Naturally native cuisine 

Ochre Restaurant

Words By Janie Barton

If ever a restaurant was to be coined ‘true Australian’, it would have to be Ochre restaurant.

The highly awarded restaurant was one of the first committed native food restaurants in Australia when chef and owner Craig Squire opened it in Cairns in 1994. It is here where diners are introduced to unique and exciting modern Australian cuisine created using Australian native and local produce.

Ochre works closely with the region’s top producers to serve premium Tablelands beef, fresh seafood, kangaroo and crocodile delicacies among its more than 30 different native foods. 

“Craig and I get out and talk to the local producers about what they’re growing and making, what they’ve got up and coming and trying their produce,” managing director Carley Elsum says. “Everything has a story, and that’s the main point. It’s not just meat that we have purchased; it’s something that a local supplier has made, or a family has made.”

It wasn’t long after opening that Ochre was recognised nationally, and internationally, as one of the most innovative modern Australian restaurants in the country. It introduced lemon myrtle and Davidson plums to chefs in Asia, New Zealand, the Middle East and the United States. It was also the first restaurant to introduce green ants to its menu.

“Craig went on a food safari and taught people how to forage ingredients off the land,” Carley says. “Green ants were one of them, and he came back from that trip and put them in the beef carpaccio, and it just worked so well.”

Bush foods such as wattle seed, quandong, lemon myrtle, pepper leaf, lemon aspen, bush tomatoes, rosella flowers and wild limes are just some of the native ingredients that are used by Ochre’s chefs to develop innovative and delicious dishes enhanced by in-house condiments such as sauces, chutneys and pesto.

Some of its most famous dinner dishes, which change seasonally, include char-grilled kangaroo sirloin served with sweet-potato dauphinoise, bok choy, quandong and chilli sauce, tempura Gulf bugs with mango, coconut and chilli salsa and duck leg confit with Davidson plum and ginger glaze, vermicelli and coconut fritter and Japanese eggplant. 

Be sure to leave room for dessert as you’ll want to try the wattle seed pavlova with Davidson plum sorbet and macadamia biscotti, or the lemon myrtle and macadamia tart with a lemon aspen sorbet. Without a doubt, you’ll want to return again and again to sample everything.

Its lunch menu is equally eclectic and includes small, medium and large plates as well as a share platter, a two-course special, sides and desserts.

Craig, who received the Restaurant & Catering Association of Australia’s Lifetime Achiever Award in 2022, is equally passionate about showcasing locally produced beverages.

“All our wines are Australian, as are our beers, liquors and spirits,” says Carley, who joined Ochre more than 14 years ago, starting out as a waitress and working her way up to become a supervisor, then a manager and now the managing director. “A lot of our spirits are sourced locally as Cairns has so much to offer and Ochre is the place you can come to try them all.  

“We work very closely with Mt Uncle Distillery and Wolf Lane Distillery. When launching a new product, we team up with them for a showcasing event.”

As with any successful enterprise, excellent staff is the key to success, and Ochre prides itself on having professional and genuinely friendly staff. Not only are they exemplary at providing five-star service, their knowledge of the menu and their insights into the different native foods add great value to the dining experience.

“Most of my full-time team have been with me for over three years,” Carley adds. “They’re just wonderful.”

Ochre is also in demand for being one of the region’s best caterers. No matter what the location, it is renowned for providing amazing catering and excellent execution. It has a fantastic range of menu selections, concept ideas and rates to suit all requirements. One of its biggest events in 2022 was the Cairns Amateurs, where they catered for over 4900 guests over three days.

Ochre Restaurant at Harbour Lights

6/1 Marlin Parade, Cairns 

4051 0100

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