After a bit of gentle nudging from a couple of my readers to branch out from my usual stomping ground of the Cairns CBD (it’s just far too convenient for MS and I) I thought I would make more of an effort to go north. Anything past Edge Hill is a little foreign to me since I grew up on the south side of town. Anyway so another reader of mine recommended Harrison’s in Port Douglas. Seeing as I had a an Entertainment Book voucher for just the place I figured that MS and I would make the drive up to Port and try the four course menu. Unfortunately getting a booking there seemed to be a little harder than expected. I placed a booking through their website three days out from a Saturday night (yeah ok I probably could have planned that a bit better) and when Saturday arrived I had still not received any notification, confirmation or declination. After numerous phone calls we were just about to wing it and make the drive up there anyway when I got finally got through and it turns out the place was booked out for a wedding (that’s an expensive wedding right there). A reply email telling me that wouldn’t have gone astray. So we went to The Rising Sun in Palm Cove instead.
A few weeks later again I figured it was time to go to Harrison’s. I made another booking online requesting a table for two at 7pm on a Friday night. Two days later I received a sort of confirmation saying that the restaurant was all booked out for 7pm but would 6.45pm suit us? Silly me but I cannot see how 15 minutes could make a difference to whether a restaurant is booked out or not. Someone in the hospitality industry please explain? I replied that ‘yes 6.45pm would be fine’ and waited for a corresponding email to confirm our final booking. On Friday afternoon when I still hadn’t received any confirmation I was getting pretty annoyed after having the phone ring out a number of times. Around 4pm someone answered the phone at Harrison’s and confirmed our booking. It was a bit of pain in the ass have to chase someone down in order to get a dinner date locked in and frankly I did expect more from Harrison’s. Having an online booking service is great as long as it works not just for the restaurant but more importantly the diner. To be honest I just prefer the old-fashioned way of calling up to make a booking.
So MS and I made the drive from Cairns to Port on the Friday evening with me playing DJ from the passenger seat on my iPhone. Sadly we haven’t been seeing each other very much lately since we are both working away and with me leaving for another three-week stint the following evening it was a special night for us. We arrived at 6.45pm on the dot after having a bit of trouble finding a park in the bustling downtown part of Port Douglas. A waiter seated us up on the veranda of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard type area and the entrance. Harrison’s is an absolutely beautiful restaurant – an old low set Queenslander with a large veranda, cathedral ceilings, positioned right in the heart of Port and a lovely big mango tree right in the middle decorated with fairy lights. The place was pretty much full when we arrived apart from a large table behind us that turned up not long after we did. Our waitress for the evening introduced herself and I’ll be stuffed if I can remember her name but was lovely. She asked us if we would like to order drinks and we had a look over the drinks menu. I chose the only glass of Sauvignon Blanc on the menu (I certainly can’t drink a bottle to myself – not these days anyway), a glass of Ara for AU$12 while MS chose the Rekorderlig Strawberry and Lime Cider for AU$16. We had a look over the a la carte menu and the set menus but I had already chosen weeks before exactly what we were having. Yeah I do tend to ruin dining experiences a little because I have a tendency to trawl the internet for menu’s and restaurant reviews. Maybe we can just call it research?
Before ordering the waitress gave us a rundown of specials for the evening including oysters and scallops and where they were from. Lets just say her accent confused me because again I can’t remember where they were from but most importantly Harrison’s served Australian seafood. We (I) decided on the Menu Gormand 2 – a four course menu for AU$75 a head without wines or AU$125 with matched wines. Like I said we had already ordered drinks so we chose the menu without the wine. The Menu Gourmand 2 was as follows: Amuse Bouche, Malt Roasted Scallops with Veal Sweetbreads, Gingerbread, Pickled Raisins and Warmed Radishes; Tongue and Cheek – Braised and Pressed Pork, Black Pudding, Crispy Ears and Apple; Daube da Boeuf – 9hr Red Wine Braised Ox Cheek, Caramelised Onions, Smoked Bacon, Paris Mash and Bordelaise Sauce; and for dessert Daintree Estate Chocolate Fondant with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Hazlenut Praline. Sounds pretty good huh? MS and I lay in wait for the meal that was to come with me revelling in my new-found love that was Strawberry and Lime Rekorderlig Cider, even if MS had ordered it and not me. How the hell have I not tried that stuff before?! It’s frigin amazing!!!
Back to the food – we literally only waited about 5 minutes before our Amuse Bouche arrived. An amuse bouche (something I had no idea about until I saw it on MKR – Jake and Elle totally should have won that by the way) according to Wikipedia is “a single bite-sized hor’s d’oeuvre… served both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach into the art of cuisine”. Ours was a Cauliflower and Blue Cheese something or rather with Rye. Again forgive me but I am so shit house at understanding people’s accents. This makes dinner at Harrison’s difficult for me because the entire wait staff seemed to be European. For what it’s worth I can’t even understand my own aunties a lot of the time with their thick Sri Lankan accents not to mention the many foreigners I deal with in my profession. Okay so lets just say it was a fancy word for Cauliflower Soup. It arrived in a small shot glass and was delicious and creamy although I did find the temperature of it to be a little bit off-putting. It was slightly colder than room temperature and I thought it would have been much nicer had it been slightly warmer. The blue cheese however was a winner for me. “You can keep the Cauliflower and just give me a shot glass of blue cheese next time thank you waiter”. A nice dish but nothing spectacular like I was expecting for a Chef’s Hat Winning restaurant’s Amuse Bouche. It didn’t exactly give me a glimpse into anything really.
Next up was the Malt Roasted Scallops with Veal Sweetbreads, Gingerbread, Pickled Raisins and Warmed Radishes. The presentation of the dish was clean and eye-popping. The veal absolutely melted in your mouth (it kind of reminded me of a pork riblet – nothing wrong with that because pork riblets rock! At least they did when I was in grade 6.) The pickled raisins were to die for. Those things on a cheese platter would be sh*t hot. Not sure about the warmed radishes. They weren’t particularly warm and I just pushed them to the side since I don’t really like radishes anyway. I think they were really just there to look pretty? Like chokoes people don’t really eat radishes do they? My cousin PD is an exception but he also drinks Lime Milkshakes (who does that?!). Anyway cutting to the chase and without saving it for later on in this post, this dish was the standout one for both MS and I.
The third course was the Tongue and Cheek – Braised and Pressed Pork, Black Pudding, Crispy Ears and Apple. Before this dish even came out MS was full of questions for the waitress. After seeing a mention of Black Pudding on the menu he was a little concerned and wanted to know if it was separate on the plate so if he didn’t want to eat it then he wouldn’t have to – he had already made up his mind long before that he didn’t want to eat it. I on the other hand had never tried black pudding nor did I have any idea what it was going to look like so I just figured I would give it a go and see what I thought. Our Tongue and Cheek dishes arrived and the Black Pudding was two large ‘globs’ of black stuff on the edge of the food. MS pushed his food away from it but I incorporated it in with mouthfuls of my food. It was… okay. I guess it wasn’t really the taste I didn’t like but more the texture. It was just a bit runnier than I expected, sort of like a really thin pate. Not something that I would order by choice. The Braised and Pressed Pork reminded MS and myself of the brawn that you see in the deli section at Coles but then again maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be like? MS didn’t like it while again I thought it was ok. The best part of the dish was the pigs ears which were all crispy and cut thin just like crackling. YUM! Those decorative radishes made another appearance on this dish and again I pushed them to the side.
About 10 – 12 minutes was all that stood between our Braised Pork and our Daube de Boeuf. The braised ox cheek was lovely and rich which was offset perfectly by the sweet caramelised onions and the creamy Paris mash. It reminded me of a similar dish that is the signature dish at Wink II on the Esplanade. I do love cheeks – they get so damn tender and just melt in your mouth. Last work rotation I made a delicious Beef Cheek Pappardelle with a recipe I found on the Gourmet Traveller website that was so damn decadent I could only eat half of what I wanted to. Sad face. But, it was amazing. Happy face. This dish was excellent but I think a little bit out-of-place in the set menu. It was very filling, extremely rich and left MS and I shifting uncomfortably in our seats and adjusting our waistlines.
When the waitress arrived to take our plates she asked us if we wanted dessert to be brought out. We happily accepted although I had no idea how I was going to fit it in. She informed us that it would take 20 minutes presumably because it had to cook. About 8 minutes later our desserts arrived. Either they have a stellar oven or the 20 minutes had started before we finished our mains. The dessert was Daintree Estate Chocolate Fondant with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Hazlenut Praline – it was warm and oozy. I placed my spoon into a corner and scooped off a piece and the rich chocolate gently oozed out from the inside. The chocolate was quite dark and bitter, probably a little too much for me but that didn’t stop me from destroying the entire plate. MS couldn’t quite finish it, the Ox Cheek had pretty much put him out for the count (light weight). I really loved the Hazlenut Praline, it gave a lovely crunch and added sweetness to the bitter chocolate.
That pretty much concluded our 4 course meal at Harrison’s. Although we would have politely declined tea or coffee we weren’t actually asked if we wanted any, something I thought to be a little odd. Our meals were done and dusted by about 8.30 and I have to say that it felt a little rushed for a four course menu. There was hardly any time between us ordering the Menu Gormand 2 and our Amuse Bouche’s arriving. I know that they would have been pre-prepared anyway but surely it’s nice to create the illusion that they are made to order? Following that there was no longer than 10 minutes between each of our courses and even when we were told that dessert would be a 20 minute wait it arrived well under the 10 minute mark. I’m not sure if they wanted to clear the table in hope to get another couple in before closing or that’s just how they do things at Harrison’s. The food, time taken and the overall experience fell well short of what I was expecting. My expectations were a little closer to the decadent dining date we’d had at NuNu’s late last year where we were there for over two and half hours and literally wallowed in the fantastic food and service. Now not to compare apples to oranges but they are the only two fine dining, highly regarded, award-winning restaurants that I have eaten more than the standard three courses at in the last financial year, so for me it seems ideal to compare the two. The service at Harrison’s was very good although we were served by no less than 4 different wait staff during our time there, something I thought was a little excessive and each were at varying stages of giving a sh*t, i.e. the explanation of the each dish that we were being served right down to their general friendliness and apparent care factor.
Our Entertainment Voucher got us AU$50 off our total bill but when the standout part of the meal was MS’s Strawberry and Lime Rekorderleig Cider then it makes me wonder what I had been looking forward to for so many weeks and why we had made the long drive up there (should have gone to Salsa Bar next door). Again I don’t dine at places like Harrison’s often but when I do, I expect nothing but the best from the service, to the food, to the overall experience and the booking system. The food was good not amazing, the service was great but not personable and the whole thing just wasn’t quite up to that imaginary bar that Harrison’s had set so high. It takes a lot to get me away from dining at mid range restaurants and step up to the fine dining restaurants, not because I have no class, but because lets face it – there are so many fantastic mid range restaurants out there these days sometimes going fine dining begs the question ‘is it really worth the extra money?’
22 Wharf St, Port Douglas QLD 4877
Ph: (07) 4099 4011
Opening Hours: Tues – Sat 6pm – 10pm