Ok I can’t put it off any longer. My last post was well over two weeks ago, slack I know but I have been caught up in birthday celebrations for both MS and myself as well as a bit of Christmas cheer and a nasty middle ear infection that is yet to subside. Next cab off the rank with my Table 52 cards was Mother India on Sheridan Street a couple of weeks ago for a farewell dinner with my good friend EG. Seems my Table 52 cards are running rather low and I only really have ones from the Northern Beaches and Port Douglas left. Might be time to invest in the 2013 Edition to even out the playing field. I will use the Northern Beaches and Port Douglas, I just haven’t got around to it yet and I have to admit I don’t go up to Port very much. So back to Mother India. EG had already been to Mother India many times and even considers herself a regular. The owner remembered her from a few days earlier when she had dined there with her mother. I have dined at Mother India once many years ago for lunch but I can’t really remember what it was like. I have avoided it in more recent times after I called up one day to find out about their lunch specials to put on my Lunch page and had the person on the other end of the phone (I’m assuming the owner) give me an earful about how his chef had quit and he couldn’t open because he didn’t have anyone to cook. Needless to say I didn’t end up hearing the lunch specials and I decided I didn’t particularly want to know them but hey we all have our bad days.
I’ll admit I am the kind to hold grudges and my phone conversation did leave a pretty bad taste in my mouth but after reassurances from EG that it was ‘really good’ I thought I would stick my head in for a look and some curry. We got there around 8pm on a Friday night and there was about three other tables occupied at the time. A man who introduced himself as the owner showed us to a table and bought us some menus and water while we had a look over the menu. The owner was really friendly and chatted with myself and EG about her earlier dining experience and whether or not I had been to Mother India before (I didn’t mention the phone conversation). He was very gracious and happy to have us dining at Mother India, I think because out of all the Indian restaurants in Cairns Mother India is the one that gets most overlooked. Most likely because of its location on Sheridan Street, just that little bit out-of-the-way of the main thoroughfare. Although that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Happy 4 10 which appears to be doing a roaring trade.
After insisting upon a serving of papadums and chutney to start with and a glass of Giesen each, EG and I decided that we would both order a meal and share it. That was fine with me I had already picked out the Butter Chicken (isn’t that what everyone orders at an Indian restaurant?) but much to my dismay and something I did not know about my friend was that she didn’t eat chicken. She then went on to tell me a hilarious childhood story about her pet chicken that she got for her birthday that she did everything with (he waited in her room for her to come home from school and slept in her bed) until one day she came home from school to find a pile of feathers in the backyard and her favourite chicken missing. She then went on to say that this story wasn’t actually the reason that she didn’t eat chicken more that she just didn’t like it. It was a funny story none the less.
EG’s story reminded me of a story about my Nana (my mum’s mum who is now passed away) who had a favourite chicken when she was a child living in Sri Lanka. One day her favourite chicken stopped laying eggs so her father told her that they would have to kill it since it wasn’t doing its chicken-ly duties anymore. So after much reluctance and tears (from my Nana not the chicken) my Nana’s favourite chicken got the axe and when they chopped it open they found an egg inside. My Nana was so upset at the loss of her beloved chicken that she never ate chicken again. Up until she passed away my dad used to take great delight in feeding her pate and biscuits when she came over (something she absolutely loved), little did she know what she was actually eating. My dad thinks he’s so funny. So after all the chicken stories were exchanged I still longed for Butter Chicken but knew I had to decide on something else so I chose the Lamb Korma – Mildly spiced diced lamb curried in a creamy cashew and almond gravy for AU$16.95, while EG went with a vegetarian dish to add to the mix. She chose the Palak Paneer – Fresh ground spinach cooked with cottage cheese in fresh ginger, garlic and onions for AU$15.95. We ordered some Garlic Naan (AU$3.95), Steamed Rice (AU$2.50) and some Cucumber Raita (AU$4.25) to go with our dishes. I may dine at an Indian restaurant and go without Butter Chicken but I’ll be damned if I dine at an Indian restaurant and go without Garlic Naan, no matter how many times I need to do the Red Arrow the next day.
After the owner took our order he asked us how spicy we wanted it. Both being spice lovers we decided that we would have them both ‘Hot’. To which the owner replied ‘Indian Hot’ or just ‘Normal Hot’. Hmmm I was unsure about this one as was EG so we asked for a bit more of an explanation. Apparently ‘Indian Hot’ is only upon request and usually only for Indian diners but he figured he would ask after finding out my heritage and knowing that EG doesn’t mind a bit of spice. In the end we decided we would stick with ‘Normal Hot’ just to be on the safe side.
The decor at Mother India was a little dated but also very homely and cosy so it was kind of nice. There was a beautiful big tapestry on the wall behind us that looked very expensive and also looks good in a photo. I was just happy that we were sitting inside in the air conditioning as opposed to outside at some other restaurant. When you are eating hot food you don’t want to be sweating from both the food and the ambient temperature. I pointed out to EG the newly wed Indian couple seated behind us (noticeably newly wed because of the traces of henna on her hand and the large amounts of bangles she displayed on her forearms). They couldn’t have been more disinterested in each others company. Shame since they had probably only been married a couple of days. There was also a young child that from another table that kept harassing me because he apparently thought I was his mother due to me having a similar haircut as her (she wasn’t at the restaurant). *Insert my super awkwardness with children*. I’ll be honest I do want kids one day but I’m sure I am not alone when I say that I don’t like other people’s kids, hopefully I will like my own. Moving on, we waited probably about 15 minutes for our meals to arrive and when they did I realised just how much food the two of us had ordered especially considering we had already had papadums earlier.
We served ourselves a bit of each curry with some rice and a piece of naan bread and dug in. I have always wanted to order a variant of the Cottage Cheese type vegetarian dishes I see on Indian menus but never had the balls to do it for one reason or another. I was delighted when EG chose the Palak Paneer although I was a little hesitant about the onion part. I eat onion I just don’t like it when its chunky and crunchy. The onion was not like this at all in the Palak Paneer. It was soft and delicate. The Palak Paneer was a beautiful dish but sh*t was it spicy! Nothing I couldn’t handle but it was still bloody hot. I really loved the small lumps of Cottage Cheese in the dish which isn’t like your usual supermarket variety. The Indian Paneer (or Cottage Cheese) has much more of a milky flavour to it and a completely different texture to that I am used to.
The Lamb Korma was also lovely with tender pieces of lamb hidden within the thick nutty gravy. I actually think that the best part of eating Indian food is mopping up all the sauces with the rice and naan bread. Although we did order the Lamb Korma to be ‘Normal Hot’, the same as the Palak Paneer, it didn’t seem to be quite as hot as the other dish which was actually a good thing in the end because that and the Raita provided a bit of heat relief for us both.
The four pieces of Garlic Naan weren’t the best I have tasted and not as soft, moist and garlic-y as Garlic Naan should be. I don’t think that it was cooked fresh because it was a little bit dry and hard. It was also served rather un-elegantly in a bread basket wrapped in alfoil but maybe they were trying to save on washing up. It was a bit of shame but this was the only thing that let the meal down.
During our dinner the owner came over to check on us a couple of times to ensure that we were enjoying our meal and ask if there was anything else that we wanted or needed. He also made sure that the ‘Normal Hot’ wasn’t too hot for us and joked that maybe next time we could try the ‘Indian Hot’. The service was excellent and as I already said that owner was very accommodating and super happy that we had chosen his restaurant for our Friday night dinner. He made us promise that we would tell all our friends about it. The food at Mother India was delicious and there was plenty left by the time we were finished. One thing I must say is that both mains that we ordered had plenty of Cottage Cheese and Lamb in them. They weren’t just all sauce with only a couple of pieces of meat or cheese in them. A nice change from what I have experienced at some other Indian restaurants in town. I kicked myself that I hadn’t given Mother India a chance and used my Table 52 card sooner. I would most certainly dine there again without a Table 52 card, the same can’t be said for a few other Table 52 card restaurants I have been to. Upon presenting it at the counter to pay at the end the owner’s wife was most obliging (unlike the nasty woman at Taste of China) and even asked if we would like to split the bill between us, something the two of us were most happy about after neither of us had brought cash. How delightful! If you are not a lover of hot food then don’t worry about it Mother India ensure their curries are made to your liking. Like I said I’m not too sure about the ‘Indian Hot’ but I have to admit I am a little intrigued. Never say never right?
2/80 Sheridan St, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 1000
Opening Hours: Lunch 11.30am – 2pm Tues – Fri, Dinner 5.30pm – 10pm Tues – Sun
Last Friday night my good friend SH and I ventured out in search of some dinner. Due to some communication problems (aka my iPhone shat itself) we didn’t actually get into town till almost 9.30 at night so of course being Cairns a lot of places were shut. Ganbaranba, the place we had originally planned on going to, shut it’s door just before 9.30pm (pretty sure they used to be open till 10 but hey). So we wandered over to Corea Corea upstairs at Orchid Plaza. They too shut up shop at 9.30pm that night. SH suggested The Courthouse for dinner but I wasn’t in the mood for fried food so we headed towards the Esplanade to see what we could find. We walked past Spicy Bite just a little down from Dolce and Caffe and right next door to Coast Roast. SH reckoned that she had eaten there many times and they had amazing Butter Goat that I simply had to try. It was nearing 10pm now and although they looked like they were closing up because the waitress was removing cutlery and serviettes from some of the tables it appears that they were in fact open. We were both delighted to find a restaurant open in Cairns at this time of night so we promptly sat down and perused the menu. In all the years they have been open I have never actually dined at Spicy Bite, probably due to the location (just another tourist trap) and also the fact that I figured that I already knew where to get good Indian food (more on that later).
We both ordered a glass of wine when the waitress brought over the menus. SH had already decided on what she was having, the critically acclaimed Butter Goat. It wasn’t exactly listed on the menu but SH claimed that she had ordered it before and the waitress approved. I had a look over the menu and decided on the Lamb Buriyani with Raita. Having travelled to Sri Lanka (yes I realise that Sri Lanka isn’t India) I ate some truly amazing Buriyani’s along the way (the best in a road side ‘cafe’ in the busy city of Colombo for a mere 180 rupees) and was hoping that this one may come a little close to my previous experience. We also ordered a serve of Garlic Naan figuring we could share each of our meals. Not long after ordering the waitress returned and informed us that they had in fact run out of Butter Goat so SH and I decided that Butter Chicken would have to suffice. It was disappointing since SH had talked up the Butter Goat so much but oh well.
While we were waiting and sipping our glasses of Sauvignon Blanc (me) and Rose (SH) a few more people arrived to take up tables at Spicy Bite. Seems Spicy Bite is open till quite late on a Friday, no doubt taking advantage of hungry diners looking for somewhere to eat out when most places have closed up for the night and not wanting to stoop so low as to venture to the Golden Arches across the road. We waited about 15 minutes for our dishes to arrive. First up came the Garlic Naan, then the Lamb Buriyani and Raita, followed closely by the Butter Chicken. By this stage I was absolutely starving since I had only eaten a Som Tum at about midday and nothing since.
I reached over and grabbed a piece of Garlic Naan out of the basket. There were four triangular pieces in total and they were all as dry and hard as a piece of cardboard. No soft, warm, doughy Garlic Naan here. I was pretty disappointed because Naan is what you go to Indian Restaurants for isn’t it? Next up I put a couple of spoonfulls of Lamb Buriyani on my plate, digging out a couple of super large lamb chunks from amongst the rice. I drizzled a little bit of raita over the top and took a bite. The raita was so damn watery and flavourless I don’t know why they bothered even serving the buriyani with raita. I literally couldn’t taste it, even when I dipped the end of my Garlic Naan directly into the bowl. The lamb in the buriyani was dry and chewy. Not soft and moist like the lamb I was longing for. This dish tasted like the Lamb Buriyani that I used to make out of the CSIRO cookbook except mine was far superior. The rice that was accompanying the lamb was gluggy and horrible. I am pretty sure that it was just reheated from earlier that evening.
Lastly I fished out one of three pieces of Butter Chicken that was absolutely swimming in sauce. It was the smallest damn Butter Chicken I had ever seen! I was hoping that a bite of the chicken would save this dish but alas the chicken was overcooked and dry. Not moist and succulent like chicken pieces in Butter Chicken are supposed to be. The most disappointing thing about this dish was the sauce. Butter Chicken sauce is another food that I could literally shower in. I would be happy with a large bowl of the sauce and just some rice (or decent Naan bread) but I do exert self control and don’t allow myself to do things like that. The sauce tasted like the chef had just dumped a can of Heinz Big Red Tomato Soup in and mixed it around with the chicken. It did not taste like the creamy, tomatoey, sweet Butter Chicken sauce that we all know and love at all. How disappointing.
Well, I have to say that poor old SH definitely gave us a bum steer with Spicy Bite, that said I didn’t get to try the famous Butter Goat that she was going on about. The service that we received from the waitress at Spicy Bite was friendly and efficient and I really cannot say a bad thing about it. However, the same cannot be said about the food. It was tasteless, dry and disappointing with a distinctly Heinz flavour about it. I know where I will be going if I want good Indian food and it certainly isn’t Spicy Bite or Haveli. After the good wrap that I gave Haveli earlier this year seems their standards and food portions have gone down while their prices have gone up. Looks like it’s back to tried and true Cairns favourite Marinades on Spence St where you simply can’t go past the Lunch Thali’s for around the $13 mark. MS and I had a fantastic meal there recently and the host even served us with a friendly smile this time around.
Note: I didn’t get to take any pictures of the food because if you were paying attention my iPhone shat itself earlier that evening. A quick visit to the guys under the stairs at Cairns Central fixed that and I am up and running again.
Shop 6/52 The Esplanade, Cairns
Ph: (07) 4041 3700
My quest to try all the lunch specials in Cairns continues! The latest lunch special on offer is at Cairns’ newest Indian restaurant Haveli at Harbour Lights. Yesterday a few friends and I went to Haveli to see what was on offer for their $15.90 lunch special. Now I am going to try and make this post a short one because not much needs to be said. Haveli finds itself in competition with other Indian restaurants in town namely Tandoori Oven, Marinades and Spicy Bite. I recently tried the $10.90 lunch special at newly relocated Tandoori Oven (I didn’t blog about it). I found their lunch special to be extremely ordinary especially when accompanied with the nearly 40 minute wait for our food when we were the only people in the restaurant. I won’t be going back for a second round at Tandoori Oven. I have already written a post on the lunch special on offer at one of Cairns’ oldest and award winning Indian restaurants, Marinades. I do rate the food at Marinades, however on a more recent trip there it seems to have slipped a little. I am also a little sick of repeatedly overlooking the cold receptions from the female host. Prior to lunch yesterday at Haveli, Marinades was my pick for a top Indian lunch in Cairns but I’m going to have to jump ship because… wow… the $15.90 lunch special at Haveli is fantastic!
When my friends and I arrived at Haveli @ Harbour Lights there was three occupied tables and one waiter (I am pretty sure he was the owner). We sat inside since it was a little too hot to eat curry outside, I don’t care how fast the ceiling fans are going. The owner poured us all a glass of water and took our drink orders. Much to my surprise he returned with our six drinks in what was easily less than five minutes. Four out of six of us ordered the $15.90 lunch special, while the other two ordered items off the Main Menu. The $15.90 lunch special consists of rice, two pappadums, choice of a vegetable curry (either a Vegetable Korma or Dal Makhani), choice of a meat curry (either Rogan Josh or Butter Chicken) and a Naan Bread (either Plain or Garlic Naan). Now with this lunch special you get a LOT of food but to get two thumbs up from me quality and quantity must go hand in hand. At Haveli you get both. The curries are not just all sauce with no meat – a common occurrence at Indian restaurants and takeaways. The Butter Chicken was absolutely delicious and I really enjoyed mopping up the sauce with my Garlic Naan bread, which was equally delicious. The Vegetable Korma was rich and creamy while the pappadums were delicate and crisp. My two friends that ordered from the Main Menu ordered the Lamb Biryani, the Vindaloo and the Malai Tikka. They too really enjoyed their meals and they even managed to get in on the action with our servings of Naan Bread and Rice because there was just so much.
I don’t want to rant on too much but it really was a great feed. MS commented that it was the best meal that he had eaten in Cairns for quite a while and I think his comment definitely had some truth to it. I have read a couple of reviews that people have posted online regarding Haveli being overpriced for dinner but I think this is the case for all Indian Restaurants. This is also the reason why I only dine at Indian restaurants for lunch so I can take advantage of the specials and cheaper prices. Get down to Haveli at Harbour Lights and check out their lunch special. The service is great and at $15.90 you simply can’t go wrong! A word of warning though… Make sure you have the rest of the day off because after your lunch you will be left feeling so satisfied that lying on the couch is pretty much the extent of what you will be doing.
Haveli @ Harbour Lights
2,1 Marlin Pde (Harbour Lights Hotel), Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 3502
Opening Hours: Mon – Thurs 5 pm – 10 pm, Fri – Sun 11 am – 10 pm
With the plethora of Indian Restaurants available to dine at in Cairns its hard to know just which one to go to these days but one that has truly stood the test of time in our grand city is Marinades on Spence St. A few friends and I rocked on into Marinades last Thursday for lunch after a series of ‘blockies’ in an attempt to find a parking spot in the vicinity. It wasn’t even market day! At Marinades the lunch set met is a meat or vegetarian thali. The Vegetarian Thali consists of three vegetarian curries, raita, jasmine rice and dessert for AU$10 while the Meat Thali consists of a meat dish (either lamb or chicken), two vegetable curries, raita, jasmine rice and a dessert all for AU$12. On top of that if you are really hungry you can get the Deluxe Thali and that includes both the chicken and the lamb for AU$16. We each ordered a Meat Thali except for my ‘man-friend’ MS who ordered the Deluxe Thali because, well, he’s a big, hungry man. We also got some naan bread on the side because you just can’t resist the naan bread here it’s so damn good!
According to the waitress the curries available in the Thali change daily and on this particular day they were Chicken Korma and Lamb Rogan Josh. Pretty standard curries for this type of dish but then again you don’t want to get too imaginative with diners coming in for the lunch special especially odd people like my man-friend MS who seem to think that all curries have raisins in them. I, for one, am completely horrified by this thought. I ordered the lamb curry which was well, lamb curry but it was pretty good. Call me simple but my favourite dish in the Thali is the raita. I could literally ‘shower in that shit’ it’s so good! Wrapping up, the lunch set menu at Marinades is great value for money, a good size, super tasty and the large table of Indian’s dining next us has got to say something as to the quality of the Indian food here.
43 Spence St, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 1422
Opening Hours: Tues – Sun 11.30am – 2.30pm, 6pm-10pm (closed Monday’s)
Another lunch special available in the Cairns CBD during the week is the $15 bento box at Hanuman at the Hilton, overlooking Trinity Inlet. Myself, FW and TT went to check it out last Friday and were pleasantly surprised. The $15 bento box includes rice, salad, two curries and a chutney/sauce. The waiter informed me that the curries change daily so you never know what you are going to get. On this particular day however our’s was a Thai Indian Bento Box with Green Curry of Chicken in a Classic Thai Curry with Sweet Basil, Kaffir Lime Leaf and Chilli, Seasonal Vegetables Steamed and Served with Oyster Sauce, Garlic and Soy, Fresh Green Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Carrot Ribbons, Mango Pickle with Cumin, Coriander and Mustard Seeds and Jasmine Rice. The Green Curry was absolutely divine, so much in fact I was desperately trying to mop up and leftover sauce with my rice. I also really enjoyed the Seasonal Vegetables as they were fresh, crunchy and dressed in a delicious oyster, garlic and soy sauce. The one thing we all found a little odd was the Fresh Green Salad included in the Bento Box as its not really a Thai Indian type salad and just seemed to be out of place with curries, pickle and veges.
Hanuman is a great place to go mid-week for a cheap, quick and super delicious lunchtime meal in a really beautiful and quiet setting with Trinity Inlet just outside the floor to ceiling windows. If time is limited you can inform the waiter for an extra speedy meal so its perfect for the office execs who just want a quick bight to eat. With the curries on offer changing daily you never really know what you are going to get but in my opinion that sort of adds to the whole appeal of it.
34 The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4052 6786
Opening Hours: Lunch Mon – Fri 12pm – 3pm, Dinner 7 nights 6pm till late