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Friday, 25 April 2008

Caffeine fix hits the spot

Continuing my series of experiences over last weekend as I journeyed to Undara's Outback Country Rock and Blues... I stopped at Mareeba Coffee Works on my way home after two very late nights to recharge my batteries before tackling that last hour down the Kuranda range to home...

I don't know if it was that I was tired and in need, or if the coffee really was that good...but I have to say the flat white ($3.50) I had at Coffee Works was one of the best I can remember in a long time (from any venue). Piping hot, strong Black Mountain beans, with a lovely fine crem'a - not too thick - coating my lip as I sipped. One of the great advantages to coffee here is that the beans truly are roasted daily. And this adds so much to the flavour - roasted, ground and brewed within hours - heaven.

I found the service very friendly and helpful while still being relaxed and unobtrusive. Their cafe manager Leisa is a wonderful asset and I see so much of her personality reflected in the service style. They also serve scarily large serves of incredibley calorie-laden cakes ($5-$8) and healthy lunch options to balance the intake ($8-$15).

The stop off ended up being quite an investment as I was attracted like an iron filing to a magnet to the Chocolate Works. The chocolate here is not your usual run-of-the-mill experience. Chilli chocolate, kafir lime and black pepper chocolate, lemon myrtle chocolate... along with more usual combinations like ginger, macadamia and coffee-infused chocolate. The lemon myrtle has been a favourite of mine and my son's for some time so of course that came home. I popped a bag of chilli chocolate in for my best mate who has lamented the loss of chilli Tim Tams; and I took a gamble and picked up the lime and pepper combination (yet to be tried - you'll have to wait on the review of that one...). They have a great deal - buy four bags of chocolate and get the fifth free. As all the bags are $6 this gives you a 20% discount and makes it seem less scary at the cash register.

I also topped up my coffee liqueur stock (both 18% & 22% alcohol available) at $39.95 per bottle. This is great on ice cream for an adult dessert or served in a red wine glass late at night around the campfire (trust me I've done it, and NO hangover the day after).

I usually get my coffee and liqueur at Rusty's Market on a Friday but having been west on Friday this was the perfect way to overcome the shortage I knew was waiting for me at home. And the chocolate was a bonus.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Bush Breakie at the Ringer's Camp

A trip to Undara Experience (275km SW Cairns on the Savannah Way) would not be complete without joining Kay and Stevo for breakfast ($22) round the campfire at the Ringer's Camp. No electricity here...bacon, eggs, beans and fresh tomatoes cooked on the BBQ with fresh brewed coffee and billy tea from the open fire. My absolute favourite is cooking my toast from a hand-made toasting fork over the hot coals - there is nothing better - soft fresh bread on the inside with crispy toasted outside and the permeating taste of wood smoke. Then slather said hot toast with butter and vegemite. Devine! Just like I remember breakfast at my Aunt's cooked on the Arga...

I had made the trip to Undara to enjoy their Outback Country Rock and Blues event. Camping in the Safari Shelter ($18pp/pn) with our own camp kitchen (hot & cold water, free gas BBQ, tables & chairs, electric light, electricity points) and campfire pit, reserved camp area, easy access to a little frequented amenties block with plenty of water pressure and HOT water it was a classy way to raise the canvas. We could have joined the masses in the main camp ground for a tiny $8pp/pn.

The event itself gets better each year. Undara obviously invests all the income from the event into the music (as they should). The band quality was excellent with 23 musicians and wall-to-wall music across the weekend. They programmed music from 6pm til after 1am each morning and those with the stamina could join the artists around the campfire til the wee small hours (I heard 3.30am...). There was live aqcoustic music at breakfast each morning and performers entertaining through lunch and into the afternoon. My personal favourite was Luke O'Shea and Medicine Wheel but Felicity Urquart, The Flood, Nellie Donovan & The Rain, Steve Eales, Mark Nuske, Shane Flew, Keri McInerney and Corey Livey all took to the stages to appreciative crowds.

Clear skys, cool temperatures, a full moon and quality entertainment combined to make a top weekend. I'll definately be back and encouraging as many of my friends to join me as possible. What better excuse do you need to head west....

Monday, 21 April 2008

Mungalli Creek Dairy

Tucked in along a narrow winding bitumen track among the hills and overlooking Mount Bartle Frere is this "Out of the Whey" Cheesery and Tea House. Mungalli Creek Dairy serves a variety of snacks, light meals and drinks all based on their organic and biodynamic diary produce.

This is a working farm and visitors can take a sneak preview of the cheesery in operation through the viewing windows at the back of the Tea House. There is no guarantee of a particular product being made. Whatever is 'on the floor' at the time is what you watch. An interesting bonus with your dairy decadence...

I have been here plenty of times in the past. In fact I remember a visit some years ago with my mum when I recognised a gentleman enjoying coffee and cake on the verandah and kept thinking 'I know you'. I was so glad I didn't make a fool of myself going and saying hello - it was Neil Perry, the celebrity chef. Of course I didn't really know him - just his face from TV!... mum actually said 'who's Neil Perry?'

Anyway, this stop was no less enjoyable than those earlier visits. I find it a good place to recharge when touring the Tablelands. This time I was on my way to Undara's Outback Country Rock and Blues for the weekend and made this my cafeine hit to fuel the second half of my journey out.

I was looking forward to trying the little cheese tasting platter (FOC) with my coffee and was pleasantly surprised to be offered their new cheddar with the usual havarti and two types of quark (both herb & paprika and kafir lime & black pepper). I believe Mungalli couldn't start making cheddar and other more mature cheeses till they expanded the dairy and particularly the storage (maturing) areas. So seeing the cheddar told me they were growing, and tasting it told me they were growing with quality - smooth and just sharp. I'm not a big havarti fan but their marinated havarti (not on the tasting today) holds the flavours well. I've always liked their quark. Not a common cheese in Australia - a very young almost cottage texture and makes an excellent dip or cheesecake base. Quark is a traditional cheese in Germany and my German Australian friends went crazy with praise when they discovered Mungalli's - taking kilos home to start making their beloved, but cobwebbed, Strudel recipe again!

I also noticed Mungalli is now offering a yogurt tasting platter as an option to the cheese. An excellent idea. With the huge product range available it is hard to decide what dedadence to take home without having a nibble first.

The day up on the mountain was unseasonably cold, yes cold, and I had to get my jacket out of the car as the sneaky breeze caught me and the clouds sailed in to fill the view with thick grey fog. Mungalli Dairy is just out of Millaa Millaa on the Palmerston Highway to Innisfail. You turn left 11km from town just as you start the steep decent. Keep an eye out for the turning - the sign isn't very big or loud.

I chose a flat white coffee ($3.50). Made on Mungalli's own full cream milk, it was hot (thank goodness), not very strong but exceedingly creamy. Must remember to ask for a double shot next time to balance the creamy taste. Knowing I wanted to write about my experience I also bought a piece of cherry cheesacake to try. Being made on quark it was not sweet like many cheescakes, but very rich being made and served with double cream. It was a very generous slice and the ladies happily packed half into a doggy bag for me (I finished it off the next day for morning tea with my plunger coffee in the Undara campground - quite a treat I thought...). This slice could have been shared easily between 2, or even 3 - I'd say a good 250g of cheese went into the mixture, so good value for money at $5.50 a slice.

Mungali offers a range of 'sweet treats' in the $4-$5.50 range and 'light meals' from $12.50-$15. Looking in the cabinet the Pot de Fromage (Mungalli quark, havarti & fetta cheese & egg pie in a yogurt & ricotta pastry) and Spanokopita (Greek style spinach, fetta & ricotta cheese in filo pie) both looked very appetising with fresh salad for $13.50. I seem to remember trying the first about a year ago and thoroughly enjoying the OD on cheese. Definately not a place for anyone lactose intollerant...

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Pesci's big night out

Pesci's on the water has perhaps never quite recaptured the ambience of its era prior to the redevelopment of The Pier when it dominated the Cairns dining scene. A large group of us tried to recapture the moment recently after we had ventured on a cruise aboard the M.V Habitat Explorer on a perfect ‘autumn’ evening to celebrate a birthday.

There is nothing quite like being out on the water as the day turns to night, cruising up a mangrove fringed estuary with the sun fading over the deep blue hues of the mountain backdrop. No waterfront venue can provide a vantage point of our city’s stunning scenic rim quite like this – let alone allow you to sip bubbles for $5 a glass. For only $19 a ticket, the ‘Sunset Cruise’ is a wonderful way to unwind with friends after a hectic week and to leave your stresses on the shore… at least for 90 minutes or so. The only thing lacking from the whole experience was a decent snack… a nice platter of cheese, fruit and antipasto would have been an ideal accompaniment and an option for which members of our group would have happily paid extra. Departing from the Reef Fleet Terminal most days at 5.30pm – for bookings, phone (07) 4031 4007 or check out http://www.cairnshabitatcruises.com.au/

Now… back to Pesci’s. Whether it was the glasses of champagne already consumed or the lack of food or both, we arrived ravenous and in the mood for a good time. Despite only booking for 16, our host, the ever convivial Lou Gianola, happily made room for a few unexpected ‘extras’ we picked up along the way and busily set to work behind the well-stocked bar to keep our drinks flowing.

Always on the lookout for something a little different, a few of us shared a bottle of the Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz ($9 gls/$45 btl) from McLaren Vale. For some the very idea of a full-bodied Shiraz being ‘contaminated’ with bubbles is offensive, but personally there is nothing more suited to our Far Northern climes than a chilled, red sparkling as long as it not of the sickly sweet variety – and the Black Chook was certainly not that. Apart from that there is a selection to tempt most palates—alas, not all within my budget, although the House Chardonnay and Multi-Regional Red Blend ($6/$29) provided a cheaper option as well as five others under $40.

The menu was teaming with temptation and came with the welcome recommendations of Lou on appropriate wine accompaniments – I could have easily and happily ordered from the Pasta Corner and several of us did. The Pappadelle & Ragu consisted of flat wide ribboned pasta in a rich, beef, wine and pomodoro sauce, the entrée $17.50 ample while the $28 main demanded an heroic appetite.

The Mediterranean antipasto tower, at $39, looked impressive and represented excellent value for two and proved a very sociable way to graze through a fine selection of hot, char grilled, cold and marinated fare. Other entrees included the Salt and Pepper calamari ($16.50) which was tender and sweet but not really very 'salt & peppery'; and Sizzling Garlic prawn ($22.50) served hot in a pot and well presented with crusty bread but only a hint of garlic.

I figured if you are going to dine at Pesci’s on the Water you have to order seafood. It is undoubtedly what Pesci’s do best and I was relieved when my young waiter answered confidently that the seafood was all wild-caught Australian product, mostly from the Gulf of Carpentaria. With this in mind I selected the Seafood Curry ($33) ahead of the Tasmanian Oysters ($16.50 ½ doz; $33 bakers’ doz), although I am still curious about the Oysters Watermelon which promised oysters natural topped with watermelon juice and Prosecco wine, apparently Italy’s answer to “refreshing, well-made sparkling wine”.

Only a few mouthfuls of the creamy, quite mild curry brimming with fresh, succulent seafood was needed to confirm its reputation as a “Pesci’s on the Water Favourite”. Not so the Moreton Bay Bugs. Sadly, the seeded mustard batter disguised the very qualities for which bug meat is known and did nothing to showcase this tropical delicacy. At $24.50, it was too expensive to be an entrée but lacking in quantity to satisfy as a main so maybe this dish needs a rethink?

Of the three who snubbed the plethora of seafood options and sought safety in the Char grilled Rib on the Bone ($33.50), all were disappointed. The moral of the story, of course, is eat more seafood… and there is certainly plenty to choose from at Pesci’s on the Water.

It may not be the Pesci’s of old but we should not allow nostalgia to cloud the fact the food was fresh, the flavours real and the ambience hard to beat, especially when you have good friends with which to share it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Good value-for-money pizza

La Porchetta next to City Cinemas in Grafton Street comes across as cold and a bit harsh when you look through the windows as you queue for tickets at the cinema. The decor is a throw back to the 50's and I keep expecting to see The Fonz. But take a chance and go in for a pizza.

The service is good, from a generally very young staff. The pizza is consistent, fresh and filling with nice light bases. I'm no pizza hero but I've yet to have a bad one. My favourites are the Smoked Salmon and The Lot (11 toppings including prawns). A small pizza is just over $10 and will feed two ladies easily (they are very well filled) and a large (approx $16) will feed two said ladies and two middle-sized children. Although the kids prefer traditional Pepperoni.

La Porchetta also serve an impressive array of pastas, risottos and other Italian dishes but we prefer the pizza, which is also available for take-away in about 10 minutes. A good option after evening tennis.

I'll keep my eye out for Fonz. That would top off the meal!

Hip Hip Horray! Yum with a smile

I've been wanting to try out Chocolat cafe under the Outrigger on the Esplanade for a while and not had a good excuse. Well I don't need an excuse now. This little gem goes in my favourites.

Hallelujah!! I've found someone who gets it!

The two ladies running this little shop of delights welcomed me with smiles and friendly, engaging salutations - even though it was after 4pm and they were probably looking forward to going home. Although my colleague and I didn't leave til 5.40pm, they remained happy to have us in their courtyard and didn't hint for us to leave. And throughout, any service provided was relaxed, polite and fun. THANK YOU!

And.... the coffee was hot, flavoursome, fresh and well presented. Must have been good - we had two cups each. I bounced through my evening! To compliment our coffees we selected two treats from the pastries section of the cafe. A white and milk chocolate mousse ($4.95) and baked cheesecake ($5.95). The staff happily cut these in half for us so we could share.

The mousse was smooooth (not a spelling mistake), rich, but not over powering. The cheesecake was baked to perfection on top of a florentine style base and topped with ground pistachio nuts and white chocolate shards.

The selection available at Chocolat is amazing. A cabinet bursting with pastry selections to die for; a light meal cabinet with fresh salads and open sandwiches - I'll have to try them next time; and then a third cabinet filled with their name sake - chocolate. There's a waiting list for my taste buds here...

A great talking point are the wedding cakes on display in the front window. The Chocolatier's skill in building these masterpieces is equal to any cathedral stone mason. They give new meaning to the saying "death by chocolate".

There is seating inside in the air conditioning but we chose to sit in the courtyard between Outrigger and The Courthouse Hotel. On an autumn afternoon the sun was bright without being too hot and it reminded me of the town squares I have sat in throughout provincial France. We selected the best table in the courtyard under a shady tree and had to prise ourselves away to other commitments.

Try this cafe yourself. I hope you are as impressed.

where's Gordon Ramsay when you f***ing need him?

New restaurant Ti Adoro (where Chapter One used to be on Abbott Street next door to Jute Theatre) was lucky enough to have 5 tables in for dinner (plus 1 table just for coffee) after the End Credits movie on Sunday night...a gift for business on a Sunday night I would have thought...

Let me start with the good news. The food we ate was really very good. Simple fare, well presented, fresh and tasty.

But...we arrived at 7pm, ordered three simple meals to share as a tummy grumble stopper before dinner back at home later.

A salad - cherry tomato, rocket, parmesan and olive oil ($9.50);
Bruscetta with prosciutto, diced tomato and Spanish onion, mozzarella and basil pesto ($6.50);
And an antipasto plate with dips, cheeses, egg plant, semi dried tomatoes and two slices of bread ($16.95).

Unfortunately once we had our drinks (Sav blanc @ $6.50 and tea @ $3) we were forgotten. No top up on water, no clearing of empty tea cups, no offer of more drinks... no explanation as to where our food was. By 8pm I enquired politely where our meals were.

"Terribly sorry madame they'll be out in three minutes". Ten minutes later still no food. And when it arrived we were given no cutlery, crockery or napkins to eat it with. I had to ask for these and then wait, while they set the table.

Once our meals arrived we wondered where were the cheeses and dips that should have been on the antipasto plate. When I queried this, the waitress who had taken over our table came back and said they had new staff who had "forgotten" these inclusions and "would we like them now on another plate". Of course we would. The cheese and dips (a basil olive oil and balsamic oil) arrived with two more small slices of bread. Now this oversight could have been salvaged easily by providing plenty of bread to enjoy the dips and cheeses on, but between four customers...you get the idea...

By 9pm, we had to chase our account and had given up on dinner at home, it was just too late to start again. We had had great conversation and caught up on all the news, analysed the film and several others, but were so very disappointed in what could have been a great dining experience.

I'm sure the order was lost, but that does not forgive the appalling service. Why was our table not set, drink table service offered, our lack of food not noticed and chased, our bill provided...all in a timely manner? And we noticed other tables were similarly waiting for meals.

F***! As Gordon would say!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Franchise opportunity?

Here at the kitchenslut we are fervent in our support of innovation and fresh concepts to provide greater diversity to our food experiences. So, Penis anyone?

Hmmm, next time we are down near Cafe China maybe we could ask what the chances are of them getting their hands on a length of yak's penis? Given responses from certain associates when queried as to whether they had ever tasted penis we must be careful how we phrase this ...... but perhaps there is a 'penis gourmet' out there who can advise on matching wines?

Personally, the kitchenslut was more motivated by the suggestion in the article of a succulent donkey vulva ...... not too rare thanks chef!!!



Isn't it great to see a restuarant using such fresh produce! I'm not aware that the Cooking in the Danger Zone series from the BBC has made it out here yet, but looks like one to watch for more adventurous food addicts?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Come on Cairns, let's get with the service

I've written before about my out-of-town friend who stops for a quick coffee or meal and a catch up with me after business before flying back South...well Friday 28 March was one of those days.

12 noon on a Friday lunch time. We walked across the road from the private hospital to the new Italian restaurant Rimmini for a quick coffee. THEY WERE CLOSED. Who doesn't open for lunch on a Friday with a catchment as large as a private hospital and attached specialty medical services...We couldn't even get coffee, and I thought the Italians saw espresso as a meal in itself to be savoured...

So...we jumped in the car and popped around to Fusion (in the Old Ambulance building). Now I've posted on these guys before and said they have great food and better than average service. Well, not this time. I told my friend - "should be fine for a quick coffee, they have lots of corporate business, they understand the need for quick" - hhmmm... ordered and paid for the coffee ok, but 20 minutes later no sign of said coffee. It wasn't busy (maybe two other tables). Went inside to enquire and they hadn't even started...we walked away without our coffee and unfortunately it means I won't be back with my business.

Come on Cairns, we can do it. You have done it before.

RSL fills up the Hungry Hunter

The RSL has taken a bit of a beating in the paper lately about its membership policy. But I've never been asked to join, even as a social member. And their restaurant is a great value for money feed, in a great Esplanade position.

The Roast of the Day and Steak and Veges is generous, fresh, well presented and tasty for less than $20. From memory (I dined there last in March) the Roast was about $12 and the steak about $18 - with a glass of wine ($5) still good value.

I can sit out on the (narrow) balcony right on the Esplanade, people watch, listen to the live entertainment (in my experience a guy with a guitar singing covers of 50's-70's hits - perfect for the RSL market) and have a good conversation. Half a block further in the same experience will cost me twice this...

Happy to continue supporting the RSL.

Eat a whole kilogram of this?....

As a keen red meat eater, I'd been wanting to try out the Bull Bar for some time. I reckon I'm up for 1kg of prime steak for free - as long as I eat it in less than 20 minutes....

However, my experience after tennis last week did not encourage me to want to eat their steak at all...

I'd done the hour running around on the court and 'went on' for a quick drink after with my tennis buddies. After two G&Ts I decided I needed time and sustainance to absorb the alcohol before driving home. So one of the crew volunteered to accompany me to the Bull Bar to check out these 'amazing' steaks. Now, I'm no fool. I'm not ordering 1kg of steak without testing the fare first...and it IS a LOT of meat...

So sensibly we both ordered the smallest steak on the menu - 250gms of prime rump, medium rare, just over $20 (300-500gms of varous cuts were priced in the mid-high $30 range). Mmm...well it came medium (which I can live with) but it was no prime rump. 1/2 inch thick and looking a lot like it had been pan fried rather than grilled, and the 'char' grid stamped on the meat after (my mate actually said it reminded him of the lines on a Hungry Jacks pattie). It was tender enough but had no flavour. Now, they do recommend a variety of sauces on the menu but I'm not a sauce girl as I like to enjoy the true flavour of what I order. So, maybe Bull Bar works on the odds that most people order gravy and this improves the steak...

I found the Bull Bar lacked atmosphere. I know it was a Thursday night, but it was very quiet and the 'live' band was a guy with a guitar who started at 8pm, had a break at 8.30pm, and came back on at 9.15pm. We joked that maybe the chef was doubling as the band as 'Stevo' started playing as soon as all the meals were 'out'.

Personally, I think the pub atmosphere at the end of an ally, with average food and service finds it hard to compete with other pub grub and at top dollar. I think I'll stick with the RSL for a cheap feed with a better outlook and similar value for money.

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