Suffers from spontaneous karaoke syndrome, inexplicable shyness, random golf swings/cricket shots, bad puns & attention deficit disor hey there's a bear! Visit my page at www.facebook.com/StuartAJohn
Published February 23rd 2013
Quality - just an hour away
Back in a previous incarnation as a tour guide there was nothing I loved more than a free day in a city like Paris or Venice. If the sun was out (and it always is in these stories), I'd wander through the streets, keeping clear of the tourist hot-spots in order that when it was time to refuel, it would be as the locals do it. It was this way I found the world's best spaghetti carbonara in the "tail" of Venice in a tiny restaurant where the menus came only in Italian. A colleague once found that country's best gelato by doing something similar.
Likewise, there's a fair bit to be found when you go off-trail back here in Australia. Heading west on the Warrego with an Irish mate called Mark, we passed one of many signs giving the distance to Esk. Mark mentioned that in Irish Gaelic the word Esk meant fish (albeit with a different spelling), to which I suggested we could detour through Esk before finishing up at our final destination of Toowoomba later that day.
After a quick photo stop at Wivenhoe Dam, we pulled into Esk to find a large number of cars and motorbikes parked out the front of a small cafe. After a quick reconnaissance through town we decided all those people couldn't be wrong and headed in.
What immediately struck us were how well the place was laid out. Guests have the option of the low chairs and tables on the verandah or remarkably comfortable high chairs at high tables scattered around the outside of the building. Walking into the service area felt like a trip back in time: a blackboard menu dominated the glass-door fridge on the left, while the right featured ice-cream, cakes and quiches should you want food instantly.
The food on offer is more in keeping with modern tastes. Mark went with the Turkish bread with salmon, some water and got change back from a $20; while I decided the chicken, bacon and Camembert plougman's couldn't be beaten. My order came to $24 including a Bundaberg ginger beer and a "medium" coffee so large it made most inner-city cafes look stingy.
We discovered why there were so many vehicles out the front once the food came out. Mark's salmon was chopped up and separate from the Turkish bread; not that it mattered as both were demolished pretty quickly. It would have been hard to top mine though: tender, juicy chicken strips over proper portions of bacon and thick chunks of Camembert contained within fresh bread made for the best meal I've had all year.
After the meal we had a quick look into a 1950s themed dining area before having a chat with the lady in the antiques shop. If ever there was a feeling we'd stepped back in time, it was to find a room seemingly decorated by my late great-grandmother - it's all part of the charm of the place.
It's amazing how getting off the beaten track can bring such high rewards. If you're out for a drive and want to see an old-fashioned town then pop into Esk; if you want some old-fashioned quality stop in at Julie's at the Rectory.