I had been wanting to try the banquet at Hanuman at the Hilton for quite some time now so you can imagine my delight when my flamboyant friend HH invited me for dinner with friends one Friday night. I met HH and SR in the lobby at the Hilton at 8pm and after get acquainted (I had never met SR before) and re-acquainted (I hadn’t seen HH since a Christmas Party in December) we headed on into Hanuman to meet three more of his friends waiting inside. DR I already knew but the other two men at the table I had never met before. I cannot for the life of me remember either of their names but it doesn’t really matter since I only initials anyway. The one sitting directly across from me was a dead ringer for Jeremy Clarkson, at least I thought so anyway. I informed him of his resemblance to the tv star and he thought it was very funny. Apparently no one had ever told him that he looked like JC before. I like to think I have a strange knack for comparing peoples looks to celebrities (and sometimes even animals) but then no one else seems to agree with me.
On walking into Hanuman I was surprised to find that half of Cairns seemed to be dining there on this particular Friday night. I know that Hanuman is a very popular restaurant – in Cairns, Darwin and Alice Springs – but because I have only ever been there for lunch before I guess I am only used to seeing a couple of tables occupied. After introductions were made at the table the waitress took our drink orders. I ordered a glass of Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc for AU$11 from the Wine Menu while the rest of the men at the table (I was the only female, story of my life) ordered beers. All except for the other guy whose name I can’t remember whom for some reason decided to order a cocktail called a Coconut Kiss. He was horrified to find that when it turned up it was all pink and girlie and subsequently tried to palm it off to me down the other end of the table. The responsible person that I am politely declined his offer since I was driving and one glass of wine was almost more than enough for little old me.
There are three banquet menu’s to choose from on the menu at Hanuman, the Rama Banquet for AU$39.50 per person, the Sita Banquet for AU$49.50 per person and the Hanuman Banquet for AU$62 per person. Each banquet is basically a more grandiose version of the last. HH had already taken the liberty of choosing the Sita Banquet for our table, as he tends to do. It included a selection of entrees, mains and a dessert. Even though our food didn’t take long I was absolutely famished by the time the entrees arrived on two platters placed at either end of the table. This was my one and only cheat meal for the week (FML) so I wanted it to be good. Each platter included three entree dishes including Kashmiri Chicken Tikka marinated with yogurt, ginger, kashmiri chilli and fragrant rose petal garam masala, Vegetable Samosas (Indian pastry filled with potato and peas slow cooked with roasted cumin and spices) and Nonya Pork Rolls flavoured with Chinese five spice and wrapped in bean curd sheets. The presentation was elegant yet simple although if I am really going to nitpick (which I am) then I think they could have removed the seeds from the wedge of lemon on the plate. There was also a yogurt and mint dipping sauce and a sweet and sour type dipping sauce. We ate while we chatted about politics (something I can never escape in my line of work – everyone has an opinion unfortunately), other restaurants in Cairns (my favourite topic of conversation) and the Paleo diet (more on that in another post). The entrees were all delicious with my favourite hands-down being the Kashmiri Chicken Tikka. The yogurt and spices on the chicken gave a nice little burst of flavour when you bit into the chicken which literally melted in my mouth. Each entree was a couple of bites for each person but I could have easily eaten more.
About 15 minutes later our mains arrived with a parade of waiters. There was two plates/bowls of each dish placed on the table in front of us followed by a large platter of whole fish right in the middle. SR (who just happens to be a chef) asked what kind of fish it was. The waitress said that it was barramundi. SR and I looked at each other with a deeply puzzled look because even though we didn’t know what kind of fish it was we knew that it sure as hell wasn’t a barramundi. The fish before us had no signature ‘curved head’ or elongated body as barramundi tend to. SR assured the waitress that she was indeed mistaken to which she looked surprised and said that it was probably a rock cod. Nope, still wrong. The menu doesn’t actually specify what type of fish it is it just says ‘Crispy Whole Fish’. The waitress was a little flustered when we continued to question her and I felt bad but waitstaff at a restaurant as prominent and popular as Hanuman should know what kind of fish they are serving. I’m sure plenty of people would have been happy to think that their fish was in fact a barramundi but not us. The waitress said that she would check with the chef and get back to us. In the meantime another waiter came over to fill our glasses so SR asked him what type of fish it was to which the reply was also Barramundi and then cod. Anyway to cut a long story short in the end the waitress came back and told us that it was a Goldband Snapper. Problem solvered more than 30 minutes later when our fish no longer resembled a fish and hopefully the waitstaff won’t make assumptions about what they are serving next time. You probably think it’s quite a petty thing to question but as someone whose parents owned a wholesale seafood business for a significant portion of my life and works on a boat it’s not to me.
Anyway so we all dug into a our food… I piled a mountain of rice onto my plate to soak up all the juices from the delicious curries laid out in front of me because like I have said before rice and sauce is the best part. Who cares about the meat (except for the purpose of this post), I want the sauce! My family used to have Sri Lankan curry nights when I was little (still do) and all I used to eat was bowls of rice and sour cream (now I eat curry). Lucky for me each dish came with copious amounts of sauce/gravy with them. The dishes included Kapitan Prawns a rich curry of fresh turmeric, lemon grass, galangal, coconut and ground dried shrimps, Thai Crispy Whole Fish served with three flavoured sauce – hot, sweet and sour, Butter Chicken silky cashew and tomato curry, infused with cardamom and cumin, Beef Massaman aromatic curry with potato, ginger, nutmeg, tamarind and peanuts and Kang Kong Greens water spinach, stir fried with yellow soya beans, garlic and chilli. I’m not going to go into ridiculous amounts of detail about the taste, creaminess and spice infusions of each dish but I have to say that I couldn’t really choose a favourite other than the obvious creamy Butter Chicken (food of the God’s!) The Butter Chicken was exactly as it should be… f**king awesome!
The Kapitan Prawns were sweet and flavoursome and they left the tails on the prawns for presentation and because it retains the flavour, an absolute must. I’ve had arguments out at sea with crew members while making prawn curry about leaving the prawn tails intact. It’s something that my parents have always done no matter how we have the prawns and I think it makes the dish more visually appealing, not mention the prawns look bigger than they actually are. One criticism for the Kapitan Prawns… It was too small! I could have eaten that entire bowl by myself no questions asked. C’mon Hanuman surely throwing another 3 or 4 prawns in there won’t break the bank?
The Massaman Curry (another favourite of mine) was in fact not Massaman Curry but more like a Lamb Korma. Well okay it was a Lamb Korma smartass. The chunks of lamb were a little bit on the chewy side which is not really what you want when the chunks are large because it makes the risk of choking that much higher (one of my greatest fears other than centipedes). It was disappointing that the Massaman didn’t turn up because a rich peanut-ty Massaman can be almost life changing. I don’t know, maybe they ran out of Massaman and figured that the Lamb Korma, which is served in the more expensive banquet would be a step up? Not in my books it’s not.
The Thai Crispy Whole Fish was very good, nothing too fantastic I didn’t think but whole fish on a platter doesn’t really turn me on. It was met with ooh’s, ahh’s and photos on it’s arrival at the table. Meh. Call me simple but I think you really just can’t beat a good piece of battered fish with lemon and tartare sauce. While the rest of the table was busy dividing up pieces of Crispy Whole Fish I was busy sampling and re-sampling the other dishes.
Lastly there was the Kang Kong Greens which well, they were fresh and crisp in a light garlic and chilli sauce but because there was so much other yummy stuff on the table and because I have been eating broccoli and beans for three of my five meals a day for nearly 12 weeks now I didn’t feel too much like eating more greens. I had limited room in my stomach and it wasn’t being taken up by vegetables that’s for sure.
It wasn’t long till I was full as a goog after eating about 2 and a half plates of rice, meat, seafood and sauce. There was quite a bit of food left over at the table however the Butter Chicken and the Kapitan Prawns were all gone. Easily the best two curries of the night! Then as the waitress was clearing the tables I remembered that we still had dessert to go, which arrived soon after the clearing of the plates with offers of tea and coffee to finish off the evening. Everyone at the table declined tea and coffee as I think we had all eaten more than our fair share at the main course and a mug of hot tea or coffee just wouldn’t go down well.
Dessert was Thai Basil Cheesecake with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Strawberries and I have to say that it was, well, disappointing. I expected some sort of Asian flair in a cheesecake but it was just plain, boring old cheesecake that they had pulled out of the fridge and plopped on a plate. In fact it was probably already on a plate in the fridge waiting to be served. There was nothing special about it and no one at the table really even ate it. I also think there was too much gelatine in it. I was full but I still could’ve fit a good dessert in. It was a shitty end to a great meal. Something more fitting to what we had just eaten like a Coconut Sago or Mango Pudding would have been more appropriate than cheesecake. Oh well, I didn’t really need it anyway.
We all finished up not long after our mediocre cheesecake and after spending about 10 minutes assuring HH that I didn’t want to kick on at the Salt House I headed home. My company and I were well satisfied and I think that the Sita Banquet was certainly a fitting ‘cheat meal’ despite a couple of hangups. To wrap it all up the service at Hanuman is excellent without being overbearing. Good service in Cairns is as hard to find as an outside table at the Lillipad Cafe on a Sunday. Our receptive waitress for the evening ensured that our water glasses were kept filled, beers were flowing and any other needs met with a smile. Hanuman is definitely doing something right on the Cairns scene judging by the turnout of diners on the evening. The atmosphere is classy but not snobby with a beautiful outlook onto the Hilton’s manicured gardens adjacent to the chapel and beyond to the inlet. The food is flavoursome, filling and indulgent however still reasonably priced for a fine dining restaurant. The banquets are definitely good value for money because you get to taste a little bit of everything, although you must dine with a group because they are only available for six people or more. To be honest I was expecting a little more out of Hanuman and I think the size of some of the dishes, the lack of some dishes, as well as the lack of knowledge by staff as to what was being served to the final dish was a bit of a let down, although I did have very high expectations. I would still love to go back and try the more expensive Hanuman Banquet which includes oysters, two types of prawn dishes, fish, two types of lamb dishes, wok tossed seafood, Thai Crispy Whole Fish, Butter Chicken and vegetables but until then I’m wondering if I should tone down on the banquets and buffets for a little while, well for this week anyway.
Hilton Hotel Cairns, 34 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4051 6075
Opening Hours: Lunch Mon – Fri 12pm – 3pm, Dinner 7 nights from 6pm till late
After recently discovering a penchant for Thai food and more specifically Pad Thai MS has been wanting to eat it more and more. I have no problem with that since Thai food is definitely one of my favourite cuisines (that and Japanese are probably tied for first). The other day while driving down Sheridan Street, deciding that we both wanted Thai food and wondering just where the hell we could get it at 3pm in the afternoon (seems eating a late lunch is becoming the norm for us). All the other places were closing up for the lunch trade and wouldn’t open up until dinner. That is, coincidently, when we both noticed Poemphun Thai on the other side of the road. Neither of us had ever seen it before but we took it as a sign and after a bit of a ‘u-ey’ we headed back to this newly discovered Thai place.
Poemphun Thai is located in the building where Little Italy used to be and then after that a Brazilian place that must not have lasted long because I didn’t actually notice it was there until it was closed down. We went in to have a look at the menu and it turns out that Poemphun Thai had only just opened up the day before. What luck for us! True to form and not the straying type MS ordered the Pad Thai Gai for AU$12.90 while I ordered the Som Tum (Paw Paw Salad) for AU$10.90 (medium heat). Although they do takeaway here we decided we would eat in since we weren’t in a rush to get home.
The kitchen is pretty much right in front of you at the counter and you can see the two Thai cooks in front of the flaming woks throwing the ingredients in as they go so you know that it’s fresh. The restaurant itself is a little dated but neat as a pin with cute little wooden booths to sit in and serviettes all folded up like a lotus flower and colourful plastic tablecloths. When we sat down to eat there was two other tables occupied in the little restaurant and while we waited for our food to arrive the waitress brought us out a jug of water and I had a look over the menu. The menu is very reasonably priced in fact I would go as far to say that it is some of the cheapest Thai food that I have seen in Cairns if not the cheapest (AU$12.90 for a Massaman Curry!). There are some delicious sounding dishes on the menu and I vowed that if the food was good we would return for Round 2 to try some other dishes.
We waited no longer than 10 minutes for our meals to arrive at our little wooden booth. MS’ Pad Thai came with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the top, a small pile of sugar (no doubt to sprinkle over the top to make it sweeter), a small pile of ground peanuts (in case you wanted more) and a small pile of chilli flakes. MS squeezed the lemon over the top, sprinkled on a bit of peanuts and sugar and just plain avoided the Chilli Flakes since he doesn’t like hot stuff (although he has come a long way since he met me and I opened his eyes to the wonders of food). He claims that this Pad Thai is the best one he has had to date. Better than the one at Orchid Plaza (Chilli Thai), better than the one at Lemon Tree (Main Street Arcade) and better than the one on Minnie St (J & L Takeaway and Minimart). That not to say much since it’s only 3 out of sh*tloads of Thai places in Cairns but this Pad Thai had everything going for it plus I tasted it and gave it the thumbs up as well.
My Som Tum was so damn good! It had all the right things tht Som Tum is supposed to have in it – Green Beans, Tomatoes and the perfect mix of Palm Sugar, Chilli and Fish Sauce. Mind you it was bloody hot but not too hot for my liking. I’m going to have to go against everything I have said in my previous post about Som Tum in Cairns and give this one the gong for Best Som Tum. Sorry Lemon Tree you guys are great but… This Som Tum just tasted so fresh and not pre-prepared at all. I ate up every last tasty morsel of that Paw Paw Salad right down to using a spoon to finish off the dressing.
We finished up our meals and made our way out to the car only to be followed out by the little Thai lady that owns the shop to thank us for eating at Poemphun Thai by clasping her hands together and bowing with a huge smile on her face. It was really lovely and made me even more happy that we had stopped in to have a look and in turn found some truly delicious Thai food.
About a week later MS and I found ourselves looking for a quick and early dinner and ended up back at Poemphun Thai for Round 2. MS ordered the Pad Thai (AU$12.90) again with the BBQ Pork for an entree for AU$6.50. I ordered a Thai Curry that I had already drooled when I read it on the menu on our first visit… the Pad Phed Moo (Dry Pork Curry) with Lean Pork, Stir-fried Red Chilli Paste, Coconut Milk, Green Peppercorns, Galangal and Fresh Basil for AU$12.90 or you can get Prawns for $14.90. A bargain if you ask me! Again we sat down at a little wooden booth and waited for our meals to arrive. This time there was a lot more people – some dining in and some coming in to pick up their takeaway. Seems that Poemphun Thai is already getting a little following of Thai-hards (I made a funny).
First up out came the BBQ Pork that MS ordered. Well he ordered it but he certainly wasn’t going to eat the whole thing by himself. There were four skewers of BBQ Pork in total and we both really enjoyed them. The Pork was super tender and flame grilled which gave it that yummy slightly charred taste. MS only problem was that he wanted more and didn’t think that it was a very big dish. I actually thought that it was very reasonably sized for an entree and pretty stock standard for a Thai restaurant, though some skewers were certainly bigger than others.
Again MS gobbled up his Pad Thai, making sure to avoid the Chilli Flakes. Same goes as what I already said about it his previous Pad Thai experience at Poemphun Thai, I’m not repeating it. He loved it and can’t wait to go back and get another one. My Pad Phed Moo or Dry Curry Pork, whatever you want to call it was superb. It wasn’t as dry as I was expecting from the name but then again it wasn’t swimming in sauce like a Massaman. Sort of in between I guess. The sauce was so yummy that I wished that I had ordered a bowl of Steamed Rice to mop it all up but alas this wasn’t part of my meal allowance. MS tasted it and although he liked it claimed that it was a little too spicy for him. I actually didn’t find it spicy at all so the only thing I can conclude from that is that he is just a big sissy. The Dry Curry Pork’s only downfall was that there was quite a lot of peppercorns in it still attached to the vine. I was a little unsure as to whether I was supposed to eat them or not. I erred on a side of caution and after nibbling on one and finding it far too peppery for my liking I didn’t continue with the peppercorns, other than that I loved it!
So like I said the food at Poemphun Thai is absolutely delicious. The woman that runs it is super friendly as are her staff (and pretty much all Thai’s). The food is fresh, fantastic and cheap as chips. If you are looking for somewhere for your Friday night takeaway or somewhere to dine without all the fuss of dressing up to go out then Poemphun Thai is it- plus it’s BYO. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
343 Sheridan St, Cairns North QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 6367
Opening Hours: 7 days 10.30am – 9.30pm
I have been doing the rounds in Cairns trying to find exactly where the best Som Tum is. For those who don’t know what Som Tum is not only are you missing out on one of the best Thai dishes around but a healthy one too (minus the palm sugar). Som Tum is basically shredded upripe Pawpaw (or Papaya) with Chilli, Palm Sugar, Garlic, Lime, Fish Sauce, Beans, Shrimp and Tomatoes. The Thai people do tend to make it really damn hot, as my mum and I found out in Bangkok a few years ago ordering a Som Tum that neither of us could finish and no amount of Mango Smoothie could soothe. We are not amateur chilli eaters either. Too many times I have been disappointed when I have ordered this delicious Thai Salad but finally I have found just where to get the best one in Cairns. But firstly I must tell you where not to go.
Thai Coins – This little Thai takeaway on Mulgrave Road is where my Cairns Som Tum experience first began a few years ago. Every Friday night (or any night I felt like it for that matter) I would go and order a Som Tum from the lovely owner. My orders became so frequent that he even began to recognise my voice on the phone when I rang up to place the order and knew what I wanted before I even said it. Unfortunately, over time I noticed that my Som Tum started to get smaller and smaller until after a couple of months my Som Tum got so damn small that I decided that I wasn’t going back for another one and I would continue on in my search for the ultimate Som Tum.
Khin Khao Thai Restaurant – A couple of months ago SH and I were both looking to satisfy our craving for Som Tum so we decided that we would head to Khin Khao on Aplin Street for dinner. The serving size was good but the sauce was so damn sweet I wondered if I was actually eating dessert. There really must be a nice balance between sweet, sour and spicy for the dish to even work and after trying the Som Tum at Khin Khao they just don’t have that balance. That said the three whole prawns that were included in the dish were imported and the male owner of the restaurant was so damn rude that neither of us will ever return. Next!
Larnxarng Lao and Thai Cafe Restaurant – About a month ago while MS was away for work I travelled from my humble abode near the city in search of more Som Tum. Unfortunately unlike Darwin it is actually hard to find and not many Thai restaurants or takeaways have it on their menu. I had heard good things about a little Thai place on Spence St who also run a stall at Rusty’s Markets. I ordered my $10 take away Som Tum and took it home to eat on the couch while watching 60 Minutes (better than X Factor surely). I opened up the container to find not only was my Som Tum significantly smaller that I would have liked but it was also full of cabbage. Additional to that there was a whole lime thrown cut in half inside to make the dish look a little bigger than it actually was. Not only this but the Som Tum was very disappointing. It was pretty much just fish sauce drizzled over some cabbage and shredded pawpaw. Sounds appertizing huh? It has to be one of the worst Som Tum’s I have ever had. Since when does Som Tum have cabbage in it? Seriously?! I really wish I had taken a photo of this dish but for some reason I felt no need until I decided to do this post a few weeks later…
J & L Takeaway and Minimart – After my disappointing experience at the Thai Takeaway on Spence St I decided to move a little closer to home and tried a takeaway that I had driven past a few times on Minnie St. I called up to order a takeaway Som Tum one night during the week. The lady answered in a thick Thai accent and I ordered my Som Tum with sticky rice on the side. Again MS was away for work and what MS (my food keeper) didn’t know about my carb consumption wouldn’t hurt him. I ordered and the lady promptly hung up without telling me how long or taking my name. In fact she hung up so quickly that I wasn’t even sure if she had hung up and there was that uncomfortable silence on my behalf… “Hello?” But she was gone. No doubt busily shredding oodles of green pawpaw as a result of my phone call. So I gave her the obligatory 15 minutes before I headed over to pick up my Som Tum. I returned home not long after and removed the lid to find large amounts of decorative lettuce in the take away container, no doubt another ‘fluffer’ to take up the space where the Som Tum should have been. Another disappointing and small Som Tum. It was tasty but what the hell am I actually paying for here?
Thai Kitchen (food van at Rusty’s Markets) – I went here a couple of weeks ago and ordered the Som Tum to ‘eat in’ which really just means to sit at ones of the the rickety old tables amongst the flies in front of the food van. Don’t get me wrong I love eating out of food vans but when the lady behind the counter took the ‘already prepared’ Som Tum out of a small fridge and plonked it onto a plate with a sprinkling of peanuts I knew I was in for a treat. Nevertheless I sat down and ate my Som Tum. It was exactly as I had expected. Soggy and nasty. The tomatoes in it were almost certainly on the turn and the fact that I had no idea just how fresh it was was extremely disconcerting. In fact I do remember messaging MS not long after saying that I may in fact sh*t myself after eating that lunch. Lucky for me there were no unexpected (or expected) trips to the toilet but I won’t be back for another round.
Chilli Thai Takeaway – This week MS has recently discovered the wonders of Phad Thai. I know, I know. The boy is sheltered and he is yet to go overseas on the obligatory Thailand pilgrimage that myself and many other Aussies have had the opportunity of doing. Anyway so now that he loves Phad Thai I figure that I can use this to my advantage. He gets the Phad Thai while I get the Som Tum. Works well for me, plus I always get to taste his Phad Thai. Yesterday we headed into the city and found a place in good old Orchid Plaza.
I ordered the Som Tum from the large picture menu at the front of the shop. Strange though because the picture of the Som Tum, although nice, had Cashew Nuts on top of it and everyone knows that Som Tum has Peanuts in it. When my Som Tum arrived at the table there were no nuts in sight, not even a measly out of place cashew. The only thing that was in the Som Tum was the shredded pawpaw, some of ‘what I think’ was limes, a little bit of tomato and strangely enough little pieces of crab claw. From what I could see there was no crab in the dish nor would I expect there to be so f**ks me how the crab got in there. The Som Tum was ok but nothing I would write home about nor be back for. Still baffled as to where the crab claw came from. Additional note: upon a little researching of Som Tum I have found that black crabs can actually be added to Som Tum and some Thai’s do eat them shell and all. Having said that the minute crab claw was literally as big as my finger nail and if it was supposed to be in there might I suggest they add a little more next time.
Lemon Tree – I found this little gem in the Main St Arcade (between Lake and Grafton St) a couple of weeks ago again with my fellow Som Tum enthusiast SH and have been back since with MS and also made another attempt yesterday but alas it was closed. The Thai family that run it are really lovely and when I asked if I could have a little more Som Tum on my plate in exchange for the rice that I so dearly wanted (but wasn’t going to have) they happily obliged. The lady asked me how hot I would like it and I said ‘medium please’. Not too ridiculously hot but I still wanted a bit of fire. I had a bit of a cold that day with MS and this Som Tum was hot enough that it scared that damn cold right away.
The sauce had just the right balance of sweet vs sour vs spicy, there were those little dried prawns in it, there was beans in it, peanuts and tomato. Everything that was supposed to be in it was in it and nothing that wasn’t supposed to be. Kinda nice when you get what you actually pay for. I am going to go so far as to say that the Som Tum at the Lemon Tree is the Best in Cairns. I only wish it was open for dinner because I would certainly be more of a Som Tum regular at this awesome little place.
Another Friday night and another attempt by my friends and I to stay away from the pubs and clubs. This time we decided to go to Iyara Restaurant and Bar upstairs at what used to be (back in the day) The Chapel. I dined at Iyara about a year ago and found the food delicious so I thought it was worthy of another visit. On arrival we were greeted by the owner Feng who we chatted with about the mysteries of the universe while we ordered some drinks from the Drinks Menu. JM and FM decided to stick with the risque jug of water while myself and HH went for an alcoholic beverage each (beer and wine). As is typical when dining with HH we go ‘the whole hog’ as the saying goes, no expense spared and its always a pleasure. We asked our host to choose 4 entree meals for us followed by 4 mains. He asked if there was anything that we particularly wanted to try and I mentioned a Chicken and Lemongrass dish that I had spied on the list of mains that sounded particularly tasty, other than that Feng had free range to choose our dishes for us.
One of the best things about Iyara Restaurant and Bar is the decor and the view. We were seated out on the balcony, overlooking the esplanade. The city was alive with people strolling along the foreshore and the full moon rising against the mountain backdrop. Inside, the atmosphere in the restaurant is relaxing yet classy with candles flickering, comfy couches, oriental vases and sleek wooden floors. It didn’t take long for our entrees to arrive and it wasn’t just my camera (ok iPhone) that emerged to take photos of them. The entrees looked and tasted delicious. Feng gave us a rundown of the entrees that he has selected for us paying particular attention to the Mieng Kham – Betel Leaf Served with Shrimp, Coconut, Ginger, Peanut, Chilli and Fresh Lime (AU$15). He told us that this entree either needed to be eaten first or last to truly taste the dish. Since it looked so good, it got eaten first. Everyone thought it was divine and I found myself a little sad that we only got one each. Oh well, onto the other entrees.
Next entree was the Pla Hoy Shell – Thai Spicy Salad, Warm Scallop, Fresh Herbs, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves and Mint (AU$18). Each was served on a white porcelain appertizer spoon (i.e. just one mouthful) and the flavours of sweet, sour and chilli along with the plump, juicy scallop was the perfect blend for this delectable entree.
Next entree was the Goong Hom Pha – Prawn Wrapped in Rice Paper Served with Homemade Chilli Sauce (AU$16). The prawns were nice and big and the rice paper wrapped around them was golden and crisp. These entrees were so crispy I even ate the prawn tail (yum). Again I found myself wishing that we didn’t just get to eat one each.
The last entree of the night was the Tod Mun Pla – Fish Cakes with Snake Bean, Lime Leaf, Crushed Peanut and Sweet Chilli Sauce (AU$17). The fish cakes were, well, they tasted like any other Thai Fish Cakes that I have had. Not to say that they weren’t yummy but compared to the other entrees they weren’t particularly exciting.
Now onto the mains… They arrived in good time as we were only left waiting for about 20 minutes. Along with my Chicken and Lemongrass dish (Gai Takroi) Feng had chosen us the Gaeng Massaman Neur – Rich Massaman Curry of Chuck Beef, Potato, Peanut and Shallot (AU$28), Pla Sam Rod – Boned Fried Whole Barramundi with a Hot, Sweet and Sour Sauce Garnished with Thai Basil (AU$34), Pad Pak – A Fresh Stir Fry of Green Asian Vegetables with Thai Basil (AU$19). Feng served us each a portion of steamed Jasmine Rice each and we all tucked into the mains in front of us (sharing of course). The Gai Takroi was placed closest to me so naturally I tried that one first. The chicken served in bite sized pieces was succulent and tender. Everyone enjoyed this dish.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t try the Stir fry vegetables for two reasons. It was placed at the opposite end of the table so it was a bit out of reach (yeah, ok I could have asked FM to pass it up) and secondly because I just don’t like bean sprouts. Again everyone else seemed to enjoy it but there was a little over half of it left by the end of the meal. I can only guess this is because the other non-vegetarian dishes were well, non-vegetarian.
The Massaman Curry was probably my highlight of the dishes that Feng chose for us. The meat was tender, the potato nice and soft and the sweet sauce was fantastic drizzled over my Jasmine Rice. This dish was delicious but I do have a massive weak spot for Massaman Curry at the best of times. HH and JM, however were also digging into this dish and enjoying it immensely so I guess it wasn’t just me.
Lastly, was the Whole Barramundi and wow did it look good. Once again everyones cameras or phones came out to take a picture of the meal. The Barramundi had been deep fried whole with bite sized pieces of fish fillet for us to share around. Once that was gone however the crispy fish was broken into pieces and eaten skeleton and all by the four of us. I asked Feng where he sourced the Barramundi from and he said that it was farmed Barramundi from Australia. The reason that he bought farmed Barramundi to serve at Iyara is because of its bred to plate size (something I did actually already know but I thought I would ask anyway).
We all enjoyed our meal at Iyara Restaurant and Bar so much so that my friend FM was raving about the Barramundi for the next week until she went back and ordered it again. The atmosphere is fantastic and would be a good choice for a romantic dinner on the balcony for two. The service however was lacking in some areas and while our waters and drinks were topped up at the beginning of the night it seems we were forgotten about after that. It was also very difficult to get anyones attention if you wanted another drink. Feng however was a gratuitous and friendly host, it was more the rest of the staff that let down the service. From the entrees to the mains the food was delicious but paying upward of AU$28 for a Thai dish is (I think) a little steep, especially when the service is lacking. The restaurant was quite full on this particular Friday night but there was still plenty of room down the back for more diners. If more people had come the three wait staff would not have been able to keep up at all considering they were struggling with the number of people already there. If the service was improved I would have no problem paying the higher price for these meals but as it stands hmmm I think I might stick to the cheaper Thai restaurants in town. But then again, that Massaman Curry was pretty damn good.
Iyara Restaurant and Bar
91 Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 4748
Opening Hours: Open till late for dinner 7 days
Another lunch special available in the Cairns CBD during the week is the $15 bento box at Hanuman at the Hilton, overlooking Trinity Inlet. Myself, FW and TT went to check it out last Friday and were pleasantly surprised. The $15 bento box includes rice, salad, two curries and a chutney/sauce. The waiter informed me that the curries change daily so you never know what you are going to get. On this particular day however our’s was a Thai Indian Bento Box with Green Curry of Chicken in a Classic Thai Curry with Sweet Basil, Kaffir Lime Leaf and Chilli, Seasonal Vegetables Steamed and Served with Oyster Sauce, Garlic and Soy, Fresh Green Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Carrot Ribbons, Mango Pickle with Cumin, Coriander and Mustard Seeds and Jasmine Rice. The Green Curry was absolutely divine, so much in fact I was desperately trying to mop up and leftover sauce with my rice. I also really enjoyed the Seasonal Vegetables as they were fresh, crunchy and dressed in a delicious oyster, garlic and soy sauce. The one thing we all found a little odd was the Fresh Green Salad included in the Bento Box as its not really a Thai Indian type salad and just seemed to be out of place with curries, pickle and veges.
Hanuman is a great place to go mid-week for a cheap, quick and super delicious lunchtime meal in a really beautiful and quiet setting with Trinity Inlet just outside the floor to ceiling windows. If time is limited you can inform the waiter for an extra speedy meal so its perfect for the office execs who just want a quick bight to eat. With the curries on offer changing daily you never really know what you are going to get but in my opinion that sort of adds to the whole appeal of it.
34 The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4052 6786
Opening Hours: Lunch Mon – Fri 12pm – 3pm, Dinner 7 nights 6pm till late