There have been a few places I have been wanting to go and eat in the last few months but being so restricted food wise all I could do was dream about them and lay in waiting for the time when I could eat real food again. That time has finally come, well about a month ago anyway. Two of those such places were The Clever Duck and Mama Coco who coincidently are run by the same people. I have previously written posts on both of The Clever Duck and Mama Coco however Davey, Bill and co are doing exciting new things at both establishments and I thought that called for a brand new post. Besides if I was going to eat there then I was definitely going to post about it! I’ll have to save the Mama Coco one for another day because this post is reserved for The Clever Duck.
Having only been open since April this year The Clever Duck has already developed a huge following of locals and fellow foodies because of it’s delicious food and breezy, serene location in Forest Gardens. Only recently they have come up with The Clever Canteen on Saturday’s and Sunday’s from midday to 4pm. This particular time we went was for the Labour Day Long Weekend on the 6th of October (yes I realise that was nearly a month ago but I have been overseas, no not working but on holiday). More on that very soon.
I got a group of friends together and we headed out to Forest Gardens for an afternoon of eating and drinking. When we arrived the TCD was only about a third full but our group of 9 filled the place up a little bit more. Bill, the host, politely showed us to our table and explained the menu to us. The menu at The Clever Canteen is designed for grazing with a choice of four different types of meats for $9 per portion and salads, grains and veggies $5 per portion. There is also the option of three tasty sauces for $1, grazing plates with sour dough and antipasto for $25 plus things for the ducklings (kiddies) at around the $5 mark.
Since The Clever Canteen is currently BYO with no corkage MS and I took full advantage and planned to get absolutely wasted so we pulled out our bottle of tequila and some shot glasses. Haha, just kidding. A couple of Rekorderlig Ciders on a Sunday afternoon at TCD was just what the doctor ordered (I think Rekorderlig is amazing or as my good friend TW would say are ‘like angels peeing on my tongue’).
After having a look over the menu which true-to-form I had already looked over many times on TCD‘s Facebook page we ordered a few plates each and went from there. First up I went for the Dry Rubbed Smoked Pork Shoulder with Southern Style Whiskey and Sweet Onion Sauce and a side of Saffron Basmati Rice, Dried Cranberries, Pistachios and Mixed Herbs all for $15. Shit yeah! Pretty good if you ask me. MS ordered the same except instead of the Basmati Rice he chose the Pink Eye Potato Salad, Radish, Dill, Sour Cream and Horseradish as his side. Across from me my favourite sweet toothed blogger Baking Myself Happy ordered the Prosciutto Wrapped Rosemary and Chicken Thigh with Thyme Roasted Pumpkin, Mushroom, Tomato and Shallot. With the delicious aromas of the BBQ sizzling away outside with Davy at the helm our first round of food didn’t take long to arrive. Initially I thought the portion size was a little small but then I looked at the size of the cut of Pork Shoulder that was in front of me and remembered that it had cost a mere $15 and soon realised what awesome value The Clever Canteen was.
The Dry Rubbed Smoked Pork Shoulder was probably some of the best, if not the best pork I have ever had. All too many times I have had dry, chewy pork but this… this was something else. It was juicy and succulent and the Southern Style Whiskey and Sweet Onion Sauce was that good that I pretty much licked the ramekin clean to finish it off after my pork was gone. The Saffron Basmati Rice was also a hit at our table with just the right amount of sweetness from the cranberries, crunch from the pistachios and herbs to flavour the dish. MS and I also ordered some Wood Fired Sour Dough with Wattle Seed Dukkah and EVOO for AU$5 because lets face it, who can resist dukkah and sour dough! Everyone declared how excellent their respective meals were and after we finished our first plate half the table was already looking at the menu for what they were going to have for their next plate – not because we were still hungry (well I was but I am an eating machine to put it lightly) but because we wanted to try more of the amazing dishes that were on offer.
Next up I chose the Herb Crusted Roast Tableland Sirloin this time with Smokey Chimichurri for the sauce and the Pink Eye Potato Salad and MS got Sirloin also except he chose the Roasted Pumpkin and Mushroom Salad. As we finished off our first cider and moved onto our 2nd (I had 2, MS was driving so he only had one) our second plates of food arrived at the table. My big cut of sirloin, like the pork, was cooked to perfection and had that lovely grilled/BBQ taste. The chimichurri sauce was the perfect accompaniment and the potato salad was definitely my favourite side dish of the day. I have a massive weak spot for potato salad. And macaroni cheese. I loved the sirloin but I just couldn’t go past the pork. That was an absolute standout for me whilst MS thought the sirloin was better. Different strokes, different folks but they were both awesome.
Across from me KK who was still relishing in her first meal of Dry Rubbed Pork had ordered a Grazing Plate of Soft, Hard and Blue Cheese with Chutney Fruit and Sourdough for $25. The Grazing Plate served on a large wooden bread board was presented beautifully and neatly and I secretly wished that I had ordered one. Lucky for the rest of us at the table KK ate as much as she could (hardly any) and then moved the board into the middle of the table for the rest of us to devour. I went straight for the blue cheese because lets face it, a cheese platter isn’t a cheese platter without that mouldy goodness. The soaked dried fruits were delicious and I am now kicking myself for not finding out what they were soaked in.
Although I wanted to keep eating savoury dishes and get through all four of the main BBQ portions – fish and chicken still to go – I knew that it was time to check out the dessert dishes inside the cabinet near the counter. MS and I went over and had a look and after at least 10 minutes of umming and ahhing what each of us should get and then what the other could get so one could taste it and then consulting the waitress as to which one was better than the other. We finally chose a small slice of the Chocolate and Sultana Brownie with Ice Cream, the Almond, Pear and Frangipane Tart and a slice of Banana Bread, warmed up with butter. It was a hard choice and if I could have had my way I would have eaten one of everything in the cabinet but alas I have to exert a little bit of self control. Yes MS and I are fatties (on the inside) but we workout *insert chorus for the song I’m sexy and I know it*. A lot. All three of the desserts were fantastic with the exception of the Almond and Frangipane Tart which was exceptional. There is something about the texture of the tart that just did it for me. MS was content eating his boring slice of Banana Bread (good but boring) and left me to my own devices with the entire tart and the brownie.
About halfway through our lunch more people started to arrive until the place was chock a block. Not too many people but enough to fill the place up both outside on the deck and inside where we were sitting. The amazingly talented and beautiful singer Amy Chase and her guitarist set up outside on the deck and played some lazy tunes whilst families set up picnic blankets in the afternoon sun out on the lawn in front of the deck. It was the perfect afternoon to end finish off a perfect Sunday with fantastic food, great service and great friends in a relaxed atmosphere by the pond. I really like the concept of The Clever Canteen – being able to mix and match your food. There are exciting times ahead as the team at The Clever Duck and Mama Coco are doing some great things for the local food scene with pop up restaurants and weekend BBQ’s like The Clever Canteen. I only hope that other cafe’s and restaurants take a leaf out of their book to help create a more diverse Melbournesque food culture for our vibrant city. Bring it on!
PS: If you haven’t got your tickets for the Melbourne Cup Soiree at TCD then you better get in soon. With canapés, a bountiful banquet and a dessert pony (whatever that is) it’s the winning trifecta for a kick ass day.
PPS: After all the ranting and raving I have done about these guys I just want to say that I have no ties or links to Mama Coco or TCD. I do however believe that if a café or restaurant in Cairns is up to scratch then I will shout it from the rooftops, or at least from the safety of my couch and my Toshiba Ultrabook. As many of my readers should know it’s hard to find good food, good service and good atmosphere in Cairns so when you find all three you know you’re onto a winner.
The Clever Duck
Lakeside, Forest Gardens Blvd, Forest Gardens QLD 4868
Ph: (07) 4036 3936
Opening Hours: The Clever Canteen – Sat and Sun 12pm – 4pm, normal hours Wed – Fri 7.30am – 2.30pm, Sat and Sun 7.30am – 4pm
It’s been a few weeks since my last post, I know. I haven’t been slack just out of phone range for work and then when I got back I just wanted to spend some time with my significant other without my head stuck in the computer before he left for his new FIFO job. Now the shoe is on the other foot and it’s me by myself at home for a couple of weeks twiddling my thumbs *sad face* Oh well I guess this is a perfect chance to catch up on that neglected food blog of mine *smiley face* Anyway without further adieu here it is… After my last rant regarding the Mother’s Day Brunch at Bazaar in Port Douglas I thought I would do something a little more light hearted this time around. Recently Davy O’Rourke, the man behind the mouth-wateringly good Mama Coco cafe on Aumuller Street, opened up a new venture called The Clever Duck out at Forest Gardens. The Clever Duck is located in the old sales office just off the main roundabout as you are heading into Forest Gardens. It’s a little bit off the beaten track for those city folk like me (that’s a joke) but it seems that plenty of people that have cottoned on to this delightful little place.
Following in the footsteps of Mama Coco, Davy and his team at the newly opened The Clever Duck have again put the emphasis on fresh, local produce served in a relaxed atmosphere. MS and I arrived at about 1.30 on a Sunday afternoon to meet a couple of friends for lunch. Initially we had pondered where to meet up for lunch but then I remembered The Clever Duck at Forest Gardens (that I had so eagerly anticipated the opening of) had finally opened and since the couple that we were catching up with (JM and KK) lived in Mt Sheridan then it seemed like the most clever option.
When we arrived JM and KK had already managed to snag one of the last available tables, which was positioned inside the main restaurant area close to the counter and underneath a very large and unusual organic ‘chandelier’. We caught up on a few things and then got down to the lunch side of things. On the wall opposite the counter is a large blackboard with all the breakfast and lunch options available. We each took it in turns to choose our meals and ordered our food and coffees at the front counter. The menu at The Clever Duck offers a range of tasty, easy to prepare dishes from toasted ciabatta rolls with shaved proscuitto, swiss cheese and tomato relish to poached chicken salad with glass noodles. There is something for everyone including vegetarians as well as ‘all day breakfast’ over the weekend.
While I was waiting I looked around at the tables of families and friends enjoying their coffees, late breakfasts and lunches. The place was pretty much full up but because it takes up such a large area with the outside deck and the inside space that’s available it doesn’t feel at all cramped but rather very spacious. The deck looks out over the duck pond in the heart of Forest Gardens and I remember all too well the evil ducks and geese that used to chase my friend SS and I when we would venture down that way to sneak cigarettes after school (she lived in Forest Gardens at the time and no I don’t smoke anymore). Nowadays there doesn’t seem to be quite as many ducks or geese as I remember and they are certainly not as hostile as back then – mind you I certainly wasn’t game to find out. It really is lovely looking out from the deck on the gardens and pond beyond and I secretly wished that we had been able to grab an outside table so we could enjoy it more, but alas those prime positions were already taken. Inside is still a great spot with lovely high ceilings, recycled furniture and polished wooden floors.
MS, JM and KK returned to the table after ordering lunch and we sat and chatted a little more while we waited for our coffees and food to arrive. I ordered the Quinoa with Roast Pumpkin, Grilled Zucchini, Mint, Sultanas and Preserved Lemon for AU$16 although I added a bit of chicken in for an extra AU$3 to make sure that I got my required protein. MS on the other hand who just couldn’t help himself decided that he would have a second breakfast and chose the The Hungry Duck with Two Poached Eggs, Mushrooms, Roast Pumpkin and Tomato, Proscuitto, Baked Beans and Toast for AU$19.50. JM chose the same dish as myself with the chicken as an extra also. He always copies me. About 10 minutes later mine and MS’ flat whites arrived followed closely by JM and KK’s latte’s. Then about 10 minutes later our lunches and MS’ breakfast arrived.
KK had chosen the Shaved Proscuitto, Poached Egg, Ciabatta, Blistered Cherry Tomato and Salsa Verde for AU$17 and when it arrived at the table I got food envy. It looked really bloody good – great presentation and so colourful! The poached eggs oozed delicious, runny yolk when she sliced gently into them. KK said it was delicious and fresh with lovely sweet tomatoes. I made a mental note to return for that dish in the near future.
Although MS’ breakfast was a little on the steep side at AU$19.50 (seems this is becoming the norm for Cairns unfortunately) it was a fairly decent sized portion with a big serve of beans and nearly half an avocado on the side. When he was ordering he attempted to change the accompanying prosciutto to bacon but apparently they didn’t serve bacon at The Clever Duck. He was slightly disappointed by this considering he is such a bacon lover at heart. Me? I think prosciutto is just as good if not better but it wasn’t my breakfast. The eggs were perfectly poached and the creamy homemade beans with just a small shaving of cheese over the top melted in your mouth (I had a little taste). It’s actually nice to see fresh, crunchy baby spinach on the plate as opposed to wilted baby spinach which just tends to get soggy most of the time. The fresh baby spinach just jazzes things up a little bit more. MS was pretty content by the end of his second breakfast that’s for sure.
JM and I both enjoyed our Quinoa Salads having both agreed that the additional chicken was the way to go. The woman at the counter did make a comment that all the chicken would be gone after JM and I ordered it in our salads. Gee sorry about that. Wtf? The Quinoa Salad didn’t have any dressing on it nor did it need any because the sourness of the labna and preserved lemon mixed with the sweet sultanas and craisins topped it all off very nicely. I have only discovered zucchini in the last couple of years (I was a bit of a veggie sook at one point) and now think it’s a worthy addition to nearly every salad, especially grilled and marinated. The flavours were delicious and the ingredients used in the Quinoa Salad were lovely and fresh. I did pick a little bit of fresh parsley out of the salad but that’s just personal preference for me because I tend to find it too overpowering. Next time I will be sure to ask for no parsley with my Quinoa Salad.
The four of us really enjoyed our meals and it was nice just to chill out in a relaxed cafe in the middle of the gardens without any real formalities and especially without the noise of Sunday drivers making a nuisance of themselves like they do down at the Cairns Esplanade. My three dining companions and I did find a two of the staff to be quite sour and a little rude when ordering and when one of them brought our coffees to the table – a little smile never hurts anyone. This was also the case when I went back about a week later for lunch with my mum, sister and a couple of other friends. Also a couple of the ingredients that appeared in my Quinoa Salad (red onion and parsley) were not mentioned on the menu. If I had known they were in there I might have opted to go without the parsley but other than that the food, service and atmosphere were excellent. Mama Coco has already got a huge following of locals that regularly dine there for their mouthwatering salads, sandwiches and freshly baked sweets and now The Clever Duck seems set to raise the bar once again but this time on the south-side of town. If you are sick of seeing the same old boring cafe menus consisting of Caesar Salad, Greek Salad and the ever present Turkey and Cranberry ‘melt’ then get down to The Clever Duck and experience their intelligent take on delicious, simple and healthy food using fresh, regional products – just make sure you keep an eye out for the evils ducks if you venture down to the pond!
The Clever Duck
Cnr Sawpit and Forest Gardens Blvd, Forest Gardens QLD 4868
Ph: 0402 459 095
Opening Hours: Wed – Fri 7.30am – 2.30pm, Sat – Sun 7.30am – 3.30pm