Where to eat in Port Douglas
Port Douglas might be famous for the Great Barrier Reef, but the real beauty of this tropical holiday town lies in its local produce.
Nestled between the Atherton Tablelands and the Coral Sea, Port Douglas is in one of Australia’s most unique food bowls, delivering everything from organic pork and crazy-good dairy through to coffee and coral trout.
Michelin-starred chef Spencer Patrick and his wife Reina (right) are leading the push to celebrate Far North Queensland’s local food.The British chef’s love of the region shines through in his menu at Harrisons, while Reina runs front-of-house with style and warmth. The Patricks also run the annual Taste Port Douglas festival – a delicious reason to escape from Melbourne’s bleak winter for a long weekend of exceptional food and entertainment, including dinners by some of Australia’s best chefs. The festival runs from August 12-14, and it’s not too late to book a flight and enjoy the show.
And while you’re there, try these five tasty pitstops.
1. Coconuts at the Sunday Market
Every Sunday morning, a farming couple and their seven kids bring a truckload of coconuts down the hill from the Atherton Tablelands and create the most perfect tropical breakfast on the planet. I’d eat it every Sunday if I lived at this tropical oasis. It starts the way all good meals begin – with a drink. The friendly farmers help you pick out a perfect coconut and pop a hole in the top for a straw, allowing you to sip on the sweet coconut water while browsing market stalls. Then you come back for the next course, when these truly inventive farmers crack the husk in half and use a custom-built drill bit to lift and chop and sweet coconut meat, making it fluffy and ready to absorb the next ingredients. One half gets a salad of home-grown rocket and tomato salad with lentils and tamari, while the other is topped with a squishy (almost caramelised) ripe banana doused in house-made coconut syrup (a delightful confection made from coconut flowers). This two-course brunch costs just $8, which leaves you cash for the other stalls with gems like home-made pickles, bags of nuts, fresh pineapples and all sorts of unique arts and crafts.
2. Paperbark reef fish at Harrisons
22 Wharf Street, 07 4099 4011
No trip to Port Douglas is complete without at least one meal at Harrisons, a delightful fine-diner housed in an old Queenslander built for tropical relaxation. Spencer Patrick’s menu is a heady combination of Michelin-star skill and passion for Far North Queensland’s lush produce. A highlight dish is Harry’s Fish and Chips (right), a whole reef fish baked in paperbark and served with taro chips splashed with malt vinegar and smoked tomato sauce on the side.It’s got all the comfort of fish and chips, but there’s nothing ordinary about the subtle FNQ flavours. Spencer’s lamb is also worth the trip north. He roasts it low and slow for 14 hours and serves it with fragrant hay-baked pumpkin, feta, oregano and a cut-through cucumber/mint salad. Desserts are playful and full of flavour, so make sure you leave room. Port Douglas is a great place walk off a big meal. Just head for the Four Mile Beach.
3. Local bugs at NuNu
1 Veivers Rd, Palm Cove, 07 4059 1880
Driving from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas is hardly a chore, hugging the coast with gorgeous views of the Coral Sea and tropical forest, but the trip’s even better with a pit stop at Nu Nu. Feel any travel stress float away as you take in the view across a palm-fringed beach to the ocean. Oh, there’s a menu too? Chef Nick Holloway is another FNQ chef keeping it local, serving his award-winning food from daybreak until late into the night. The menu oozes tropical charm, with dishes like barbecued reef bugs with veal & ginger dumplings and pickled shallots, served with a fabulous XO consommé in a little jug hand-built by a local potter. Nick’s line-caught barramundi cured in citrus is another winner. Book a sunny table and settle in for a few hours. It’s tropical bliss.
4. Gin at Mount Uncle Distillery
Up the hill on the Atherton Tablelands, Mark Watkins and his family are distilling some of Australia’s most interesting spirits and liqueurs. The cellar door at Mount Uncle Distillery is an eclectic, relaxed affair. Pull up a stool at the bar and work your way through a tasting paddle (right). Their Botanic Australis Gin is my stand-out, with traditional London-style gin ingredients swapped for Australian native botanicals, making giving it hints of mint, lemon and herbs. If you can’t make it up north, Mount Uncle’s gin will feature at Junipalooza in Melbourne in October, 2016.
5. Cocktails at Barbados
44 Wharf St, Port Douglas, 0409 121 213
Imagine watching the sun set over the harbour, slowly sinking behind the rainforest mountains in the distance. That’s all possible at Barbados, with a cheeky cocktail to toast your good fortune. Look out for the bar’s owner Wendy McWilliam, a fabulously stylish Port Douglas local who transformed the marina dock into an outdoor lounge space that’s both comfortable and beautiful (see photo at the top of the page). Grab one of the double day beds and get your Bacchus on with a great list of wine, beer and cocktails, plus a fun food menu. Wendy will make sure you get everything you need.