Taste of elegance in the Queensland outback

Decadent dining experience offered in remote Queensland location.

A remote speck in the Queensland outback is not where you would expect to be able to enjoy a high-tea experience normally reserved for swanky establishments in big cities.

But that is what you can expect at Elegant Emu in Adavale, home to 15 people “on a good day” and located 100km north of Quilpie and 1000km west of Brisbane.

The ambitious venture was the dream of Cristina Zito and her husband Les.

It evolved after they acted on their love of the Queensland outback and bought a house in Adavale for $6500. 

“My husband and I just liked going on holidays in the outback and we bought this house 20 years ago with the romantic intention of renovating it with recycled materials and all that sort of stuff,” Cristina (below) said.

Cristina Zito

The historic house was built in 1927 and sits in Adavale’s former hospital precinct.

In its heyday it was the doctor’s residence.

It soon became obvious to Cristina and Les that renovating the dust-filled, long-neglected home was not going to be an easy task, particularly as they were still living in Mullumbimby.

Ten years after the purchase, the couple moved to Adavale to fully commit to the challenging renovation.

It was during the renovation that Cristina began dreaming of starting a “cosy little high tea joint”.

Elegant Emu exterior.

She dreamed of “pretty petite pastries, delicate madeleines, rich chocolate thingies, pastel tea sets, champagne flutes or red wine… all set amongst my designer handbags with a background of music, chit chat and laughter”.  

The couple began making the vision of Elegant Emu a reality about three years ago when they started selling home-made bread, biscuits and confectionery.

“The year after we added coffee and cake,” Cristina said.

“This year we started serving full high teas, pastries and premium morning teas… or people can pop in for cake and a coffee. Next year we are going to start doing lunches.”

It has not been an easy road for the couple, with COVID-19 causing a false start to their business’s latest expansion.

Elegant Emu interior.

“The council health inspector came and we paid our fees on St Patrick’s Day (17 March) and two weeks later we had to close,” Cristina said.

Since re-opening in July, Elegant Emu has been a magnet for locals and visitors looking to experience a touch of high society in the Queensland outback.

“We’ve been getting a lot of attention and a lot of interest considering we have had a significant reduction in travellers with so many outback events cancelled and the borders closed,” Cristina said.

“The high teas are booked up on weekends and we get quite a few people popping in for a cappuccino and something sweet to eat.”

The “locals” come from nearby towns like Quilpie, Goondiwindi, Charleville and Blackall but they have also had guests from farther afield, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Elegant Emu dessert.

“Adavale is a remnant town of dust and hotch-potch buildings that makes no sense the way it is laid out, and then you find the Elegant Emu,” Cristina said.

“It is a delightful world of colour – a charming little medley of patisserie, fair trade boutique and outback Queensland.

“Everything is made by hand. Even the shop displays and furniture are made by Les from bits and pieces and interesting finds collected from around Adavale.”

Cristina said she designs the handbags for sale at Elegant Emu and online and has them made in Guatemala by local women using traditional backstrap weaving methods and under fair trade principles.

“I wanted a unique product of my own and, being a bit of a fashionista with a serious ethical attitude, I found the wonderful women at Maya Traditions and Cristina For Fair Trade handbags were created,” she said.

Maya Traditions Foundation is a non-profit social enterprise which helps traditional weavers in Guatemala access national and international markets.

Elegant Emu tarts.

“From outback Queensland to Guatemala, you get the best handbags ever from Adavale’s only fashion designer,” Cristina said.

Despite some challenges living in an isolated location, like “not being able to order pizza on Friday nights”, Cristina and Les have no regrets.

“If you had asked me eight years ago, I would have said this was a huge mistake,” Cristina said.

“Now it is what we wanted and we should have started this earlier.”

Elegant Emu is open seven days from March to October but check their Facebook page if you are planning to drop in. Cristina closes one day a month to make a trip to Quilpie for gas.

“I would hate for someone to drive from Charleville or Quilpie just to see a ‘closed’ sign,” she said.