So I just got back from sunning myself in Tropical North Queensland and while I have lots of things to talk about (and trust me you’ll be hearing about them), I just need to take a moment to ask when the Cairns food scene turned up to 11?
I don’t mean to sound so surprised, but last time I was there was a solid 10+ years ago and it was just very normal. This time I can honestly say my mind and tastebuds were blown.
These aren’t in any particular order, but I’m still starting with Prawn Star because it’s probably the coolest bar I’ve been to in quite a while. By cool, I mean super friendly and bursting with a unique quirk. This bar / fresh seafood joint is actually three boats docked next to each other on the pier.
It’s absolutely casual, in fact while seating my friend and I, our server asked if we were going out afterward because we looked ‘so’ nice (just summery beach dresses tbh, but she’s obis now my favourite person).
Seafood is their specialty, in fact, it’s all you’ll find food wise. So I’ll admit as a vego it’s not exactly a nosh option, but my friend assures me the prawn platter she ordered was ridiculously fresh and tasty. The platters are big and made for sharing, showcasing the local catches of the day. The beer is no fuss and satisfying.
Genuinely, I can’t tell you how obsessed I am with this place.
If you’re prepared to take an easy hour drive to Palm Cove – and you should be, this small beach town is a beaut – you’ll find the extremely beachfront 5-star (my own rating, but also a super solid 4.4-stars on Google) food experience that is Nu Nu.
The food, oh my god the food. This is the first restaurant that has truly made me understand why foodies exist. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved me some grub, but the effort that went into creating the exact flavours of the locally sourced ingredients going into the dishes you’ll be eating here is incredible. Not to mention the aesthetically pleasing presentation.
While the main part of the restaurant is just behind the beachfront boardwalk, there is also an option to set up tables literally on the sand, between the palm trees. Yes, you can be barefoot. It’s just a dang delight to be honest. Also perfect just for a few cheeky bevies if you have other dinner plans.
Foxy’s Bar And Grill
If you go to Cairns and you don’t go island hopping, you’re simply not doing it right. There are plenty of reasons to catch the 45-minute ferry over to Fitzroy Island from the mainland – top notch snorkelling and hiking through rainforest before chilling on the beach anyone? – and Foxy’s Bar And Grill is definitely one of them.
Literally nestled in the lush green rainforest that covers the majority of this island, this bar works on island time but you absolutely won’t care. The cocktail list is extensive and delicious and every bit as tropical as you want it to be. The food is your standard hearty Aussie pub fare.
Remember those Fruit Tingle cocktails? Because their Echo Gecko cocktail is like a fresh tropical fruit version of it and I probably want to drink it for the rest of my life.
Sitting on top of the tower at Cairns’ new and only 5-star hotel, The Riley, is the highest rooftop bar in the city: Rocco. Before we even get into anything else, think of yourself chilling with a cold cocktail as you gaze out over a 270-degree panoramic view of the Coral Sea and the many islands sitting just out from the mainland. Feel free to sub in beer or wine, just personally I hit a tropical temp and cocktails are all I want in life.
Back to the cocktails. They’re those beautifully presented kinds that make you feel like you’re suddenly about 60% more sophisticated. In case you were wondering, I personally stand behind the Greenfields Spritz and it’s elderflower and rosemary goodness.
Personally, I just stayed for drinks, but there’s a decent food menu that’s Mediterranean inspired and I can conclusively say that whatever the person on the table next to me ordered smelt delish.
Just let it be known that this is coming from a vegetarian living in Sydney, where THE option is one of about a million amazing Thai restaurants, ranging from totally Westernised to spicily authentic. So, I know my noods. The Sticky ginger soy glazed noodles at Salt House are the best damn Asian-inspired dish I’ve ever put into my mouth.
I was actually super surprised when I looked later and saw this was actually another ‘modern Australian’ cuisine restaurant because I somehow accidentally ordered everything that just made me 100% certain it was straight up Thai place. There is a LOT of seafood dishes though, and everything is locally sourced, so I’m also 100% willing to admit I was likely just super hungry and very caught up in my own meal. Actually, that’s defs what happened because I realise now I didn’t even think to take a photo. I’d spent all day hiking, I was hungry ok? Don’t judge me.
Shoutout to the very chic decor, one of those a-legit-architect-must-have-had-a-hand-in-this kind of places. It’s also located on a pier half overhanging the water, which is fun.
I am not a person who typically finds myself at fine dining places, yet felt completely relaxed in the setting of Ochre restaurant, right on the harbour front. There were people there from smartish-casual to very well-dressed, so do you.
The menu here has got to be the most Australian thing I’ve ever seen, but make it culinary art. Which probably isn’t surprising considering the name of the restaurant. We’re talking dishes like Wattle Seed Damper Loaf, Salt & Native Pepper Leaf Crocodile & Prawns, Char Grilled Kangaroo Sirloin and Sugarcane mackerel sticks.
Everything, EVERYTHING down to the condiments and drinks menu, is Australian sourced and focused. It does not surprise me at all that these guys earned a spot in Lonely Planet’s Cairns guide.