Townsville is smack-bang in the middle of a gourmet food bowl that is producing a range of world-class foods to suit every taste bud and budget. From the graziers and their herds of cattle in the west to the local fisherman who give us bounds of succulent seafood fresh from the reef. We’ve slowly upgraded from fish and chips on The Strand to gourmet dishes prepared by hatted chefs. Yet some of us are so blissfully unaware as to just how good we have it. This is why we decided to delve into Townsville’s evolving food culture.
The evolution of our industry
One of the big changes our food industry has seen is the shift in focus to healthy eating. This is where SqueezeMe – who introduced Townsville to its very first acai bowl– excels. “We’ve come a long way from the small country town that Townsville was once considered and the emphasis on healthy eating is only going to get bigger,” says owner and one half of the sister duo at SqueezeMe, Katie Sellars. “In just two and a half years, our growth has seen us move into a space twice the size as our previous location to keep up with demand. Of course, the other side of this is that as we’ve expanded, we’ve been able to employ more local staff.” As well as supporting local employment SqueezeMe also supports local farmers, bakers and other small food businesses.
In addition to the changing trend in food, A Touch of Salt Proprietor and Events and Catering Manager, Mark Brine, says that “diners have, over the years, become more inquisitive and adventurous in selecting dishes they may have hesitated ordering 10 years ago.”
It’s not just our food focus and appreciation that has changed in the past couple of years either. Modern restaurants like Rambutan have set the benchmark for design and atmosphere thanks to their unique styling and delightful open aired restaurant that overlooks a resort-style pool and on-site smoke house (a foodie first for our city!). “I like to ensure that our guests’ experience is always memorable by delivering great food, great atmosphere and ensuring we have great local talent working here,” says General Manager Chris Hanson. He also notes that other restaurants he visits are really making waves in the industry too. “Each venue I frequent in Townsville is always willing to try something new and challenge themselves to create excellent cuisine to rival anyone in the major cities.”
IMC Steakhouse Manager, Katherine Leslie, says she couldn’t agree more.
“Townsville’s food scene has rapidly evolved over the previous 24 months,” she says. “Increasing diversity in cuisine, enhanced atmospheric and design concepts, specialty beverage selections and heightening service standards have set an ever increasing expectation amongst diners. It’s a strong community who’ve come to a point where there’s no margin for giving anything less than one hundred percent.”
Paddock to plate
IMC have also taken advantage of our country’s exceptional range of beef – but not in the way you think. “IMC challenges the notion that quality Australian steaks, produce and seafood need be justified with prices inflated out of what most of us deem reasonable,” says Katherine. “Redefining these ideals has opened the previously exclusive scene to what is now a loyal and supportive following.” This admirable set of standards has also cemented them as city favourites and positively shocked those from larger cities who see the inflated prices as ‘part of the package’ when it comes to steakhouses.
Perhaps the most exhaustive example of “best and freshest” comes from Townsville’s newest addition to the food scene Otto’s Fish Market. The new marketplace is truly shaking up the fresh seafood game in Townsville with its live supply of seafood. Here you’ll find locally farmed barramundi, coral trout, redclaw crayfish and so much more in their freshest forms – but only while they’re in season.
“They do rate our redclaw as a premium product,” says Joe Maurer from Maurclaw as he talks about his Sydney buyers. “It was even served in the Sydney Opera House at intermission.”
Adhering to Otto’s motto to support local farming and industry, Otto’s Fish Market is dishing up the very best from the north’s primary producers, celebrating our coastline and all it has to offer. This will also include freshly shucked oysters, the introduction of “tank to wok” cooking, sushi and the return of Warrina’s fish and chip legend, Kon.
From mouth-watering Madagascan king prawns to award-winning dishes, Townsville has certainly come into its own in the fine dining sector, with restaurants such as The Pier and A Touch of Salt plating up dishes that would brighten the eyes of any connoisseur. “The Pier is Townsville’s ultimate seafood destination,” says Shannon Charles, the restaurant’s owner. With a steady flow of local fresh-from-the-reef seafood, Shannon says their customers have come to love and expect “amazing, fresh seafood with a modern Australian twist” – something her chefs love exploring and experimenting with.
If your cravings are centred towards tender slow-roasted goat or Szechuan roasted duck, then some fine dining indulgence at A Touch of Salt where dishes are “created and served by Townsville locals with a passion for the hospitality industry” is a must. “We have a unique food and beverage offering which often extends our diners’ tastes and entices them to explore new ingredients or dishes,” says Mark as he takes us through the eclectic menu which is equal to any gourmet experience found across Australia’s leading capital cities.
Despite the delectable options available, both A Touch of Salt and The Pier agree that Townsville’s food scene is still growing and evolving which is incredible news for food lovers who love a challenge.
There’s a lot of unique aspects about Townsville: our weather, our diverse mix of produce and our people. One place that effortlessly mixes all of these together is Rambutan. Their onsite smoke house and rooftop bar create a remarkably fun atmosphere which is amplified by our brilliant North Queensland weather. Take a bite of their juicy smoke house meats – which are cooked on low heat for up to 18 hours – and mix it with a dip in their resort pool whilst soaking in our famous Townsville sunshine or stare in wonder at the aerial views of our city. It’s a sense of wonder that only a rooftop restaurant can bring.
Another master of the rooftop is Cactus Jacks Saloon, which originated on Palmer Street nearly 30 years ago and now has five restaurants spread across Queensland. The “Tex-Mex” cuisine, eye for fun and great times has made it a staple in Townsville’s food culture.
“Cactus transports you away from the usual dining scene experience,” says Manager Megan Adams, as she talks about her customers’ love for getting their “Cactus fix”. “We introduced a unique menu to Townsville combining Texan and Mexican flavors, served with international beers, cocktails and margaritas,” she adds. Cactus Saloon on Flinders Street is renowned for offering delicious dining throughout the evening, then presenting the town with a wickedly good time that outshines neighbouring clubs after dark.
The city’s mix of eclectic food choices haven’t gone unnoticed by local radio hosts either. Cliffo from Townsville’s Hit 103.1 says that Townsville has “all the continents covered”.
“Food in North Queensland,” Cliffo says, gesturing around him with a grin. “It’s alive, it’s vibrant. Taste. Colour. We’ve got it all.”
“If you want decent Italian, Brazilian, Mexican, Chinese or Asian food – it’s all here in beautiful, tropical North Queensland. It’s a real pleasure to live in a place with a scene so vibrant,” he says.
His co-host Loggy, who hails from Melbourne (“the foodie capital” of Australia) can’t help but agree. “The food here is just as good as you would find in any major capital city… or around the world!” she says, enthusiasm bursting through in every word. “It’s zesty, it’s fresh and I’m honestly never disappointed, no matter where I go,” she adds.
It’s obvious from the passion in their voices that these two are head over heels in love with our food industry. Yet they both agree that some locals still struggle to see it. Loggy sums this up in one perfect sentence. “You really have to make the most of the food, the culture and everything else here in our town. Grasp it – it’s right here in front of you!”
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to head out and get a taste of Townsville. After all, the food is bountiful and the service is sublime!