A jewel in the crown of the Sunshine Coast’s burgeoning food scene, Popina in Eumundi takes southern European fare and revitalises it into spectacular modern cuisine.
Towards the southern end of Eumundi, a market town in the Sunshine Coast, the twinkle of fairy lights, the tinkle of jazz and a sprinkle of laughter from al fresco diners draw us to the courtyard restaurant of Popina.
We find our table beneath the trees that sparkle with their little lights and soak up the friendly atmosphere before turning our attention to the menus.
Historically, a popina was a wine bar in Ancient Rome that had a simple menu of food done well.
It’s a vibe that this Popina has nailed.
Mind you, though the menu may be simple, the food most certainly isn’t, which is impressive as husband-and-wife team Penny and Alex are the only staff running Popina.
Check out Popina and our other top tips for where to eat in our video here:
Penny runs front of house, which she does with incredible ease using her deep understanding of the restaurant business.
In fact, the last time we met was in 2014, when she worked at Rockpool in Sydney. That’s how good she is. I mean how many wait staff can you remember from a busy restaurant almost ten years ago?
Meanwhile from the open kitchen, we glimpse Alex as he single-handedly commands the kitchen, prepping, cooking and plating every dish to emerge.
With a focus on local seasonal organic produce, Popina’s menu is ever-changing. In fact, there’s even a page in the menu book that details some of the produce Alex and Penny are currently using, from the eggs and tomatoes to the bread and herbs to the beer, gin and coffee*.
It means that what Alex is cooking one week may well disappear from the kitchen the next, which keeps things fresh and interesting for everyone—no less the chef himself.
From a choice of five entrees, we go for the buffalo mozzarella with fresh figs, basil and balsamic—a characteristically simple dish but one that’s perfectly seasoned and plated, and with a freshness that sings.
We also order the hiramasa kingfish tartare, which I’ve never heard of before and that’s a lighter version of classic beef tartare. The dish comes with pickled tomato, gazpacho granita, capers and chilli salt, and extra little details like tiny geranium leaves and radish sliced so thin it’s see-through.
Our mains, of which there are four to choose from, consist of a beautiful crispy-skinned fillet of hiramasa kingfish with wilted cavalo nero, crispy pancetta and the most incredibly silky creamy cauliflower puree.
The generous plate of Fraser Isle spanner crab spaghettini is piled high and perfectly seasoned. Bright citrus and parsley elevate the tender crab that thrives throughout this dish.
The fine-strand pasta brings a unique elegance to the dish while the chunky baby plum tomatoes cooked through with a delicate jus and chilli oil make sure there’s plenty of body to this delightful dish.
From the three sides on offer, we choose the roast rosemary potatoes (of course we do!) and we choose wisely. Actually, it’s Penny who puts us onto this, explaining the potatoes are quadruple-cooked!
Boiled, then roasted, then when they’re ready to serve, they’re roasted again then fried. Crisp on the outside yet almost gooey in the middle and with plenty of rosemary and crystal salt, these spuds are not to be missed.
Somehow we manage to consider the dessert menu, and we’re glad we did.
Christina’s chocolate semifreddo (you know how much she loves a semifreddo) is like a frozen bar of delicate chocolate topped with quenelles of cherry sorbet and vanilla gelato, then dusted with bunya nut powder. Elegant, opulent and delicious.
My affogato is beautifully served. The scoops of chocolate-dusted vanilla gelato are in a tumbler next to a smaller glass of espresso, while the frangelico comes in a tiny crystal cut old fashioned glass for me to assemble at my leisure.
It’s a meal we’re not likely to forget for all the right reasons, and makes us want to come back to Eumundi again soon to see what else Alex and Penny are serving next.
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*The eggs are from pasture-fed free-range chickens at Bunya Grove in Amamoor, the tomatoes from Noosa Reds in Doonan and the organic sourdough actually comes from Tanglewood Bakery in Noosa.
Fall’s Farm in Mapleton provides the herbs and veggies though some also come from Eumundi Farm Fresh and the rosemary comes from the garden of Alex and Penny’s neighbour Trudy, and the beer and spirits come from Noosa. The coffee is from Eumundi Coffee Co just up the street.