Dining in Cairns
While Cairns is fundamentally a nice tropical resort community, the restaurants don't forget that they are right on the great barrier reef and there is ample fresh reef fish: Barramundi, coral trout, grouper, emperor and snapper. There is a string of lovely al-fresco spots that ring the esplanade along the marina which have somewhat different mixes of meat (which we never tried) and price/preparations. At the far north/west end of the boardwalk is the Chart House (not the Chain)- more open then some and nice fish/etc, busy bar scene at night and a nice lunch. We tried several focusing on those that front the Shangri-La, with our favorite being Tha Fish- http://www.thafish.com.au/. Moving off the beach we were treated to a dinner at Tamarind in the Reef Casino Hotel. Nice asian infused Aussie food.
We had avoided the Atlantic Salmon figuring that the fish would be as jet lagged as we were (though our dining partners enjoyed it). We learned from Aussie friends that the “atlantic salmon” actually comes from Tasmania and is viewed as tastier than US farmed salmon. In the town there are ample “cheap eats”- which smelled terrific. We bought some nice take-away sandwiches at Beethoven cafe on Grafton. We stayed at the Hilton- nice view over Trinity inlet and a terrific European/Australian breakfast buffet that was included in our room. Room was serviceable, a tad “tired” but good bedding, nice staff.
I visited Cairns with my wife last month. It's not a great culinary destination, but there are some decent options if you're lucky enough to hear about them.
Our first night in Cairns we looked for a place to eat on the Esplanade. We had trouble distinguishing between a bunch of similar menus so we got enticed by the specials at Barnacle Bills. These included a crocodile curry and barramundi fish and chips. The fish was fairly fresh but the chips were bland and undercooked and the crocodile was rubbery and overly sweet. Overall it was ok for the main tourist stretch, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The next night we had a reservation at Ochre. We opted for the Taste of Australia menu that indulged our touristy desire to eat exotic foods we can’t get at home. We were very impressed! The dishes were effective at introducing and highlighting exotic flavors and ingredients (emu, wattleseeds, lemon aspen, etc) without appearing too gimmicky or overproduced. Also this menu was seriously a lot of food! We were incredibly stuffed before the wattleseed pavlova came out. Some of the highlights included smoked kangaroo, emu pate, and crocodile sambal. This was a memorable meal and I’d recommend it to any tourist interested in trying some of the ingredients unique to Australia.
Our last night, we searched around but couldn’t find anything that caught our fancy, so we ended up at the food court on the Esplanade. For 9 dollars you can fill your plate up with typical buffet style Asian fare. Compared to a lot of the rip offs being peddled on the Esplanade, this really isn’t a bad option. The food moves fast so at least you know it hasn’t been sitting around for a while and there is a fair amount of variety. I’d say the food was above average as far as Asian buffets go. There were a number of cheap looking Asian places that interested us (Filipino and Singaporean caught our eye), but they all seemed to only be open for lunch which didn't work with our schedule.
Our last day in Cairns we happened across Meldrum’s Pie in Paradise on Grafton St. I wish we had found it earlier! The pies were beautifully flaky and filled with tender and juicy meat. It’s an unassuming little shop on a street with a couple other bakeries, but we couldn’t have been happier to walk into this shop. They have a number of awards hanging on the wall, though I’m not sure how reputable those awards are. But I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re in the mood for a quick bite or just a sample of an Australian style meat pie.
Having spent alot of time in Cairns 20 years ago and having been back again recently I would have to agree that its not a destination for food how veer some of the larger hotels have really good eateries and along the marina there is some rather good spots and the food is fresh and pretty well priced.
The Esplanade is just a backpackers food hall catering to some better financed backpackers and some down the lower end I would steer clear even the barnacle Bills and some of the other places are just real tourist (international) traps check the marina places its pretty good and more top end.