If you are like me, you believe that life is too short to eat bad food. Whilst I can control the quality barometer at home, when I travel, it is a bit of lottery, unless I have done copious amounts of research beforehand. This is where I can help you to avoid those stomach churning mistakes and head straight for the best eats in every town! On my recent sojourn in North Queensland, I managed to identify the “must do’s” and the “must not do’s” and here is my definitive list of the top 5 across the top end of the sunshine state:
- Harrisons, Port Douglas – the stand-out of the crowd, Harrisons serves innovative food in relaxed surroundings, with knowledgeable staff who can advise on specialities, quantities and wine matches. We feasted on sweet and spicy sugar pop prawns; betel leaf with smoked coral trout, delicately paired with coconut, grapefruit and chilli; cured kingfish, which was beautifully matched with muntharri berries, fennel, olives, avocado and scallop; and salad of tea smoked duck, superbly accompanied by beetroot and pear. The waiter recommended the grain salad with cumin and yoghurt, which was a perfect side, and an Italian rose which was ideal for lunch-time dining. Overall, memorable mid-day munching!
- Treehouse Restaurant, Silky Oaks Lodge, Mossman Gorge – it is worth the one hour drive from Palm Cove to this luxury lodge, with its open-sided restaurant teetering over the rushing gorge, for the ambience alone. But the food is also seriously good. The mussels in a broth of spicy coconut and lemongrass was delicately delicious, as was the Silky Oaks Salad with pancetta, brie, smoked salmon and citronette dressing. My partner’s crayfish salad was a bit disappointing, as the fish was a bit tough, but overall, the mid-week lunch was a winner.
- Nu Nu, Palm Cove – this is a Palm Cove institution, and having been there many years ago I was keen to return. The location is drop-dead gorgeous, overlooking a swathe of palm trees lining the beach, and the two level restaurant allows for perfect viewing from every table. The food is usually top notch so we were a bit disappointed the evening we went, but we are prepared to put that down to the fact that it was a public holiday and maybe we got the “B” team. Unfortunately one of my dining pet hates – being served by every waiter in the restaurant – occurred that night, which meant that no-one really took an interest in engaging with us to ensure we had a memorable experience. Nevertheless, our entree of spring bay mussels, chilli jam, Thai basil and kafir lime was delicious, but at $24 for 6 mussels, we thought it was a little pricey. The cinnamon-roasted Victorian lamb, caramelised yoghurt and pumpkin custard had potential, but was woefully undercooked, to the point where the fat on two of the cutlets was still white. When we pointed this out, it barely raised an eyebrow. The highlight was the rainforest honey roasted tiny carrots with pecorino and roast almonds – perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of sweetness to offset the starchy vegetables. The dessert was also sensational – lemon semolina cake with rainforest honeycomb, yoghurt marshmallow and salted caramel ice-cream – yum! Don’t be dissuaded by my experience – I certainly haven’t – and I look forward to a return visit soon, as I know it can do better.
- Temple of Tastes – Sea Temple Resort, Palm Cove – another restaurant in a hotel, the Temple of Tastes has a wonderful ambience, open-sided with timber and stone features and bamboo fire torches, providing that touch of luxury in paradise. The entree of scallops, cauliflower, hazelnuts and sumac was both delicate and spicy; the mains of seared ocean trout with polenta chips, salsa puttanesca and herb salad had all the right elements of medium rare fish, crispy skin, tasty polenta and spicy salsa; whilst the Manning Valley tenderloin with garlic potatoes, smoked bacon, onion and broccoli puree was substantial and tasty. When my partner asked for the beef to be heated further, the waiter and chef were very obliging and created a new dish from scratch. That’s what I call service with a smile!
- Vivo Bar and Grill, Palm Cove – this open plan restaurant, which spills from the interior of a traditional Queenslander to the verandahs and courtyard, has a lovely welcoming and homely feel. The food is modern Australian, with Mediterranean and Asian influences, and you get the impression that the team in the kitchen and on the floor really care about the quality of food and service they are offering. Our entree of smokey charcoal grilled prawns with aioli was delicious, and the mains of seafood linguine and Finger Mark fish with charcoal grilled asparagus, potatoes and lobster fennel veloute was tasty, if a bit overwhelming on the sauce side. It’s always a good sign when a restaurant is full every night, and this seems to be the case with the obviously popular Vivo!
I have some honourable mentions as well, just to round out a week of worthy dining in the region:
- Chill Cafe in Palm Cove is a great spot for breakfast, featuring a huge array of healthy juices, great coffee and hearty brunch fare. It is a buzzing spot, from morning to night!
- Salt House, Cairns, is the obvious place to be most nights and it is a veritable fashionable who’s who of the city. We enjoyed some great cocktails and seafood overlooking the Cairns marina at this very pleasant spot!
- Kuranda isn’t renowned for its culinary delights, so I advise that if you find yourself there, head straight for Petit Cafe, where you will be richly rewarded with buckwheat crepes adorned with a cacophony of innovative and delicious toppings!
- On those evenings when your stomach tells you that small and simple is the best choice, head to the Surf Life Saving Club at Palm Cove for a takeaway bucket of prawns and smoked salmon caesar salad all for the princely sum of $43.00
- Mocka Pies in Port Douglas is also another great pit stop for their famous pies – either takeaway or eat-in. Choose from flavours such as pumpkin and feta or the more traditional supreme, consisting of steak, bacon, egg, tomato and onion
- Le Crouton, Cairns is another popular spot for that morning coffee and croissant – definitely worth the trip to Freshwater!
Tropical North Queensland has so much to offer in terms of local fare and this is just a taster – I’d be keen to hear your suggestions!
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