113 Lake Street
Cairns QLD 4870
+61 7 4041 2266
On our first afternoon in Cairns, we decided to drive out of the city and into Crystal
Castles Cascades, a popular swimming hole outside of Redlynch that’s popular with the locals. Of course, any place that’s ‘popular with the locals’ will inevitably be swarmed by tourists wanting to go somewhere not-so-touristy at some point – and Crystal Cascades won’t be an exception. Thankfully, the tranquil water hole is still a relatively new discovery so when Marty and I rocked up there, we didn’t have to share swimming place with a bunch of tourists.
On our way back to Cairns city, we decided that all that swimming and sulking on my part (after watching my iPhone drop on some rocks, and seeing the screen crack) made us hungry. We didn’t want a full dinner as it was still early, just something to fill us up. After walking around trying to find somewhere half-decent, we ended up at Havana Music Café. According to cairnsdining.com, the café claims to be a ‘funky Caribbean-flavoured café bringing the intense tropical flavours of Jamaica, Cuba and Bermuda to Cairns.’ With its wooden, polished walls, upbeat reggae music and all sorts of posters from the West Indies, it’s a place that would actually feel right at home on Spanish-centric Johnston Street in Fitzroy. If that didn’t draw us in, then owner, Brett, and his friendly crew did and before long, we were sitting at a table by the window eyeing the extensive menu.
We were originally going to go for some Jamaican jerk chicken skewers so that we could compare to the stuff they churn out at Jamroc. On Brett’s recommendation, however, we ended up choosing two non-chicken tentadores (little dishes to share) to nibble on. We started off with some Jamaican salt fish cakes, which were served with lime and coriander mayonnaise ($12). The mayo, as well as all the other sauces on the menu, are ‘homemade with love from backstage’ which sounds both reassuring and sleazy at the same time. Filled with salted cod meat and then fried until golden brown, these fish cakes were, as their name suggests, salty. Now, I like fish and anything that’s salty (no dirty jokes, please) but even these fish cakes were too salty for my liking. Apart from a bit of black pepper, I couldn’t really taste anything besides salt which was disappointing. It was almost like they didn’t soak the salted cod in water long enough for all the excess salt to disappear. The lime and coriander mayonnaise, however, did provide some respite from all the sodium.
I liked the Jamaican beef patties served with spicy tomato sauce ($12), a little bit better. According to the menu, they are Jamaica’s answer to the Aussie meat pie. To me, they looked more like empanadas – not that there’s anything wrong with that because I love empanadas, heh! The first thing I noticed about them was that they were bright yellow, and this is because they have been coated in an egg and turmeric mixture. Like the fish cakes, they were also high on the salt but at least I could taste the cumin and peppers mixed in with the beef, and the tomato sauce tasted deliciously Moorish, with only the slightest hint of spices for a small kick.
We really did like the look of this café and Brett was lovely (then again, we didn’t encounter any douche-y locals in Cairns) so I do write this review with poignant reluctance. On the other hand, if by ‘intense tropical flavours,’ they really mean ‘lots and lots of salt’ then I would be hard-pressed to come back here for a meal. We paid something like $35 for two measly snacks and two drinks (one of which wasn’t even alcoholic) which means that Havana Music Café does not offer fantastic value for money if you want a feed. That said, the café’s charm, uniqueness and its friendly crew – plus a bit of live music when the sun goes down – make it a great place for drinks, better than any of the dime-a-dozen sleazy backpacker bars that overrun the Esplanade.