Twenty minutes inland from the packed beachside juice bars, surf boutiques and overpriced tourist diners of Mooloolaba lies the small subtropical town of Yandina. One of the Sunshine Coast’s oldest suburbs, Yandina is part historic day trip, part unexplored getaway. In town you can tour the operational ginger factory and explore the Yandina Country Markets, while outside the CBD find waterfalls and natural swimming holes. But Yandina is still most well known for one thing: Thai restaurant, Spirit House.
Opened in 1995, the restaurant tucked away off the Bruce Highway has been awarded one hat in the Good Food Guide every year for the last 10 years. The striking South Asian-influenced fit-out has diners sitting on a bright red balcony overlooking a quiet pond, with stone, bamboo and wood interiors keeping the interior natural and inviting.
Restaurant manager Jessica Da Costa says when the owners of Spirit House, Helen and Peter Brierly, first bought the property in the ’90s it was just an empty paddock. “There were none of the lush tropical gardens we have now,” says Da Costa. “It’s grown so much, and we’re adding new things all the time.”
But it’s what’s happening in the kitchen that has made Spirit House such a destination restaurant. The core of Spirit House’s food offerings is beautiful, refined Asian cooking with a modern twist. Think seared Hervey Bay scallops with nam prik ong (a Thai curry) and pork floss, Tasmanian salmon cooked in banana leaf with sweet fish sauce and aromatic miang herbs, and a compressed cucumber and pineapple salad with lime and peanuts.
“We try to stay close to our roots and keep those delicate and complex Asian flavours central to the menu,” says Da Costa. “We also offer public food tours to Thailand, India and Myanmar, and our chefs often come along on those tours to keep up with what’s happening in street food there and stay inspired.”
Original head chef Annette Fear still works in the on-site cooking school, as well as co-authoring Spirit House’s cookbooks and providing support for the kitchen team. As innovative as the chefs are, Da Costa says there are some things on the menu that can never be messed with. “The crispy whole tamarind fish has been on the menu since we opened,” she says. “We tried to take it off a couple of time and there was such an uproar we put it straight back on.”
This year Spirit House opened the Hong Sa Bar, a sleek, moody space for snacks, cocktails and private functions. Da Costa says it was a long time coming. “We’ve been planning and building the bar and private dining room for years,” she says. “There was such a demand for a place where people could stop by more casually.”
Opening a restaurant 90 minutes’ drive from Brisbane in 1995 was a brave leap of faith. But it’s paid off dramatically. Not just for Spirit House, but for the town of Yandina, and the Sunshine Coast as a whole. “Back in the early days there would have been a lot of meals where the restaurant was empty and we were struggling to fill up the cooking school classes,” says Da Costa. “You would have to drive for a long time, it wasn’t particularly easy to find, and there was no public transport at all. But by being persistent with doing everything to an exceptional standard, we’ve become such a destination that the services and infrastructure has developed around us. It makes it so much easier now for people to visit.”
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