When casinos were popping up around Australia through the ’80s and ’90s, punters were keen to visit just to discover a new way to gamble. Forget fine dining, the roulette wheel alone was the height of sophistication.
Since those early days, a casino needs to offer more than a dance with Lady Luck to get people through the door; gambling dens have turned into entertainment complexes.
This shift hasn’t been lost on the management of Jupiters Hotel and Casino. Like many of the trim and tanned body-conscious locals who strut the sands of the Gold Coast, the complex is getting a touch of cosmetic surgery. A six-star luxury hotel tower in front of the current hotel is in the works, with an eye to being finished by the 2018 Commonwealth Games being held in the city.
You don’t have to wait until the $345 million overhaul is finished to see where some of the money has gone. The hotel has already opened a stylish new pool area with private cabanas and two restaurants: Kiyomi and Cucina Vivo.
On a busy Saturday night at Jupiters the gaming floor is crowded and the dance floor packed as a covers band plays ’90s hits. Looking down at the partying from a balcony above, it’s hard to imagine stepping into a refined dining experience. A 2am kebab seems more in order.
But once you walk into Kiyomi the mood shifts. A fluorescent artwork by Japanese street artist Houxo Que catches the eye at the end of the room, contrasting with dim lighting and dark wooden furnishings that soften the mood. As noise of the revellers below drifts up from below and you catch a flash of strobes from the dance floor, it feels like you could be high above the neon-lit streets of the Shinjuku district.
Chase Kojima, who started his trade as a teen in his father’s San Francisco restaurant and went up to work for Nobu at locations across the globe, heads up Kiyomi, his second venture in Australia. His assured hand with the finest of seafood, which made his Sokyo at Sydney’s Star so popular, is on show here again. It would be easy to let the kitchen save on the gas bill and go raw all the way, the sashimi on offer is so good, but that would mean missing out on revelations like the tempura Moreton Bay bug and the wagyu that puts the tender in tenderloin.
While Kojima delights with his flavours and textures throughout the courses, playing fast and loose with his interpretation of Japanese cuisine, it’s with dessert that he really lets go. There’s green tea mochi “ravioli” stuffed with strawberry ice-cream and the Yamazaki Caramel Macchiato, with a clever layering of coffee ice-cream and cocoa nibs, topped with whisky foam – if you’re sharing it, get ready for a spoon duel over the last scoop.
The sense of creativity and playfulness in these dishes gives promise that Kojima won’t get stuck in a rut and that his restaurant will warrant return visits.
The Yang to Kiyomi’s Yin is next door at Cucina Vivo. While Kiyomi is subdued style (outside of the fluoro artwork), Cucina Vivo is bright and boisterous. With open terraces, high ceilings and bright white furniture and highlights of light blue, it celebrates the Gold Coast of shining sun and sparkling sea.
On a Saturday afternoon visit, a musician strums his acoustic guitar and sings soft-rock tunes, a breezy soundtrack interspersed with the sound of splashes and laughter from the pool just beyond the terrace.
The restaurant floor is bustling, not frantic. The only hurry is around the wood-fired oven, where a pizzaolo is flat out like a lizard drinking, churning out the classics.
While there’s a range of mains for people dodging carbs, reasonably priced pizzas and pasta dishes make this the perfect venue for catching up with large groups of friends and family. Looking across to the pool to the rainforest gardens of Jupiters you feel removed from all the worries of the world as you relax over a drink or four.
Both Cucina Vivo and Kiyomi augur well for the future of Jupiters. The full transformation of the hotel and casino is still a way off – signs in the hotel reception apologise for noise from ongoing construction – but it’s clear that the changes will be more than skin deep.