Food is a powerful driving force in our lives. It tells a story of who we are and where we’ve come from. But food doesn’t only tell our stories as individuals, it also tells the story of cultures and places. It gives insights into how others live and what they believe, and most importantly, it’s something that brings us together.
So, it’s no surprise that food has become a driving force behind holiday planning. Of course, the accommodation, activities and attractions of an area play a big part in choosing a vacation destination, but the local cuisine has now become one of the motivational factors in deciding where we take our holidays.
What better way to immerse yourself in a new culture, learn about people and uncover the uniqueness of a place than trying their local dishes?
A Taste of Tropical North Queensland
When it comes to food, Australia is a lucky country. Every town, city, region, and state has something to offer, which can make choosing a destination for your culinary vacation difficult, but may we throw in a suggestion?
There is no place in Australia where the diversity of the local produce and cuisine you can sink your teeth into is as equally diverse as the range of attractions, landscapes, and types of holidays you can have, then it is in Tropical North Queensland.
It’s the location that makes TNQ a foodie paradise. Not just the fact that when you’re here you’re flanked by two of the most stunning natural wonders in the world – the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. Rather it’s a combination of the varying climates, altitudes, and landscapes, that are both caused by and allow these wonders to coexist. What this means is that the unique landscape is nutrient rich and fertile, making it possible to grow a vast range of fresh produce. There is no part of Australia, and perhaps the rest of the world, that can compare in its ability to produce quite the same variety of fresh food and local offerings.
Home to much of the local food production is the Atherton Tablelands. A diverse region, where the outback borders the rainforests, and where savannahs are only minutes away from waterfalls. The land is a tropical plateau with volcanic soil that is full of nutrients that allows the growth of this vast array of produce.
The Atherton Tablelands offers delicacies of all varieties, some expected and some not. Of course, the region produces some of the finest fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, like mangoes, bananas, and avocados. But it also has lesser expected offerings along the way including locally grown peanuts, mouth-watering chocolates and cheeses produced at the Gallo Dairyland, the unique flavours of the Arabica Coffee grown in the rich soils of the Jacques Family Coffee plantation, tea at the Nerada tea rooms, and Gin and other spirits produced at local distilleries, like Mount Uncle Distillery. The offerings are extensive, and the food trail you can take on will last for days and days.
This area drives the ethos of farm to table, paddock to plate, and in the areas that surround the Atherton tablelands you can see this. With the local produce of the region being available in most cafes and restaurants. Sustainability, and supporting local is big in this part of the world.
Whether your holiday is a food driven one or not, a visit to this part of TNQ is a necessity when you’re in the area. You can take on the food trail on your own, or participate in a locally guided tour, like those offered by Brett’s Outback Tours. If your holiday is food focused, be generous and allow yourself some time to truly explore and enjoy the offerings of the region.
Something in the Water
Of course, we couldn’t talk about this part of Australia without mentioning the seafood. With the Coral Sea lining the North East Coast of Australia, it’s only natural that many of the local dishes are seafood based. The options at your fingertips are so fresh that unless you’ve been to the region before, you won’t have experienced seafood in quite the same way.
Locally caught favourites include Tiger Prawns, Red Claws, Mud Crabs and of course fish. The variety of fish available in this part of the world is as expected, quite vast, however a popular one that is only found in the northern waters of Australia, is the Barramundi. The simplicity of the clean and buttery taste of the Barramundi sets it apart from other fish and makes it a favourite for many, with non-seafood lovers even game enough to try it.
Base Yourself in Palm Cove
To experience the cuisine of Tropical North Queensland, you need to base yourself in a place where you can not only easily head out on the open road to visit some of these food producing places, but also where you can find these local dishes without having to leave, and the right place for that is Palm Cove.
Situated 25 minutes from Cairns, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life, you will find this relaxed community, one that appreciates the local delicacies and prides itself on supporting and providing local produce at every turn.
The focus on the presence of local produce in Palm Cove satiates the culinary desires of its visitors, with many of the cafes and restaurants offering local produce and ingredients in many of their dishes.
For us, no visit to Palm Cove is complete without at least one meal at the Reef House Restaurant. Winner of Cairn’s Best Restaurant in 2019, the Reef House restaurant has a long-standing history in Palm Cove and its popularity has only increased over time. Serving up dishes that showcase the best of the local produce since the 1960s, the Reef House Restaurant offers its patrons a magnificent dining experience with attentive service, where even the Head Chef will come out to speak to guests once service has been completed.
The Chef in question is Nicolas Reverte, whose passion for food and cooking stems back to his childhood in Nice, France. Influenced by the passion and skill his grandparents had when creating meals, Nicolas decided to pursue a culinary career. Nicolas studied cuisine in Nice, and once his studies finished, he worked in both France and Spain. While in Spain, Nicolas was able to work for world-renowned chef Martin Berasategui, who holds 12 Michelin stars.
It was while working with Chef Berasategui that Nicolas learned a valuable lesson in understanding and respecting local produce and how to make the most of it. And it’s this understanding of and focus on the local produce that has made Nicolas a true attribute to the Reef House Restaurant. With a desire to work with the produce of Queensland, particularly the seafood and tropical fruit, it is Nicolas’ aim to be able to combine these local ingredients with European flavours.
Your Experience at the Reef House Restaurant
Of course, the food is the main drawcard to the Reef House Restaurant, but the atmosphere and ambiance is something to behold. Open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, the Reef House Restaurant, is located directly opposite the Coral Sea and offers a view that is always sensational, however, for us, you cannot go past dinner at dusk. With lit candles, and stars starting to light up the sky, you can have dinner on the outdoor deck, under the canopy of the Melaleuca and palm trees, while you listen to the ocean just ahead of you.
Enjoy a glass or bottle of wine from the carefully curated wine list, which is always evolving – and the in-house sommelier is always on hand to help you expertly match a drop to your meal of choice. The dinner menu incorporates local produce and delicacies to create dishes that showcase the mouth-watering and tantalising flavours of this region.
With something to suit all taste buds, everyone will leave a meal at the Reef House well-fed and extremely happy. Our pick for favourite dish would have to be the Barramundi. The buttery taste of the barramundi perfectly compliments the warmth of the red curry sauce and the bed of coconut pilaf rice it rests upon. You can even try making it at home with the recipe available just below!
Staying in Palm Cove
If you’re looking to explore the region and its culinary offerings, you’ll need somewhere to stay in Palm Cove. And the Reef House is the accommodation of choice in this region. The colonial style boutique hotel resides on a beachfront property, directly across from the Coral Sea. Palm trees line the property, while melaleuca trees are at home throughout the grounds. Just like the Reef House Restaurant, the hotel itself offers its guests attentive and personalised service at every turn. From welcome drinks to poolside sorbet, the honesty bar to the complimentary twilight drinks, everything has been designed for you to feel like the Reef House is your home away from home.
Reef House Signature Dish Recipe:
North Queensland Barramundi with Coconut Pilaf Rice and delicious Curry Sauce
Ingredients for 4 People
800g of Saltwater North Queensland Barramundi
Ingredients for Rice: Ingredients for Curry Sauce:
200g of jasmin Rice ½ Stick of lemon grass
125ml of coconuts Cream 25g brown onion
125ml of Natural water 5g of garlic
1.5g of fresh ginger 5g of ginger
1/2 brown onion 5 of banana chilli
1g sea Salt 25g Palm sugar
1 little stick of lemon Grass 10g Chili Paste
1 Kir leave 300ml of Coconuts Cream
25ml Of fish sauce
- To make the rice, start by chopping the ginger and onion. In a Bowl, add the coconut cream, water and salt. Put the rice on an oven tray, and then add the chopped onion and ginger, as well as the bowl of coconut cream, water and salt to the rice. Cover the tray with baking paper and cook the rice in the oven at 160 degrees for 40 minutes.
- For the curry sauce, chop your onion, garlic, ginger and deseeded chili. You can chop these roughly as they will be mixed together. Once your ingredients are cut, you can cook in a frying pan with the curry paste, until you have a slight colouration of the ingredients. Add your palm sugar, and keep an eye on the pan, the aim is to caramelise the palm sugar.Once your palm sugar has caramelised, add the coconut milk and let it cook gently for one hour on a low simmering heat. Finally, add the fish sauce and lime juice.
Blend the ingredients together, and then strain – you will have the a beautiful and fragrant curry sauce.
- To make your barramundi, cut the fish into slices of around 200g in size, we then want to cook the barramundi until there is a good crispy skin on the fish. To do this, you want to use a very hot pan with a splash of canola oil. Lay the fish skin down and cook for approximately 2.3 minutes. Then out the fish on an oven tray and cook in the oven at for 7-8 minutes at 180 degrees.
- Once everything is cooked, you are ready to plate up your dish.
- Be creative and get ready to enjoy!