Pier Point Road
Cairns QLD 4870
+61 7 4051 0522
It seems that our friends up in Cairns are really into fusion fine-dining – and proud of it too. Within a one kilometre radius, there is a French-Japanese fusion restaurant, M Yogo; an Ezard-style Western/Asian eatery at Reef Casino, Tamarind and a pretty-much-anything-Asian-goes restaurant in the form of Hanuman at the Cairns Hilton. One balmy evening, we decided to give the local fusion fare a go, but which one?
It was still too muggy and hot for Hanuman’s famous curries, and we didn’t particularly feel like going to the tawdry casino to eat so M Yogo it was. I thought M Yogo was a pretty funny name for a fusion restaurant, but it turns out that the head chef and owner, Masa Yogo, named his restaurant after himself. What amused me even more was that the restaurant used to be called Mature Yogo, an even more unusual name, before the first word was shortened just to ‘M.’ I was told that this restaurant first started off on the Gold Coast in the late 90s where Yogo won heaps of awards, including the Queensland Restaurant and Catering awards and the AGFG. A few years ago, he presumably got sick of the ‘Coast – understandably so! – so he shifted his restaurant north and it’s been happily sitting at the Cairns marina ever since.
We showed up to our 8:30pm booking on time, to a restaurant half-filled with patrons who were nearing the end of their dinners. We were directed to a table outside, so that we had a perfect 180 degree view of the marina under the moonlight. The intimate restaurant may be one of the more sophisticated restaurants in Cairns city, but it still retained that lovely Queensland casual atmosphere and warm hospitality that made all diners relax.
The menu itself was several pages long, filled with delicious-sounding French dishes with Japanese twists on them. And because we’re in Cairns, seafood is obviously a recurring theme though steaks also make an appearance. Marty and I decided to go all seafood, but which dishes to choose? Well, I knew I wanted this one particular dish which had mud crab, scallop mousse, barramundi and abalone all on one plate (Whoa! Hardcore!) but Marty was less certain. In the end, he asked the lovely Japanese waitress for assistance and as charming as she was, we had a bit of difficulty trying to understand her sweet, thick accent.
She suggested a dish called ‘chizzz-zzolo’.
‘The what?’ Marty looked at her.
‘Chizzzz-zzolo!’ she said with a sweet smile.
‘I’m sorry, can you please repeat that?’
I was also scanning the menu to see what she might have meant, but I couldn’t find anything that vaguely resembled what she said. Finally, she peered over Marty’s shoulder to look at his menu and pointed to a dish in the pasta section. ‘That one!’ she exclaimed.
Well, Marty isn’t in the habit of ordering risotto at restaurants but hey, if the lovely waitress said it’s good then it MUST be good!’
I started off with a serving of lightly-torched fresh Tasmanian salmon and cauliflower & mixed olive ragout ($16.50). The salmon was perfectly cooked; it was so plump and tender that I could have sworn that Mother Nature gave the fish an injection of natural botox. On its own or even drizzled with a simply soy mirin dressing, it would have tasted amazing. However, with the cauliflower and mixed olive ragout? It didn’t quite have that level of magic. The cauliflower and olive ragout just didn’t seem like it belonged there at all. I understand the attempt to create ‘fusion-ness’ but it shouldn’t be at the cost of taste and cohesion.
I was also perplexed by Marty’s plate of ‘chef’s selcted three variation amuses’ ($12). On it was a little blob of foie gras on a toasted brioche, a piece of salmon and cream cheese roll and a goat’s cheese, tomato and basil tart. Marty is not at all a fan of liver so he wasn’t going to like the foie gras at all, while I thought it was nice. The tart was surprisingly cold, and the filling perhaps a bit too bland for our taste. Meanwhile, the salmon and cream cheese roll may have been lovely in all its simplicity but it wasn’t ground-breaking.
This is my steamed mud crab and scallop mousse wrapped in barramundi with abalone, hollandaise and cream sauce ($34.50). On paper, the dish sounded epically delicious, even though it sounded a bit ew-yuck-turducken. I did, however, set my expectations too high for the dish did not induce foodgasms. The steamed mud crab lacked the natural sweetness that usually comes with fresh Darwin mud crabs so I could only assume that they used the Queensland mud crab which, from an economical point of view, was fair enough. I couldn’t really taste any scallop in the mousse, while the barramundi meat was not only dry but the naturally muddy flavour of the flesh overpowered what would have been a sweet and delicate filling that would have went nicely with the creamy sauce that was beautifully accentuated by hints of abalone. Wrapped in a simple crepe, the dish could have worked well but noooo, because we’re in Cairns, they HAD to use barramundi left, right and centre, didn’t they?
Marty didn’t particularly like his creamy seafood risotto ($26.50). The rice was undercooked, for starters, and the very fragrant saffron influence[sic] sauce was gluggy. The seafood might have been fresh (tiger prawns, squid and scallops) but in the end, they would have worked much better in a paella especially given the use of saffron to flavour the dish. I did like that the mushrooms added a bit of earthiness to the dish which was otherwise, not-so-good in execution.
We both wanted to like M Yogo. We thought the service was friendly and efficient – and we had a soft spot for Miss Chizzolo. For a city that plays it ‘safe’ when it comes to fine-dining, I welcome chef Yogo’s ambition and his restaurant appears to be a breath of fresh air to the Cairns dining scene. Unfortunately, we either came at a bad time, chose the wrong dishes or Yogo is perhaps a bit too ambitious. Perhaps reducing the number of dishes would narrow the restaurant’s focus down, and consequently better-executed dishes will be made. Until then, I think I’ll be heading to tacky Reef Casino for dinner or bravely eating rich curries in humid 30 degree weather the next time I’m in Cairns.