On the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days, our time of course had to involve a hunt for delicious food. Little Boat Espresso had come to our attention on a previous trip, but we had not had time to make the detour. This time though, we did.
It had appeared on lists of recommended food on the Sunshine Coast, and having disappointed by pretty average fare at not cheap (tourist) prices so far, we headed there with a mix of hopefulness and wariness.
Located in a little row of shops a stone’s throw away from the beach, it certainly had a casual, laidback feel. The sign above the entrance was just barely legible, “little boat” in cursive wood brown on a wood brown background. A wooden cutout off a sailboat hung beneath it though, just a touch easier to see.
A black A-frame on the sidewalk spelled out their specials, and we were immediately more optimistic. The wooden pallet service and coffee counter right at the front of the eatery seemed the place to approach. There was an assortment of prettily decorated cake slices under glass at the counter, and they evidently did takeaway coffees. We stated that we would like a table for lunch though, and were invited to sit at any available table.
We made our way into the white-painted interior, past an assortment of different table and chair sets, ranging from bar-height farm-style long tables with different stools on each side, to little patio-type arrangements that would just about fit two. An eclectic collection of old paintings and pictures hung on the walls. We settled on a nicely lighted table at the back of the space, painted a park picnic table-reminiscent olive green, matched with white wooden chairs.
Water and menus were soon brought to the table, and we were asked if we had been there before. When we said that we had not, we were offered a welcome to the eatery, and it was explained that besides what was on the menu, there were specials (the ones we had seen on the A-frame), and that we should order and pay at the counter.
The menu was printed on one side of a single sheet of A3 size paper, but held interesting options, such as Gingerbread waffles and One pan eggs. They were certainly more creative than the offerings of the other cafes we had been to in the area. One of the weekend’s specials had already piqued our interest, and from the menu, we decided on the Okonomiyaki green pancake.
We placed our orders at the counter, and returned to the table. Music played over the speakers, laid back, chilled house music with instrumental piano, creating a relaxed feel. A loud rumble that turned into a roar caught us by surprise, and we worked out that the source was an airplane taking off from the not too far away Sunshine Coast Airport. It was brief, and only happened twice in the time we were at Little Boat, but it was startling.
The kitchen was towards the back of the space, not far from where we were, so we could watch food appearing on the pass before being taken away. The kitchen needed better extraction fans though, as smoke from cooking poured out into the eating space. While fans in the cafe tried to keep air moving, they didn’t quite do enough, and it was hard for clothes not to smell of cooking afterwards. Perhaps this was why there were more patrons towards the front of the cafe than near the back. (there was much better lighting in that back section though.)
It didn’t take long for coffees to arrive. Espresso being in their name, one would expect a certain focus on coffee. True to form, on the chalkboard black-painted wall behind the coffee counter was chalked what they had available as their single origin coffee, and what other blends were available, including for filter coffees.
The flat white had been done on the Brazilian single origin. The milk was well-textured, with a fine microfoam, and the coffee beneath had nutty cashew and caramel notes.
The soy iced latte had a good strength, with a pleasant depth and roundness. It had chocolate and caramel notes, and just a hint of fruitiness. They did charge 80c for soy, which is on the more expensive side, but it was the best iced latte we had had on the trip.
The first dish that came to the table (the second followed soon after) was one of the weekend specials, Smoked potato waffle with scallop ceviche, grilled mushroom, and lime. Served on a rustic, obviously hand-crafted dish with piecrust-like edges, the stated components were arranged on it like a clock face. We tasted each element before putting them together. The smoked potato waffles were just crisp on the outside, and had a squishy softness inside. They were lightly seasoned, and just faintly smoky rather than being overpoweringly so. The ceviche had tender scallop pieces, with a little citrussy zing. They were light-handed with the dressing, which meant that you could actually taste the scallop, which had natural sweetness. In some other ceviches we have had, the chefs drowned the seafood with their dressing so that you could taste nothing but the sour, spicy, or sometimes sweet dressing, negating the point of having fresh seafood there at all (Pastutso in Melbourne was one such very guilty party). The grilled mushrooms were also just that bit different, a mix of a variety of mushrooms, providing different textures. In that were tender oyster mushrooms, more stringy enoki, with a little caramelised and crisp where they had been browned, and a rubbery crunch from pieces of black fungus. When put together, they were tied together well with small amounts of the creamy mayonnaise. There was a wedge of lime for added zing if you wanted it, but we didn’t really need it.
The other dish we had was the Okonomiyaki green pancake with twice cooked pork jowl, and a fried egg, topped with chilli and coriander. This was also served on a similar hand-crafted dish to the other. The pork and okonomiyaki pancake were hidden under the fried egg and a nest of fresh coriander leaves. Uncovering it, we found that the okonomiyaki pancake was green indeed, packed with kale, spring onion, and other chopped up leaves. It had a good savoury flavour of its own, with the mix well balanced so that it clearly actually had contents rather than just being batter, but also held together well so you knew you were eating a pancake and not a salad. The twice cooked pork jowl was tender, and had a caramelised outside. It had a good meat to fat ratio, and quite literally melted in the mouth. Okonomiyaki must be drizzled with kewpie mayonnaise, or it just isn’t okonomiyaki. The creaminess, sweetness, and mild tanginess was a good sauce that melded with the other flavours. The fried egg that topped it still had a runny yolk. The chilli slices looked fiery, but didn’t carry too much heat. All combined, each mouthful was a delicious mix that had a variety of flavour notes.
All in all, we enjoyed the food we had at Little Boat Espresso. It was deftly put together, and in each case a clever mix of flavours and textures that worked well in combination. We couldn’t fault either the food or the coffees. The staff also made us feel welcome, coming back to check on how we found the food, and at the end telling us they hoped to see us again. They were small gestures, but also the things that make the difference between a place that is just somewhere you get food, and a place where you feel like you could be a local regular. Which is what gets people their local regulars, and repeat visitors. We would definitely recommend this as a stop for those visiting the Sunshine Coast.
Price point: $15 to $21 for things more substantial than eggs on sourdough.
Value: Pretty good.
Address: 3 Lorraine Ave, Marcoola
Phone: 0487 317 869
Website: Little Boat Espresso