70 Grafton Street Cairns, QLD 487007 4031 8816
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If you want to be sure of a good meal in Cairns, choose breakfast. That's not to say that you won't find good venues for lunch and dinner too, but for its size there seem to be a disproportionate number of superior brekkies to be had in Queensland's most northerly city.
Candy was the first of our stay and set the breakfast bar high. Dark and cool, and unusually for a Cairns hotspot, it's nowhere near the water, The Pier or the backpacker strip. Rather it's set in a workaday city street among a cluster of other cafes. It manages to catch a hungry punter's eye though. Fake box hedges separate tables, there are pretty floral cushions, swooping swallows and chandeliers. Yes, it teeters on the twee, but look a little closer at the fairytale wallpaper mural that stretches over one wall. It was made to order in Melbourne, the owner tells me; inspired by 1950s picture books.
As in all good fairytales though, there's a properly sinister air about it when you look beyond the rosy-cheeked children, gambolling lambs and playful bunnies. There's a hunter hiding behind a tree with a shotgun, a dead wolf slung around his shoulder, while a foppish bewigged nobleman walks unknowingly towards him. In another forest scene, a young girl embraces a black bear (that can only end badly). A real deer, or at least part of him (apparently called Steve) stares impassively at his frolicking spotted brethren from a spot high on the wall. There's an earth-coloured concrete floor, faux grass-covered bar and coal-black walls to further extend the dichotomy-of-nature theme. All jolly good fun and a far cry from your typical bland resort town cafe.
Very civilly, breakfast at Candy is served until 12pm. It was pretty much a full house on a weekday and a superficial stereotyping would peg many of the diners as locals. A couple of Cairns' finest relaxed over a cuppa in one corner while a mum with baby strapped to her front dug into something delicious.
And speaking of delicious – it's not just Candy's winsome looks that attract; the menu's quite come-hither too, playing it fast and loose with breakfast standards. If you're up for a bit of hangover busting, take a cure of southern fried chicken with house-made baked beans, poached egg and garlic mayo. Having practised restraint the night before we argue over sweetcorn and crab cakes instead. Served over lightly steamed asparagus, and topped with a "folded egg", they induce severe plate envy and rigorously enforced sharing. Sweet with the dominating flavour of crab, they are accompanied by a little bottle of warm masterstock to pour over and tapioca pearls that have been cooked in it for an interesting textural contrast.
Savoury mince seems the cool nerd of the food world these days. Here it's made from wagyu (of course) with small strips of grilled haloumi adding a salty punch while Dutch cream potatoes, lightly smashed, a well-poached egg and a tangle of spinach provide an extra serving of essential carbs, protein and calories.
For a sweet breakfast, the "Marie Antoniette" (another sinister ending there) French toast, is the go. It's spongy on the inside, sweetly caramelised and buttery on the outer and not too eggy. It comes topped with blush-coloured poached pears and a mountain of mascarpone encircled by a little of the poaching syrup and crumbs of crushed pistachio.
Supercrema blend Piazza D'oro coffee is well made here and served in acid-bright crockery with dinky souvenir teaspoons. Service is very accommodating while not in your face (the last thing you want at the tender hour of, er ... 10am). Candy does offer a lunch menu too, continuing the nursery food/nursery rhyme tradition with dishes such as home-made fish fingers and "Mary had a little lamb" salad, but for our money in the tropical north, it's best to go hard early then retreat somewhere wet and cool until the sun is well over the yardarm.