TO SWOON FOR

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - THE FOODIE - LIZZIE LOEL

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.”

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