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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Laidback ‘Lillypad’ leapfrogs into the night

The discovery of nocturnal life along the left bank of Grafton St by contributor "So, wot's for dinner" didn't last. This is sad as the Lilypad by night provided the kind of ambience, experience and diversty badly needed in Cairns. However, Lilypad continues as a favorite place to linger for a healthy breakfast, brunch, or lunch ........


WHEN the lights go down, the Lillypad Cafe beats to the sound of a different drum… or should I say piano?? Yes, the boldly coloured walls and eclectic array of original local art remain the same, but the soft lighting, live jazz and table service make for a new dining experience. With the usual frenetic activity of the kitchen discreetly screened from public view, comfortable couches squeezed in among the regular tables and the piano player cranking out tunes, the space has been transformed in a subtle way that is familiar yet different.
For Lillypad regulars familiar with the routine of a lazy brunch and reading the Saturday newspapers after stocking up on fresh fruit & veggies at Rusty’s, prepare to be surprised by the Lilypad’s foray into the twilight set and beyond. While those who avoid Grafton Street like the plague when the markets are on, may find the allure of the Lillypad by night a more tempting proposition.

Take for instance the Lillypad’s adventurous approach to its evening menu in which it offers twice as many entrée options (9) as main meals (5). This will be welcomed by anyone like myself who struggles to limit themselves to just a single item when it is time to order. Usually I overcome this dilemma by insisting my dining companions share but now the Lilypad has the ultimate compromise. Order any 3 entrée items for $18. Or else if your appetite demands a more substantial meal, options for mains range from $18 to $26 and cover all the bases… just… with marinated lamb, grilled garlic quail, pan-fried Atlantic salmon, sirloin steak, pasta and baby spinach salad. Simple but original appetizers of Borsch (beetroot) soup ($10), Cheese Platter for 2 and Trio of dips ($18) are available until 11pm and would serve as ideal gap fillers before or after a show.

Our group of 4 was seated out front and perused the wine list provided promptly by our friendly waitress, Nina. Any disappointment at the unavailability of the Jindalee Sauvignon Blanc ($22) was quickly overcome when Nina offered the Twin Islands ($36) as an alternative at no extra cost. Apart from the obvious satisfaction of being upgraded to a more expensive wine, we were delighted to find a waitress who anticipated the problem and offered a solution rather than putting the onus back on us to make another selection.

Back to the menu and three of us opted for the entrée deal which meant ordering one of everything on the menu (I’ve always wanted to do that!) and gave each of us three different taste sensations for the price of one meal. Highlights included the moist Oven Baked Mushrooms stuffed with couscous blended with creamy blue cheese; Lamb marinated in Mediterranean spices described as “subtle but strong enough to know it is there”; Spiced Prawns with a Louisiana cocktail sauce; tempting Georgian-style quail with “not too many bones” and Oysters Natural (3) with spicy coriander salsa on the side cleverly served in scooped out tomato halves.

The fourth member of our group chose the Vegan Lasagne ($19), a piping hot serving of al dente pasta sheets layered with sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini and spinach, in a portion so generous at least half went home in a much appreciated ‘doggy bag’. Although it was a little odd the Lilypad offered only one vegetarian meal (apart from the soup & salad), this dish would satisfy the most discerning vegan, not to mention carnivore.

The meals were rather slow to emerge from the kitchen – we figured we tested the chef with our wide selection – but again the waitress was attentive and handled the situation well.

On this occasion our group forewent dessert which meant the four of us dined for under $100, including a bottle of wine. The tempting dessert selection must have made an impression because the very next day my partner and I found ourselves in town unexpectedly early for a movie and decided to return to sample what we had missed.

A slab of lemon meringue pie and an enormous piece of berry and vanilla cheesecake served with cream and fresh sprigs of mint accompanied by hot, strong macchiato provided the perfect prelude to our movie; at $12 each it was at the higher end of the scale for dessert but the quality and quantity of the serving made it justified. In hindsight, we could easily have shared… but I am glad we didn’t!

The Lillypad Cafe by night offers a welcome addition to the emerging Grafton Street dining precinct. At a time when this town is aching for more sophisticated evening venues in contrast to the proliferation of noisy clubs, titty bars and 2 for 1 drink promotions, I for one hope it is an experiment that works.

6 comments:

The Essence of Good Taste said...

I heard on the grape-vine that Lilypad decided to open for late night dining after their owner recognised the after theatre/movie crowd have very little choice. He himself having struggled to find service "after-hours". Serving til 11pm, 7 nights, is a brave decision and I will be making an effort to support them. The dessert menu price is a little steep but I accept that as the premium I have to pay for late night coffee & cake availability. Afterall, they're giving me the same table and service as a guest having three courses, for just a snack.

I think Grafton Street is starting to build a little dining hub with Il Colosso next door, Fettas up a block and I believe Stumbling Goat on the corner reopening soon (under the leadership of one of my favourite Asian eateries).

Augurs well for my taste buds!

Dutchie said...

I regularly visit Lilipad and have a breakfast on market days, so when they decided to open at night, it didn't take long for me to try it!

Although I only had the chance to dine there twice before they pulled the pin on night time dining, I still miss it!

I thought the food was delightful, with some original flavours. The setting was nice at night, casual and the location convenient. Plus the opening hours made it even more attractive to me. Personally, I thought that the wine by the glass was just a bit too overpriced, out of touch with the overall pricing of the menu. And I wondered how the chef managed to last a breakfast, lunch and dinner service!

To this day, I feel that with better marketing and no live music (not necessary, and the musicians they hired charge top dollar) they would have had a chance. I quietly hope that they will give it another shot!

For those who missed out on the evening time dining, the day time is food always wholesome, good value and consistent. There should be more of it!

j said...

I went to Lilypad when I was holidaying up in cairns earlier this year. Food is great, lots of choices and nice big servings full of fresh produce with lots of cool art hanging on the walls. But whats with the male waiter there? I've worked in hospitality for more than 15 years and never seen such a rude waiter in my life. Both times I went in for a meal I saw him being really rude to customers for no reason at all.

Anonymous said...

There is some great jazz funk swing music every wednesday night 7-10 with Paris Texas.
http://www.entertainmentcairns.com/lily-pad-live2-event.html

Anonymous said...

Well here we are two years following your comment and the rude waiter remains. Obviously he is in the wrong industry. I love he lilypad, such great, tastey food and serving sizes, but whenever he is there, it definitely puts a dampener on the experience. Recently I took a friend there that made the mistake of requesting sauce when her meal arrived, the male waiter quickly jumped into a speal of how overworked and old he was and told her to walk inside and get it herself! Seriously!! Which sent us on an expedition in the following couple of weeks to try and find a new breakfast venue, however, here we are again, back at the lilypad. I would in a heartbeat suport someone going into competition with them.

Gimmegoodfood said...

I have dined there for lunch on seeral occasions. Nocomplaints about the food as I love it. But for god's sake, will someone teach the staff how to clean, the tables are greasy, the table signs (aka numbers) are so rank I dont even feel comfortable carrying them to my table and those couches....I would be scared to sit on them in a bio hazard suit.
Seriously, just because the food is good, certainly doesnt negate the need for a food establishment to be clean.
The waitress I have had several times at lunch seems as though her planets must be out of alignment, or she had trouble dancing the sheba dance to express her inner being...or something I am guessing of that nature......it'd rather a case of "Ground control to Major Tom". Spacey at best. Got a bit upsety that my little love godess symbol wasnt facing the right way, so she wouldn't know which table our food belonged to. There were only 2 other tables at the time and they had theit food! haha was good for a chuckle.
Seriously If it wasn't for the food, I wouldn't go, I just put blinkers on and dont look too closely at the inground dirt when I eat there.

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