In my house we don’t eat McDonald's, KFC, Hungry Jack's, Red Rooster, Subway or any of the other fast food giants that litter this country’s major highways. This makes road trips a little more complicated, because while it's easier to acquiesce and eat junk, I try to hunt down real food (and no, I don’t mean Oliver’s Real Food). What makes me happiest is finding a small regional gem like The Laneway Cafe in the tiny coastal town of Iluka...
Set at the mouth of the Clarence River, Iluka is home to just under 2000 people. It’s a 36 kilometre round trip to The Laneway Cafe for lunch, but it's well worth the effort. While it doesn’t look like much from the front, the narrow laneway opens up into a relaxed, covered garden setting.
For owners Aaron Moon and Kieran Mutimer, The Laneway Café was part of a 'quieter lifestyle' choice, just over 3.5 years ago. They’re currently trotting out breakfast, lunch and Saturday night dinners, including the odd degustation. The succinct lunch menu contains just six dishes, plus a Prawn Salad ($17.50) special that hooked me at their on-street signboard. Promising fresh prawn meat, bamboo shoots, purple beans and mixed leaves, it proved even better than I imagined. The produce is top notch, starting with the tender, freshly prepared Moso bamboo shoots. The purple beans are fabulous, and I appreciate the prawn meat being removed from the shell. It’s all tied together with a great Thai-style dressing that's good enough to see me dragging my leaves through it to mop it all up.
I’m also pleased to note only one of the dishes on the lunch menu is a traditional sandwich. We pass it over in favour of Spicy Sichuan Chicken ($18.50) presented with lovely lightly pickled cucumbers, steamed local rice, and a bowl of mixed leaves. There’s great heat in this dish, and the portion size is perfect for lunch. The short menu is also weighted heavily towards vegetarians, with three of the six dishes containing no meat or seafood.
As we’re back to hitting the highway after lunch, we drink an Allpress Iced Coffee ($6) and an Organic Ginger Wort ($4) without even looking at their wine list. I’d happily come back to assess it properly though.
The Laneway Cafe Iluka
Shop 3, 63 Charles Street, Iluka
Ph: (02) 6645 7022