I have been hanging onto this review for a couple of weeks now. Not because I have been lazy but I have just been a little busy with work and as a result prioritising the things in my life. Who am I kidding my blog really does take priority over my work and lucky for me I am able to belt out a post or two while my boss (skipper) isn’t watching. So, MS and I went to Dundee’s for dinner a couple of weeks ago for a friend’s birthday. This would be the second friend’s birthday that I have attended at Dundee’s and the third time that I have dined there. Dundee’s is another restaurant that has been open in Cairns for a considerably long time. How long you ask? Well I have no idea since the website doesn’t tell me but I do remember it’s humble beginnings back on Spence St in the what is now a vacant restaurant/bar space that has been home to Little Aussie Bum, Zen Tapas and few other places that must have lasted such a short amount of time that I simply can’t recall their name. What we need there is one of those modern Mexican restaurants that have taken off down south. Anyone that has a monthly subscription to Delicious Magazine will know what I am talking about (Mamasita, yes please). Anyway I didn’t start this post to talk about what restaurants Cairns does and doesn’t need (it probably doesn’t need any new bars/restaurants considering the mortality rate of anything new that opens in Cairns) so back to Dundee’s.
On this particular Friday night Dundee’s was crawling with diners and tour groups alike. In fact I haven’t not seen it crawling with people on any given night, having dined there on a Monday night and also a Saturday. It certainly is popular or maybe like another Aussie cuisine restaurant in Cairns (Ochre) they just know how to advertise and advertise well? Their prime position on the waterfront may also have something to do with it but that doesn’t seem to help poor old Haveli whom I told MS (his favourite restaurant) I would give a shout out to for their amazing Butter Chicken that he longs for daily. At Dundee’s we were seated at the longest table off to the right side next to the barrier that separated Dundee’s from Haveli. Right in the direct line of sight for the owner of Haveli and MS. One glance said it all, without a word spoken between the two… “What are you doing over there at that restaurant and why aren’t you over here eating succulent Butter Chicken and delicate garlic Naan Bread with me?” Ahhh, there was always tomorrow.
One of the benefits of having large groups dine at Dundee’s is their willingness to split the bill, something that really bugs me when dining out and seems to be a problem at lots of restaurants. What the hell is the problem with splitting the bill? Especially considering I am NOT paying on my credit card (I don’t own a credit card, note: I have an excellent credit rating it’s a lifestyle choice). At Dundee’s they give each of you a little laminated number that everything including your drinks can go on and you simply take it up to the counter with you at the end of the night and BAM! there is your bill. Genius! It’s something that I wish more restaurants would incorporate since I don’t see myself dining at Barnacle Bills anytime soon (the only other restaurant I know in Cairns that does it). The table ordered drinks, which arrive in those tiny little glass bottles which hold barely a mouthful and are really just a gimmick. Give me post mix godammit! I don’t want my gin and tonic with a little bottle of tonic! Moving on.
Upon serving the drinks one of the waitresses (there were two serving our large table) spilled an entire glass of wine on my friend AA who was sitting right next to me. She is damn lucky she didn’t spill it on me and normally I would just class that as purely an accident but this is the second time that a waiter at Dundee’s has spilled an entire glass of wine on someone I was dining with, having it happen at MS’ staff work party a few months prior. Now either, Dundee’s needs to hire some better qualified staff or maybe they shouldn’t have the diners so tightly packed in such a small space and maybe, just maybe, their waiters would have a bit of space to move around. So poor old AA who wasn’t even drinking the wine (the person across from him was) was forced to sit there for the rest of our dining experience with wine all over his shorts (yes he was wearing shorts at dinner but that’s AA for you). I sincerely hope that he didn’t get pulled over by the booze bus on the way home because winding down the window and the subsequent waft of stale booze to follow may not have helped his answer… “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” “No I haven’t.” Bullshit.
So MS and I browsed through the menu, and browsed through the menu, and browsed through the menu. I couldn’t really find anything that I wanted to eat and having already served us three lots of Garlic Bread at the table neither of us wanted an entree. I have had the Calamari Strips here before and they were very nice but I didn’t feel like them tonight. The menu is quite extensive with everything from Pasta, to Seafood, to Seafood Pasta and the synonymous Bush Tucker that you would expect. After much deliberation and almost going with the mussels, only to be stopped by the memory of a previous ‘small mussel’ dining experience at Dundee’s, I chose the Kangaroo Loin. I have developed quite a penchant for Kangaroo (dog food I hear some of you say) of late but apparently it only tastes good when I cook it? My Kangaroo was described as Peppered Kangaroo Loin Fillet, Char-Grilled and Sliced with Crispy Proscuitto , Red Wine Jus and Wild Rosella Jam (AU$29.00). Sounded pretty good to me. MS, dodging the many seafood dishes, went for the safest option on the menu as would be expected for him and chose the Chicken Breast pocketed with Sundried Tomatoes and Avocado, oven baked and served with Sweet Potato and Creamy Macadamia Nut Pesto Sauce (AU$27.50).
We chatted with our fellow birthday party diners while we waited watching the large seafood platters emerge from the kitchen and proceed to the tables of excited Japanese couples, whereby photos and peace hand gestures ensued. I was super jealous, wishing that I had the $180 odd to spend on a Seafood Platter adorned with a mudcrab but alas, I did not. (I’d rather spend it on a new dress). Despite our large table size (20 odd) our meals arrived pretty much all together with a parade of waiter’s. One older waiter whose attitude I did not like one bit. Standing at one end of the table he bellowed “Who ordered the Barramundi?” No one responded since half the table didn’t even hear him since it was such a large table. “No one?” And then he just put it down at an empty seat and walked away! WTF? Hello Dundee’s website that states that their mission is to “maintain professional service that consistently exceed customer expectations”, amongst other things. He certainly exceeded my frigin customer expectations. Had he had any patience about him whatsoever he would have hung onto that damn Barramundi Fillet until he had found it’s rightful owner. I couldn’t believe it. Moving on…
Next up mine and MS’ meals arrived. Presentation? Hmmm, pretty lacklustre if you ask me. We waited the obligatory two to three minutes until everyone else got their meal and then we started. MS’ Chicken Breast came with lashings of Macadamia Nut Pesto Sauce that was creamy (as stated in the menu) but was also extremely bland and boring. The masses of Sweet Potato hiding underneath were nothing desirable and probably would have been better off either roasted or mashed but it seems that Sweet Potato chunks are the plate filler at Dundee’s, coming out with quite a few meals including my own. There was hardly any Sundried Tomato and Avocado filling inside at all and although MS enjoyed his Chicken Breast, lets be honest it was just a Chicken Breast with sauce on it. Nothing special but then again maybe MS’ should have ordered something a little more shall we say adventurous?
Next up was my main which came with a rather large steak knife, apparently the same steak knife that I needed to saw through my tough, stringy, absolutely horrible piece of Kangaroo Loin that should only be fed to a labrador and certainly not at a fine dining restaurant. Where was my tender, succulent, melt in your mouth Kangaroo Loin that I had so excitedly ordered? There were two pieces of Kangaroo Loin on my plate and I barely got through one. So much for sliced Kangaroo Loin as stated on the menu. I’m not one to waste food since my dad always taught me to eat everything on my plate, a teaching that plagues me this day but I just couldn’t eat it. And to make matters worse I couldn’t give away the other piece to any of my fellow 19 diners. I had strayed off the garden path just this one time with my selection, figuring that people (tourists) come to Dundee’s for a truly Aussie dining experience so it must be good, right? Wrong.
I conferred with a few people around me and apart from AA next to me who had some sort of pasta dish no one was impressed and there was large amounts of food left behind and wasted on peoples plates. MS was disappointed that we had wasted our money at Dundee’s when we could have been eating right next door at Haveli and actually enjoyed our meal and received much better service. But, we were at a birthday and we were there to celebrate so we carefully hid our disappointment. Having had my third mediocre dining experience at Dundee’s I do have to say I won’t be back, unless of course another one of my friends decides to have a birthday there, which I will strongly protest towards. Yeah it’s a good place to have a group booking and the atmosphere is nice but you can’t choose a restaurant just because they split the bill and there are sh*tloads of better restaurants on the waterfront in Cairns. Surely the food has to come into account somewhere? Maybe Dundee’s needs to put a bit more money into hiring a better chef(s) and more qualified staff (come at me professional service!) rather than spending so much money on advertising? Am I being unreasonable here? I don’t think so. All I want is a nice piece of Kangaroo Loin on my Friday night dinner is that asking too much? ‘Flavours of Australia’ my ass! Yep, I have a bee in my bonnet and it’s going to be damn hard to remove it.
Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront
Cairns Harbour Lights, 1 Marlin Pde, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4051 0399
Right. Where do I start? I guess the beginning would be the best place. Sorry about the lateness of this post. I have been working out of phone range so I have literally been unable to post anything until now. The last restaurant that MS and I went to before I left was Ochre, formerly Red Ochre. A restaurant that you could probably describe as a Cairns institution since it has been here so damn long. Up until a couple of weeks ago I had never been there before, for two reasons: 1) Because I have never really been a fan of eating my coat of arms (that would be the kangaroo and the emu, and 2) because I always thought it was too expensive. Cue Table 52 card. Anyway after reading all about it on Trip Advisor (great website by the way) and hearing about it from a few other people MS and I decided (ok I decided) to go there for dinner.
I booked us a table the previous day and lucky I did because Ochre was quite busy for a Tuesday night. I would say about 2/3 full with a large majority of those diners being tourists. (Whoever does the marketing for Ochre is doing an exceptional job particularly in the overseas visitor department). Upon arriving we were shown to our table for two near the window amongst the other diners and the dim lighting where we ordered our drinks. Ignoring the descriptions of wine on the menu I was taken by the name of the wine and asked for a bottle of Stonefish Sauvignon Blanc for the two of us. Note to self: In future, don’t just choose it because you like the name of it. The waiter poured us a glass of water each and fetched out bottle of wine.
In the mean time we looked over the menu and each decided on an entree and a main. MS went with the Twice Cooked Pork Belly, seared Queensland Scallops with Davidson Plum Jam and Cauliflower Puree (AU$21) for an entree while I, going against my previous statement about eating Australia’s coat of arms, was hell bent on trying what Ochre is best known for… local tucker. I ordered the Australian Antipasto Tasting Plate which consisted of Kangaroo Terrine with Pickled Kakadu Plum, Crocodile Wonton with Red Pepper Jam, Lemon Aspen Ocean Trout Gravlax, Emu Carpaccio, Goats Cheese and Roast Capsicum Roulade (AU$23).
For a main, MS was torn between the pork and the lamb but ended up opting for the Lamb Short Loin with Preserved Lemon Risotto, Sunrise Lime, Date and Sultana Salsa and Harissa Glaze (AU$34), which if you ask me is very Australian of him. I chose the Tempura Bay Bugs on Lemongrass, Green Papaya Salad and Sweet Chilli Lemon Myrtle Dipping Sauce (AU$36). All of the items on the menu sounded absolutely delicious and I have to say I did have a hard time finally choosing that dish over the rest on the menu. While waiting for our meals to arrive we toasted our evening at Ochre and had a sip of our wine. Turns out that Stonefish wasn’t a particularly good choice of wine on my behalf as it was much too sweet, and sour. (I’m not a wine reviewer ok so don’t judge me on my wine description). We still drank it but it just wasn’t the best tasting wine I have had to be honest.
We waited about 15-20 minutes for our entrees to arrive which the waitress placed in the middle of the table so we could share. The presentation of the entrees was outstanding, though as I had expected there was a lot of vacant space on the plates and not really that much food present. We started with the Australian Antipasto Tasting Plate. MS and I split the Crocodile Wonton in two and each had a bite. It was nice but nothing fantastic. The flavours of the Red Pepper Jam overtook the flavour of the crocodile so you couldn’t really taste anything other than Jam. Next up the Kangaroo Terrine which I quite enjoyed. MS didn’t like it at all and let me eat his share. The Ocean Trout Gravlax was delicious and even MS with his “I don’t like seafood” attitude enjoyed it saying that it tasted much different to what he was expecting. Not sure what he was expecting but apparently that wasn’t it. And lastly was the Emu Carpaccio. Hmmm, I wasn’t a fan and neither was MS. I think it tasted a little like an old boot, not that I am prone to the odd boot but if I was I think that is what it would taste like. I think that the Australian Antipasto Tasting Plate is just a bit of a gimmick for the tourists who want to sample Australia’s unique wildlife and I’m not just talking visually here. I’m glad we tried it but I wouldn’t order it again.
Next entree was the Twice Cooked Pork Belly, Seared Queensland Scallops with Davidson Plum Jam and Cauliflower Puree. We both really enjoyed this dish. The only problem with it was that it was too small and we were both left wanting more. MS gobbled up two of the scallops so quickly I was left wondering if he actually knew that scallops came from the ocean. Apparently he did and apparently he also liked them. Hmmm I am beginning to think that this whole “I don’t like seafood” thing is a bit of a sham. Underneath the scallops was a cauliflower puree which was light, fluffy and oh so tasty. The pork belly was delicious and tender and the Davidson Plum sauce that was underneath these tender morsels was beautiful and rich. The Davidson Plum Jam was so good that I nearly licked remainder clean off the plate.
Next up were our mains, which after our entree plates were cleared took easily less than 15 minutes to arrive. Again, the presentation of the main dishes was exceptional but I was left with meal envy when I saw what MS had in front of him. Don’t get me wrong my bugs looked amazing but his lamb looked insanely good and tasted as good as it looked. The pieces of lamb were super tender and cooked to perfection (slightly rare) along with the delicious date and sultana salsa that matched it so well. It was quite a decent serve for a main. Not at all what either of us were expecting after the size of the entrees. MS really enjoyed his lamb and so did I.
My expertly cooked bugs were fantastic. They were not at all overcooked and were plump and juicy with crispy tempura on the outside that was not overly oily. MS had a taste and decided that not only did this non seafood lover like scallops but apparently he liked bugs too. The sweet, tender bug meat was a perfect match for the papaya salad which it was placed on top of. I loved this dish because it was cooked so delicately and even though it was fried it wasn’t too heavy. The serving size was also quite decent and not lacking in any respect.
Both MS and I enjoyed our main meals at Ochre along with one of our entrees (the scallop and pork belly one). You can keep the emu and crocodile as it seems that eating Australia’s coat of arms just isn’t my thing. Still I am prone to the odd Kangaroo steak at home but we won’t go into that. The service at Ochre was fantastic, the food just one step down from outstanding and the prices were very reasonable for a fine dining restaurant which is why Ochre has certainly stood the test of time in what is a struggling Cairns economy. Having finally had a chance dine at Ochre I have to say it that it wasn’t everything that I had hoped that it would be. It didn’t blow my socks off. After reading some reviews I was expecting Ochre to be my new number one restaurant in Cairns but it didn’t quite make it to that coveted position. What is my number one restaurant in Cairns you ask? Well, sadly I am yet to find a restaurant that ticks all the boxes, and ticks them well. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted.
43 Shields St, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4051 0100