It’s taken me quite a few years but I finally got to one of Cairns’ longest serving restaurants… La Fettuccina. About six months ago I got an email from a man in Sydney (DB) asking for Cairns restaurant recommendations for a tour group of about 20 or so retirees including himself. After months of correspondence via email DB and I came up with three entirely different restaurants for him and his tour group to dine at showcasing some of the best produce that Cairns has to offer. So what are the three restaurants you ask? Mwahahaha wouldn’t you like to know? Anyway so the tour group arrived here on Tuesday and I am hoping to hear back from DB soon in regards to just how the three restaurants stacked up (maybe I’ll tell you when I hear back). But, as a way of saying thank you to me for helping with the recommendations DB took MS and myself out for dinner last Monday night. I don’t often receive many ‘kickbacks’ (okay I never do) for doing this – I do it for the love of food and boy do I live and breath it – but I was actually pretty stoked at the opportunity to help out and it was really nice to for DB to show his gratitude by shouting my partner and I out to dinner. DB asked me if I wanted to choose the restaurant for the evening. He thought maybe we could dine somewhere that I hadn’t been and wanted to write about so the pressure was on for me to choose somewhere that I deemed to be up to scratch, somewhere that I hadn’t been before and also somewhere that was reasonably priced (since DB was paying and I wasn’t about to choose something too expensive because that’s just not the right thing to do when someone offers to take you to dinner).
After much deliberation I chose La Fettuccina on Shields Street. Although I hadn’t been there before I had heard recommendations from friends, studied online reviews and found that they were open on a Monday night. Plus they have been open for over 25 years so they had to be doing something right at La Fettuccina. I made a booking for three people for 7.15pm and after picking up DB from his hotel on the Esplanade we managed to grab a park right out the front of the pub next door. I joked to DB that I was taking him into the back area of the pub for a Crumbed Sausage and Veggies for AU$6.50 but I am not sure he appreciated my sense of humour unfortunately. When we arrived at La Fettuccina at 7.10pm the place was absolutely packed and considering I’d thought twice about making a booking on a Monday night (it’s a Monday night in Cairns – there will be plenty of tables, yeah right!) I thanked my lucky stars that I had actually picked up the phone and called La Fettuccina.
Diners appeared to be a mix of locals and tourists but mostly tourists and both DB and I were extremely surprised at just how many people were there on a Monday particularly somewhere that is a few blocks back from the main restaurant drag along the Esplanade. Anyway so like I said we arrived about 5 minutes early and waited at the door behind a small group of people. The waitress asked if we had a booking to which I replied that we did and told her the details. She said that they were just getting the table organised and we could either wait at the door or take a seat at the bar and have a drink. We figured we would just wait at the door as the bar appeared to be a little cramped and not exactly conducive to having a three way conversation. It took a good 20 minutes from that point till we were seated at our table inside and although the waitress kept us in the loop it was a little annoying that I had booked for 7.15pm and we weren’t seated till after 7.30pm.
When we finally took our seats just one table in from the front door the waitress handed us a menu each and took our drink orders. Much to DB’s dismay neither MS or I wanted to drink – we really don’t drink much. I ordered a soda water and then DB asked MS ‘Surely you will drink with me’? Ha! Fat chance of that happening – MS is even more of a p*ssy than I am when it comes to alcohol – but after wording him up on things a little earlier in the evening (we couldn’t both have soda water but my hands are tied at the moment) he chose a bottle of Monteith’s Apple Cider while DB chose a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Wine Menu. We discussed various things from wine lists, to menu items that were selected for the tour group, to previous tours that he has done, to mine and MS’ professional background’s to DB’s three sons, to the absurdity of an ice cream shop topping the list of ‘best restaurants in Cairns’ in between having a look over the menu.
MS had selected the Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca with Capers, Anchovies and Tomatoes for AU$22 but of course had to put his own spin on it taking out the anchovies and asking to add chicken. Sigh. Although he had originally chosen the Puttanesca also DB decided that he would choose something different so I would be able to review a couple of dishes rather than the same one. In the end after being distracted by another pasta and seafood dish on the specials board DB chose a small serve of Spaghetti Alla Pescatora – “Fisherman Style” with Prawns, Fish, Garlic and Chilli lightly panfried in Olive Oil for AU$19.50. Considering pasta isn’t exactly on the menu for me at the moment (something that makes me sad particularly when dining at an Italian Restaurant) I had to be a little more selective with my choice and chose something off the specials board – the Grilled Chicken Breast filled with Seafood and served with a Creamy White Wine Sauce and Salad for AU$29.50. The two men also chose a plate of Bruschetta Bread for AU$12 to share amongst themselves for an entree.
The Bruschetta Bread arrived about 10 minutes after we ordered with four reasonably sized pieces of toasted Italian Bread topped with fresh tomato, red onion, garlic and olive oil. I do believe that some of the best bruschetta bread that I have eaten anywhere is at Ciao Italia (it will always be Donnini’s to me) at the Pier but after having a small taste I decided this one was pretty good too. Getting the right mix of garlic and basil can be a tricky task for some restaurants but La Fettuccina have definitely got the ratio down pat. MS gobbled down his two pieces of bruschetta while DB took a little longer, savouring his pieces while we continued to chat.
Next up our mains arrived all at once with quite a large plate of pasta set down in front of MS and a slightly smaller one in front of DB. The small serve of Spaghetti Alla Pescatora that DB had ordered was actually much larger than I was expecting and I believe that it may have even been enough for little old 5ft nothing me whom has been know to devour larger bowls of pasta than my over 6ft tall partner. What good is a pasta dish if you are not rolling around on the ground in pain from eating too much afterwards huh? No but on a more serious note it was quite a decent serve. I am forever the skeptic with small sized pasta dishes after dining at Lygon Street with my family a few years ago. My poor dad ordered the special which was ‘Handmade Eggplant Gnocchi’ or something like that and when it arrived at the table it was literally about 3 mouthfuls while the rest of us had rather large dishes ordered from the normal dinner menu. In the end it turns out that they had run out of the Eggplant Gnocchi, with only a few spoons left when dad placed his ordered but they figured they would serve it anyway. WTF? When it was time to pay the bill I was about to complain when I noticed someone had forgotten to put a $45 bottle of wine onto the bill so in the end I said nothing. Pretty poor way to run a restaurant if you ask me but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of that damn restaurant to name and shame. Anyway so that is the story as to why I am a pasta skeptic which has absolutely nothing to do with La Fettuccina or this post for that matter. Moving on…
DB’s Spaghetti Alla Pescatora was filled pieces of prawn and fish cooked ever so lightly in garlic and olive oil. It looked delicious but DB did have one small hangup about the dish. He found the strands of fresh-made pasta to be a little bit too long and he would have preferred to have them cut up a little so he wasn’t constantly twirls ridiculously long strands around his fork and trying to suck them up and out of his bowl. I get what he was trying to say but maybe this is how fresh-made pasta is supposed to be? I have no idea since I really know nothing about pasta, having never made it before. All I know is that it tastes good and I like to eat it. So other than that he said it was an absolutely superb dish.
MS declared that his pasta was undercooked and after knowing exactly how he cooks his pasta at home (he cooks the sh*t out of it) I had a taste and realised it was actually ‘al dente’ the way pasta should be. The sauce was packed full of capers, tomato and extra chicken (of course). MS was grateful that he had listened to me when wondering what shirt to wear because rich sauce would have been a b*tch to get out in the wash (what does he care, we all know that he wouldn’t be the one doing the washing anyway). It was a large serving that MS managed to polish off quite nicely, more than content with his choice of Puttanesca by the end of it. I managed to steal a little forkful of spaghetti action from MS’ plate and by all accounts the Puttanesca was a winner.
My Grilled Chicken Breast filled with Seafood and served with a Creamy White Wine Sauce and Salad was also a lovely dish but really, lets be honest, no one goes to an Italian restaurant and gets a chicken breast except for me of course. For the time being anyway, but again we won’t go into that. The Creamy White Wine Sauce which I ordered to have on the side was delicious but more buttery than creamy and really just tasted like a jug of butter more than anything else but it may have separated in the jug while waiting to make it my table. The side salad was your basic side salad with a couple of olives, some tomato and cucumber. Just decoration really. The seafood filling inside the chicken was chock a block with garlic and seafood. It kept me burping up garlic long after our dinner was over much to MS’ displeasure later on (especially in the car on the way home after dropping DB back at his hotel). Don’t get me wrong the chicken was yummy but it wasn’t a big bowl of saucy pasta, nor was it delicious, crunchy, bruschetta bread *sigh*.
Well this post seems to be going on for ever and ever… Maybe because I have sat down to try and finish it no less than 4 times. So without further adieu here is the spill. The service didn’t miss a beat except for our 20 minute wait for our already booked table at the beginning. That did sour things slightly for me but it was soon a distant memory considering how lovely our dinner was – until I sat down to write this post anyway. The restaurant is small enough that pretty much all of the wait staff ‘help out’ a bit at each of the tables regularly walking back and fourth towards the kitchen eying our glasses of water/cider/wine for top ups or to fetch another one from the bar. The way I have explained it sounds totally overbearing but it’s not at all. Empty plates were clearly quickly and without fuss and at no time was anything too much trouble, even when MS asked to have the anchovies taken out of his Puttanesca and instead put into DB’s Pescatora. DB, MS and myself all enjoyed our meal at La Fettuccina but I also felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when everything including the food, the drinks, the service and the conversation well… it just worked.
La Fettuccina Restaurant and Bar
41 Shields St, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4031 5959
Opening Hours: 7 days 5pm – 10pm