Don't miss these top eats in Port Douglas

The laid-back town of Port Douglas is rapidly establishing itself as the foodie heartland of Tropical North Queensland.

Morning view at the port douglas
  • Natascha Mirosch
  • July 2018

Fish and chips may be a British institution, but chef Spencer Patrick has adapted his birthplace’s culinary traditions to those of his adopted home like a true believer. ‘Harry’s fish and chips’ – in-season reef fish cooked in paperbark with taro chips – is a favourite on the menu at his restaurant Harrisons by Spencer Patrick and couldn’t be more ‘Tropical North Queensland.’ The UK-born, Michelin-trained chef, who discovered Port Douglas a decade ago and never left, says the local food scene was less than inspiring until recently.

“Ten years ago, when we arrived, Port Douglas was a little sleepier than it is today. The scene has definitely changed with all the restaurants, bars, pubs and resorts raising their game to a national and cosmopolitan standard,” he says.

With homegrown and incoming chef talent, an abundance of unique produce and an influx of local investment, Port Douglas is now stamping its name as a worthy gastronomic destination.

Brett Cameron started showcasing the region’s produce to hungry tourists four years ago.

“When we first started food tours, guests tended to be repeat visitors to Port looking for something they hadn’t done before, but now it’s first-timers because suddenly everyone’s incredibly interested in food,” he says.

Brett’s Outback Tasting Tour takes in the verdant Atherton Tablelands region, 90 minutes south-west of Port Douglas. With its varied topography, including a cooler tropical climate and savannah grasslands, the region supports everything from dairy, pork and beef to coffee, vegetables, cheese and farmed freshwater fish, with much of the produce finding its way into local restaurants.

Stops on Brett’s tour include an Atherton Tablelands fruit winery, distillery, Indigenous centre with damper and tropical fruit jams, coffee plantation and cheesemaker. Equidistant from Port Douglas is the Daintree Rainforest, where exotic tropical fruits like black sapote ‘chocolate pudding fruit’, jaboticaba and breadfruit grow, as well as tea and vanilla plantations in its surrounds. It’s also here that a new industry, cocoa farming, has been established, the heavy pods processed and used in Australia’s only domestically made chocolate.

Mud crab claws
Mud crab claws

With the reef just 15 minutes away by boat, seafood naturally gets high billing in Port. Handwritten signs advise when trawlers are scheduled to pull into the marina, and locals line up early for first dibs on the freshest catch. If an early morning doesn’t appeal, there are more than 40 restaurants and cafés in town for your fix of seafood; from city-smart degustations to a simple bucket of prawns.

Five years ago, Spencer Patrick and his wife Reina decided all this nature-blessed bounty deserved recognition and created the annual Taste Port Douglas Food and Wine Festival. Held in September, Taste transforms the town with a packed program of dinners, tastings, chef demonstrations and masterclasses.

“It’s organically evolved from a small afternoon soiree showcasing local chefs and produce to a nationally renowned event and the culinary highlight of the region,” says Spencer.

“With the help of celebrity chefs and media from around the country we’re championing Port Douglas and putting it on the pedestal it deserves.”

Port Douglas restaurants at night
Port Douglas restaurants at night

Take a bite of Port

At Harrisons by Spencer Patrick, Spencer’s menu is a nod to his roots, with classic British dishes reinterpreted with a tropical Queensland bent. Sounds unlikely, but it works. Try the tasting menu with matching wine.

Arabella’s has a smart, contemporary European menu and a custom-designed American barbecue smoker for woodfired roasted meats, suckling pig, whole fish and flame-roasted vegetables.

Worthy Port stalwarts include the ever-popular Salsa, Sassi La Cucina and Bar, 2Fish and Watergate. Also, check out the markets at Market Park, next to Anzac Park, every Sunday between 8am and 1.30pm.

Sundowner spots

The once-tired-looking marina has a new lease of life and it’s the perfect spot to toast the sunset as the charter boats return from the Great Barrier Reef.

Hemingway’s Brewery pours handcrafted beers, each brewed using pure Mossman Gorge water, with names inspired by local yarns and characters. The fit-out includes a glass wall looking onto the working heart of the brewery and al fresco dining with views across the marina.

Next door is the chic and chilled sunset bar Barbados, with postcard views of Dickson Inlet and a stellar cocktail list, including signature rum cocktails, gin cocktails served in a teapot and jugs of Pimm’s. Jimmy Rum’s Mixing Lounge is unmarked, with only a red light to signal the entrance. Owner James Gorman is a Hollywood movie producer who counts Les Misèrables among his portfolio. The bar has a dark New York vibe, and an astonishing list of cocktails (some 180) from tiki-style to martinis and Prohibition-era.

Resort pool, Port Douglas
Resort pool, Port Douglas

Catch of the day

Hunt for your lunch and catch a dose of culture in the process. “At least one person each tour asks about crocodiles,” says Lincoln Walker, as we walk across a wide expanse of tide-exposed sand. “But we’re safe – the crocs don’t like to be this far out of the water.”

Considering we only have flimsy bamboo spears as protection and judging from the warm-up throws we’ve done on the beach, he’s the only one who has a chance should that not be the case.

But if anyone knows this beach, it’s Lincoln. Cooya Beach, a crescent of mangrove-fringed sand just outside Port where the Mossman River empties its water into the Coral Sea, is his backyard. For 18 years, he and brother Brandon have been bringing tourists on their Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours to visit the traditional fishing grounds of their Kubirri Warra clan, catch their lunch and learn about Indigenous hunting.

“They like to hide in these pools of water at low tide,” Lincoln says of the “muddies” we’re looking for, pointing to a shallow water-filled indentation in the sand. We poke around holes in the sand exposed by the low tide, when suddenly a shout goes up. “I’ve got one!” It’s a five-year-old accompanying his parents, dangling an angry-looking crab on the end of his spear.

“Good on you, bub,” Lincoln says, as he disengages the crab and puts it in a bucket. I wade through knee-deep pools where schools of whiting flash silver and clumsily throw a spear that lands on the water’s surface. Lincoln’s spear meanwhile flies through the air, humming and vibrating before pinning a fish to the sandy bottom. The five-year-old wunderkind manages another crab, the only one of us to catch any, and Lincoln spears a couple more fish before we call it a day.

Across the road at Lincoln’s house, we gather on the verandah with a cool drink while he cooks our catch and tells us hunting stories. The five-year-old is beaming as we gather round and tuck into the sweet-fleshed crab that Lincoln has cooked in chilli sauce. “That’s my crab isn’t it?” he asks. “Sure is, mate,” says his dad.