About a month ago, a much-needed holiday sees us in Port Douglas to escape the Winter blues for a week. It was perfect. Sunny, blue skies with an average of 26C everyday. All that was on our agenda was to relax, snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef and drive around the Daintree Forest area. Oh and did I mention soaking up some sun at the beach?
Naturally, I looked up a few places for us to eat. There’s not that much to Port Douglas. There’s a marina, a beach and two main roads; one is lined with hotel resorts and the other is lined with restaurants and shops. Just about every night of the week, there seems to be an abundance of people in the main hub of town which is odd because we’d hardly see that many people about during the day.
We booked for a table early in the week at Bucci but the earliest we could be seated was at 8pm. Upon arriving at the restaurant we noticed it was bursting with energy; most of the tables were occupied, waitstaff were scrambling around trying to attend to diners while setting up for the next service. There was apparently no record of my booking… Great! Luckily they were able to seat us eventually though.
It took a while for them to find their feet; the same waitress that took our drink order had asked us whether we had ordered drinks already, only to then realise that as she said had took our order and that the drinks were just taking its time to get to us. Whenever I see these words Innocent Bystander Moscato, I just know that I must have a glass or two of it. A pink moscato that is fruity and sweet but not sickening. What’s not to love about it? We can’t exactly remember the glass of Italian red that Ant settled on but I think he enjoyed it.
There was no possible way I could pass up having Burrata Tartufata ($18.50). A ball of cheese from Vanella cheese factory made in the same way as mozzerella but filled with cream and truffle so when you cut into it, cream with a hint of truffle oozes out. Irresistible on its own already, the soft and creamy cheese is served with crispy pancetta, rocket, truffle honey, blueberries and walnuts. Not something that you would normally picture with cheese, the blueberries provided a slight sweetness.
Carpaccio di manzo ($21) is one of those dishes that you’ll refuse to share. Paper thin slices of aged Black Angus beef fillet is elegantly dressed with lashings of extra virgin olive oil, pecorino, rocket, lemon and truffle. The beef melts once it touches your tongue and you’ll be tempted to scoff the entire thing down in one go, until you remind yourself that you’re in a public area.
My main of maltagliati in salsa di coniglio (main size $28) features a light braised rabbit, tomato and sage sauce with fresh silky sheets of torn pasta. The first thing I noticed was the intoxicating perfume of the dish, juicy scents of tomato and sage whet my tastebuds before I could even place some food on the fork. Don’t be fooled by the description of the sauce as being “light” it probably refers to the fact that it’s almost broth like as oppose to a thick tomato sauce. Actually, the umami flavour eventually became a little overwhelming for me but I couldn’t stop eating it. You can’t go wrong with delicate, shredded braised meat. There was a fellow dinner eyeing my main as she was deciding on what to order so I couldn’t help but recommend the dish to her.
Ant had the Agnello affumicato nel fieno ($33.50), hay baked rack of lamb served with porcini crushed potatoes, spinach and salsa verde. Cooked to perfection, the lamb was tender and juicy. The potatoes were almost like mashed potatoes rather than crushed and the sautéed spinach were a touch on the salty side.
The insalata di panzanella ($8.50) was a disappointment for me. Typically, stale bread and tomatoes are the two main ingredients to this simple Italian bread salad, but this version was filled to the rim with rocket instead. The panzanella salad that I first had, which made me fall in love with it, featured a hard bread called biscotto (not to be confused with the sweet biscotti) which would soak up the lovely tomato juices without having it going soggy. That was what I was hoping for with this salad but sadly it was soggy.
The infamous chocolate nemesis cake ($13.50), praised by just about every chef that has had a stint at The River Cafe, is a cross between a chocolate mousse and souffle. Served with vanilla mascarpone and crushed frozen raspberries, these were perfect accompaniments for this decadent chocolate cake. Now we can understand why so many people rave on about it.
Cannoli di torrone ($12.50) features three cannoli filled with a tradititional Italian nougat semifreddo dotted with crushed pistachios and finely chopped glacé cherries. Fortunately the cannoli shell remains crispy with the soft and airy semifreddo. The warm lemon thyme infused honey adds a pleasant savoury note to the cannoli which somehow takes away from the sweetness of the semifreddo.
We had an enjoyable night being spoilt by good food and observing waitstaff deal with a troublesome diner. Service can be a bit frantic initially but it was always friendly and helpful. You’ll be forgiven to think that you’re dining in an al fresco restaurant in Italy when in fact you’re actually sitting in an area between two shops in tropical North Queensland.