TO SWOON FOR
If Paper Daisy were any closer to Brisbane, I’d have made up some lame excuse that I needed to go back for lunch instead of writing this review. It’s the restaurant in Halcyon House, a renovated boutique hotel on Cabarita Beach, just south of the border. Houseguests are lazing by the pool, accepting drinks and bar snacks, as we peruse the lunch menu. I want everything listed, so this is going to be a battle.
Even the bread is beautiful: dark wholemeal with a charry crust and the slightly funky scent of real sourdough. A jar of macadamia butter accompanies it and so do some oysters, gleamingly fresh with pearls of tangy finger lime and a drizzle of macadamia milk.
Smoked albacore (tuna) over postage stamp-sized agnolotti with a gentle egg yolk vinegar dressing. is warm, softly fragrant and utterly moreish. But the swooning really begins when giant green-puffed-riceencrusted prawns arrive in a salad of mint, chilli and ginger pickles. The cucumber/mint combo is fresh and light, and the chilli and ginger sing away in earthy harmony, but it’s the fish baked in paperbark that brings on the eyes- rolling-back-in-the-head moments. It’s stunningly good – the dish of the year – deceptively simple, and so very honest, sitting over seaweed and topped with almost-melted white onions.
Our other main, shreds of slowcooked lamb under grilled gem lettuce garnished with almonds and capers, is hearty yet still has an unmistakable lightness, something head chef Ben Devlin seems to have perfected. His tomato salad is another example of deft restraint. Several heirloom varieties are sliced and muddled with soft onions, chunks of milky mozzarella and black garlic.
Devlin’s touch is deceptive. You think you’re sitting on someone’s terrace, lunching on simple, coastal-appropriate food and sipping their well-chosen wines, no fuss, no hard graft, but there’s the rub. There’s a ton of work that goes into this kind of cuisine. It’s all in the choice of ingredients, followed by meticulous preparation. Our taste in food really is such a personal thing but Devlin’s style reveres the integrity of the ingredients, and is crafted with such skill, the results are at once illusorily simple and intelligently complex.
“The fish baked in paperbark … is stunningly good … deceptively simple, and so very honest.”