A class of its own
Dundees is one of those places you never hear anyone bagging.
OK, there’s always one out there somewhere.
But, that one goes up on the board against the hundreds of regulars happy to put their money where their mouths are, literally.
Over the years, Tina Wort and her team have woven themselves into the hearts, minds and bellies of Cairns’ locals by consistently delivering excellence to each diner on every visit.
If you think that’s a tall order, it is.
It obviously works, as Dundees has played to packed houses night after night during its 25 years in the business, when many others have fallen.
Set on the waterfront, Dundees works hard to earn its keep in its glamorous Harbour Lights location.
Opening every day from 9.30am for coffee and cake, Dundees then allows a long window of opportunity for lunch between 11.30am and 4.30pm, with dinner served from 5.30pm.
Unlike many restaurants, there are no surcharges for public holidays or price increases at weekends.
It’s that same old, “you get exactly what you pay for every time” mentality.
The quick lunch menu, an absolute bargain at $16.50, can be had any day of the week and offers the chance of an inexpensive peek into what’s in store, should you want to spend a little more and make an evening of it some time.
To let you in on a little secret, we enjoyed our lunch so much, we had dinner at Dundees in the same week.
While every dish on the lunch menu deserves its place, there is one everyone talks about – calamari, rocket and apple salad.
If I had a dollar for every time I have said this, I’d be dining at Dundees every night of the week, but here goes, I’ll say it again.
Dundees does the best calamari bar none. Dusted in their secret seasoning, it is always perfect, light, crisp and utterly faultless.
Served with tom yum mayo and a salad of rocket and shredded apple, this is the stuff of “my last meal on earth” dreams.
If you’ve worked up a bit of an appetite in the middle of the day, the enormous steak burger will certainly tide you over until dinner.
This creation is so visually impressive, it’s hard not to ogle as one drifts past in the restaurant – a char-grilled rib fillet in a toasted Turkish bread roll with grated beetroot, Roma tomato, balsamic onion, Swiss cheese, lettuce and pawpaw chutney, served with a mountain of chips and smoky barbecue sauce.
Another dish that’ll stick to your sides is the droolingly tender half rack of hickory basted pork ribs served with salad and chips. Decadence indeed.
Having gone out on a limb over the calamari, it’s only restraint that stops me from saying you’d be hard-pressed to get better ribs anywhere. (Ah well, said it now).
While Dundees lunches are splendid (and, bonus, cheap!) don’t refrain from visiting at night where the restaurant takes on a totally different vibe.
By day, it’s all about the ocean view, the breeze and casual outdoor dining.
At night, Dundees is on par with any sophisticated establishment.
Inside the restaurant, it’s all classy dark timber, mood-setting down lights and white linen. But the outdoor dining is equally atmospheric, in a different way.
Don’t be put off by the sheer numbers of diners. They do get a lot of large groups (parties and tours), but that’s as much down to the reliability of good food, service and reasonable prices, as it is to the “Aussie experience” Dundees plays upon.
Saying they specialise in Australian beef, fresh seafood and bush tucker obviously draws the international clientele and playing the bush tucker card is a tricky business.
However, the croc, roo, et al is done so well, it appeals to one and all, not just adventurous tourists.
Our evening sitting consisted of a shared entree of the aforementioned spring rolls ($15.50) with mains of surf and turf ($39.90) and bugtail spaghetti ($29.50) plus a bowl of beautifully al dente mixed vegetables ($6.50).
Both mains exceeded expectations, with the surf and turf proving a challenge for my hearty companion.
A tender sirloin steak comes with roasted sweet potato, tiger prawns in garlic and sundried tomatoes, English spinach and a creamy white wine sauce.
My generous plate of perfect pasta was tossed with sauteed bug tails in subtle chilli and garlic with wild rocket, lemon and olive oil.
A friend raved over their entree of calamari strips ($15.90) while another couple’s tasting plate for two ($40) was a sight to behold, a splendid platter bearing prosciutto scallops, tempura soft shell crab, oysters natural, smoked salmon, prawns and that famous calamari.
We knew from past experiences the yabbies and bush tucker were outstanding and Dundees desserts certainly never let the side down, but on this occasion we decided to pass on sweets.
Service at Dundees is generally good, they try very hard. Things can get a bit manic, however, staff do their utmost to stay on top of it all and are quick to make amends for delays or the rare mistake.
There’s a good range of largely Aussie bottle wines, with the odd nod across the Tasman and to France for champagne, some decent glasses around the $10 mark and beer varieties galore.
While it certainly can be, Dundees doesn’t have to be a special occasion venue. There are plenty of excuses to go, but none needed.
Dundees, Harbour Lights, Cairns waterfront, ph: 4051 0399.
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