True Cairns local’s like myself – or at least ones that have lived in Cairns prior to 2001 – would remember George’s Greek Taverna on the corner of Aplin and Grafton Street. Many a plate was smashed in a furore of music and dancing at George’s over the years. After it was George’s, it was Yanni’s and then finally before closing down last year (or maybe even the year before) it was Adelfia.
I remember going to George’s back in the day many times for dinner. It was always great service, delicious food and there was even the possibility of spotting teenage heart throb Peter Andre (anyone that thinks Mysterious Girl was not an awesome song can kindly escort themselves from this page – that song still rocks).
Unless you read that dubious publication that is the Cairns Life Magazine you probably aren’t aware that George’s has returned to Cairns once again. What was previously long standing Mediterranean and Tapa’s restaurant Casa De Meze upstairs on the esplanade is now Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar (aka the old George’s Greek Taverna).
With my crew in town (and no I don’t mean that like a dance crew, more like sea men haha) and with me being the only local in my crew AND their resident food critic the pressure was on to choose somewhere good for us all to go to dinner. After a bit of a stouche about the previously decided on location, Waterbar and Grill I decided on somewhere that I hadn’t yet been but wanted to try… Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen. It wasn’t Waterbar and Grill that was the problem, lets just say we don’t all get along with our *ahem* esteemed leader.
I booked us a table for 10 for 6.30pm and we all headed down to Yaya’s, minus that one person. We were greeted by the female owner who swiftly showed us to our table all the while giving what must have been a new staff member a bit of a helping hand along the way. The new staff member (a waiter) handed us our menu’s and asked us what we would like to drink. Due to us being ‘dry’ or should I say alcohol free whilst at work (yes dinner was still technically considered work) we ordered a couple of cokes, a lemon lime and bitters and the rest of us had water. From the look of surprise we got from the waiter he must have thought we were from the local AA group or something. I guess it’s not very often they get an entire table of 10 ask for non-alcoholic beverages.
We moved onto the menu’s and after a bit of umming and ahhing we (I) decided on the Sharing Banquet for AU$40 per person. Although the rest of the menu looked delicious we figured the banquet was the best bang for your buck with such a large group plus it encourages a little more interaction amongst the people at the table. Yeah because more interaction is exactly what you need after 2.5 weeks at sea together.
There was a little bit of a wait between us ordering and then getting our first lot of food but after that the meals just kept on coming. First up was the Three Dips with Homemade Bread, Saganaki Cheese, Greek Salad and the Chef’s Choice of Mezedes (small sharing plates).
When I first sat down for dinner I had every intention of ‘going easy’ on the food. That idea was scrapped almost instantly when I spotted the Homemade Bread. It pretty much went downhill from there for me sadly. One thing I simply cannot resist no matter how strong my willpower is fresh, warm bread but I am almost positive I’m not entirely alone on that one. The Three Dips to go with the bread were Tzatziki, Taramosolata and Eggplant. These dips coupled with the crunchy on the outside and warm on the inside homemade bread were way too bloody moorish!
Sometimes I wonder if some of my crew live under a rock because none of them had heard of nor eaten Saganaki Cheese before. But, seriously aside from pork cracking and blue vein cheese it’s got to be one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten. Squeeze that lemon juice over the top and you’re good to go. My workmates all gushed about it for days afterwards.
After hogging ourselves on cheese, bread, dips and mezedes our empty plates were cleared away to make way for the next course.
The Calamari had a light coating of flour and was pan-fried with lemon and olive oil dressing. It was cooked to perfection and melted in your mouth – exactly the way calamari should be! The Fish of the Day was Swordfish with a balsamic drizzle and again cooked to perfection.
The last dish of this course was the Chargrilled Prawns. They were big and juicy although we only got one each, something that we were all a little disappointed about.
Our third and final savoury course was the Chicken Souvlaki and Yaya’s Arni (Baked Lamb and Potatoes). My personal favourite dish of the evening (other than the homemade bread) was the Baked Lamb and Potatoes. Tender pieces of lamb will do it for me every time.
After all this we were pretty much stuffed but there was still dessert to come. George himself (at least I think his name is George) came out from behind the open kitchen to greet us and thank us for coming as our plates of mixed sweets arrived. He offered to toast our dinner with a small glass of port each, including one for himself, but sadly we all had to decline. Typically the only time that I get an offer of free alcohol is when I can’t have it!
As you may have already guessed my crew and I thoroughly enjoyed our sharing banquet at Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar. The simply presented food is both delightful and plentiful (except the prawns). Post banquet I felt like I might need to be rolled out of there having completely gutsed myself, a far cry from my initial thoughts of ‘just having a small dinner’. If the Sharing Banquet sounds a little too much food to bear then there is also an a la carte menu to choose from with no dish over AU$30. There’s even a funky lounge setting inside for those just looking to enjoy some Mezedes and a cocktail from the bar. At Yaya’s the service is efficient, friendly and a little loud but frankly who doesn’t expect a little yelling with their Greek food. Ah just like old times! Just make sure you get the okay from George before you start smashing the plates.
Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar
Level 1, Corner Aplin St and the Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4031 3033
Opening Hours: Dinner from 5pm 7 days a week, Lunch on Fridays from 12pm
I had been wanting to try the banquet at Hanuman at the Hilton for quite some time now so you can imagine my delight when my flamboyant friend HH invited me for dinner with friends one Friday night. I met HH and SR in the lobby at the Hilton at 8pm and after get acquainted (I had never met SR before) and re-acquainted (I hadn’t seen HH since a Christmas Party in December) we headed on into Hanuman to meet three more of his friends waiting inside. DR I already knew but the other two men at the table I had never met before. I cannot for the life of me remember either of their names but it doesn’t really matter since I only initials anyway. The one sitting directly across from me was a dead ringer for Jeremy Clarkson, at least I thought so anyway. I informed him of his resemblance to the tv star and he thought it was very funny. Apparently no one had ever told him that he looked like JC before. I like to think I have a strange knack for comparing peoples looks to celebrities (and sometimes even animals) but then no one else seems to agree with me.
On walking into Hanuman I was surprised to find that half of Cairns seemed to be dining there on this particular Friday night. I know that Hanuman is a very popular restaurant – in Cairns, Darwin and Alice Springs – but because I have only ever been there for lunch before I guess I am only used to seeing a couple of tables occupied. After introductions were made at the table the waitress took our drink orders. I ordered a glass of Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc for AU$11 from the Wine Menu while the rest of the men at the table (I was the only female, story of my life) ordered beers. All except for the other guy whose name I can’t remember whom for some reason decided to order a cocktail called a Coconut Kiss. He was horrified to find that when it turned up it was all pink and girlie and subsequently tried to palm it off to me down the other end of the table. The responsible person that I am politely declined his offer since I was driving and one glass of wine was almost more than enough for little old me.
There are three banquet menu’s to choose from on the menu at Hanuman, the Rama Banquet for AU$39.50 per person, the Sita Banquet for AU$49.50 per person and the Hanuman Banquet for AU$62 per person. Each banquet is basically a more grandiose version of the last. HH had already taken the liberty of choosing the Sita Banquet for our table, as he tends to do. It included a selection of entrees, mains and a dessert. Even though our food didn’t take long I was absolutely famished by the time the entrees arrived on two platters placed at either end of the table. This was my one and only cheat meal for the week (FML) so I wanted it to be good. Each platter included three entree dishes including Kashmiri Chicken Tikka marinated with yogurt, ginger, kashmiri chilli and fragrant rose petal garam masala, Vegetable Samosas (Indian pastry filled with potato and peas slow cooked with roasted cumin and spices) and Nonya Pork Rolls flavoured with Chinese five spice and wrapped in bean curd sheets. The presentation was elegant yet simple although if I am really going to nitpick (which I am) then I think they could have removed the seeds from the wedge of lemon on the plate. There was also a yogurt and mint dipping sauce and a sweet and sour type dipping sauce. We ate while we chatted about politics (something I can never escape in my line of work – everyone has an opinion unfortunately), other restaurants in Cairns (my favourite topic of conversation) and the Paleo diet (more on that in another post). The entrees were all delicious with my favourite hands-down being the Kashmiri Chicken Tikka. The yogurt and spices on the chicken gave a nice little burst of flavour when you bit into the chicken which literally melted in my mouth. Each entree was a couple of bites for each person but I could have easily eaten more.
About 15 minutes later our mains arrived with a parade of waiters. There was two plates/bowls of each dish placed on the table in front of us followed by a large platter of whole fish right in the middle. SR (who just happens to be a chef) asked what kind of fish it was. The waitress said that it was barramundi. SR and I looked at each other with a deeply puzzled look because even though we didn’t know what kind of fish it was we knew that it sure as hell wasn’t a barramundi. The fish before us had no signature ‘curved head’ or elongated body as barramundi tend to. SR assured the waitress that she was indeed mistaken to which she looked surprised and said that it was probably a rock cod. Nope, still wrong. The menu doesn’t actually specify what type of fish it is it just says ‘Crispy Whole Fish’. The waitress was a little flustered when we continued to question her and I felt bad but waitstaff at a restaurant as prominent and popular as Hanuman should know what kind of fish they are serving. I’m sure plenty of people would have been happy to think that their fish was in fact a barramundi but not us. The waitress said that she would check with the chef and get back to us. In the meantime another waiter came over to fill our glasses so SR asked him what type of fish it was to which the reply was also Barramundi and then cod. Anyway to cut a long story short in the end the waitress came back and told us that it was a Goldband Snapper. Problem solvered more than 30 minutes later when our fish no longer resembled a fish and hopefully the waitstaff won’t make assumptions about what they are serving next time. You probably think it’s quite a petty thing to question but as someone whose parents owned a wholesale seafood business for a significant portion of my life and works on a boat it’s not to me.
Anyway so we all dug into a our food… I piled a mountain of rice onto my plate to soak up all the juices from the delicious curries laid out in front of me because like I have said before rice and sauce is the best part. Who cares about the meat (except for the purpose of this post), I want the sauce! My family used to have Sri Lankan curry nights when I was little (still do) and all I used to eat was bowls of rice and sour cream (now I eat curry). Lucky for me each dish came with copious amounts of sauce/gravy with them. The dishes included Kapitan Prawns a rich curry of fresh turmeric, lemon grass, galangal, coconut and ground dried shrimps, Thai Crispy Whole Fish served with three flavoured sauce – hot, sweet and sour, Butter Chicken silky cashew and tomato curry, infused with cardamom and cumin, Beef Massaman aromatic curry with potato, ginger, nutmeg, tamarind and peanuts and Kang Kong Greens water spinach, stir fried with yellow soya beans, garlic and chilli. I’m not going to go into ridiculous amounts of detail about the taste, creaminess and spice infusions of each dish but I have to say that I couldn’t really choose a favourite other than the obvious creamy Butter Chicken (food of the God’s!) The Butter Chicken was exactly as it should be… f**king awesome!
The Kapitan Prawns were sweet and flavoursome and they left the tails on the prawns for presentation and because it retains the flavour, an absolute must. I’ve had arguments out at sea with crew members while making prawn curry about leaving the prawn tails intact. It’s something that my parents have always done no matter how we have the prawns and I think it makes the dish more visually appealing, not mention the prawns look bigger than they actually are. One criticism for the Kapitan Prawns… It was too small! I could have eaten that entire bowl by myself no questions asked. C’mon Hanuman surely throwing another 3 or 4 prawns in there won’t break the bank?
The Massaman Curry (another favourite of mine) was in fact not Massaman Curry but more like a Lamb Korma. Well okay it was a Lamb Korma smartass. The chunks of lamb were a little bit on the chewy side which is not really what you want when the chunks are large because it makes the risk of choking that much higher (one of my greatest fears other than centipedes). It was disappointing that the Massaman didn’t turn up because a rich peanut-ty Massaman can be almost life changing. I don’t know, maybe they ran out of Massaman and figured that the Lamb Korma, which is served in the more expensive banquet would be a step up? Not in my books it’s not.
The Thai Crispy Whole Fish was very good, nothing too fantastic I didn’t think but whole fish on a platter doesn’t really turn me on. It was met with ooh’s, ahh’s and photos on it’s arrival at the table. Meh. Call me simple but I think you really just can’t beat a good piece of battered fish with lemon and tartare sauce. While the rest of the table was busy dividing up pieces of Crispy Whole Fish I was busy sampling and re-sampling the other dishes.
Lastly there was the Kang Kong Greens which well, they were fresh and crisp in a light garlic and chilli sauce but because there was so much other yummy stuff on the table and because I have been eating broccoli and beans for three of my five meals a day for nearly 12 weeks now I didn’t feel too much like eating more greens. I had limited room in my stomach and it wasn’t being taken up by vegetables that’s for sure.
It wasn’t long till I was full as a goog after eating about 2 and a half plates of rice, meat, seafood and sauce. There was quite a bit of food left over at the table however the Butter Chicken and the Kapitan Prawns were all gone. Easily the best two curries of the night! Then as the waitress was clearing the tables I remembered that we still had dessert to go, which arrived soon after the clearing of the plates with offers of tea and coffee to finish off the evening. Everyone at the table declined tea and coffee as I think we had all eaten more than our fair share at the main course and a mug of hot tea or coffee just wouldn’t go down well.
Dessert was Thai Basil Cheesecake with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Strawberries and I have to say that it was, well, disappointing. I expected some sort of Asian flair in a cheesecake but it was just plain, boring old cheesecake that they had pulled out of the fridge and plopped on a plate. In fact it was probably already on a plate in the fridge waiting to be served. There was nothing special about it and no one at the table really even ate it. I also think there was too much gelatine in it. I was full but I still could’ve fit a good dessert in. It was a shitty end to a great meal. Something more fitting to what we had just eaten like a Coconut Sago or Mango Pudding would have been more appropriate than cheesecake. Oh well, I didn’t really need it anyway.
We all finished up not long after our mediocre cheesecake and after spending about 10 minutes assuring HH that I didn’t want to kick on at the Salt House I headed home. My company and I were well satisfied and I think that the Sita Banquet was certainly a fitting ‘cheat meal’ despite a couple of hangups. To wrap it all up the service at Hanuman is excellent without being overbearing. Good service in Cairns is as hard to find as an outside table at the Lillipad Cafe on a Sunday. Our receptive waitress for the evening ensured that our water glasses were kept filled, beers were flowing and any other needs met with a smile. Hanuman is definitely doing something right on the Cairns scene judging by the turnout of diners on the evening. The atmosphere is classy but not snobby with a beautiful outlook onto the Hilton’s manicured gardens adjacent to the chapel and beyond to the inlet. The food is flavoursome, filling and indulgent however still reasonably priced for a fine dining restaurant. The banquets are definitely good value for money because you get to taste a little bit of everything, although you must dine with a group because they are only available for six people or more. To be honest I was expecting a little more out of Hanuman and I think the size of some of the dishes, the lack of some dishes, as well as the lack of knowledge by staff as to what was being served to the final dish was a bit of a let down, although I did have very high expectations. I would still love to go back and try the more expensive Hanuman Banquet which includes oysters, two types of prawn dishes, fish, two types of lamb dishes, wok tossed seafood, Thai Crispy Whole Fish, Butter Chicken and vegetables but until then I’m wondering if I should tone down on the banquets and buffets for a little while, well for this week anyway.
Hilton Hotel Cairns, 34 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4051 6075
Opening Hours: Lunch Mon – Fri 12pm – 3pm, Dinner 7 nights from 6pm till late