I was up in Townsville for work recently. I had thought Townsville consisted only of crocodiles, stingers, army people and Ross River fever, but I was willing and ready to be proved wrong! (And I was, so relax, Townsville, if you’re reading. And do read on! This is an epic post.)
Anyway, it doesn’t do to make wild generalisations about places you’ve never been, so I decided to stay up the weekend as well to check out what the city has to offer. It’s no skin off work’s nose if they pay for my return flight home on the Sunday rather than the Friday, and I pay for everything else.
Which meant I crashed at a backpackers instead of a hotel, once it was me paying. Fresh Bread is young and frugal.
During the course of my (extended) stay, I:
- turned up to a construction site in a dress and had to borrow garments from the construction guys to be allowed on to the site (nothing like wearing a long sleeved checked shirt and work pants, steel capped boots, helmet and glasses OVER your work attire on a 30 degree day).
- Caught the ferry over to Magnetic Island and went on a little bushwalk by myself, perfect apart from the rustling in the bushes that I assumed were snakes (assumption later proved correct by the Townsville Bulletin).
- Went for a lovely walk along The Strand, Townsville’s beachfront promenade where you can find a kick-ass water playground for the kiddies (honestly, I stopped and watched for a while, sort of wishing I could borrow a kid so I could play in there as well) and a host of swish places to eat.
- Walked some of the historical walks in the town centre – so touristy – but I enjoyed it. I had no idea that Townsville’s Flinders Street would be so filled with well preserved historical buildings. At night time, half of them turn into nightclubs as well. Adaptive re-use at its finest.
- Shook my heads at the development sites currently creating bombsites in the Townsville CBD. Apparently one of the developers went bust in the GFC, so the sites sit stagnant, meaning that area of the CBD is well creepy at night for a lonesome girl trying to make her way to and from the cinemas (I saw The Avengers. It was brilliant).
- Went to Cotters Markets (Sunday morning markets) along Flinders Street and instantly fell in love with the Townsville CBD again.
- Oh, and I ate out. A lot.
Three of the places I attended on work time were Rhino Bar on Palmer Street, the Townsville Brewery (picture below) for a conference and Watermark restaurant, on The Strand, for dinner that night – when work was paying. No pictures of the food, unfortunately – because it probably doesn’t do to freak out clients by whipping out an iphone to take photos of your food at dinner.
Speaking of things it doesn’t do to take photos of, check out the Holiday Inn Townsville in the photo below (it’s the tall building in the centre). I hope the inside is refurbished, because it sure is ugly from the outside. Locals call it the ‘sugar shaker’ – appropriate!
We stopped off at Rhino Bar for a quick lunch and I got the chicken burger lunch special. Rhino Bar does pub grub, nothing too fancy; the chicken burger was to come with garlic aioli and cheese, but it tasted a bit bland. I reckon they should take a leaf out of Grill’d's book (god that word looks wrong with two apostrophes) and add a slice of bacon into the mix. It needed relish, or bacon – something with a bit of savour. The fries were ample, crisp and well seasoned (my personal pet peeve is unsalted chips!). Good value lunch.
The Brewery was a cool venue. It’s the old Post Office, done up into a restaurant, outdoor beer garden and conference room. A function lunch (I copped the chicken, not the beef) but it was tasty and well cooked. The bread rolls were standard supermarket white rolls which I was a little disappointed by – lash out for the Woolworths artisan bread or something, guys! – but that’s just me being picky. And they did a cheese platter for function-dessert, which was brilliant, I thought. I’m a cheese-lover.
Watermark is a fancy modern Australian restaurant, all open-air-Queensland-al-fresco dining-cool. A friend of mine has been there previously on a weekend (un-work related) and said she had a really good night (if expensive) and the staff were great. We were there on a weeknight and the staff were well-meaning teenagers, but the food was good. Well, the wine was free-flowing.
I got the chilli jam chicken – stir fried chicken breast with cashews. It was good, but would have been better shared – by the end the sweetness of the chilli jam overtook me and I resorted to just picking out all the cashews and eating them. Others around the table got the salmon, or the steak; they seemed to enjoy their meals. I’d go back, for a special occasion. (Eyes Bigger Than Belly has also reviewed Watermark, and wonders whether it might be Townsville’s best restaurant.)
Right! On to the eating I did by myself!
I had two chances to have breakfast and researched my options on Urbanspoon. First up, I went to Betty Blue & the Lemon Tart, up the eastern end of the CBD. Well, every man and his dog knows about this place. I was embroiled in a Melbourne-style, put your name down and wait queue right off the bat. However, that gave me a chance to watch most of young Townsville meet each other in the queue, say hello and catch up. This must be a popular place for breakfast!
Betty’s menu is enticing but for once I ventured out of my comfort zone (eggs; and I also knew I would be probably having eggs again the next day). I went with baklava french toast, with greek yoghurt, honey orange syrup, and walnut crumble. How could you not? It came out HUGE – three slices of bread!! – but it was so delicious I was determined to finish it all, and I did, and was not hungry for a very long time.
At this joint you order and pay at the counter, then wander back to your table to wait for your meal. While you’re waiting, you can draw on the table! They’re made of blackboards. I also ordered a cappucino and was rewarded with one of the largest cups I’ve seen.
Betty Blue’s service was friendly and efficient. There are a bunch of other interesting brekky dishes on the menu. Recommend.
The second breakfast I had was during the Cotters Markets on a Sunday morning at Millie J & Co.
Millie J & Co apparently has another cafe at Stockland North Shore shopping centre, in the new growth areas of Townsville. They have a prime position here though, in in Flinders Square in the city (it’s off Flinders Street). According to my sources, the mall used to be closed to traffic and a real nightmare in terms of street activity and safety, but it’s all beautifully landscaped now and this square links Flinders Street in a pedestrian walkway to the bridge to Palmer Street in South Townsville.
There were other solo brunchers here, which was nice, and staff were friendly and got me settled at a table with the Sunday Courier Mail (oh, for a non-News Ltd newspaper!). I ordered the Eggs Benedict, as there seems to be a north Queensland obsession with this dish. It came with smoked salmon and on a thick slice of brioche.
It was good but I found the sauce a bit strange. I’m not sure whether it was cooked ahead of time, and reheated, but it formed a kind of skin that you can sort of see in the photo above. I’m not too familiar with hollandaise sauce though so I’m not sure if that’s a normal thing for it to do. It also could have done with a bit more vinegar, or lemon – I couldn’t taste it in the sauce (says she of the limited hollandaise knowledge). The dish tasted great though. But more acidity would have been welcome to cut through the totally rich dish.
Personally I’d swap the brioche for a different kind of bread. Traditionally eggs benny comes on English muffins, and I like that they are trying something different here with the brioche, but it all wound up a little too sweet and rich for me. I finished the lot, though. Millie J is a good option for breakfast. Tasty and I wasn’t hungry (once again) until around 3pm that afternoon.
The first dinner I had by myself in Townsville consisted of popcorn at the movies. Let’s move right along from that nutritional disaster, and check out what I got for lunch at Blue Diamond Cafe Restaurant (Arcadia, Magnetic Island).
Magnetic Island has a few small residential communities and tourist settlements on it but its main claim to fame is that it’s the southern most end of the Great Barrier Reef, and most of it is national park.
I popped in at about 3pm to Blue Diamond Cafe in Arcadia’s small group of shops and the ladies already eating there recommended the fish wrap. The very friendly proprietress chatted to me and clearly knew just about everyone around. Service was great and my crumbed fish wrap was a tasty lunch. The fish was fresh, and freshly crumbed and the wrap had tomato and salad and mayo after first checking with me that that was okay (uh, yes please!). I also had a freshly squeezed OJ that was divine as I’d just walked over what felt like a mountain to get there.
Oh, and I shared my lunch with this guy: a curlew (I think that’s what she said). Apparently Maggie Island is quite the bird lover’s paradise, and there’s actually a bird sanctuary on the island as well.
Blue Diamond isn’t on Urbanspoon but it is rated #1 of the Tripadvisor Magnetic Island cafes and restaurants (all 14 of them). If you’re in there area stop in for a bite and a chat.
Phew! Still with me? One more place to go!
On my last night (Saturday night) I decided to treat myself to a proper dinner, given the aforementioned popcorn-for-tea the night before. I wandered through the CBD and made a right turn onto the bridge to Palmer Street and cruised that buzzing restaurant strip.
JAM Corner is the first restaurant you come to but I did go all the way up and down the street before returning and begging a table. (My final choice was out of this and the Saltcellar, which is on my wishlist should I ever return to Townsville). Palmer Street is pumping on a Saturday night!
I splurged on this dinner – I ordered bread ‘for the table’ – nope, that’s just me. Turkish bread, with basil labne, olive oil and dukkah. I was pleased at not having to share my carbs with anyone, but feeling a little guilty when the table of three next to me ordered the same dish. I like to think they were casting envious looks at my table, not judgemental looks…
For mains I went with steak (see? I told you – splurging!). Now, the steak was less impressive unfortunately. It was described on the menu as coming with potato skordalia, cos and radish salad and onion aioli. I think the onion aioli was on the salad.
I’m not a huge fan of the salad-in-a-separate bowl concept, and especially not when it’s mainly giant leaves of cos lettuce that are impossible to eat in any sort of delicate manner and most of the salad is undressed. The potato skordalia tasted like mashed potato.
I ordered the steak medium rare but as eating went on I discovered that it was mooing on my plate, parts of it raw (check below). It was a bit disappointing, as the dish was $34 and I would have liked to enjoy it all.
The hotel we stayed at recommended JAM Corner for breakfasts/lunch. I would certainly come back – surroundings are nice, staff were friendly an efficient, interesting items on the menu… but I’d recommend steering clear of the steak.
Phew! Here endeth my tour through Townsville eateries. Hope you enjoyed! If you live in Townsville and are still reading at this point, or have been to Townsville – recommendations for next time?