The Making of an Icon

Nautilus Restaurant, Words By Sharon Timms

Dining establishments don’t get much more iconic than Port Douglas’s original tropical-luxe restaurant, Nautilus.
Most frequenters know the big anecdote: Back in 1996, one night around 8.40pm, with no prior reservation and two small tables of ‘minders’ already dining, two Presidential security officers entered the restaurant to make arrangements for Bill and Hillary Clinton to dine. The secret service men then proceeded to advise the manager that all the restaurant’s telephones had been disconnected and that the President and First Lady would be arriving to dine in around 10 minutes.

None of the other diners present in the restaurant could leave. Hillary had seen a feature on Nautilus in the New York Times, and she had included a romantic anniversary dinner at Nautilus in their holiday plans. The restaurant was sealed off from every entrance and officers were stationed at all points, including the kitchen. There was a small wedding party in the restaurant, Bill signed their wedding certificate and the bride presented her bouquet to Hillary for her wedding anniversary.
It’s a good story. Good enough that the Clinton’s photograph still hangs in pride of place in the property. However that’s only a small chapter in this tale.
Nautilus Restaurant is arguably one of the oldest restaurants in Australia. First opening its doors (or in this case, first walking up the fire-lit, gravel path) in 1954, the restaurant’s ethereal design set among towering tropical plants in the open air with stars peeping through palm fronds set the scene for decadent dining in the tropical north. For the next 30-odd years, the restaurant changedownership hands several times, including survives the fundamentals of running a business in a town and an industry that relies on that tourism.” Parry himself is testament to that staying power and business loyalty – he started in the Nautilus kitchen in the 80s as an apprentice chef, returned years later to be the Executive Chef, and is now running the business on behalf of his mentors, the Wearnes.
“Nautilus is a cornerstone restaurant to dining in North Queensland.” Parry says. “It’s always the restaurant people want to emulate, along with Salsa Bar and Grill. It has a very distinctive Port Douglas identity.
“That longevity is the result of love, and in this case it’s the Wearnes. They’ve loved this place forever and a day which you need to survive. Restaurants are made up of teams who continually rock up and represent, but there needs to be something more to it. Nautilus has that.”
Nautilus has recently undergone a $1M makeover, all whilst keeping as much of the original building and surrounding foliage as possible. Still keeping the magical entrance from Macrossan Street a major attraction, accessibility from the top of Wharf Street has now greatly improved. The menu remains a working demonstration of true Modern Australian cuisine with Asian influence thanks to a talented team embracing the north’s proximity to Asian ingredients, and classics such as the Whole Fried Coral Trout continue to stop people in their tracks on the restaurant floor.
Some things, however, will always remain
quite specific to Nautilus. “There’s a lot to be said for old school hospitality and familiarity.” Parry muses. “It’s the quiet yet relaxed service reverence, the flickering of candles under the stars, the look of wonder when people truly see the restaurant for the first time.
“Even the scrub turkeys have kept coming back to destroy the gardens, and we keep tidying it up. We’ve got the best garden real estate in town, and it’s solely for the turkeys!”.

Nautilus Restaurant
17 Murphy Street, or alternatively via 14 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas

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