Friday, 4 July 2008

Flaming Lamborghini...! Could somebody get me a decent martini!??

OK have been so jetlaggingly slack since return but 'So, wot's for dinner' has chimed in nicely to compensate for my torpor after a recent outing to the new Bushfire Grill. Read on to discover if the Brazilian inspired BBQ lives up to the hype...

LENDING heavily on the nostalgia of Dorothy McKellar’s classic poem “I love a sunburnt country”, the new Bushfire Flamegrill at the Pacific International on the Cairns Esplanade successfully combines the great barbecuing tradition of both Australia and Brazil.

I love a sunburnt country, too, but I also love a good bloody cocktail, preferably in a salubrious setting exuding sophistication and style. But sadly, our search for the elusive perfect cocktail bar continues after a fruitless outing to the Sugarcane Rhumbar which adjoins Bushfire.

There is no doubt the contemporary feel of the restaurant along with the novelty of its woodfired churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) is a welcome addition to the Cairns dining experience. Unfortunately, Sugarcane Rhumbar requires a complete re-think to avoid becoming the latest in a long line to sink without trace into cocktail bar oblivion.

In stark contrast to the marketing which promises “an Australian bar with personality”, Sugarcane Rhumbar is at risk of having no personality at all. The space is all wrong and looks more like a hotel lobby than a lounge (probably because it is). No music, no ambience... just a 32 inch widescreen television in the background playing Harvey Norman ads, mercifully with the volume turned down. We stood around at the bar (there were no stools) waiting... waiting... waiting for our pre-dinner drinks to be made. By the time that happened our group had been seated at a table in the restaurant. I admit their arrival did make an impression – the presentation in variously and oddly shaped glasses was unique if not a little impractical for the poor waitress.

At $12.50 each, the cocktails were reasonably priced. Of our selection, the Passionfruit Mojito was the best pick followed closely by the Brandy Alexander which my partner savoured, concluding “it could have been dessert”. But the Cosmopolitan was sickly sweet and more like raspberry cordial than an edgy cocktail and the so-called signature Brazilian cocktail Caipirinha also failed to meet expectations.

I applaud the adventurous use of locally and regionally inspired flavours such as Gagarra honey, fresh sugar cane, ginger, coffee and tropical fruit but these need to be displayed and sold more enthusiastically by a bartender with flare. I am not sure how many Japanese visitors to our city would know what a ‘quandong’ or ‘mangosteen’ actually was – let alone appreciate it in a drink. The same might be said for many locals.

Our disappointment at the cocktail bar was quickly overcome by the wafting aroma of barbecued meat and the visually pleasing aesthetics of the restaurant which gave us hope our evening could still be salvaged. After an inspection of the menu and an explanation from our waiter, the consensus was to try the Brazilian inspired churrasco – the house specialty. Judging from the number of other patrons in the fully-booked restaurant doing the same, it appeared to be a popular choice. No carnivore need go hungry at Bushfire, with other equally tempting barbecue options on offer.

A selection of ironbark woodfired steaks and ishiyaki steaks cooked on a volcanic hot rock in front of you (starting at $36 and increasing depending on accompaniments of prawns and Tasmanian salmon) offered the best cuts of perfectly aged beef from Queensland and the Northern Territory, for a price (costing around the $38 to $40 mark). Barramundi and Reef fish, line caught in our pristine North Queensland waters, demonstrated the restaurant’s commitment to serving the freshest seafood while supporting sustainable, local fisheries. If only more restaurants in this town shared the same refreshing philosophy.

For those who cannot resist the idea of a waiter coming to your table to carve off chunks of tender meat grilled to your specification, the churrasco really is a site to behold. Served “Rodizio” style, this cooking method and service emanates from 18th Century traditions of the Gauchos – South American cowboys. It has been adopted by Bushfire and served by Aussie-themed “Jackaroos” and “Jillaroos”, although our delightful “Jackaroo” had a distinctly Irish accent. We ate to our hearts content from the long swords of Australian beef, pork, lamb, ribs and chicken, all seasoned or marinated in their own individual style, basted and roasted over a pit of hot coals and served with bottomless pots of broccoli mornay, roast potatoes, salad and mussels, and tasty pesto and pepper sauces. Although I initially balked at the hefty prices, I must admit it was value for money, especially for those with a healthy appetite.

The evening concluded, unfortunately, with another ordinary round of drinks – not cocktails this time – from the bar which put a bit of a dampener on an otherwise interesting and enjoyable dining experience.


Cairns Businessman said...

On a short business trip to the Gold Coast this week, I noticed signs and banners outside most of the GC restaurants (including the "upmarket" establishments) touting one cost-reducing special or another. Faced with declining tourist numbers like Cairns, the competition ethic kicks in and moves pricing down to more reasonable levels.

So I note the huge costs imposed on you and your party at this new Cairns establishment. I also note the widespread intransigence of the Cairns business community to engage in any form of discounting, lest we lose our reputation as a ripoff destination.

And even more hilarious are the upscale restaurants now touting take-away pizzas and fish & chips! It's no wonder that massive crowds are flocking to the new buffet "As U Like It" on the Esplanade. It may not be gourmet, but it is reasonably priced.

Hey Cairns restaurants. Hello? Or is it goodbye?

Chuckie said...

Fair point. Though restaurant prices are such a subjective thing... I figure if I can be asked to pay up to $34 for a steak at a pub (as is standard rate at Trinity Beach Hotel... or Tavern as it is known these days), then it is not unreasonable to pay $38 for a quality cut in a restaurant on the premiere tourism strip of Cairns. Yes, the steak had better be bloody good and the service faultless -- but if these 2 criteria are met I can part with my money content in the knowledge I have had a decent night out with my friends and we have all enjoyed the experience.

lucky saint said...

I agree. However tight it might get, people still find time and money to treat themselves. And as long as expectations are met - quality and service that the establishment positions themselves in the market - then I'm prepared to pay.

No point advertising you're the best, if you're just really good at being average - cause people will still only pay for average, but might tip well if you exceed their expectations, plus good word of mouth. But if they walk out disappointed it wasnt the best as promised, well, you know what they say about bad news travel fast.

On the cocktails... whatever happened to Manuel at the Cairns International Hotel's Lobby Bar? I haven't seen him for awhile, and he makes fantastic cocktails!

Arthur Festerbestertester said...

spot on cairns businesman. I don't mind paying $38 for a quality cut, but it better be the right cut, it better be quality, it better be cooked to perfection, it better come with equally perfect accompnaiments and it better be served by a perfect waiter. Nine times out of 10 we get $12.50 junk. By the by, I had camel in Darwin some time back, and I wonder whether it's available in any Cairns restaurant?

Chuckie said...

Hmmm... not sure about camel steaks?? but according to kitchenslut, the Sacred Spice does a mean goat curry!!

Dutchie said...

I have mixed feelings about this restaurant. I found the prices really the max of what you'd pay, but not value for money enough to return in a hurry.

I took my father who was here on holidays there who's a meat lover and we enjoyed the spectacle.

One thing though is that they pride themselves with the locally flavoured marinades, but because the marinade is only applied as the meat is grilled, you don't taste much of it, especially when the outer layer of the meat has already been sliced off.

Also, I think some homemade sauces on the table would make a nice addition.

So it was a good experience, but not great.

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