How to dine fine on the cheap

I just don’t get it. According to a survey by those economic smarty pants at Credit Suisse, Australians are now the richest people on the planet. Yep, as of October this year, our median wealth per adult pipped the Yanks, trashed the Brits and rolled the Japanese like a perfect salmon sushi roll.

From a list of 216 countries, we are apparently the Scrooge McDucks of the world, bathing on a mountain of green backs… 355,000 of them, in fact. That’s the average wealth per grown-up Aussie.

So why don’t I feel rich? And why, 25 years after making $20 bucks go a long way as a student, do I not feel like the rest of the world sees me? Flush! Loaded! Rolling in it!

Sure I live in a lovely Queenslander, however, after I pay the mortgage and the party pack of insurance premiums needed to protect my so-called wonder life, there’s not that much left in the kitty to bend it like Buffet.

After a quarter of a century of work, I’m still stretching the dollar. So, I think it’s time to share my tips and tricks on how to fake it and be plush on a pittance, all at some of Australia’s most acclaimed counters.

Esquire, Brisbane: With an exec chef who honed his craft at the world-acclaimed El Bulli restaurant, and who now lords over Queensland’s Top Restaurant, you would expect to pay a king’s ransom to eat at Brisbane’s latest “it” restaurant, Esquire. Wrong. For a flirty taste of this riverside gem there’s a special lunch menu that’s only going to put you $40 in the red. For that, you get three tasting plates of some of the most sublime food in the country, like coal-roasted Australian Murray cod.  

Vintaged Bar + Grill, Brisbane: Ever since Conrad Hilton stepped out of his hotel with Liz Taylor on his arms, there’s been a buzz about Hilton hotels. Here in Brisbane, the buzz rages. Not so much about who the hotel GM is hanging with, more for the unbelievable lunch bargain. The one hatted Vintaged Bar + Grill boasts a $20 lunch deal. Select from one of five signature dishes and top it off with a glass of wine or a craft beer, all served with five-star aplomb.

Embassy X0, Sunshine Beach: As if locals to this stunning beach-side escape aren’t lavished enough by the location, now on Tuesday and Wednesday nights they (and anyone else) can snap up a three-course bargain for just $39.  Everyone starts with Smoky Bay oysters from South Australia and then has a choice of three mains followed by a strange dessert combination of steamed chocolate bun with chilli raspberry dipping sauce.

Little Truffle Dining Company, Gold Coast: It’s known for its surfside glamour, but tucked away behind Mermaid Beach is a restaurant that bucks the Gold Coast trend with an emphasis on sumptuous interior design lines. You may not be able to understand the language (what is an escabeche?) but you will understand the price. From Monday through to Wednesday night, enjoy a special three-course menu for 55 dollars. Meanwhile a five-course degustation menu on Friday and Saturday nights is 85 dollars.  

Veraison, Toowoomba: A long-time favourite of those foodies from the Good Food Guide, Veraison has a “2 4 Tuesday” menu which includes four courses of devine food and two glasses of wine for $59. My money is on the smoked duck breast, duck parfait, maple-glazed walnuts and pickled grapes with a raspberry dressing. Tiny tummies can try the three courses for $49 or two courses for $39.

NuNu, Palm Cove: Okay, so this is a wee bit exxy. But let’s face it if you are in Palm Cove, chances are it’s for something out of the 9–5 ordinary. So why not celebrate at NuNu, boasting a one hat award, right in front of the palm-fringed beach. The five-course degustation menu at $95 may hurt the savings, but the memory of those hot-smoked red emperor miangs topped with chilli, pomelo and green papaya radish will last more than a few name-dropping conversations.

Less acclaimed but still scrumptious deals …

  • Citrique, Marriott Surfers Paradise. Forget fish and chips by the beach, at this price you can dine in five-star luxury for not much more. Marriott Surfers Paradise has a lunch special that includes unlimited salad bar (I’m not talking grated carrot here), a main meal cooked to order plus choice of six ice-creams with a lolly-shop assortment of toppings, from $29 per person. The catch? It’s only available from Monday to Friday.
  • Bel Cibo, Port Douglas has a two-course lunch special plus a glass of wine or beer for just $29 from now through to March, 2013.
  • Reserve, Maleny. Tuck into a four-course degustation delight for only $50 on Queensland’s stunning hinterland. Add wine matching for another $30.
  • Ilposto, Brisbane. If you are after gratifying home-style Italian cooking, snaffle up two courses + wine for $27.
  • The Chelsea at The Barracks, Brisbane (one of my personal faves), has a two-course lunch deal, including a glass of wine for just $35.
  • Moo Moo The Wine Bar + Grill, Brisbane. The Monday to Thursday lunch crowd is in for a treat with a two-course feast plus a glass of wine for $45 – the normal price for a good steak at this joint.