Overlooking the jade lagoon we sat peacefully listening to the canopy of bamboo leaves gently rustling in the breeze. Hypnotic gamelan music was softly pealing throughout the pavilion and there was an exotic scent of burning incense hanging in the air. Buddhist effigies were hiding shyly among the lush tropical garden, reminding visitors about the quiet spirituality pervading this popular destination. We could have been in any number of idylls across south-east Asia, yet we were just a 30 minute drive from the holiday strip of Hastings Street in Noosa Heads, Queensland and we were about to order lunch.
I had longed to dine at the Spirit House in Yandina for more years than I can remember. For some reason though, the stars had never aligned, and on each holiday visit to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast I had missed out. Until last week, while on a pre-Christmas break in Noosa, I was determined to get there and I can tell you it was utterly worth the wait.
Shown to our private table overlooking the lagoon, I had just sat down when a boisterous water dragon scratched his way through the leafy undergrowth, stopping abruptly on the ledge of a small garden wall right next to me. He was so very near that I half expected him to crawl into my lap but he simply sat there for a good half hour enjoying our conversation and company and posing for photos as we sipped an aperitif and perused the menu. Our charming waiter explained that the water dragon’s name is ‘Rex’ and that he is one of a rather large lounge of lizards squatting in the restaurant grounds. Our waiter also pointed out ‘Ernie’ the oversized duck sitting on the opposite bank of the lagoon. Ernie lives in a waterfront hut – lucky duck – and has been in residence at the Spirit House since it opened 16 years ago. Small turtles and large eels also cohabitate in an arrangement that can only be described as a true menagerie!
Returning our attention to lunch and the menu, our waiter expertly guided us in choosing a selection to suit our appetites and tastes. The Spirit House menu, which is Asian inspired in case you had not guessed, has a strong leaning towards Thai cuisine and each of the dishes is designed to be shared. From bite-sized starters to substantial mains and all things in between the menu encourages diners to taste a variety of dishes in one visit.
On the smaller side of things we ordered the Crispy Bangalow Pork Belly with Citrus Caramel and the Crunchy White Fish with Apple Salad and Green Nahm Jim (a gluten free dish of which there are several to chose as well as plenty of vegetarian options). The pork was incredible – two pieces of sticky and tender belly with the fat rendered out leaving melt in the mouth meat – served with a fresh arrangement of sweet and sour dressed herbs, peanuts and chilli to cut through any richness. On the flipside the crispy fish dish was light and airy and definitely sized for sharing. When ordering, our waiter had explained the intricacies of the dish and its unique cooking process and we were intrigued. The fish is dried and powdered and made into light crispy cakes over which you pour the Nahm Jim dressing at your will. It was a great palate awakener. On the menu I was also tempted by the ‘Miang’ or betel leaves served with Cured Blacktail Kingfish, Watermelon, Mint and Lime but I just don’t do watermelon. Next visit though, I am definitely going to try the Wok Seared Scallops with Sweet Corn Salted Chilli and Coconut. Don’t they sound wonderful?
For second course we could not go past the Red Curry of Crispy Duck with Snake Beans, Pineapple and Lychees. We ordered a small bowl of rice on the side and on our waiter’s recommendation we also ordered the Som Tum – a classic Green Paw Paw salad – and a glass of Pinot Grigio to match.
The duck is served with three generous pieces of meat and our waiter said he could add in a fourth to stop any fights. We settled on three and agreed to share. The curry was mild in terms of heat and I just loved the addition of sweet lychees and pineapple pieces. There was great depth and balance to the sauce and our waiter said he would not tell anyone if I wanted to drink the leftovers from the bowl! The Som Tum was a perfect balance to the duck – a bit more on the spicier side – it was fresh and zingy and a great companion to the coconut rich curry. We spied a neighbouring table enjoy the Whole Crispy Fish served with Chilli Tamarind Sauce which is a must try next visit – it looks ghoulish and spectacular at the same time.
We skipped dessert on account that we were in Noosa for a week and there was plenty of eating to do but, had there been room, we were tempted by the Nitro Banana Mousse with Soy Chocolate Ice-cream, Spiced Butter Banana and Peanut Salted Caramel. Oh my!
If choosing your own dishes is a task too difficult, and I could appreciate this as the menu is all so outstandingly tempting, there are two banquet options available – Classic and Vegetarian – and these can be paired with wine.
We were lunching on a regular Tuesday and the restaurant was entirely full with some tables taking two sittings. Whether it’s for lunch (seven days a week) or dinner (Wednesdays – Sundays) you definitely need to make a reservation and this can be done conveniently online at www.spirithouse.com.au I can only imagine how spectacular the restaurant grounds must look at night lit with tea lights, torches and fairy lights throughout. You can also book courtyard spaces for private parties and the restaurant is, of course, a popular wedding reception venue.
If Asian inspired cooking interests you, Spirit House is equally known for its cooking class programme. The four-hour classes, held almost every day, cost $150 and include a shared meal of the food prepared http://www.spirithouse.com.au/school Something to add to the ‘must do’ list.
Several times a year Spirit House chefs also offer Food Tours in Thailand and India. http://www.spirithouse.com.au/foodtours Ok – I’ll add one of those to the list too.
Next time you are on the Sunshine Coast, I recommend taking a short detour to Yandina’s Spirit House for a Thai inspired lunch or dinner. The setting and menu will make you feel like you are in an oriental idyll and the service is exceptional.