamy mozzarella and complemented the herbaceous asparagus. Service was top notch. Discreet and knowledgeable when questions were posed about wines or meal ingredients.
The menu is updated each quarter to reflect the changing seasons though perennial favourites such as the Kingfish are always included.
Tip: Licorice Parfait w Lime Syrup is another Mangan signature dish. Be sure to order it if it’s on the menu.
Though Luke has a number of restaurants and projects that he has put his name to, he is still very much involved in the oversight of them. On the weekend I visited, he was flying in on the Sunday to spend time with the kitchen and do a service with them. Overseas travellers often wonder what typifies Australian cuisine. If I were taking an overseas guest to a restaurant that reflected contemporary Australian cuisine, Salt Grill would be high on the list. Fine Dining on the Gold Coast? Indeed. Simple, fresh and in a perfect location for a visit to the beach afterwards.
Hilton Surfers Paradise
*TIFFIN stayed among the clouds on the Gold Coast and enjoyed the delights of Salt Grill as a media guest of Hilton Surfers Paradise and PEPR Publicity. All meals, activities and accommodation were supplied.