I’ve been hearing about Mary’s famous Laksa at Parap Markets for a couple of years now and being up here (Darwin) regularly it’s always been on my ‘to do’ list I am just normally really busy on a Saturday. This Saturday however was a different story (let’s just say we weren’t very busy) so I rallied two of my crew and we headed down to Parap to try this famous Laksa that I had h eard so much about. Parap Markets are a little a little bit like Rusty’s Markets in Cairns with plenty of fresh produce but heaps more food stalls in a village-like setting. For those of you that haven’t been to my second home of Darwin picture Rusty’s Markets in Edge Hill and you might have an idea of what Parap Markets are like. The food stalls are mostly Asian type cuisine with a few others thrown in. Walking through reminded me of being in Thailand with the aroma of char-grilled chicken satays and fresh coriander. We arrived early in the morning, not long after 8am, but the place was still bustling with people buying fresh fruit and veg, fresh fruit smoothies and spring rolls.
The Parap Markets are held every Saturday from 8am till 2pm rain, hail or shine, unlike Mindil Beach Markets which are only on in the dry season and like the Mindil Beach Markets they are also a Darwin institution. The Parap Markets are a lot smaller than the Mindil Beach Markets with probably only about a quarter of the amount of stalls and a sh*tload less people to contend with. That’s not to say it’s not busy but Getting there early in the morning as we did is definitely a good idea, plus that way you don’t get too beaten down by the god-awful Darwin sun and humidity. Thankfully summer is over so it wasn’t too bad while we were there.
When we arrived we were both elated and horrified to find that there were in fact no less than 8 stalls selling Laksa. Mary’s stall could have been anyone of them so we decided that each of us would have to get a different one (that makes three out of eight but still a better chance of getting ‘the one’). Then, randomly enough I ran into a guy I used to go to school with (only random because I went to school in Cairns) and while chatting to him and doing a bit of catching up I asked him just which stall was Mary’s famous Laksa stall. AM said that he hadn’t had this famous Laksa before as he chowed down on a Satay Stick but was pretty sure he knew which one I was talking about. He pointed towards the middle of the stalls and told us to walk down the end and look for the large queue of people. So that’s exactly what we did. We soon found a large group of people hovering around a small stall with about 6 people working busily behind the counter ladling hot soup from humungous pots into containers, chopping fresh coriander, prepping noodles and dealing with the throngs of people that all wanted a piece of the action, or should I say Laksa.
Myself and DC had soon made up our minds that we were getting the Seafood Laksa (even though the seafood was imported, yes). It seemed to be the one that everyone was getting and I’m no sheep but I figured that if I was going to try one of Mary’s reputed Laksa’s then it had to be the one that everyone else was having. MJ on the other hand changed his mind at the last minute and ended up wandering off to some Greek stall to buy something else for breakfast where I had earlier eyes off pastries with Haloumi in them. Oh well his loss (and mine so it seems for not getting one of those damn pastries). Despite the long line DC and I waited less than five minutes to be served. They have containers already prepped with the noodles and greens inside which the well oiled machine of workers behind the counter add the steaming hot Laksa to, followed by whatever additions you have chosen (in our case seafood). The lady collecting your money adds your choice of coriander, sambal chilli paste and fried onions. DC went the whole hog and had all three whereas I opted for no coriander. Yuck I hate that stuff.
Afterwards we wandered back through the market searching for somewhere to sit but it seems that we weren’t the only one with that idea. There are a few tables and chairs scattered around the market but they appeared to all be taken with people eating nutella crepes, ladies sipping their coffees and various people happily slurping down their own Laksa’s. In the end DC and I decided that rather than save our Laksa’s till we got back to the boat (that would take away from the experience) we would just sit on the edge of the gutter to eat our Laksa. I have no aversion to sitting on the ground, especially when I’m gagging to get hot Laksa in my belly. We sat down and opened up our containers to be met with a rich and fragrant aroma of coconut milk, fish, chilli and in DC’s case coriander. Both of our Laksa’s were piled high with noodles, tofu, BBQ pork, a wanton and seafood (imported but I’ll come back to that). The seafood included prawns, squid and seafood extender. Apparently that comes with the Laksa territory but hey I’m no expert. I left that to the side and didn’t eat it.
The Laksa was delicious and flavoursome particularly with the addition of the Sambal Chilli paste on the top. I only wish that I had gotten more chilli paste because this stuff was the business! It had just enough kick to it without making you wish you didn’t eat an entire soup spoon full. The seafood, albeit imported, was nice and not chewy or overcooked as were the noodles. The best part for me was the tofu and the wanton as they had both soaked up the rich soup and were full of juice and flavour. DC sitting on the gutter to my right didn’t like the tofu at all but then again most men don’t. It was a large serve for AU$8 but not too large since by the end of it I was content but not bursting.
The only thing that I can fault the Laksa on is the lack of chilli. I really would have liked more so that the dish had a little bit more bite to it because it just seemed a wee bit sweet without the chilli. I realise that I am a little bit of a chilli fiend though and a lot of people don’t really dig it. Also I have to take points off for using imported seafood. C’mon Mary there is just no excuse for it, especially in a place like Darwin where local seafood is plentiful. By the time MJ returned with his spinach/pastry thing from the Greek stall DC and I were halfway through happily enjoying our Laksa’s in the gutter. I wouldn’t say it’s the best Laksa I have ever had (nor am I am expert on Laksa) and upon doing a bit more research it appears that the Rendezvous Cafe in Darwin actually holds the title according to numerous comments posted on the world wide web. DC and I m0re than enjoyed our breakfast Laksa’s. If you are ever visiting Darwin on a Saturday morning then forget the greasy bacon, eggs and hash brown from one of the dodgy cafe’s on Mitchell Street with the seedy backpackers and the street cleaner hosing the leftover kebab off the sidewalk. Stick with the locals and opt for a fresh and piping hot Laksa from Parap Markets washed down with a fresh fruit smoothie. I guarantee it’s a much better way to start your day.
Parap Village Markets
Every Saturday 8am – 2pm
When you are in Darwin it is hard not to notice all the advertisements for the hugely popular Char Restaurant. I have walked past it many times as I have walked down the Darwin esplanade so I figured that its only fair that I give it a go. Char Restaurant has received many awards for their food, wine list and a range of other things. The most recent awards received from the Australian Hotel’s Association include the 2010 Best Steak Restaurant and 2010 Best Stand Alone Restaurant. My five acquaintances and I made a booking for Tuesday night and went along. It was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday night so it was lucky that we booked. The first thing you notice about Char, even if you are just walking past, is the atmosphere – it’s great. The lantern and tree filled grounds of the heritage listed Admiralty House provide the perfect backdrop for a special dinner.
On entry we were greeted with great enthusiasm by the maitre d, so much so that myself and MF turned to each and said “Wow, he was nice”. We were given a restaurant card with the booking name on it take to the bar area for the tab while while we waited for our friends to arrive. I had a glass of Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc (WA) while MF had a Heineken. The wine list was quite comprehensive with the cheapest glass of wine being $13, I thought this was a bit steep. We sat on one of the comfy lounges under a large tree and drank our beverages while we waited. When our other friends arrived the attentive maitre d came over with menu’s in hand and asked if we would like to move to our table. On arrival at our table we took our seats and were introduced to our waiter for the evening who I found a little hard to understand but then again I am terrible with accents. The waiter was very knowledgeable with the menu and told us the specials for the evening without any prompting, something you would expect from an award-winning restaurant like Char. I have to admit the menu did sound delicious, particularly the items on the Jellyfish menu, however since I was at a steak restaurant that had won awards for its steak I decided I should probably have a steak. Again, we pretty much skipped the entrees apart from the bread which a few of us ordered. Char corn Rolls with Moo Jus Dipping Sauce, Pistachio Dukkah and Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (AU$5). Sounds good huh? It was really just a bread roll with butter and sauce, it wasn’t even warm.
Everyone except one person at the table ordered the same thing and we pretty much chose that item as soon as we spotted it on the menu. Being squid lovers we chose the 250gm Scotch Fillet with Chilli salt squid, roast tomato, green olives and watercress salad (AU$35) while MF ordered the 200gm Eye Fillet with Potato Puree, Broad Bean, Crispy Prosciutto and Horseradish Cream (AU$37). The sauces were all extra ($AU5) and we all ordered the green peppercorn sauce while MG ordered the Red wine jus. I ordered a side of Roast beetroot, Goats Cheese and Orange with my steak (AU$8).
The meals came out very quickly and the first thing that my friends noted was the small portions on the plate. I wasn’t surprised since I do dine out quite regularly and it seems these days the more expensive the restaurant, the less food you get so I was expecting none the less from Char Restaurant . The steaks were cooked to order although I think mine may have been medium, rather than medium rare. I also noticed that the roast tomato was cold, not just ‘it had been left on the plate cold’ but more like ‘just been taken out of the fridge cold’. That was pretty disappointing, and the olives were well, nothing special and I think that olives from the deli section at the local supermarket may have tasted better than these ones. The scotch fillet was nice, not fantastic, and I have to admit that MF, who just happened to be sitting right next to me, actually frequently cooks the best steak I have ever had. The squid, albeit imported, was delicious and this was reiterrated from the other four that ordered the same meal as I did.
MF’s eye fillet looked delicious and tender and he said that it was cooked just right, he didn’t however like the horseradish cream that came with it and left that on the side.
Overall the atmosphere was great, the service was good and so was the food but nothing to write home about really. Char Restaurant? Meh.
Cnr The Esplanade and Knuckey St, Darwin NT 0800
Ph: (08) 8981 4544
Open: Mon-Sun 12.00pm-11pm
Hmm well where do I start? Il Lido is a relatively new Italian restaurant in Darwin having only been open for a few months now. It has a funky feel to it with cool couches and bright red chairs to sit on and drink cocktails in the outside area. It’s located in a great spot, right down near Stokes Hill Wharf with views of the Darwin waterfront. I have walked past and perused the menu a few times so I thought it was only appropriate that I go there for dinner. Looking at the menu I noticed a few dishes that were strikingly similar to dishes on the menu at one of my fave Cairns restaurants Perotta’s At the Gallery (the Chilli Salt Squid Salad with Spiced Popcorn, the Warm Duck Salad and the Red Wine Braised Octopus with Watermelon Salad). These dishes are very similar if not almost the same as dishes at Perotta’s. On further research I found that Italian Chef Ivo Perrotta from Perotta’s At the Gallery is actually a Consultant Chef for Il Lido. Now this all makes sense. So I have heard mixed reports from people that have dined at Il Lido with some saying it was good and some saying that it was bad. Only one way to find out right?Il Lido is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it was quite busy for a Wednesday night with most of the outside tables occupied. The inside was quite bare with hardly anyone in there but on such a lovely night why would you want to sit inside? We had a few drinks at the Cocktail Bar next door first off. I had a Green Tea Mojito, which was very nice and then we moved to our table.
There was 9 of us dining this evening and as we sat down I noticed that the lighting was very dim and it was actually quite dark for the people sitting outside. We didn’t order entree’s and went straight for the mains. Three of the people at my table ordered the 250g Porcini Dry Rubbed Churchill Sirloin with Garlic Roast Potatoes, Balsamic Red Onions and Gorgonzola Butter (AU$34), all cooked medium rare. The waiter informed them that their Sirloin didn’t come with many veges and so asked if they would like a side of Spiced Broccolini (AU$8) to with their main. They consented to the Broccolini. RW ordered the Roasted Barramundi with Peperonata, Olives, Zucchini and Salsa Verde for $32. He also went with the Iceberg Wedges drizzled with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Pinenuts (AU$8). Across from me, MG ordered a main of Linguini with Tiger Prawns, Cherry Tomatoes, Fetta Cheese, Chilli and Fresh Lemon (AU$26).
CM ordered the Il Lido Caesar Salad, which came with all the things you would expect to come with a Caesar Salad as well as white anchovies, grissini and chicken. Nick ordered the Warm Duck Salad with Mango, Candied Spiced Pistachio, Baby Beets, Endive and Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette (AU$23), while last but not least I ordered the 8 Hour Roast Lamb Shoulder with Three Wheat Salad, Date, Almonds, Pancetta and Spicy Cumin Yogurt (AU$33). The mains took about 20-30 minutes to arrive at our table and when they did come out they were staggered and we left waiting a good 5 to 10 minutes for some people’s dishes to arrive. The three with the steaks were surprised at how small the dish was and were glad that they had ordered Broccolini on the side, however one of the steaks came out well done when it was supposed to be medium. The waiter was informed of this and nothing was ever done about it. No apologies, nothing. That was pretty disappointing. The Broccolini however was delicious and crisp.
CM’s Caesar Salad was according to him “nothing special” and “my wife makes a better Caesar Salad”. Marcus’ Tiger Prawn Linguini was apparently very tasty and was a good serving size however, disappointingly the prawns were imported and on a closer look at the menu quite a lot of the seafood was imported. With the availability of high quality fresh seafood in Darwin there is no excuse for a new and pricey restaurant such as Il Lido not to have all Australian seafood on the menu. The Coral Trout had by Ray was cooked nicely but again it was a very small portion with hardly anything else on the plate and in RW’s words “there was nothing special about it”. The Warm Duck Salad ordered by NL went down well however he did comment on there only being one piece of mango on top of the salad and not through the salad as one would think.
Lastly, my Lamb Shoulder was very tasty. It came out in a sort of salad form though which I wasn’t expecting and was quite a small portion. It was delicious and the Almonds and crunchy Pancetta with the Spicy Cumin Yogurt complimented the dish nicely. So for my verdict and this was reiterated by the rest of the people at my table. The food was overpriced and the portions were too small. Again it’s disappointing to see imported seafood on the menu in a place like Darwin particularly prawns. And the ‘non-response’ from the waiter when told about the steak being well done was pretty poor. I probably won’t be back. Sorry Il Lido you have a great atmosphere but the food and service let you down.
P.S: Sorry about the dodgy photos, I blame the dim lighting (or it could have been the mojito and 3 glasses of wine).
19 Kitchener Drive, Darwin NT 0800
Ph: (08) 89 410900
When you are in Darwin one of the things that you must do is visit the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. They are open every Thursday and Sunday evening during the dry season and well worth the trip even if you just go for the food (like I do). The markets are normally packed to the brim with locals and tourists alike and it can get a little argy bargy at times, especially after sunset when everyone who has been down on the beach verges on the food stalls for something to eat and drink. There isn’t just food at these markets there is local aboriginal art, local crafts, the odd junk shops and live bands and entertainment but again like I said, I really just go for the food. There is so much food to choose from at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets that I get a little overwhelmed and don’t really know what to eat first. Choices include a myriad of Asian food (Thai, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Cambodian, Indian, yeah you get the picture), Aussie food, Greek, Italian, heaps of stores selling juices and smoothies and Mexican just to name a few.
Firstup, I can never go past my old favourite Thai dish, Som Tum or Papaya Salad. I went to the Ra Cha Asian Kitchen for this one. I have been there a few times and you can’t go wrong paying $5.00 for a large Som Tum. I always ask for chilli but not too much chilli because they do make it super hot sometimes and I have gotten to a point where I just cannot continue eating and have to give up eating my Som Tum halfway through due to it being inedible. Don’t get me wrong, I can eat chillibut I do have a limit. This Som Tum however was just right and judging by the line of people at this stall I think I was onto a winner. There are a few different stalls that sell Som Tum at the markets but I have found this one to be really good so I’l admit I haven’t tried any others however I have had a shitload of them in my time from other places as well as Thailand.
Next up, I couldn’t go past a half dozen of oysters from the Sunset Oyster Bar, natural of course with a squeeze of lemon. They do have variations of oysters on the menu including the usual Kilpatrick, and a few others such as Mornay, Thai and Japanese. The oysters are live from South Australia and shucked on site by a team of very quick shuckers.
This place does a roaring trade and I had to line up for about 10 minutes before I got served. The oysters are big and juicy and after I finished my half dozen for $8.50 (pretty good I reckon) I decided that I should have another half dozen because they were just too good to stop at 6. I am seriously surprised that this stall doesn’t run out of oysters since they are always flat out. They also serve things like prawn cocktails and mussels but the oysters win hands down since the prawns are imported and they don’t look that appertising.
So last but not least I went to try the Pho that I read about in the NT News a few weeks ago. According to the NT News this stall (the name is foregoing me at the moment but I will find out) has the best Pho in Darwin. I have to admit I haven’t been to Vietnam nor have I had Pho before but I read about it, then I visited the store and saw the queue and smelt the Pho aroma and so I decided that I wanted some Pho too. Well let me tell you, it was the best damn Pho I have ever had. Ok, ok it was the first but it was amazing. The broth was delicious and flavoursome and again for $8.50 you can’t go wrong! I got the Special Beef Pho, but there was Beef Ball Pho, Chicken Pho and Vegetarian Pho for those that like that kind of thing. I will definitely be back for more Pho next time I am in Darwin, I might even remember the name of the stall next time…
P.S: Ok so it does sound like I am major fatty eating all this food but it must be noted that all this food was consumed over two visits to the markets.
Mindil Beach Sunset Markets
Maria Livens Drive, Mindil Beach, Darwin NT 0801
Ph: (08) 89 813454
Opening Hours: Thursday 28th April to Thursday 27th October; Thursday 5pm -10pm, Sunday 4pm -9pm ( Sunday is a smaller market 3/4 of the Thurs)