Cairns – beautiful one day, torrential rain the next. That’s pretty much what it has been like for the last couple of weeks anyway. Last week it was such a lovely day that I thought it would be nice to book lunch at Salsa Bar and Grill for MS and I the following day. Fast forward to the next day and here is MS and I driving up to Port in torrential rains where we can barely see through the windscreen. In hindsight we probably should have turned around but no I was determined that we went for lunch at Salsa – rain, hail or shine.
Although I had made a booking the day before – this place regularly gets booked out – I called ahead and tell them we would be a bit late due to the weather conditions but that was no problem for the friendly waitress on the end of the phone. In the end we made it up there safely, soundly and hungry for what by all accounts was going to be a delicious lunch. Salsa Bar and Grill is renowned by the locals as ‘the’ place to dine in Port Douglas, plus I have heard rave reviews from plenty of others. I even overheard a woman on the plane from Darwin to Alice Springs telling another passenger that it was one of her favourite restaurants in all of Australia. Big call. Salsa certainly had my expectations set high and that was before we had even made it through the front door of the breezy low-set Queenslander just off Macrossan St. My mission was to see if Salsa lived up to the hype…
Upon entering MS and I were greeted by a smiling waitress and directed (in a friendly way) towards a table on the far left, right in front of the fountain. It was a nice little intimate spot – perfect for sharing our last lunch together before I headed off to sea, again. The waitress poured us a glass of water each and left us with the drinks menu for a few minutes. When she returned I ordered a glass of Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc and after a little bit of persuasion from me (he’s always so responsible but one drink wasn’t going to hurt) MS ordered a Black Russian. In the meantime whilst waiting for the drinks to be poured we had a look over the menu’s and the waitress recited a well rehearsed run down of the specials for the day including Smoked Salmon and Goats Cheese Souffle, a tapas plate and a pan fried fillet of Mahi Mahi on an Indonesian rice cake with prawn curry broth and green mango sambal. My word.
A few minutes of conversing and MS and I had decided on two entrees and two mains to share for our lunch together. For our entrees we ordered the Tapa’s Plate with tuna tartar, red-hot chicken wings, prawn dumpling, chicken tortellini and shiitake arancini for AU$21.50 and the Squid and Chorizo Panzanella with buffalo mozzarella, slow roasted cherry tomatoes and salsa verde for AU$20.50. For our mains MS chose the Tandoori Leg Tenderloin with Split Lentil Dahl, Roti Bread and Mint Yogurt (AU$25.50), something I was most surprised about since he hates lentils, or at least refuses to eat my mum’s homemade Dahl so I assume that he does. I on the other hand was nearly swayed by Salsa’s famous Linguine Pepperincino (red claw pasta) but wasn’t all that keen on being in a carb coma for the rest of the day (plus I had big plans for visiting the new frozen yogurt shop YoMyGoodness on the esplanade later that day). Get on with it…. Ok so for my main I ordered the Japanese Seven Pepper Rubbed Beef Tataki with sushi rice tian, goma shabu emulsion and sweet pickled vegetables (AU$24).
Whilst waiting for our entrees to arrive MS and I took some selfies (no we did not post them on FB or Instagram, they were just for us) and pined over the fact that we were about to be apart for a total of four weeks. Distance in a relationship is something that we are very much used to, certainly not something we enjoy however… You have to do what you have to do and I have never had a normal 9-5 job, I’ve always been on shift one way or another. In the meantime and before I get too sentimental our entrees had arrived. The presentation was outstanding – crisp, clean and it all looked so good that neither of us wanted to touch it. Photo’s ensued and typically we both headed straight for the chicken wings. I’ve got to tell you these were the best damn chicken wings I’ve ever had. Slightly saucy and just the right amount of bite. I only wish that there was more than a couple and looking over the online menu it doesn’t look like these can be ordered on their own for next time. Sad panda.
We split the tortellini which I think was chicken tortellini – I can’t really be sure, nor can I remember. The tortellini was just ok. It looked really bloody good but the outside was a little dry and chewy. The filling inside however, was soft and creamy.
MS edged the tuna tartar towards me since he never eats raw seafood (the big sook) but I placed a small spoonful on the little piece of crostini that was laid over the top of the shot glass and put it on his plate. He really had no choice but to eat it. I didn’t get a word out of him after he ate it which means, in man terms, that he enjoyed it. He just didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of telling me that. The tuna tartar was fresh and flavoursome with slivers of Spanish onion mixed in for a bit of extra texture and crunch.
Like the tortellini before it, the shitake arancini was carefully split into two halves so we could both enjoy it. MS who has absolutely no foodie culture, except what he derives from me as I drag him along for the ride, wouldn’t know an arancini ball if it jumped up and bit him on the ass so he was pleasantly surprised when he realised it was essentially a crumbed rice ball. Another soft and chewy morsel on our tapas plate filled with a delightful earthy shiitake flavour.
And last but not least on our tapas plate was the prawn dumpling in a small dish covered in an aromatic broth. Hey it was no Xiao Long Bao, (it’s a bit rough to compare the two… I fear my dumpling expectations have been forever ruined after going to Shanghai) but it was tasty none-the-less.
Still on the entrees it was time to divert our hungry gaze to the Squid and Chorizo Panzanella. We each served ourselves a share from the entrée plate and dug in. The flavours of the chorizo, squid, bread and mozzarella with the salsa verde were a match made in heaven. I’m pretty sure that chorizo has come straight from hell for it is wickedly tasty in all it’s fatty goodness. Why must it be so damn good?! MS and I both agreed that the liberal amounts of cucumber were a little bit overpowering in the end. Don’t get me wrong I love cucumber but a little less and this salad would be absolutely spot on!
As the waitress came and cleared our plates we told her that the chicken wings were in fact our favourite part of the whole entrée spread, to which she didn’t seem very surprised. Perhaps she has a penchant for the chicken wings herself? About 5 minutes later our mains had arrived…
Again we were impressed with the presentation as our meals were laid out in front of us. MS’ lamb tenderloin was topped with a small pile of very fine strips cucumber which he gently pushed to the side as he dug into the rest. The tenderloin was as it should be – tender and juicy – atop the soft, buttery roti underneath. Obviously the roti was his favourite part of his main but that’s a roti for you. I remember buying freshly made roti’s from a road side vendor in Sri Lanka for 10 cents each for breakfast a couple of years ago. One of the best breakfasts I have ever had I reckon! MS even ate all of his dahl god love him.
Next up was my lunch – the Beef Tataki, which pretty much had me sold at sushi rice tian. The beef was lean and tender, the sushi tian was sweet and the mayonnaise was kewpi (#winning) but my favourite part, although I enjoyed the entire dish, was the pickled vegetables on the top. They reminded me of Rahmah’s – my childhood fave for all you true blue Cairns locals.
So we MS and I finished up our romantic ‘last lunch’ at Salsa’s Bar and Grill, contemplating a coffee before the drive home but were informed by the waitress that they only had whole milk and soy milk. What kind of restaurant doesn’t have skim milk for people’s coffee? Full cream was out of the question since I was the one that had to sit in the car with MS on the drive home and flatulence is an understatement when it comes to MS and dairy. We politely declined and trudged back to the car for the long drive home.
I do feel that our lunch at Salsa was over a little too quickly. After driving an hour to get up there you kind of don’t want lunch to be over in less than an hour, only to drive back to Cairns for another hour. It would have been nice to have a little more of a break between meals and lingered just a little longer – I probably would have needed another glass of wine though. One is a enough nowadays for this little Cadbury kid.
Our lunch at Salsa Bar and Grill was excellent and I guess it did live up to my expectations although I will need to return for dinner and indulge in a main dish of that infamous red claw linguine just to be certain! Dinner would be a whole different experience since the place seems to be regularly booked out during the evenings whereas we were only one of about 6 tables occupied this lunch time, although that may have been due to the severe weather. The menu at Salsa was well thought out but not pretentious, the food was both flavoursome and satisfying, the presentation was outstanding and perfectly prepared, the service was attentive without being pushy and the airy atmosphere was a splendid showcase for the laid-back FNQ lifestyle.
Salsa Bar and Grill
26 Wharf St, Port Douglas QLD 4871
Ph: (07) 40994922
Opening Hours: 7 days 12pm – 3pm, 5.30pm – 9.30pm