If you look up ‘oldie but a goodie’ I’m certain this restaurant will show up somewhere in the mix. And if you haven’t specifically been to Port Douglas, I’m certain there is a similar restaurant in your favorite holiday town. Although we’d had a long day at sea checking out the Great Barrier Reef (me from above and Hubs from the depths), we summoned the energy for a seven-course tasting menu at the iconic Nautilus. Walking up the long path to the restaurant, I started to wonder what exactly we were in for. For those not in the know, the entire restaurant and lounge are located outside (don’t worry, the kitchen and restrooms have their own building). That’s right, you look up straight into the canopy of palm trees and the stars above. With fairy lights and candles, it’s a very romantic location. Honestly, how often do you get the opportunity to dine truly al fresco? (Should you dine when it’s raining, have no fear, they can retract a large cover).
While guests have to somewhat awkwardly walk through the dining area to approach the host stand (and the slightly abrasive gentleman that was staff at the post that evening), we were then shown back through the space to a private table at the edge of the ‘forest.’ Seats are reminiscent of something of a ‘tropical monarch’ style, which lend themselves to the overall atmosphere which is more or less Swiss Family Robinson meets Balinese paradise. You can literally hear nature all around you (and yes, watch as a baby bandicoot crosses within a few feet of you and try not to scream/squeal).
As wandering as the menus were at Attica and Quay (yes, I am well aware these restaurants are on different levels), Nautilus swooped in with a surprisingly sensical approach to their courses. We started with seafood (oysters, tuna, crab, crayfish) before moving onto a heavier protein (duck) and then finishing with a delicious beef. Is it outside the box thinking? No, not particularly. Did it work? Yes, it did. Did it fit within the market and location? You betcha. Did I (finally) enjoy a meal with sensible progression? I did!
Of course, similar to the faux pas at Ad Hoc, for some reason Nautilus decided it was okay to pre-pour all their wines, which is one of the biggest flaws (to me) a restaurant can commit. How are we to know what’s actually in the glass? Just my problem? No? Yes? (I’d love to know your thoughts on this). Other than the mystery wines that were delivered to our table, I thought the food was well portioned, and while sometimes the plates were a bit ‘busy’ for my tastes, overall made for an enjoyable evening. If I had to chose a favorite, I think either the Jared’s Crab Brioche (a heavenly blend of crab on toast) or the Steamed Duck Dumplings (chewy and hoisin-y and savory all at once — yum!) were the best of the evening.
Would I go back? If you have one special evening in Port Douglas, I think this is the best use of your time (if you’re looking for something more casual, check out the tapas scene at Seabean, BTW). There’s something to be said for tradition and even though there are a few issues to overcome, you won’t be disappointed in a night at Nautilus.
Do you have a special holiday restaurant in the world?