Category Archives: Reviews

Books, TV Series, Movies, Music, whatever. I have an opinion, and you just the person to hear it.

Eastern Port Yum Cha

One thing Mackay doesn’t lack is Asian Restaurants.  Unfortunately, they mostly cater to the quick lunch trade, and are focused on pushing out a fast meal, rather than a good meal.  Sure, there are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part I have been disappointed in the quality of Chinese (and other SE Asian influenced dishes) that I have found so far.

Just looking at this makes me hungry

A new restaurant set on the perimeter of a Shopping Centre, and within a stones throw of a Sizzler, did not raise my hopes of Eastern Port being any different.

Walking into the restaurant, it ticks off most of the prerequisites for a typical Chinese restaurant.  There’s the ornamental fish tank behind the maitre ‘d stand, there’s a row of fish tanks vigorously bubbling away while lobsters, fish, and large crab peer out at diners, and there’s a rack of glossy tanned ducks hanging behind glass, just inside the kitchen.  Coupled with the rest of the modern decor, with Chinese art and cultural hints, Eastern Port actually pulls of a neat trick of providing a pleasant dining atmosphere whilst food service staff scurry busily pushing yum-cha carts around tables of hurried diners surrounded by prams, shopping carts, and plastic store bags full of groceries and department store essentials.

It’s not a real Chinese Restaurant unless it has one of these

Eastern Port also has a small curb-side dining area, as well as the tables inside the restaurant itself, which is consistent with the other cafe’s and eateries in the area.  It also makes a great place to people watch on a sunny afternoon, as you are enjoying a prolonged yum-cha session.

Jeri and I are quickly led to our seats (inside), and it is seconds before the yum-cha cart arrives, offering it’s wares for the luncheon rush.  We both decide that we want to look at the menu before deciding on what we will select.  Immediately my eyes are drawn to the laksa.  Now, there aren’t many things that I would prefer to eat than yum-cha.  I love Chinese dumplings like fat kids love chocolate.  But Curry laksa is one of those dishes.

It also shows both the good and bad in Australian Asian restaurants.  There are not too many places where you will find yum-cha sharing menu space with laksa, and your trip across Asia doesn’t end with China and Malaysia.  The menu also includes Thai tom yum , Singapore noodles, mee and nasi Goreng from Indonesia.  The menu is, however, predominantly Chinese and Malay, so I decide to give the laksa a chance.  In a shock, Jeri also orders a soup.  Wonton soup is her choice, which surprises me as she is a self proclaimed soup disliker (ok, hater would have been too strong a word, so I chose to make one up instead).

Just after the waiter scurries off to bark the order at the kitchen staff, the yum-cha chart stops at our table and we are encouraged to choose from the dozen or so offerings.  Not today, we explain…we’ve ordered from the menu.  Confused, the cart operator races off to the next table.  It seems they really want to sell yum-cha.

A good looking Laksa right there

Less than 10 minutes later, our soups arrive with a flourish of fragrant steam, and the moment of truth is upon us.

Now, as a lover of laksa I have eaten it hundreds of times, and I have had the pleasure of eating some of the best, and the misfortune of being disppointed by some of the worst, including an insipid version last week from another local noodle bar, but this laksa was actually quite good.

The good:

Well balanced, and reasonably flavourful, I would have to concede that it was the best laksa I have had in Mackay.

As a seafood laksa, the prawns were generous, and the vegetables were fresh and vibrant.

The bad:

I thought the broth could have had more flavour.  It’s really the key part of a good laksa, and it just let it down a little.

The squid and the mussels were also over cooked, which is a really difficult ask for a laksa, but I have had perfectly cooked and tender squid in a laksa in the past.  Also, the tofu was a non event, as was the fish cake (too bland and thin).

I also felt that there should have been more condiments on the side to customize the flavour.  The sambal that was included had no kick at all, and the soup really needed it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going back to the Eastern Port, and I’m also going to recommend the laksa as a good option.  The issues I have are purely a question of degrees of flavour…the flavour was there, and the soup was good, it just lacked some key elements that could have made it great.

Crayfish, Crab, and Dumpling Steamers…maybe next time

I’m also looking forward to trying their yum-cha some day, and even exploring a little deeper into their menu of South East Asian standards.  For this visit, however, I am going to give it 3.5 little piggies.


Maria’s Donkey – Tapas Treats along the river

We live in a beautiful part of the world, and this is the time of year that the region shines.  The wet season is behind us for another year, and the warm tropical days are washed away with balmy evenings and cool nights while the rest of the country is bracing for winter snows, and chilling rains.

Maria's Donkey on the Pioneer River

This is the time of year where you can’t decide whether the week should end with a Friday evening stroll amongst the palms along the riverfront, or sipping margaritas as the sun sets, painting the mangroves in hues of amber and burnt orange.  This week we chose the latter.

Mackay is really doing some exciting things along the Riverfront, and it’s about time.  Downtown has always been a club haven, where nights are filled with echoes of dance music and peels of intoxicated laughter, but it’s not been a great place to go out for a quiet drink…or two.  This is slowly changing.

The promise of a nice quiet drink, and some great Mexican food (according to the rumour), is what took us along to Maria’s Donkey on River Street.  It’s on the Eastern side of the Forgan Bridge, just before you get to the Fish Markets, and is marked by a small swinging sign with the picture of a hatted donkey.

For a good time, enter here...

Like many of the buildings in the area, it’s built on piers over the top of the mud flats that edge the Pioneer River, and stepping onto the entryway takes you off of terra firma, as the river bank drops away beneath your feet.  This afternoon a party was enjoying exclusive access to the patio at the far end of the building, but other nice seating was available along the side patio, and inside offered cozy couch seating, as well as stools along the bar.

The first thing that caught our attention was the sign “This is not a restaurant, this is a bar” and it turns out that Maria’s Donkey is a Tapas bar, rather than a restaurant proper.  It basically means that it’s not really a place for kids, though the manager explains that weekend lunches and afternoons are not really an issue.  I actually like the Tapas Bar concept as a place where adults can gather and share a few drinks with great small appetizer portions of finger foods.  A place where you don’t have to dodge under-supervised children.  A place that doesn’t quite cater to the cashed up and testosterone fueled miner, who is two days into his five day break, and is sharing the second day of his “bender” with everyone else within earshot.  Maria’s lives up to the promise of a nice quiet drink, and gentle music plays in the background…loud enough to enjoy, but quiet enough to allow conversation to be held at a normal level.

Delicious Chorizo Hotpot

Looking over the Tapas offerings, the selection had an eclectic Mediterranean feel to it, rather than the Mexican we had hoped for, though the menu does change daily.  The specials board spruiked a range of seafood choices, including oysters, mussels, prawns and calamari, while on the menu proper Arabic, Greek, Spanish and Italian inspired dishes shared space with some Mexican offerings.  Today we honed in on the Chorizo Hot Pot, though the Empanada’s (Chicken and/or Beef) were calling my name, as was the Cherry Tomato and Chorizo skewers, with Feta and fresh Basil.

I thought the prices were quite reasonable, and the Hot Pot  was enough food for a good lunch by itself.  Essentially a tomato and Chorizo stew, it was packed with sausage and full of flavour.  It was rustic and simple, very hearty, and I thought great value at $12.  Unfortunately we weren’t that hungry, we actually shared the one hot pot, as it was only late afternoon, but I’ll update the blog with other food tastings as I visit again.

One of the other things that caught my eye, was the range of beers and cocktails available.  For a smaller bar, I thought the range carried a good mix of beer styles and flavours.  Red ales through to light lagers were all represented, and I don’t think anyone would walk away from Maria’s without finding a beer that they would enjoy.  Normally I would have been all over the ales, but this afternoon we had a thirst for something else.  Something with a lime’s sharpness, and a crust of salt around the rim of the glass.  The word “Margarita” stuck out like a sore thumb on the Cocktail list, and it reminded me that it had been an awful long time since I had had a good Margarita in a bar.  Could this be the place?

Now the view is perfect

So, also at $12 a pop, the Margarita wasn’t cheap, but it was good.  No, it was great.  Maybe we were here on a “pop-in” visit, just on a whim, but the Margarita they served actually put the wife an I on a Tequila and Triple Sec fuelled adventure that night.  We went home and broke out the blender, to perfect our own at home, and we got close to Maria’s quality…but a great Margarita is a hard thing to find, and even harder to replicate, and Maria’s was one of the best.

This is not a very detailed review of Maria’s Donkey, but I wanted to get this post out quickly, rather than wait until I had tried more of the menu, and the cocktail list.  7 weeks it’s been open, and places like Maria’s really need our support.  Not just because it’s a nice place for adults to enjoy a drink without drunken yobo’s spilling XXXX Gold on our shoes and shirts, but because it’s a place that delivers on it’s promise.  Good honest simple food, great atmosphere, an excellent selection of beverages, all reasonably priced.

I will certainly be back, and I’m giving it 4 little piggies.

Talkin’ about your Generation – The Game

Here’s something a bit different, a review from me that isn’t food related, a board game review.

Just like the TV show, except the humiliation is yours to bear.

Talkin’ about your Generation is a board game modeled on the successfully irreverent Australian television show of the same name, hosted by funny man Shaun Micallef.  A quiz show that pits Generation X, Y, and Baby Boomers against each other, Talkin’ about your Generation serves up the usual dish of pop culture trivia but mixes in physical comedy elements.

The board game, which is good for teams of 2 to 6 players, stays true to the television show which is both it’s strength, and it’s weakness.

On TV, the team captains and players are willing to subject themselves to a bit of mild humiliation in the name of entertainment, because…well because it’s their job.  Play this at home, and you really need to play with a group of people who are a bit less inhibited than most.  It might also mean that it would be a fun game to play whilst suitably inebriated, but unfortunately we were not.

This game really has some potential, but unfortunately there are a number of elements that really let it down.

I loved the mix of question styles and variation.  It elevates the game beyond many others that are trivia based.  Unfortunately, the game loses marks for the following:

  • Not having enough “Generation” cards.  I think a handful of games and you’ll exhaust all of the questions, rendering the game useless, especially if you have multiple teams of the same generation.
  • Scoring design.  As a TV show, the ultimate score is irrelevant, and you get a sense that it is trying to replicate that in the board game.  Unfortunately, the losing team last night got to the end square whilst the rest of the teams had not even got to the half way point.  Then they had to wait until one of the other teams caught up, and got to the end square, before the final challenge pitted them against each other in a physical challenge of running around the table.
  • The game board itself.  For some reason it has been segmented based on questioning genre, which gives the flow of the game a strange feel.  I think the game would flow better if it mixed the genre changes throughout the board.
  • The timer, which is WAY too short.  It’s an hourglass type timer (which is fine) that I timed at 35 seconds (which is not fine).  How can you draw the a picture of the movie title Robin Hood in 35 seconds?
  • You really need to have representation from all three generations to play the game.

In the end, these issues caused quite the grumbling at the table, and the negativity affected the feel of the game.  For that reason, I’m going to give it 2 little piggies (out of 5).

With a slower timer, different end game scenario, more question cards, and a better game board, this game could have been amazing.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t.