The Esplanade Centre
101-103 Esplanade Street
Cairns QLD 4870
+61 7 4031 5326
Two weeks before I was due to fly to Cairns, my friends Sean and Kate came back from a holiday there. Both arrived back in Melbourne with stories to tell and places worth going to. In particular, both of them would not shut up about this one restaurant, The Raw Prawn, which was apparently a must-go-to destination. In fact, they loved it so much that they had 3-4 lunches there in the space of five days! And it wasn’t like there was shortage of places for them to visit. The Esplanade, where the restaurant sits, is home to many eateries of various persuasions and their hotel was within walking distance of other places that they could have gone to if they wanted to avoid the tourist-ridden Esplanade.
Our time in Cairns was already very limited and we had filled our days with so many activities that free time was virtually non-existent. Could we squeeze in an extra meal at this supposedly amazingly restaurant? We didn’t think so. But as luck would have had it, we somehow managed to work up an appetite very late one night and decided to stroll along the Esplanade for some food. None of the available dining options really appealed to us so when we ended up at the front of The Raw Prawn, we decided to go in.
Sean suggested going there for lunch because they had a lunch deal where you can get two courses for $22. There was no way we could squeeze in a lunch here so sadly, we missed out on what may have been a great value meal. While the price of the mains seemed reasonable (they averaged $25), I was extremely glad to see that they did have a $35 for two courses thing happening for dinner, with about four choices for each course. I signed up for that while Marty, surprisingly enough, decided that he wanted to eat light and decided to go for two starter-sized dishes in conjunction to the dozen oysters Kilpatrick we were to share.
Unfortunately, the menu was very extensive and so Marty had difficulty choosing his dishes. While most dishes were seafood-based (as are most offerings in Cairns), protein in the form of chicken, beef and natives such as kangaroo, emu and crocodile were available. In addition to a pork belly starter, Marty was eyeing the Aussie game sampler which consisted of smoked crocodile, emu and Cajun-spiced kangaroo ($19.90). The problem, though, was that he doesn’t like crocodile, has had kangaroo numerous times and only really wanted to try the emu (which, as we found out, came in the form of sausages). After a quick check from the kitchen, the waitress told us that the restaurant was happy to give them a small serving of emu sausages for a fraction of the price. That sounded good to us.
With drinks in hand, I went about texting Sean. ‘I am at the Raw Prawn now – this BETTER be good!’ Just as his reply came through – ‘I said to go for LUNCH not dinner!’ – our oysters arrived. Ignoring my pleas to order half a dozen, Marty decided to go the entire dozen ($31.90). Sadly, these weren’t the best oysters we’ve had; the bacon bits were burnt which spoilt what could have been a decent oyster starter for that price. Disappointing.
Then my entrée, the salt and pepper calamari, arrived. The chopped pieces of fresh squid were lightly battered in semolina and were, to my surprise, so beautifully tender and delicious. It was a dish that I could eat non-stop if I was given an entire kilo of it – yep, that yummy. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the ‘Thai salad’ which was advertised as containing wombok, capsicum and coriander but instead, contained handful of raw bean sprouts, a few shreds of wombank and crispy fried shallots - virtually no coriander - and could hardly be considered fresh. Meanwhile, the roasted chilli and lime dipping sauce would have fared a little bit better if they didn’t put so much fish sauce in it.
I was also unsure whether to like Marty’s crispy pork belly. The default option came with a Japanese mushroom salad and sesame dressing ($17.90) but for an extra $4, you can get scallops as well; from the photo, it is clear which option Marty chose. The squares of pork belly were crispy, as the dish’s name suggested, but lacked the requisite fatty and gelatinous goodness. It was a shame, because the sticky honey soy glaze would have gone down well mixed with all the lovely fatty goodness! I was also expecting great things from the salad because it combined two things I love: mushrooms and sesame. Surely they couldn’t mess this one up? Sadly, they did. Not only that, there was no attempt at cohesion – hell, the scallops, the mushroom salad and the pork belly could have been served as three different starter dishes and no one would have batted an eyelid. And as an aside, what the hell is up with Queenslanders and their obsession with putting bean sprouts in salads? Not just Cairns folk but also Gold Coastitutes? The mind boggles…
I chose the sirloin steak for my main but immediately regretted my choice when I saw it. In hindsight, I should have chosen a seafood dish such as the grilled barramundi with roasted kipfler potatoes, asparagus and avocado salsa. Hell, even the weird-sounding the sautéed tiger prawns in garlic and pepper cream sauce and rice would have been better than a tasteless 300g steak that was more medium than medium-rare, and a ridiculously salty port wine jus. The chips weren’t cooked too badly, but they did have that nasty smell that only foods cooked in stale tallow could have.
Meanwhile, Marty’s emu sausages didn’t really do it for us. They were gamey as one would expect, and surprisingly very salty. A bit of sweet onion jam did diffuse some of the saltiness as did an overload of herbs (namely sage and thyme) in the sausage meat but it was a dish that we wouldn’t be rushing to order again.
In the end, we were both disappointed with The Raw Prawn and could not understand why Sean and Kate loved it so much. It could be because we were unfortunate and ordered the wrong dishes or it could be because they have bad taste in foods – but I know the latter is not necessarily the case for they’ve recommended decent restaurants to me before. Sean did make a distinction between going there for lunch, and not dinner, because it’s cheaper at lunch and therefore, better value for money. However, it doesn’t mean that one should expect any less at dinner. Raw Prawn? Raw deal, more like it!