Review: Arkarra Tea Gardens, Dundowran

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken me over a year to make it to Dundowran. Worse still when you realise I lived back here for 3-4 years in the 1990s and spent my first 17 years on the Fraser Coast, without ever setting foot in some of the region’s smaller beachside locales.

However, I’ve been keen to get to Dundowran since last year when I saw (on Facebook) that the Arkarra Tea Gardens had reopened. I hadn’t heard of them before but liked the idea of something a bit different to the usual cafes – plus I’ve only heard good things from those who’ve visited.

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And finally a month or so ago I got to see what the fuss was about when a friend and I headed to the Tea Gardens for Sunday brunch.

I have to admit to being shocked that it was actually so close to Hervey Bay as for some reason I thought Dundowran was much further away – however ‘Where is’ and my own car both informed me it’s about 15km from my place in Urangan (and given that Eli Waters is about 10km, it’s really not that far out of town at all!).

Thankfully my friend used her phone to guide us there once we turned off the main road or we would have had no idea; but once we approached it was kinda obvious cos there were cars everywhere.

I was surprised to see it so busy and we got the last free table.

The dining area is actually spread over a range of levels and locations so it’s kinda got something for everyone. I noticed, for example, some larger groups gathering around tables in the balinese style huts or in the pergola.

We arrived smack bang in the middle of morning tea and my friend eyed off the plump scones that kept wandering past our table, but we were both keen for brekkie.

1926770_10152068857129164_1536556037_nWe ended up going for the Eggs Benedict – which came complete with the usual – poached eggs on Turkish bread and hollandaise sauce but also with spinach and avocado and ham, bacon or salmon. I was happily surprised that  they had GF bread AND rolls. The roll wasn’t huge but more exciting than the usual teensy pieces of store-bought bread.

It’s not hugely cheap (I think the Eggs Benedict were about $18) but they arrived quickly and they were delicious. The hollandaise sauce is always all-important in my mind and they nailed it.

I should admit I was also impressed that the person at the counter knew exactly what was and wasn’t gluten-free.

Before leaving we eyed off the lunch menu (so I’m keen to go back and continue my Fraser Coast steak sandwich survey) and the goodies’ cabinet. A GF chocolate brownie caught my eye, but thankfully I was full.

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There’s a small gift shop in the café and we also took the opportunity to wander about the gardens and down to the lagoon to walk off our breakfast before heading back to the bay.

My friend and I both agreed we’d be back and without a doubt, Arkarra Tea Gardens may possibly become one of my new local favourites.

The Tea Gardens are located at 28 Panorama Drive, Dundowran Beach and open 7 days a week: 8.00am to 5.00pm. Check out their website, or you can contact them via their Facebook page, email or by calling (07) 4128 8069.

Wild Lotus Restaurant – a review

When a friend and I attended the Hervey Bay Food and Wine Festival back in October my friend (KangaRue – who occasionally blogs here) had a lengthy chat with peeps at the Wild Lotus Restaurant and Bar tent.

I’d commented that I was impressed at how many of their dishes are gluten-free and LOVE that they clearly mark things on their menu as gluten-free and dairy free etc. KangaRue’s son is dairy allergic so that was a bonus for her as well and she returned with her steak sandwich making me promise we’d head there as soon as possible.

Sadly it took us a couple of months but we finally had dinner there recently with another friend. We’d booked – which I think is generally recommended on a Friday or Saturday evening – and the place was quite busy (which is great given at how fickle the restaurant / cafe market seems at times).

I’m actually on a weight loss program (Weight Watchers) and counting points so I’d sussed out the menu online earlier in the day in order to decide what I would eat and calculate my points.

Naturally, in this online world, both of my fellow diners had done the same thing (well, looked at the menu online… not counted points of course! 😉 )

creme bruleePlus the restaurant (showing increasing social-media savvyness of late, had shared a pic of their creme brulee (left) on Facebook during the day… cementing my decision that dessert was most definitely on the agenda.

Entrees are usually one of my biggest problems when dining out (as I don’t eat seafood and gluten-free options are often minimal), but there were easily two or things I’d love on the menu at Wild Lotus. The Scotch Fillet Carpaccio sounded TO DIE FOR and the Asian chicken skewers would have made me very happy.

However, we three had our minds set on the creme brulee so decided to forgo entrees for dessert.

There’s a good variety of wines available but as I was designated driver for a change I stuck to the soft stuff.

bugsMy buddies were a tad undecided about their mains – too many things that sounded delicious, but one ended up going for the seafood risotto and the other for the Moreton Bay bugs.

I’d already decided on the rib fillet (medium rare of course) and LOVED that all of the sauces were gluten-free (a rarity when dining out). While normally I would have chosen something creamy, I ended up with the Mountain Pepper sauce though diet-wise could probably have gone for the Red Wine Gravy as well.

My steak came on a root vegetable mash with some parsnip chips (or similar) on top. There was some cauliflower but that was easy to push aside :-).

I could have had my steak with chips and probably normally would have but… well…. It was only week 1 of Weight Watchers, so I decided to forgo my personal faves for a change.

My fellow diners all agreed the creme brulee was perfect but weren’t sure it needed the berry compote and chocolate melted sauce on the side with the ice cream. I’d skipped the berry compote (cos, well… fruit!) so actually quite liked the drizzle of sweet chocolate.

Meals were priced reasonably for a restaurant of that calibre, ranging from approx. $20-35 and entrees from $7; the service was great and our waiter very knowledgable. We’ll most certainly be going back.

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All pics from Wild Lotus Facebook page

Wild Lotus Restaurant and Bar is open from Monday – Saturday for lunch and dinner. Check out their website or Facebook page because they also offer a range of specials. Bookings can be made by contacting 07 4125 3278.

Cafe Muddy Waters – a review

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to head to Maryborough’s Café Muddy Waters for dinner. It was only my second visit this year – the first ‘just’ after it reopened following the January floods.

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It’s a gorgeous spot – in the old Customs House building – still with lovely views of the river and fortunately (in its new location) at far less risk of flooding!

In my previous review I cut the café a lot of slack given that they’d just reopened, but had been disappointed that gluten-free options were very limited.

However, I’m pleased to say that is no longer the case.

Of course – given my usual apathy and lack of organisation – I only emailed the night before I was due to go to ask about GF options. I got a response straight away and was advised there were heaps of choices on the menu.

Indeed, on arrival the waiter was able to run through the gluten-free options and choices available to me in detail and spoke to the chef who was happy to adjust anything. (Handy cos I’m not only coeliac but a bit *ahem* fussy when it comes to veges!)

My fellow diners shared an array of breads and bruschetta as an entrée but scallops (etc) were also on offer.

I was tempted by heaps on the menu (eyeing off the pork belly and rib eye in particular) but finally chose the beef cheeks which came topped with bacon on a creamy potato puree and with green beans. (I’d asked them to hold the mushrooms cos they creep me out. Don’t ask – long story!) 

The beef was melt-in-my-mouth succulent and offset perfectly by the creamy potatoes and crisp beans.

A citrusy* chicken dish proved popular with others at my table and another friend had the fish and chips.

The special of the day (braised shoulder of lamb on what I think was a bed of couscous and topped with turnip crisps) also sounded and looked kinda yummy. I often suffer from food envy so feel obliged to check out everyone else’s meals within viewing range (ideally without scaring them).

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Pics from MW’s Facebook page.

Half of us had desserts and they all went down really well. With a few amendments I could have several dishes on offer and, although I love a crème brulee, I went for the (somewhat clichéd) flourless chocolate cake. (Sans berry compote cos.. well, ugh, fruit!)

And the cake was magnificent. Like friggin’ unbelievable. Moist and rich without being too sweet. I checked with someone else at my table who’d had it just in case I’d hoovered mine too quickly but she confirmed its yumminess. Another of my group had the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and another a pav-like meringue dish*.

We were sitting out on the verandah and had a lovely breeze throughout the night. All in all it was a lovely dining experience. The atmosphere is just gorgeous and there was a musician playing a keyboard in the background. It did get a teensy bit loud, but I expect that’s cos we diners all got very kinda loud as the night wore on.

A table complete with fairy lights and lanterns had been set up on the very green lush grass in front of the restaurant for a group of young girls. It looked so lovely it almost made me wish I had a yard rather than an apartment verandah! (Plus I remembered back to my childhood in Maryborough when a ‘special night-out’ involved our parents dropping us off at The Pizza Hut!)

Café Muddy Waters is located at 103 Wharf Street, Maryborough, and is open Tuesday – Sunday (9am – 4pm) and Friday and Saturday nights from 6pm. Ph. 4121 5011. Or like them on Facebook.

*The menu on the website is slightly out of date so I wasn’t able to confirm exactly what we ate. Plus… I really only focussed on the stuff I wanted to eat! 😉

Thai Diamond – a review

One of the things I’ve struggled most with in the year since I’ve moved from Brisbane to Hervey Bay is that I’m yet to find my ‘go-t0’ takeaway.

In Brisbane it was a chinese restaurant called The Pine and Bamboo. It was a suburb or so further out from where I lived (Hawthorne then Morningside) but very handy nonetheless. I actually started going there when my brother and sister-in-law lived nearby before the birth of my niece (who is now 17!).

I’m coeliac and that’s sometimes a struggle but I knew exactly what I could have there and they basically knew my order and my voice when I called. (And I got the ‘regulars’ discount!)

Although hot chips are my most favourite food of anything, Thai and Chinese are my fave takeaways. I live in Urangan so have been frequenting Jetty Seafoods (which has gluten-free hot chips!) but have tried several Thai places in the Bay without finding anywhere that tastes delicious and authentic.

I lived in Cambodia for a while and sometimes really authentic-smelling Thai / Vietnamese / Chinese food takes me back there like a shot.

Last weekend however, a friend suggested we go to the Thai Diamond, in Scarness. She’d been there a few times, she said, and enjoyed it.

The atmosphere is kinda nice (aesthetically I mean) although for some reason I suggested we sit out the front, which was probably somewhat stupid as it was a humid evening!

A big bonus for me is being able to ask about gluten-free options and people know what I’m talking about – and that was certainly the case at the Thai Diamond. The curries were GF I was told, plus other recipes could be adapted.

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My friend and I decided to share a (beef) red curry; chicken with cashew nuts and jasmine rice. I also ordered some takeaway for the next day (as I was keen to try as many options as possible) and got the garlic and pepper beef.

All dishes were delicious and I was pleased at the lack of scary vegetables. (I don’t eat many and the dishes weren’t overflowing with stuff I didn’t eat which was a bonus!)

The meals aren’t cheap – most dishes are $17-20 plus rice – but I’ll most certainly be going back and I’m planning to program the number into my phone for future reference!

The Thai Diamond is at 353 Esplanade Scarness. For bookings or telephone orders phone 07 4124 4855.

Review: Pavilion by the Pier

If I ever get married* I would like to have my reception (or after-party) at Pavilion by the Pier. (I know that’s what all of you have been wondering! 😉 )

ImageMostly it’s because of its location. And its fairy lights. Because I truly have a thing about fairy lights.

I’ve actually never eaten dinner there as I seem to dine out during the day far more often than in the evening, but… I must make the effort to get down there one night because I’ve heard good things.

I recently wrote about my brekkie at Bayaroma Cafe, which I’ve frequented a few times after my Saturday morning yoga class. I love a good eggs benedict and – until recently – it was the only place I’d found in Hervey Bay (or Maryborough) that offered a gluten-free option.

However, I’ve now dined at Pavilion by the Pier a couple of times and their eggs benedict is also gluten-free. Yay! It comes with either ham or salmon – I actually prefer bacon, but think that getting the GF hollandaise sauce right is far more important.

As is often the case I take along my own gluten-free bread rolls (which my mum picks up for me almost weekly from the Bell Hilltop Bakery in Maryborough) and they’re happy to use them instead of bought-GF bread.

As an aside… I haven’t found many (any?) cafes / restaurants locally which make their own gluten-free breads / rolls or buy them from bakeries. Mostly it’s the tiny pieces of bread you buy from retailers. (Which is fine. Having some GF bread is far better than not having any at all!)

mineoOf course, some greenery would make this look far prettier, but I ask them to hold the spinach cos, well… spinach! #blergh!

BLTToday’s breakfast companion had the BLT and said it was nice, but not quite as nice as the last one she had there (which I guess happens from time to time!).

Service is mostly good though I’ve experienced a few ‘new’ staff there on my visits and guess that’s typical of holiday locales. The ambiance and the views however are what keep me going back. Plus the GF options of course.

Check out Pavilion by the Pier on Facebook, or the website for opening times and location.

Have you been there? Are you a fan?

* This is as likely as pigs flying or Australia finding a humanitarian AND bipartisan way of dealing with asylum seekers!