A feast for Queensland food and wine lovers

RACQ food writer Kerry Heaney takes you on a bite-by-bite journey tasting Queensland’s most interesting eats from the Granite Belt and Sunshine Coast to Stradbroke Island.

It’s strawberry season on the Granite Belt

Jon and Bernadine Carmichael, Brendon and Asheigh Hoyle from Ashbern Farms. Photo Fran Flynn

It’s sweet pickings on the Granite Belt with the start strawberry season, so visitors can pick their own from Stanthorpe’s Ashbern Farms commercial fields.
“The cold nights and warm days have been ideal for the fruit now being picked, really enhancing the sweetness,” Ashbern Farms co-owner Brendon Hoyle said.
“Having come through a very dry and cold winter in Stanthorpe, the picking season has kicked off with some welcome relief to the dry spell.
"We received 50mm of rain on the farm in the last week and the 13 hectares of strawberries are looking very strong with good flower set.”
According to Brendon, what surprises most strawberry farm visitors is the taste of the fruit. 
“Strawberries taste so much better at room temperature and even better when they have been in the sun," he said.
"They taste very different when they are straight off the farm and we often we see families where kids have said they don’t like strawberries but are converted when they have tried the fresh one.”  
Public strawberry picking is open at Ashbern Farms Wednesday to Sunday, 9am to 4.30pm, from October to May and admission is free. Find the farm just off the New England Highway at Stanthorpe, about two hour’s drive from Brisbane.  

Alejandro Cancino with staff at his newly opened café, Lola’s Pantry.

Top chef opens Sunshine Coast café

Now based on the Sunshine Coast, former executive chef at Brisbane’s only three-hatted restaurant, Urbane, Alejandro Cancino has opened his own café, Lola’s Pantry.
Alejandro brings experience from working in some of the world’s top-ranking restaurants and his passion for plant-based cuisine to the new venue which has opened in Kuluin near Maroochydore. 
With a menu filled with gnocchi with mushrooms and broad beans, scrambled tofu on toast and a selection of salads and savoury tarts, it will change the way you view vegan food.
“We don’t advertise this as plant-based or vegan, there is nothing on the sign, we just want it to be good food that happens to be vegan,” Alejandro said.
“It will be food that I am proud of in terms of the flavour and the ethics behind the ingredients.”
Alejandro relocated to the Sunshine Coast in 2018 with his wife Paola and their 13-month-old daughter, Lola, who the café is named after.
“Every time I do something on the menu I will be thinking of her - would I serve this to her and would I be happy if she eats this,” Alejandro said.
Lola’s Pantry is located at 4 Melaleuca Street, Kuluin and is open for breakfast and lunch 8.30am-3.30pm Tuesday-Saturday. The café is also open Saturday nights from 5.30pm with a feast-style menu. Bookings are required. In late October, a Friday night "comfort food" menu will be available from 5.30pm. No bookings required.

Angelo Puglisi in the vineyard at Ballandean Estate.

50 years of shiraz at Ballandean

Queensland’s oldest family-owned and operated winery, Ballandean Estate Wines, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its shiraz plantings on November 10.
Back in 1968, Angelo Puglisi’s vision to develop a commercial wine industry in the Granite Belt region saw him planting a block of shiraz vines with his wife, Mary.
It was a brave decision to convert from table grapes to wine grapes and the start of the Puglisi’s winemaking future. Lovingly nurtured over the years, these vines now produce the Opera Block Shiraz, an award-winning wine with refined, elegant with intense fruit flavours typical of a cool climate profile.
Join Ballandean Estate on Saturday, 10 November at the Opera Block for a vineyard party celebrating 50 years of growing Shiraz.
Guests can enjoy music by David and Sarah Hume, lunch with dessert prepared by the Barrelroom Restaurant, a glass of sparkling on arrival and glass of Shiraz with the Puglisi family in the original plantings of the vineyard. Event tickets are $40 per person and a shuttle bus is available $15 return. Bookings are required - call 46841226. 

Enjoy fresh local oysters

Oyster lovers should mark 17 November in their diaries, when Stradbroke Island hosts its Oyster Festival.
Ron Stark Oval at Dunwich, which is within walking distance of the ferry wharf, will be filled with stalls selling delicious local Stradbroke oysters. This year, you will be able to buy a dozen oysters for just $14. 
As well as oysters fresh from the ocean, there will be stalls selling oysters Kilpatrick and mornay. 
If you want to take your oysters and prawns home, don’t forget to bring a cooler bag to keep them fresh.