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Balter brewery

Gold Coast restaurants merging art and food

Marj Osborne | January 2019

These Gold Coast restaurants have teamed up with some of the country’s top artists to prove that décor plays a huge part in the dining experience.

The relationship between art and food has been a constant throughout history.

In fact, the rubble of Pompeii reveals snack bar walls embellished with paintings of the gods Mercury and Bacchus. Centuries later, impoverished hungry artists, such as Picasso and Miró, would offer their paintings in payment for a meal at Colombo d’Or in Provence.

Although food is an art in itself involving the visual, olfactory, taste and tactile senses, the restaurant’s décor plays a part in enhancing the dining experience.

Some of the Gold Coast’s most interesting restaurants are concept-driven, using art to tell a story.

Rather than being a feature which stands alone, the art complements the work of the chef much like the interplay of text and illustration in a picture book.

It’s as though the walls carry on from the art on the plate, melded together in the diner’s imagination.

We Are Gold Coast speaks to several of the artists whose work forms part of the story of Gold Coast food.

Balter Brewing

Balter means to dance artlessly without particular skill or grace, but usually with enjoyment.

Set in the industrial area of Currumbin Waters, Balter Brewery is an awe-inspiring operation; a vast industrial shed full of shining tanks as far as the eye can see.

The venue boasts hand-faced brick walls and the expansive 12-tap tasting area lit by a huge luminous mural by Brisbane-based artists Frank & Mimi.

“When we were approached by Balter to create an artwork at their Currumbin brewery, we all agreed that we couldn’t do anything less than paint something that would become iconic for the Balter brand,” says Frank & Mimi.

“Creative Director Stirling Howland provided us with three requirements in our brief – Frank & Mimi were to create a postcard-style image featuring the words “Welcome to Balter”, accompanied by the brand’s message “Hot City, Cold Beer” and their product tagline “With Enjoyment”.

“We pitched our vision to create something that reflects the classic Australian laid-back lifestyle, in honour of the four surfing legends that have a hand in the project.

“In classic Frank & Mimi style, we pulled all of these elements together and created an artwork that appears as if it’s celebrating somewhere tropical and exotic, but has roots in the Gold Coast’s very own Currumbin.”


Founded by Mitch and Nerissa McCluskey, Etsu Izakaya is a hidden treasure.

A red lantern outside the fortress-like wooden door is an auspicious symbol of good luck. As you push your way through the doorway, you are enveloped in the barrel of Hokusai’s Great Wave; a rogue ocean ‘okinami’ which runs along the restaurant.

It’s a tunnel-like cavern traversed by a long bar, with a giant bonsai flanking its side wall as the restaurant opens up into a satirical comic book mural by local artist Mark Wilson.

“I think the murals in Etsu are in a way an artistic representation of Mitch and Nerissa’s contemporary take on Japanese dishes; a fusion between traditional and modern,” he says.

“The harmonious converging of well-known Japanese elements and characters was also done in such a way to help convey the feeling of dining within the crowded and lively streets of Japan.

“Although the practical side was challenging, the aim was to create a mood that would enhance the diner’s overall experience and hopefully it’s doing just that.”

Can Tho

With the help of graphic artists Frank and Mimi, the walls and branding of Can Tho Kitchen Bar plunge diners into a stylised rendition of the family’s life story.

The lush vegetation of their homeland in the Mekong Delta (the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia), is overlooked by an imposing image of Emperor Quang Trung (one of Vietnam’s most powerful and popular leaders).

The long voyage across the sea is documented by family photos and a stamp commemorating their landing on co-owner Vien’s third birthday: ‘Australia 16 – 04 1981 Viet-Nam’. You are automatically drawn into their story.

“As with all our artworks, the colours reflect the palette of the interior, and the content celebrates the stories of the owners and their brand,” says Frank and Mimi.

“For owner Tara, her Mum is her greatest hero, as she laid a strong foundation for her and her partner Vien to follow their creative dreams.

“The artwork features a tiger as the hero image – quite fortuitous as we later found out her Mum was born in year of the tiger.

“The imagery surrounding is a combination of vintage palm trees referencing old black and white photographs of the fields during the Vietnam war, layered with actual archival imagery from their family.

“The three monks that sit proudly at the top of the artwork symbolise happiness, prosperity and longevity and mirror statues that feature in their bar.

“Throughout the restaurant, we’ve brought their family’s journey to life through artwork and invited customers to form a personal relationship with the Can Tho story.”

CHA Tea Providores

As part of the 4217 collective space in Surfers Paradise, CHA offers a modern take on a traditional high tea, and Frank & Mimi reflect this experience in a fresh and engaging design.

The duo painted two of the walls in the main dining area with a textured narrative describing the CHA journey, and how the owners first experienced the beauty of the Sri Lankan tea fields and the women who wrote those narratives through their work.

“We had a challenging journey developing this artwork with the owners, as they started out describing something totally different for the space,” says Frank & Mimi.

“Although the first draft that we had submitted was absolutely satisfying the brief, it wasn’t satisfying our vision of what we thought could be incredible in that space.

“After asking the owners to completely trust us and reworking it entirely, we developed a piercing portrait of a female Tamil tea-picker who invites viewers to construct their own stories to fill the space around her eyes and in the warp and weft of her fabric.

“In the spaces we craft a visual identity for, we’re mindful of the power of constructing a narrative and inviting patrons to relate the imagery to the narrative of the brand.

“This encourages people to connect, and ultimately the imagery becomes iconic for the space.”

Jimmy Wah’s

Diners can’t help but smile back at the two-metre high mural of Jimmy Wah, designed by local artist Mark Wilson.

“Having named their restaurant after the famous Vietnamese character from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, Jimmy Wah, owners Jake and Shelly really wanted a large portrait as a stand-alone feature,” says Wilson.

“A photorealism style with minimal colour was decided upon to reflect the simple and elegant look of the restaurant.

“Hopefully Jimmy Wah’s bright smile brings a bit of vibrancy and cheerfulness to everyone’s dining experience. That was the ultimate goal in the end.”

Box Coffee Co

A 40-foot shipping container makes a terrific little espresso bar, but there was only one problem: captivating the attention of passers-by on a busy road.

Local design studio 40/40 Creative provided the solution by covering the container in the vibrant street art of John Kaye.

It’s incentive enough for patrons to stop and relax on their journey to work, buying their coffee from the open side of an art installation.

Caffeine Kings

When Jess and James Wren moved to the Gold Coast, they found little ‘Melbourne-style’ coffee, hence the idea of starting a laneway espresso bar on the coast serving the coffee they love.

Enter Caffeine Kings, a former laundromat transformed into one of the funkiest fit outs in town.

From the street, you’ll have to look hard to find Caffeine Kings. Inside, what is otherwise a dark-walled subway-like tunnel dotted with 44-gallon drum tables and a walled servery is lifted by an amazing wall of graffiti by artist John Kaye.

As bold as the café’s dark full-bodied coffee, Kaye’s artwork completely transforms the space.

“We brought John Kaye in to produce a feature wall to replicate the art soaked walls of Melbourne Laneways,” says co-owner Jess Wren.

“We had seen a lot of John Kaye’s work so the only brief we gave him was to use lots of colour to make it pop from the otherwise black walls. You’ll notice the signature characters in all of John Kaye’s artwork.”

Cambus Wallace

Along one wall of the Cambus Wallace, Dylan Quirk’s moody mural of a frigate at war with a stormy sea reminds patrons that the sea is a cruel mistress indeed.

After she’d taken her toll on the Cambus Wallace, explosives from the wrecked ship were piled together and detonated. Storm and tides compounded their damage eroding the narrow spit of land and changing the topography of our coastline forever.

“The mural relates directly to the story of the Cambus Wallace which went down in tumultuous seas,” says the restaurant’s co-owner Dave Ferry.

“It is supposed to be a representation of that, albeit with artistic license.

“I love the movement that it brings to the space; I think the venue would be much more static without it. Somehow it just gives the place a little ‘off kilter’ feel and can really make you get lost in the bar and maybe even feel like you’re out at sea.”

Hideaway Kitchen & Bar 

Graffiti-covered walls painted by artist Jamie Cutrupi create the perfect backdrop to Vietnamese street food, setting plates against a montage of neon signs, tin roofs and brick.

“When I was approached by the owners of Hideaway Kitchen they were very loose on their idea for the art work on the restaurant walls,” says Cutrupi.

“They just said ‘bright and colourful and in a general Asian theme’. The only thing that they really insisted on was that there must be a tuk-tuk on there somewhere. The rest was up to me.

“So there was no real plan to the mural. I just started with a couple of main images I wanted to do, then I just filled in the spaces around them to create a bold and colour-filled backdrop for the restaurant. Being an Asian street food inspired menu, the back alley style graffiti mural that is a main feature on the large walls works in well to create the full atmosphere of the venue.”

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