Makuti Cafe.
Makuti Cafe. The Northern Star

Makuti meditation in Iluka

EVEN had the food been disappointing, I would still rate this wee place as a hidden gem.

The location of the Makuti Café in Iluka sends one off to a total state of calm. It is absolute waterfront, behind the Iluka boatshed on the beautiful Clarence River, and has a passing parade of bird life and daily sightings of dolphins and the ever-present pelicans.

We arrived for lunch within minutes of the café recovering from a power blackout, which unfortunately put the pan-fried sweetlip off the agenda … all gone, all gone.

The café was not overly busy on arrival but as time went by the place was full – people for coffee, people for lunch, people dropping in just for a snack. We were shown our table and told to relax, which wasn’t difficult.

We started with an antipasto platter – refreshing and light – a tempting combo of Italian meats, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, with an interesting addition of pumpkin slices roasted with a selection of fresh herbs from the herb garden just outside.

For a main course, I chose beer-battered (local) fresh flathead fillets. My partner went for Japanese panko breadcrumb prawns, which have a coarser texture than ordinary breadcrumbs, and make for a much lighter and crunchier coating for deep-fried foods.

The meals were beautifully presented, but for someone who eats with gusto I felt there was too much on one plate to eat politely, which had me making a bit of a mess on the table. A side bowl for salads would be a good idea.

The flathead fell apart on each bite and the prawns were cooked to perfection.

For dessert, how could we resist Wendy’s homemade citrus lime tart? We didn’t even try – we gave in gracefully, and finished with Byron Bay coffee.

While we dined, we had friendly banter with interstate visitors staying in the park next door who had popped in for coffee. The whole occasion was friendly, happy and well worth the visit.

The owners, Paul King and Wendy Stephan, visited Iluka from Brisbane four years ago and found the café for sale. Three days later they became café owners. With backgrounds as a golf professional and accountant respectively, it was quite a sea change.

The café is in easy walking distance of almost anywhere in Iluka. If you are staying in Yamba, jump on the ferry that operates hourly, and you will be delivered to the front door of Makuti. Breakfast starts from $8, and lunch from $11.90.

The blackboard menu changes on a regular basis, and also offers regulars such as steak sandwiches, BLTs and smaller café meals.

They also have some lovely old-fashioned offerings, such as ‘spiders’, which I have not had for many years and they have a range of homemade cakes, muffins and scones.

Conclusion: Don’t expect silver service or an extensive À la carte menu. Expect exceptionally friendly service and an impressive meal at an affordable price in a stunning location.

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