There is nowhere to hide when you are chef of one of Australia’s best regional restaurants. When you are responsible for bringing tourists from Australia and around the globe to your little coastal village you have to keep raising the bar. Serve innovative yet approachable food. Commit to providing a dining experience not quite like anything else. That’s what Nick Holloway of Nu Nu Palm Cove did in 2004 and keeps doing 10 years later, 3 times a day, 7 days a week.
After 10 years in Australia’s best kept secret (Far North Queensland’s Palm Cove), Nick and business partner Jason Rowbottom have moved their restaurant to the Alamanda Resort. The only absolute beachfront restaurant in town where only the palms separate diners from the sand and the gently lapping waves.
ThisMagnificentLife was lucky enough to drag Nick away from the kitchen to chat about what he does and why he keeps doing it. His passion for making diners relax immediately reminded him of the group who once came for breakfast and didn’t leave till 10pm!
Nick is passionate for offering a “bespoke experience – all about hospitality in the truest sense of the word, I want to share the hearth”. He admires both the American service ethic and European hospitality training and instils in his team the importance of treating every guest to a ‘VIP experience’.
It sounds clichéd but diners are first greeted with the sight of swaying Chinese lanterns and gently swaying palms and post rainstorm it sparkles even more. At dinner you are front row to where ocean meets inky sky and a full moon casts a glow on the rolling waves. And yes, you are nearly close enough to feel the salt spray on your face.
The Tasting Menu is both adventurous and reassuring at the same time – taking you down an unknown path and bringing you back to exactly where you want to be: where the kitchen despatches the freshest and most interesting flavours of the day. The tasting menu showcases the best of FNQ produce and dips a toe in South East Asia, France and the Middle East.
The a la carte menu lists 13 Titbits, 4 dishes under the Bright and Light banner, 5 Robust and Bold, Then 6 Salads and Vegetables and 2 Big Gear options of wok fried Mud Crab with sweet pork and chilli tamarind caramel. There is also crispy fried baby barramundi with turmeric sauce, pickled squid and surf clams.
To start a dainty plate of House Pickles – baby neon pink radishes and shavings of ginger, zucchini & finely julienned shallot elegantly pickled quickly to impart enough briny goodness without losing texture are just enough to tease the appetite. Then delivered still warm from the oven pillow of Lemon bread: a hollow loaf dressed with a little olive oil and mandolin lemon slices for a extra zest.
Next, where else is more appropriate to eat Heart of Palm Salad but Palm Cove? Gossamers of palm are teamed with paper thins of melon and young coconut delivering coconutty goodness and a little crunch. A 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris is a perfect match and is buttery enough to feel nearly ‘textured’. It was also worked with a ‘Roll your Own’ or miang of Red Emperor with salmon pearls and a hint of chilli all wrapped up in a betel leaf. The salty and sweet robust flavours combine with delicate textures to deliver all round.
How about a new spin on the classic Vitello Tonnato? Or could it be a 21st century Surf ‘n Turf? It’s a skilful juggle pairing pale pink roasted veal and yellow fin tuna with a touch of lime – salty, sweet and creamy with black and golden sesame seeds, petite leaves, grains and aioli topped with fish crackling.
Up next was Hen House Chicken 4 ways – confit, bacon, roasted leg, and for a touch of rock ‘n roll, a chicken heart roasted and stabbed with a tiny herbal frond. The accompaniments? Lightly caramelized vegies and mushrooms with a little tumbler of dark brown roasted chicken juices. A suitably dry 2009 Bloodwood ‘Big Men in Tights’ Rose was an inspired choice by the Sommelier, Miles.
Pre-dessert is next and served in a pretty pink teacup with all the favourites – a little marshmallow, crunch of rose water meringue, honeycomb, yoghurt and pomegranate. What could be a better accompaniment than a icy, floral, juicy and flinty 2007 Monbazillac cuvee des Anges Grand Maison.
Last but by no means least, comes chocolate and coffee. A tiramisu style cream in brik pastry, a quenelle of coffee ice cream, all adorned with coffee beans and rosemary flowers with a little touch of alchemy – emulsified orange dots the plate.
And if you are lucky enough to be staying at Alamanda, you should back up with breakfast the next morning. Besides the usual suspects (that are not the least bit usual) there Good Morning options of mud crab omelette with greens and ginger caramel in white pepper broth cider donuts with cinnamon sugar and passionfruit curd. Or simply toast? The Nu Nu sourdough is baked twice daily at the restaurant and the starter dates back to 2000.
Nick has coveted this location for a long time and it means one more part of the puzzle is solved. The much-awarded Nu Nu does perfectly what many big name restaurants try so hard to do: formal dining without any pretension. The service is seamless and the food comes from a kitchen expertly confident in both their produce and skills. This is elegant food served with the appropriate care in one of the best spots in Australia: this is Nu Nu. www.nunu.com.au