Restaurant Awards

Wine Bar of the Year: Paloma

Gold Coast, Qld.

Photo: Kenny Smith

Kenny Smith

There are bars where booze is the main focus and food barely gets a look-in. And bars where it’s all about the snacks, and drinks seem almost an afterthought. Then, there’s diminutive Paloma, a buzzy Gold Coast Goldilocks of a bar in beachy Burleigh Heads, which appears almost effortlessly to get the balance just right.

Of course, lineage helps. When Paloma’s owners chef Alex Munoz Labart and wife Karla kicked off nearby Restaurant Labart in 2018, it was hailed not just for its refined, produce-forward, mod bistro-style fare, but also for its adventurous largely minimal intervention wine list.

Paloma, which opened last November, continues the charge. Conceived originally as a neighbourhood bar, the Munoz Labarts hoped the tiny tenancy on bustling James Street would become a groovy spot where locals could congregate, and a cool setting for Labart diners in search of well-considered pre and post drinks.

But it’s fair to say, it’s evolved into something more significant. In months it’s become a destination which, like Labart, is helping reshape tired assumptions about the Gold Coast. If you’re after dinner, Labart remains the best go-to. But Paloma’s snacks will give you compelling reasons to linger longer while you explore just one more glass. It’s no disrespect to Paloma’s impressive nature-friendly drinks roundup to say the bar’s small plates give these mainly small-batch choices a run for their money – particularly when Munoz Labart personally mans the pans.

The food options aren’t overly tricky. Simply listed on a single page, they morph regularly. It’s an offer anchored by traditional favourites – perhaps great oysters with a sharp mignonette dressing, beef tartare, a juicy steak frites with peppercorn sauce, the perfectly proportioned La burger or occasionally, a lobster sandwich. Classic snacks-with-a-twist ensure interest levels stay high, supple folds of jamon Iberico come out dialled up with brightly pickled pimenta de bico, or there’s a Labart carry over – creamy burrata with strawberry, cucumber and basil oil. A recent standout addition is the buttery, deeply savoury caramelised onion tart, dished with an umami-boosting tonnato sauce and olives. In general? Expect a tasty, textural, fat, salt and umami party that shows off Paloma’s nuanced list to advantage.

The cocktail list is tight – just five house drinks, with classics on request. By the glass wine choices are equally strategic – perhaps Flora, a riesling blend from Austrian natural maker Michael Gindl, or a low-fi skin-contact trebbiano by Umbria’s Cantino Margò. Or maybe a Slovenian barbera or a glass of Bodegas Exopto’s easy drinking Rioja. Going by the bottle? A page of pet-nats and another swag of chilled reds present the perfect matches to Paloma’s elevated coastal fun times vibe.

Housed in a long, slender tenancy that subtly evokes the southern Mediterranean, the floor team under bar managers Elisa Rodrigues and James Burrell is as efficient as it’s friendly and welcoming. The venue’s no-booking policy is predictably smart. It may mean you have to take a walk or two around the block before securing a seat. But it will be worth the wait.

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