With possibly the best view in town, this Cairns dining icon at the tip of Marina Point has expansive views of Trinity Bay and the marina. It's at its most atmospheric at night, with low light and tropical plants accentuating the timber tables and decking. Courtesy of its custom-built Argentinian wood-fired grill, meat is the star of the menu: from the lamb rump with baba ghanoush, to the 300 gram scotch fillet with sauteed green beans. Seafood is also good, especially the sharing board including grilled squid, Moreton Bay bugs, soft oysters, tiger prawns, and seared scallops. As for dessert, don't go past the baked chocolate chip cookie dough with vanilla gelato.
One of the city's best restaurants, this establishment attached to The Reef Hotel Casino has an elegant dining room with earthy tones to its decor, and a faint hint of the 1970s via its big tubular lightshades. The menu's emphasis is on local produce, some of which comes from a garden atop the hotel. For entrée there are such delights as kangaroo fillet tataki, poached Moreton Bay bug, and "torched tuna" with clams and toasted matcha ash. On the mains list is slow-braised duck curry, five-spiced pork belly, and my choice for the evening: an edamame beignet and seared halloumi with white bean hummus and marinated artichoke. It's excellent, though upstaged by a spiky-looking dessert featuring yuzu, the Japanese citrus fruit.
This breezy upstairs space in the Crystalbrook Collection hotel Flynn has marble-topped tables and white bentwood chairs beneath a plank-lined ceiling. There's something vaguely colonial about the decor, though the restaurant is inspired by the Italian immigrants to the Cairns region and their contribution to its agriculture.
The menu of expertly-crafted dishes using local ingredients, with efficient service provided by the young wait staff. Highlights of the list include lasagne al forno, made from slow-cooked Mareeba pork and beef ragu; pollo Milanese featuring local free-range chicken fillet in breadcrumbs with an Atherton Tablelands tomato and basil salad; and a fine risotto al tartufo nero, involving porcini mushroom and truffle pecorino.
THE RAW PRAWN
An old-school charmer, this restaurant overlooking the Esplanade has been in business since 2000. There's nothing snooty or pretentious here – with simple decor, white paper covering tabletops, and cheerful chatty waiters, it's an unfussy venue in which to enjoy good seafood.
Its menu is reliably informal and focused on food from the deep: Pacific oysters, Queensland prawns, soft shell crab, coral trout. Non-fish items on the list include steaks, and 'Crying Tiger' Thai-style chicken, but it's seafood that's the sure bet. The pesto prawn fettuccine with fresh basil pesto and cherry tomatoes, is a great choice, complemented by the house salad with feta.
CC'S BAR & GRILL
Within another Crystalbrook property, Bailey, CC's Bar & Grill is a steakhouse with style. Its meat comes from Crystalbrook Station west of Cairns, and so does its décor, at least in inspiration. Mind you, it's classier than your average cattle station, with the low-lit dining room including red cushioned banquettes, dark timber tables and a buzz of lively conversation.
As you might expect, red meat dominates the mains menu, divided into wet-aged, premium and dry-aged categories, with prices to match. Other main course choices include beef brisket, seasonal fish, and a smoked mushroom and caramelized leek tart; and the entrees are nicely diverse. The tuna salad nicoise, followed by sweetlip fish then a salted butterscotch creme brulee is beef-free, but delicious nonetheless.
This CBD cafe is an ideal Cairns morning hangout, with its breezy décor featuring local artwork, potted plants, and timber tables beneath a string of vintage-style electric lightbulbs.
Its impressive coffee is supplied by The Tattooed Sailor Coffee Roasters, a local outfit. Where the café particularly shines, however, is in its food menu. Creative choices include tropical fruit French toast; pumpkin and goat's cheese smashed on ciabatta with dukkah, lemon and mint; and my favourite dish on the menu, the superb miso-infused scrambled eggs with spring onion, black sesame, furikake (a Japanese seasoning) and seaweed slaw.
Tim Richards was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.