Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar, Cairns
True Cairns local’s like myself – or at least ones that have lived in Cairns prior to 2001 – would remember George’s Greek Taverna on the corner of Aplin and Grafton Street. Many a plate was smashed in a furore of music and dancing at George’s over the years. After it was George’s, it was Yanni’s and then finally before closing down last year (or maybe even the year before) it was Adelfia.
I remember going to George’s back in the day many times for dinner. It was always great service, delicious food and there was even the possibility of spotting teenage heart throb Peter Andre (anyone that thinks Mysterious Girl was not an awesome song can kindly escort themselves from this page – that song still rocks).
Unless you read that dubious publication that is the Cairns Life Magazine you probably aren’t aware that George’s has returned to Cairns once again. What was previously long standing Mediterranean and Tapa’s restaurant Casa De Meze upstairs on the esplanade is now Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar (aka the old George’s Greek Taverna).
With my crew in town (and no I don’t mean that like a dance crew, more like sea men haha) and with me being the only local in my crew AND their resident food critic the pressure was on to choose somewhere good for us all to go to dinner. After a bit of a stouche about the previously decided on location, Waterbar and Grill I decided on somewhere that I hadn’t yet been but wanted to try… Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen. It wasn’t Waterbar and Grill that was the problem, lets just say we don’t all get along with our *ahem* esteemed leader.
I booked us a table for 10 for 6.30pm and we all headed down to Yaya’s, minus that one person. We were greeted by the female owner who swiftly showed us to our table all the while giving what must have been a new staff member a bit of a helping hand along the way. The new staff member (a waiter) handed us our menu’s and asked us what we would like to drink. Due to us being ‘dry’ or should I say alcohol free whilst at work (yes dinner was still technically considered work) we ordered a couple of cokes, a lemon lime and bitters and the rest of us had water. From the look of surprise we got from the waiter he must have thought we were from the local AA group or something. I guess it’s not very often they get an entire table of 10 ask for non-alcoholic beverages.
We moved onto the menu’s and after a bit of umming and ahhing we (I) decided on the Sharing Banquet for AU$40 per person. Although the rest of the menu looked delicious we figured the banquet was the best bang for your buck with such a large group plus it encourages a little more interaction amongst the people at the table. Yeah because more interaction is exactly what you need after 2.5 weeks at sea together.
There was a little bit of a wait between us ordering and then getting our first lot of food but after that the meals just kept on coming. First up was the Three Dips with Homemade Bread, Saganaki Cheese, Greek Salad and the Chef’s Choice of Mezedes (small sharing plates).
When I first sat down for dinner I had every intention of ‘going easy’ on the food. That idea was scrapped almost instantly when I spotted the Homemade Bread. It pretty much went downhill from there for me sadly. One thing I simply cannot resist no matter how strong my willpower is fresh, warm bread but I am almost positive I’m not entirely alone on that one. The Three Dips to go with the bread were Tzatziki, Taramosolata and Eggplant. These dips coupled with the crunchy on the outside and warm on the inside homemade bread were way too bloody moorish!
Sometimes I wonder if some of my crew live under a rock because none of them had heard of nor eaten Saganaki Cheese before. But, seriously aside from pork cracking and blue vein cheese it’s got to be one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten. Squeeze that lemon juice over the top and you’re good to go. My workmates all gushed about it for days afterwards.
After hogging ourselves on cheese, bread, dips and mezedes our empty plates were cleared away to make way for the next course.
The Calamari had a light coating of flour and was pan-fried with lemon and olive oil dressing. It was cooked to perfection and melted in your mouth – exactly the way calamari should be! The Fish of the Day was Swordfish with a balsamic drizzle and again cooked to perfection.
The last dish of this course was the Chargrilled Prawns. They were big and juicy although we only got one each, something that we were all a little disappointed about.
Our third and final savoury course was the Chicken Souvlaki and Yaya’s Arni (Baked Lamb and Potatoes). My personal favourite dish of the evening (other than the homemade bread) was the Baked Lamb and Potatoes. Tender pieces of lamb will do it for me every time.
After all this we were pretty much stuffed but there was still dessert to come. George himself (at least I think his name is George) came out from behind the open kitchen to greet us and thank us for coming as our plates of mixed sweets arrived. He offered to toast our dinner with a small glass of port each, including one for himself, but sadly we all had to decline. Typically the only time that I get an offer of free alcohol is when I can’t have it!
As you may have already guessed my crew and I thoroughly enjoyed our sharing banquet at Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar. The simply presented food is both delightful and plentiful (except the prawns). Post banquet I felt like I might need to be rolled out of there having completely gutsed myself, a far cry from my initial thoughts of ‘just having a small dinner’. If the Sharing Banquet sounds a little too much food to bear then there is also an a la carte menu to choose from with no dish over AU$30. There’s even a funky lounge setting inside for those just looking to enjoy some Mezedes and a cocktail from the bar. At Yaya’s the service is efficient, friendly and a little loud but frankly who doesn’t expect a little yelling with their Greek food. Ah just like old times! Just make sure you get the okay from George before you start smashing the plates.
Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar
Level 1, Corner Aplin St and the Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4031 3033
Opening Hours: Dinner from 5pm 7 days a week, Lunch on Fridays from 12pm
The Rising Sun, Palm Cove
First cab off the rank with my new Tropical Far North Queensland Entertainment Book was The Rising Sun Bar and Bistro at Palm Cove a couple of weeks ago. A few months ago MS and I attended a friend’s engagement party on the rooftop terrace at the hotel Sarayi where the two of us were smacking our lips at the delicious canapes that were being brought around by the waitstaff from the restaurant below. That restaurant below was The Rising Sun, somewhere I had never heard of before and after a little research I found out that it is also co-owned by co-owner and head chef at NuNu, Nick Holloway. After our fantastic five course degustation menu at Palm Cove in August last year I was keen to come back and try just what The Rising Sun had on the menu and see if it was anywhere near as good as I had cracked it up to be.
Initially, after hearing some great reviews I tried in vain to get a table for two at Harrison’s in Port Douglas for the night but alas it was booked out for a wedding so I made a last minute booking for my second choice, The Rising Sun, and we headed out to Palm Cove. It was a drizzly night out in Palm Cove and it was difficult to find a park out there because the place was chockers with diners. We managed to find ourselves a park a little out off the beaten path and made our way to the restaurant. The staff had reserved us a nice little table right at the front of the restaurant overlooking the outside tables (unoccupied due to rain) and the footpath beyond. The Rising Sun Bar and Bistro was probably about 3/4 full when we sat down at our table but quickly filled up to close to capacity in the hour or two we were there. A friendly waitress came to take our drink orders – I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc while MS ordered some sort of Cider (whoops I took no notice of either). Due to the drizzle outside all the windows had been closed up to keep any water out but in order to counteract the lack of breeze the staff had turned the ceiling fans up ‘full bull’ making it a little chilly for us especially considering our table was right in the middle of two large fans. We asked the waitress if she would mind turning them down which she happily obliged, never mind what the other diners wanted this was about us (that’s a joke).
We both decided well before we arrived that we were going to go the whole hog and get an entree, main and dessert each but when we had a look over the menu we were a little disappointed. The entrees looked fantastic! In fact I would have been happy to build my entire meal just out of the entree part of the menu since MS and I quite a difficult time choosing only two, and which two to be more precise. After considering the Roast Duck Rolls with Cucumber and Plum Sauce as well as the BBQ Sugar Cane Pork with Chilli Vinegar we settled on the Crispy Fried Squid with Hot and Sour Dressing and Peanuts for AU$16 and the Coconut Roasted Pork Ribs with Ginger Caramel and Thai Basil for AU$18. After assessing the mains over and over again… To be honest there was just nothing in the main menu that grabbed me. I mean there was only 6 items on the main menu to choose from aside from the Fresh Reef Fish or Steak which was another section of the menu and the 2 or 3 specials on the board which didn’t excite me. It was a choice between the 6 main dishes – Chicken Parmigiana (it IS a bistro after all), Crispy Duck Leg, Roast Chicken Masala, BBQ Lamb Cutlets, Grilled Pork Chop and Paella. Ultimately the Crispy Duck Leg with Jasmine Rice, Papaya and Young Coconut Salad for AU$34 was the pick of the litter, or so I thought. MS however ended up choosing the ‘Pasta of the Day’ from the specials board which was Fusilli with Feta, Olives, Sausagei (or was it Chorizo?) and Croutons. That isn’t actually how it was described on the board but I cannot for the life of me find where I wrote it down (my description was still pretty damn close). The price wasn’t written up on the board so we never actually found out how much it was but I am assuming around the usual AU$25 mark.
So we ordered and sat and drank our wine and cider while we waited. By this time the drizzle had stopped and the waitress opened up a couple of the windows at the front of the restaurant to let some breeze through. The atmosphere at The Rising Sun was second to none and everyone seemed to be having a great time whether it be enjoying a cocktail at the bar or a glass of wine with friends over dinner. The lighting however, was just dim enough to make it difficult for me to take photos of the food that was to come (I hate it when that happens). We waited about 15 minutes before our entrees arrived and as the waitress carefully laid them down in front of us she said that she would go and fetch a share plate for us since that is what we had planned on doing. We waited about 17 seconds until we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer for the share plate and dug in (luckily because she only returned with it about 10 minutes too late).
The Crispy Fried Squid was absolutely scrumptious (the below photo just doesn’t do it justice). I mean this squid was so good that it was on par with probably the best squid I have ever had. For all my regular readers you know I compare all squid to my mum and dad’s salt and pepper squid. It was cooked to perfection with just a slight dusting of flour and spices on the outside to give it just a little bit of crunch but still delicious and tender on the inside. It was, in essence, the sauce that made the dish so damn good. It was just the right mix of hot and sour sauce drizzled over the squid and mixed in with the cucumber and peanuts with a generous ‘sprinkling’ of Thai Basil leaves. We ate every last piece of squid, peanut and cucumber in that dish and if I was at home I would have licked the dressing clean off the plate but I figured it probably wasn’t appropriate while out at a restaurant.
The Coconut Roasted Pork Ribs with Ginger Caramel and Thai Basil were up next and like the Crispy Fried Squid they didn’t disappoint. The fall off the bone pork with the ginger caramel sauce was a match made in heaven. Again I wanted to lick the plate clean (like Manu Fieldel I’m a sauce girl). The dish was generously decorated with Thai Basil and also finely chopped birdseye chillies which were eye-wateringly spicy. The birdseye chillies weren’t mentioned on the menu description so MS (the big pussy) got quite the shock when one accidentally made it’s way into his unsuspecting mouth. He then dared me to eat one which being the tough ‘I can do anything’ kind of girl that I am happily accepted the challenge only to declare/pretend that they ‘weren’t very hot at all’. THEY WERE HOT!
When we were finished the waitress cleared our plates and our mains arrived about 15 minutes later. MS looked down at his dish and wondered where the sauce was for it. I poked around a bit and noticed some resemblance of a sauce in the bottom of the bowl. MS was disappointed even though he hadn’t tasted it yet. I thought it looked quite nice. He dug into his big bowl of fusilli and his opinion didn’t change to much. The croutons were just a very random edition and apart from that it didn’t have much else going on. MS said that without the feta the dish wouldn’t have had any flavour at all. The sauce at the bottom was a bit like a very mild vinaigrette I guess but nothing like what he was hoping for. In the end he ate about two thirds of it and left it. I actually liked his dish with it’s slight vinegary taste but that doesn’t say too much. Here’s a hideous confession: I used to be about 15 kg’s overweight (a mean feat for someone who’s 5ft nothing) and used to binge on pasta with vinegar and feta cheese. Wait… maybe I should divulge that kind of embarrassing stuff on here. Too late. Anyway my point is that my opinion is a little skewed when it comes to pasta and vinegar because it’s always going to get the thumbs up when realistically it’s not actually very good at all.
Now my dish – well I wasn’t sure if there even was a Crispy Duck Leg under the mountains of bean sprouts and Thai basil (again). I dug underneath and sure enough it was there but how was I supposed to get to it? Now I’m all for the use of fresh ingredients and what not but the using Thai basil in 3 out of the 4 dishes that we ordered is a little too much don’t you think? And the fact that neither the bean sprouts or the Thai basil were actually mentioned in the menu description just pissed me off since I frigin hate bean sprouts. If I had of known they were going to be so liberally included in my dish I would have opted to not have them. Even more annoying was the fact that due to the dim lighting they blended into the young coconut salad so I couldn’t tell if I was eating nasty bean sprouts of delicious young coconut until I bit into whatever it was. In the end I gave up and just went for the duck which disappointingly was dry and overcooked. The creamy curry-like sauce that it was encased it was delicious but that didn’t make up for all the other areas in which this dish failed for me. I think I ate about half of it and then left it. It’s a bad night when I only eat half of my dish and then eye off my partners meal. Okay, okay, I normally eye off my partners meal but I still only ate half my dish.
So after our lacklustre main meals following our standout entrees we didn’t really know what to think but we did know one thing for sure – we wanted dessert. The waitress brought us out a menu each to peruse the dessert menu. MS ordered the Roast Pineapple, Bread and Butter Pudding with White Chocolate and Macadamia Brittle Ice Cream for AU$16. I didn’t think that sounded very nice to be honest although I was definitely going to taste it when it came out. I was pretty keen on the Crispy Fried Banana Fritters but Chocolate Brownie is always going to come up trumps against any competitor so I chose the Hot Chocolate and Turkish Delight Brownie with Chocolate Sauce and House made Vanilla Ice Cream for AU$15.
Another 10 minutes later and out came our desserts, placed in the middle of the table. Disappointingly though they both looked exactly the same, except one was a light caramel colour and one was a dark chocolate colour. We had a taste of each of our own desserts and then the others, both decided with 100% conviction that we had each made the right choice in respect to our desserts and then positions our prospective plates firmly back to each side of the table. The hot pineapple in MS pudding just didn’t do it for me. I thought it was weird and nothing like a bread and butter pudding but MS liked it.
My brownie on the other hand was warm and soft with oozy chocolate sauce but a severe lack of Turkish Delight. I think I only found one piece. The brownie was just okay and nothing like the ‘Best Brownie in the World’ from the Pedlar’s Inn Cafe in Galle, Sri Lanka that I had while on a tour last year. TO. DIE. FOR.
So what can I say… The atmosphere at The Rising Sun was nice and relaxed but still classy as was the service but the mains definitely let the whole experience down. By the time it came to pay for the bill we got 25% off the total up to a maximum of AU$35 which resulted in it all costing us just over AU$100. I thought that was a pretty good deal for a wine, a cider, two entrees, two mains and two desserts although for a restaurant that advertises itself as a bistro I think that some of the menu items are a tad overpriced. I wouldn’t say that our meal at The Rising Sun was particularly bad but it failed mostly because I’d had such high expectations about the place. After the gorgeous canapes we had at the engagement party a few weeks prior and reading about their affiliations with NuNu it was a little hard not to get a little excited. Our meals certainly peaked too soon with excellent entrees, ordinary mains and then ‘just ok’ desserts. The over use of Thai basil was a little bit too much in the end. I get what they were trying to do with all the fresh ingredients but hey, ease up a little on the Thai basil there tiger this is Palm Cove not Patong.
The Rising Sun
95 Williams Esplanade, Palm Cove QLD 4879
Ph: (07) 4059 0889
Opening Hours: 7 days 11am – 12pm