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Vivo Bar and Grill, Palm Cove

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A few days ago it was a good friend of mine’s birthday but because of some boy problems she was too upset on her birthday to do anything the poor love – she even turned down Thai takeaway at a picnic table on the Esplanade.  Yesterday much to my delight she was feeling a bit better and up for a belated birthday dinner.  After seeing a mention of a Weekly Set Menu out at Vivo in Palm Cove I decided we should give it a go and made a booking for three people for 7pm.  As self-appointed designated driver for one friend for the evening two of us arrived together on-time while the birthday girl arrived about ten minutes later.

Greetings and salutations were made along with some random chit-chat and an interim entrée of Garlic Ciabatta and we got down to business having a look over the Weekly Set Menu.  Having already viewed it online and deciding exactly what I was going to have (I had my heart set on Salmon Tataki) I was slightly disappointed to see that the online menu was different than the one we were presented.  With three choices each (one vegetarian) for the entrée, main and dessert the ‘new’ weekly set menu options I had were just as good if not better than what I had seen.  Although the three course menu sounded delish we all decided on the 2 course menu with a glass of Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc because there was birthday cake lovingly made my moi.

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First up for our entrée LL and I ordered the Barramundi Croquettes with Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto and a Watercress/Radish Salad.  The panko crumbed croquettes were deliciously crunchy on the outside and soft and flavoursome on the inside.  The serving size was much larger than both of us were expecting for an entrée.  The Smoked Capsicum Coulis was flavoursome but not too overpowering and the radishes added a nice extra ‘organic’ crunch to the dish although I did notice that LL left his radish to the side.  Typical male.

Entrée - Panko Crumbed Barramundi Croquettes, Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto, Watercress and Radish Salad

Entrée – Panko Crumbed Barramundi Croquettes, Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto, Watercress and Radish Salad

On my right ST ordered the Thai Beef Salad with Roasted Veal Backstrap, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins.  ST thought that her entrée was delish although she said she wasn’t sold on the beef (probably because it was actually veal).  Again her entrée was a very decent serving size and ST said she would D.E.F.I.N.I.T.E.L.Y order it again.

Entrée - Thai Beef Salad with Medium Roasted Veal Back Strap, Cucumber, Fresh Herbs, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins

Entrée – Thai Beef Salad with Medium Roasted Veal Back Strap, Cucumber, Fresh Herbs, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins

Next up came our mains… although the other two dishes sounded inviting I simply couldn’t go past the Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink, Sautéed Calamari (local Calamari might I add), Garlic, Cherry Tomatoes, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs.  Sheesh – how’s that for a main?  This dish was quite large and I actually struggled to eat it.  Would it be bad if I said that my favourite part was actually the pecorino?  That stuff is just devilishly good and really they could have served me the entire block all on its own and I would have been beyond satisfied but the risotto was also quite lovely.

Main - Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink Arborio Rice, Sauteed Calamari, Garlic, Cherru, Tomato, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs

Main – Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink Arborio Rice, Sauteed Calamari, Garlic, Cherru, Tomato, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs

On either side of me both LL and ST had selected the Lamb Kalamaki, or Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers for those of you like me who have no idea what that is, with Tomato and Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt.  It seems I made a good choice for her birthday because ST raved about her main.  She even went as far as saying it was the best dish she had eaten out in quite a while and how come the Quinoa that she made never tasted like that?  Well if her Quinoa ends up anything like mine (bubbling all over the stove) then I’m not surprised.  LL agreed with ST and said that it was the best Lamb Kalamaki he’d had in a long time.  Great success!

Main - Lamb Kalamaki - Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers, Tomato/Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt

Main – Lamb Kalamaki – Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers, Tomato/Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt

So finally after it was all said and done the waiter bought out the Coconut Cake with Lime Icing and Pop Rocks and sparklers to boot (note to readers: Pop Rocks wait for no one and pop upon immediate application to the icing).  ST was delighted at having a homemade cake as a chorus of Happy Birthday erupted around her.  I have never really had a great deal of luck with baked goods in the past.  According to my entire family I am super crap at making cakes.  I made a pretty ordinary cake for my dad’s birthday back in 2010 and the assholes have never let me forget it.  And let’s not forget the all out family war I started with my extended family in Melbourne because I got angry at my cousin on Facebook after I found out his mum (my aunty) was baking her own birthday cake.  SERIOUSLY???!!!  So before tucking in I warned my two dining companions that the cake probably looked a lot better than it tasted and that in itself wasn’t great.  Much to my delight it turns out I was onto a winner with my coconut/pop rocks cake and ST took the leftover 3/4’s home with her to devour later on.

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So there you have it… Our two course meal at Vivo which was an absolute steal for only AU$39 per person including a glass of Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz (AU$49 for three courses plus wine).  The service from our lovely waiter was attentive but not obtrusive.  The wait period between meals was spot on and all meals arrived together  with no one left waiting.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner any day of the week you can certainly count on a crowd but this still doesn’t take away from the laid back tropical atmosphere that Vivo has to offer.  Vivo Bar and Grill is one of Cairns’ and the surrounding areas very few ‘bankable’ restaurants and one of the best in Palm Cove.  I have eaten there many times and never been disappointed with the food or the service, the atmosphere and stunning beach front location is just a bonus.

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The Clever Duck, Forest Gardens *CLOSED DOWN*

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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.

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Right this way….

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.

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The organic chandelier

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.

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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.

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Shaved Proscuitto, Poached Egg, Ciabatta, Blistered Cherry Tomato and Salsa Verde for AU$17

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.

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The Hungry Duck with Two Poached Eggs, Mushrooms, Roast Pumpkin and Tomato, Proscuitto, Baked Beans and Toast for AU$19.50

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.

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Quinoa with Roast Pumpkin, Grilled Zucchini, Mint, Sultanas and Preserved Lemon and Labna for AU$16 (extra chicken AU$3)

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!

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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