Cafe Mari-tapas

Café Maritana
1 Flinders Parade Barwon Heads

From the beginning, there were very high hopes for this restaurant.

I had seen it listed high on the Urbanspoon Barwon Heads list. We had originally wanted to have dinner there on our 2nd night at Barwon Heads, which was a Monday, but upon calling them I discovered they weren’t open Mondays.

So then, it was to be our last night there, a Tuesday night.

I called after midday that Tuesday, and an initially-sounding poshy lady answered the phone. After requesting a table for 2 adults and a toddler, she asked me if we had been there before, explaining it was no BYO as they were fully licenced.

She then asked how I had heard about them. I said intentionally, vaguely “oh, online. Some restaurant web site.” (Never mind Urbanspoon is a favourite on my toolbar).

“Like Urbanspoon?” she asked.

“Yeah, something like that.” Tee hee hee. I can’t reveal my blogger identity!

She then softened and took on a friendlier tone as she explained that Urbanspoon had been displaying some incorrect trading hours information for the restaurant, and my phone call must have meant they had rectified it. I did know what she was talking about, as their listing had led me to believe they were open on Monday. Also though, I’m a bit of a detective so I don’t rely solely on one website to help me find
what I’m after. When I want something, I enter stalker-FBI territory.

We had already had a great, fantastic night at Beach House the previous night. I wasn’t expecting another night like that. Although the Café Maritana web site mentioned Italian-style tapa dishes that I was really excited about, I wasn’t expecting that the entire night and the atmosphere and the food and the staff and the EVERYTHING, would equal that. It wasn’t likely, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up only to then be let down.

However, my hopes were up. Because it was our last night there, at Barwon Heads. In just less than a week we’d be back at work, our holidays over, and I’d be thinking of our next getaway. I was saying “I just want good food,” but I was lying. I wanted MORE.

We arrived at 6:30pm. We were positioned right near the front door, near a window that overlooked the Barwon Heads Bridge over the Barwon River. I had the view, and it was great.

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The staff were immediately appealing and friendly, very much so to baby girl. Phew, it was a good start. Also, there was already a families in there as well as a group of older women. Even with just those, it seemed echoey. We were sooooo relieved.

The woman who I’m guessing was the boss-lady, and quite possibly the one I spoke to on the phone, very quickly explained the menu concept to us. The menu was comprised of many share dishes, and diners were to tick with the pen supplied what dishes they wanted, and they would then slowly come out in a grazing fashion, the order at which they came out decided completely upon by the chef. I liked this. It was interesting, different, and would keep us guessing.

Boss-lady helped Hubbie work out what beer he should choose, and I got a lovely Jack Rabbit Pinot Grigio. Following that we started to receive the 5 share dishes we had ordered. First up was the –

Saganaki and Chorizo

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I am not the biggest fan of chorizo, but I loved this with the cheese. The saganaki was salty, and the chorizo was a nice meaty offset. With a squeeze of some lemon, this was made a very simple, yet divine dish. Warm, tasty, various complimenting flavours… I could have had more. We ate it up quickly.

Next up was the Garden (Green) Salad

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By name the garden salad sounded simple, but it was oh-so-yum. So yum and fresh. It’s made me think differently about salads to be honest, and now I want to reinvent the way I do salads because of that salad! Salads don’t have to be boring! This one had yellow, green and red tomatoes, fresh lettuce and feta cheese that wasn’t overpowering, and I say this not because I don’t like cheese (I LOVE CHEESE) but because I was surprised it didn’t have a stronger feta taste. As it was it totally blended in to the other ingredients.

Then, came the Beer Battered chips

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These were the majority of baby girl’s meal! They were great, but as chips go kind of what I would have expected, nothing out of the ordinary or special to be honest. They came with aioli on the side, and I did notice the darker than usual chip colour, at first wondering if the oil they used was as fresh as it should be, and even Hubbie thought the same. But we both realised that perhaps it was the batter that made it look darker, and I had reason to question and compare, as the fries we’d gotten at Beach House the previous night had been golden and crisp.

Fourth of our selections was the Eye Fillet with a beetroot salad

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It was cooked perfectly, pink and moist in the middle, however the marinade on the outside had made it char slightly whilst grilling. Still lovely, but I had preferred the one I’d had the night before. This was Hubbie’s primary dish though, so I didn’t mind.

And finally… the Garlic Prawns

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My dish came last: the garlic prawns in broth. Yum. The prawns were beautifully warm, hot even, kept so in the broth, and there were some hard pieces of bread on the side. With the carb overload on the beer battered chips, my initial response was to leave most of the bread, as by this stage I was starting to fill up. However all that garlic-y prawn-y liquid looked too good to waste, so I decided to do what was clearly suggested to me by the meal and dip some bread into the broth. The flavour of the prawns kept well in the hard bread made soggy, and surprisingly I had most of the bread this way! It made it very edible. This prawn dish was just superb.

I think the order of arrival was spot on. It wasn’t in order in terms of where they had been on the menu, but in terms of what you should graze on first, it was perfect.

We were on a bit of a roll. Our dishes had been great, and the ambience and staff were matching too. The restaurant had steadily filled up post 7pm, and there were more families in there as well as couples. Generally, more of an older crowd were in at this time, and happily, at least one person from each party smiled at baby girl as they walked by us near the entrance. It was hard to ignore her there, what with her waving at them on arrival and reaching out and trying to grab people! They were all so lovely though. The volume of people made the noise in there even more so, so we were blending in really nicely.

Our waitress was really very friendly, and so sweet to baby girl. She acknowledged her all the time, even doing a little peek-a-boo with her as she stood in the kitchen where baby girl had spotted her. She was genuinely sweet and friendly, and this makes a difference too, as you can spot pretension and fake-friendliness a mile away. She was a breath of fresh air.

Unlike Annie’s, this place just had a happy, more jovial mood, and as Hubbie observed, even one of the crankiest looking diners sitting nearby, an older man, smiled when baby girl started her usual squeals of delight.

I wondered: was it the place, the vibe that was different? Was it the fact that people are more relaxed at the end of the day and more allowing of noise emanating from young children, more so than at the start of the day when they need a little longer to get used to short outbursts? Did dinner at Maritana win out over brekkie at Annie’s solely due to the time of day? That may have had a little to do with it, if I’m going to allow that tiny out for Annie’s. But it wasn’t the only thing that made it different. Without a doubt, the feel at Café Maritana was far more welcoming, and I guess I’ll know for sure next time we’re in town and we head over for breakfast to confirm.

We couldn’t fit much more in after all that food, but it was our last night so we had to have our fave, the affogato

And I just couldn’t go past my old faithful, the chocolate mousse

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They arrived as Hubbie was walking baby girl around outside to give her a high-chair break, and having had such an amazing night so far, in all aspects, I was slightly horrified when the affogato was set down at the table, like this:

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Coffee was already poured over it. (If you don’t understand my horror, click here for an explanation). I tried to keep in mind that everything else had been great, trying to still the disappointment that was brewing inside. I waited for Hubbie to return and we exchanged a bit of a look. However, he didn’t seem too fussed as he tasted it, informing that it was spectacular. I had to agree. Even the presentation, though very simple, was done in a rather rustic look, much like the French old-school style that was evident throughout the restaurant, with little French mementos and Parisian city-landscape decals planted on the windows, and the big barrel that sat near the front entrance making you feel like you’d just sat down at a winery on that side of the world.

But still…. I really would have liked to taste the coffee on its own first.

The choc mousse was nice, and at one point I found it a bit much on top of all those share meals in my tummy, but then I think I got used to it and I even found it quite light to eat. I ate almost all of it before hitting a food-wall, which is when I got Hubbie to help me out.

The nice touch that took the restaurant from evening to night was the string of fairy lights that turned on above us, scattered across the ceiling in a romantic fashion, and surprisingly a movie was also projected onto the wall near me, an older movie that I didn’t catch, but I saw Audrey Hepburn and could immediately understand the old-school feel they were trying to emulate with it. I found it interesting how they did appear to go from family-friendly to romantic and still keep everyone happy throughout the night.

Food: 9/10. Taste and presentation, as well as the premise, were on the money.

Coffee: 7.5/10. It tasted good, I just needed to try it on its own!

Ambience: Fantastic, perfect for us. It was busy, family-friendly, yet was still able to retain some sense of intimacy and romanticism as the night wore on… maybe due to the fairy lights, the movie on the wall, or Audrey?! It had a lively happy vibe.

Staff: Great, exceptional. From our waitress to boss-lady, even to the chef who smiled over at baby girl’s shrieks, they were all AWESOME.

People: Family crowd, older couples, mid-40 couples, making way for slightly younger couples and smaller groups as the night wore on (maybe the fairy lights wooed them in :))

Price: Actually, pretty decent considering what you’re getting. Our bill came to $136, slightly less than what we’d paid at Beach House the previous night. And that total included 5 share meals, 4 drinks and 2 desserts. Not bad. The most expensive meal on our bill was the eye fillet, and at $26, for what you’re getting, even with the ‘share’ serve, it was a steal. This place isn’t expensive at all, maybe mid-range I’d say. Definite value for money here.

Advice: Book ahead. I think everyone generally likes that. You can sit inside, or in the two outdoor areas on the sides of the restaurant. Go on a lovely day, so you can work off your scrumptious meal with a short stroll across the road at the park, or the beach.

In a nutshell: Italian-style tapas is something that excited me, and I’ll keep thinking of them for a long time after, until we get a chance to go back and sample some more amazing share meals. We’ll definitely breakfast here next time we’re in town. The price and staff and ambience and amazing location are all the bonuses that make this the best place to dine at in Barwon Heads. Hands down.

Cafe Maritana on Urbanspoon


3 thoughts on “Cafe Mari-tapas

  1. Pingback: Affogatos rock at the Swish Beach House | smikg

  2. Pingback: At ‘home’ with Lebanese cuisine | smikg

  3. Pingback: Italian Tapas | smikg

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