The first and last place to eat when you drop into Port Douglas must be Harrison’s, writes Tom Barclay.
The newest Port Douglas eatery stands head and shoulders above the rest. Harrison’s is an understated restaurant on Macrossan St with a wide-open patio for diners, allowing a full view of the bar and kitchen. It’s a simple, relatively open-air dining room with plain paving stones and candlelit tables.
But the real magic of the place is its simple, French, classically inspired menu brought together by owner/chef Spencer Patrick. The arrival of a Michelin Star Chef in any other city or town would be greeted like an Australian Cricketer in Mumbai. But not in the occasionally closed shop that is the restaurant scene in Port Douglas.
And Michelin Stars are really just the beginning of Spencer’s spectacular pedigree. At 26, he was youngest chef to be awarded one. In 1998, London’s Good Food Guide dubbed him “one of the best three young chefs in London”. A decade later, he’s in Port Douglas to launch his own affair.
“I just do not want to have a winter in my life.” he tells me after dinner. Originally Spencer and partner Reina headed to Byron Bay after arriving from the UK. “I love the place but it didn’t feel right. I think Byron is past its peak.” Forfeiting the bond on a rented Byron flat, Spence and Reina packed the car and started driving around Australia. They didn’t get far.
“When we got to Port Douglas we just knew we wanted to stay.” I raise an eyebrow; it reeks of a PR line. He glares back at me through Prada glasses and convinces me he’s sincere. With such a soft and un-hyped launch, Spence appears not to have time for the dark art of restaurant PR and marketing. He’s more focused on doing the classics right for a local and international audience drawn to one of our premier tourism towns.
“I love the place but it didn’t feel right. I think Byron is past its peak.”
And the classics are done right. The Chefs Table dinner is simply unbelievable; a food experience I will treasure, with my highlight being the Grilled Nannygai with Basil Butter and Shellfish Broth.
The nannygai is translucent. The buttery broth is truly magical with perfectly cooked mussels, baby octopi, clams and scallops. I’ve never had a better mussel in all my life – not one hint of elasticity. Every flavour is complimentary and the broth of shellfish juice and stock is superb.
What follows is an exhibition in stylish cooking, with every course delicious and accompanied by an excellent, and sometimes surprising, glass of wine.
Spencer insists that his new outfit is a family restaurant with good food and sound technique. He’s certainly right; Reina runs the front of house, and the name – Harrison’s – belongs to Spencer’s new baby boy.
Chefs Table // The Menu
Grilled Nannygai with Basil Butter and Shellfish Broth
Vintage Moet & Chandon
Caramelised Pork Belly with Shaved Fennel Salad and Granny Smith Puree
Jim Barry Watervale Riesling
Fresh WA marron with champagne hollandaise
Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc
9-hour slow braised ox cheek with caramelised onion and truffle mash
D’arenberg Peppermint Paddock NV Sparkling Chambourcin
Champagne and strawberry granita
Apple and cinnamon tartain with caramel sauce – Yalumba Botrytis Viognier
DETAILS // Harrison’s
Where // Harrison’s 41 Macrossan St, Port Douglas, (07) 4099 6364.
Chefs Table is $120 for all courses and accompanying wines.
A la carte //
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Tues-Sat.
Breakfast and lunch only Sundays.