Eating out in Cairns – or how not to run a restaurant

In the rainforest

After a day of sight-seeing the other day we met a friend who happened to be in Cairns and went out for dinner. Not being from the area we thought we’d wing it and walked along the Esplanade for some inspiration.

We came to one place – a middle eastern restaurant – looked at the menu, thought we’d stay and asked for a table for three. The waiter said that they were quite busy at the moment and we could sit outside and wait for 20 minutes until we could be seated.

My friend looked inside and noticed that there were quite a few tables vacant and mentioned this to him. He said that it was a really busy time and we’d still have to wait for 20 minutes.

It was getting on a bit and I wanted to eat and head back to Port Douglas before I got too tired so we moved on.

We ended up at a cafe and ordered our meals. My friend and I ordered the same dish – an oriental chicken salad. JJ ordered the usual fish and chips.

The meals came out and our salads didn’t look that great and when my friend tasted the fried noodles she said they were stale. I tasted mine and they were definitely stale. I had a bit of the chicken and it had been bathed in balsamic vinegar and wasn’t that tasty either. Neither of us are in the habit of sending things back but we had to with these meals.

We ordered something different and had to wait for quite some time. We finally got our replacement meals after JJ had finished eating his and the meals were a lot better this time.

In the meantime we’d been offered nothing while we waited – even a drink would have been good.

As soon as we finished eating I asked for the bill and when we received it our sent back meals were on it in addition to our replacement meals.

Of course we mentioned this and the waitress said that she’d made up a new bill for us without those meals. Why we weren’t given that in the first place I don’t know.

As we walked out we said that we’d never be back and after having a look at their reviews on Trip Advisor others haven’t given them good reviews either. I’ve now added my own review.

If I was the waiter in the first restaurant I would have seated us and mentioned that the meals might take a little bit longer than normal due to them being busy. As it was we probably would have gotten out sooner if we’d stayed there. The fact that he couldn’t seat us for dinner just yet was a bit strange.

In the second place I would have offered us at least a drink for giving us stale food. I think we should have been compensated in some way for the inconvenience. They obviously don’t care about maintaining any sort of standards maybe due to the high number of drop-in tourists? But surely if they took more care with their food they’d have better reviews on Trip Advisor etc and be more popular.

The photo at the top has nothing to do with our food, but it was serene in the rain forest earlier that day.

Dumplings

Lunch. Day 296/365.

Thursday, 15 September 2011, Day 296/365.

The good thing about working in the city is the easy access to quite a number of eating establishments.

I met some ex-colleagues for lunch last week and we went to a dumpling place – they seem to have risen in popularity recently.

Somehow we ended up with a soup dumpling hot-pot which was quite delicious but I didn’t get my dumpling fix as there were only two each.

Despite that, it was delicious and filling.

Balanced meals

Mantleshelf. Day 286/365.

Monday, 5 September 2011, Day 286/365.

See how things are fairly even on my mantleshelf. I like things to be even and balanced. It’s the Libran in me I presume.

Stirfry. Day 287/365.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011, Day 287/365.

Am trying to eat more vegetables and less of the pasta and rice. I’ve never really made a stirfry that I like and this one was ok, but my son didn’t like it that much. I can’t win. He eats certain veges but isn’t that keen on meat and I think it’s a texture thing for him.

It’s hard trying to cook as healthily as I aspire to be and to please him. Damnit.

I will always love chocolate

Some chocolate goodies. Day 279/365.

Monday, 29 August 2011, Day 279/365.

Mmm, chocolate. Hard to resist.

My sister went interstate and mentioned that she’d be stopping by a place that sold organic chocolate and licorice.

Without a second thought I handed over some money and told her to buy up.

There’s still some rocky road and some chocolate covered licorice left. Sorry to all concerned that I didn’t have a chance to share.

Sore knees

Stocking up on fruit. Day 205/365.

Thursday, 16 June 2011, Day 205/365.

I made a trip to the local market and it’s much much better than buying food in the supermarket.

The food is newer, I hope, and it’s certainly cheaper. I bought strawberries for about $2 cheaper per punnet than at the supermarket and bananas were $2 a kilo cheaper too. They’re still around $10 per kilo at the moment though because of the cyclones and bad weather in Queensland earlier in the year.

I’ve started making more fruit and yoghurt smoothies just so I can make some powder (a glucosamine type thing) I’m taking for my sore knee joints more palatable. You’re supposed to drink it with water but it smells and tastes hideous and makes me dry retch the two or three times I tried it.

With a fruit/yoghurt and milk smoothy I can barely taste it and if I hold my nose while the container’s open I don’t have to smell it at all.


Making quince paste

It’s quince time of year around these parts and due to a friend in the hills having some quince trees I found myself with a number of them so I thought I’d attempt to make quince paste.

You eat it with soft cheese, like brie, and crackers and its sweetness complements the brie perfectly. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like it.

I found a quince paste recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly and here’s what happened. I’ve italicised my notes below.

Ingredients

2kg quinces (I used slightly more as I had some bruised quinces)
Water
Approx 1.25 kg sugar
Cheese platter and crackers to serve

Method

Wash, peel and core quinces. Chop quince flesh coarsely and place in large saucepan. Tie peel and cores in a small piece of muslin to form a bag. (Only do this bit if you want to. I didn’t have enough room in the saucepan so I didn’t bother). Add to the quinces in the pan.

Add enough water to cover the quinces and boil, covered 30 minutes or until fruit is very soft. Remove muslin bag and push flesh through a fine sieve into a bowl. Alternatively you can process the fruit until very smooth (however, this method is only good if you have been very thorough in removing all skin, parts of the core and seeds from the quinces when preparing them.) Weigh the fruit pulp. You should have about 1.25kg of fruit pulp. Weigh out an equal amount of sugar.

This is what the paste looks like when you first add the sugar to the pan.

Combine sugar and fruit pulp in the same cleaned saucepan. Cook, stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until the quince paste is very thick and a deep ruby colour. At this stage a wooden spoon drawn through the paste will leave a very distinct trail across the bottom of the pan. This will take approx 1½ hours.

This is what it looked like towards the end. I had to stir it fairly constantly so it didn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Next time I will try it in the slow cooker as I think that will do a great job.

Transfer cooked paste to a lightly greased and lined 20cm x 30cm lamington pan. Spread paste flat.

Place in fan-forced oven with only the fan working (no temperature set) overnight or for several hours to dry out. Alternatively you can dry the paste in a very low oven (90°C) for several hours, or you could use a traditional method for drying the paste: in the sunshine if you have constant sunshine, in an airing cupboard, in a gas oven with the pilot light on, or as Stephanie Alexander mentions in her book – the cook’s companion, one of her reader’s wrote in to tell her she had successfully dried it on the back shelf of her car under the rear window!

Whichever way you dry it, wrap it in baking paper and foil and then place in an airtight container. It should keep indefinitely. It’s a great accompaniment to cheese, or can be melted down and used in fruit tarts and pies. It should be cut into small wedges or squares to serve.

I was very pleased with how it turned out and I have quite a bit to keep me going. Some of my friends tried it and we all loved it. The difference between this and the bought quince paste is how fruity it is. Even though it is a bit time consuming to make I thoroughly recommend giving it a go. It’s absolutely delicious.

Still need food

Stir fried squid and vegies. Day 80/365.

What’s a girl to do when she’s out of a job? Why go out for lunches of course. Well I won’t be making a habit of it because I’m not earning money at the moment but I met up with an old friend a week ago for lunch. He was in town to celebrate his 50th and I haven’t had a good catchup with him for years.

I met him and his wife separately about 20 years ago before they met each other. Him through a friend I used to date and her through an old school friend – they did nursing together.

The next day I went into the Central Market to do a bit of food shopping and I also met The Surfer for some lunch. On our way to the restaurant I heard my name being called out and it was my mate I’d seen for lunch the previous day. How’s that for a coincidence?

My next mission is to find some well-priced Chinese food that is tasty. We’ve had too many bland Chinese meals.