Flashy new restaurants open almost weekly in Australia but there’s something deeply comforting about the quiet confidence of a classic; a venue that’s stayed true to its philosophy for decades.
Buon Ricordo, NSW1/21
Serene and sophisticated, Launceston’s Stillwater quickly became one of Tasmania’s most beloved restaurants when it opened in 2000. Coming on board nine years later, co-owner and executive chef Craig Will elevated the offering to new heights using top-notch local produce, such as Cape Grim beef and fruit and veg grown in his own back garden.
Flower Drum, Vic3/21
Original owner Gilbert Lau opened his Cantonese classic in its current elegant CBD location in 1985 (after 10 years in Chinatown) and the Peking duck quickly became the stuff of legend. Since 2003, the restaurant has been run by one of its original executive chefs, Anthony Lui, and his son, Jason, who are proud custodians of Flower Drum’s unwavering commitment to quality and service.
Enjoy Inn, Qld4/21
The bustling Enjoy Inn is a mainstay of Brisbane’s Chinatown, delighting diners with old-school Chinese restaurant touchpoints, such as lazy Susans, live seafood and yum cha since 1983 (167 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley; 07 3252 3838). It’s still run by the Cheung family and regulars say the san choy bao is the best in the city.
Chat Thai, NSW5/21
The original in Darlinghurst, which opened in 1989, is no more and matriarch Amy Chanta sadly passed away in 2021 but the Chat Thai spirit lives on in its flagship Thaitown restaurant, where you’ll still see queues outside whenever the par tuhng go (doughnuts with pandan sauce) are fresh from the wok.
Image credit: Balthazar
At a time when new restaurant “concepts” are appearing beneath every cookie cutter apartment development, there’s something uniquely beautiful about Balthazar, which has sat at the base of a picturesque Art Deco block in Perth since 1998. It remains a cherished destination for refined, Euro-leaning fine-dining and a focus on local producers.
There are few better examples of a classic seaside restaurant than Noosa’s popular Sails, with its absolute waterfront location on Main Beach making it feel as though you’re practically wiggling your toes in the sand. The ceviche with tropical tones of coconut, chilli and lime is an example of the salt-and-sun cuisine that the Sunshine State
Bright and cheerful Estia sits by the sand of Adelaide’s iconic Henley Beach and is credited with popularising mezze, ouzo and Greek Island vibes in the South Australian capital since 1992. Earlier this year, tennis champ Novak Djokavic chose the restaurant for a vegan Greek feast when he visited the city to compete in the Adelaide International tennis festival.
Image credit: Capri Fremantle
From the red-and-white striped awnings to popular pastas, Capri is the sort of welcoming Italian joint that every neighbourhood needs. Its first incarnation opened in 1954 and it has been lovingly run by members of the Pizzale family ever since, with nonna Maria, daughter-in-law of the original owners, still very much boss of the Fremantle favourite.
Image credit: Hanuman
A classic Top End fusion of Thai, Nonya and Indian cuisines, Hanuman was opened by chef Jimmy Shu in Darwin in 1992. The barramundi curry with coconut and turmeric even gives the city’s famous laksas a run for their money.
This unapologetically authentic French brasserie has charmed South Yarra regulars since 1986 and it’s one of the best places in the country to enjoy French classics that pay little mind to fads. Escargots, moules marinière and crème caramel are served alongside drops from an extensive French-leaning cellar.
Image credit: Kate Shanasy
Grossi Florentino, Vic12/21
The Bourke Street home of Grossi Florentino began life as Café Florentino in the 1930s and changed hands several times before being taken over by the Grossi family in 1999. The multi-area restaurant’s Mural Room contains heritage art that’s almost 100 years old and the whole venue is known for genuine Italian hospitality.
Quay is almost infallible in its position atop the city’s best restaurants. Still, head chef and mastermind Peter Gilmore didn’t rest on his laurels – Quay was reinvented in look, feel and taste in 2018. The menu remains boundary-pushing and delicate; dishes like the puffs of smoked eel cream studded with Osetra caviar are an edible canvas, while the lauded Snow Egg has a worthy successor in the White Coral, a white chocolate ganache coaxed into a coral-like construction, hiding feijoa ice-cream and coconut cream underneath.
Being huddled into a sail of Sydney’s Opera House affords this fine diner a near-permanent spot on lists that gather the country’s most emblematic eateries. That, and a menu as singular as its location. Each dish is as pretty as a picture but once you summon the courage to tear into piles of wild fish with oyster cream and salted lime or blueberry-dotted confit duck, you’ll hit the plate in no time.
Nationally, Adelaide has a reputation for being a sleepy sort of place. Locals know better, though, especially when raucous restaurants like Africola consistently serve up an exciting brand of edible electricity. Everything about this Afro-centric corner spot is loud – the decor, the ambience, the food and its head chef, Duncan Welgemoed, who can often be found at the pass serving up personality along with the finished dishes.
Chin Chin, Vic16/21
Nothing epitomises Melbourne’s essence like this loft-feel venue. Somehow simultaneously timeless and on-trend, the Flinders Lane restaurant is damn tasty, too; brace for South East-Asian effervescence in the form of aromatic curries, juicy salads and sticky, salty and spicy meats. The tasting menu for groups is a no-brainer – there’s barely anything on the menu you won’t want to sample.
Image credit: Lean Timms
Bar Rochford, ACT17/21
Need proof that Canberra isn’t as straight-laced as its grid-like streets and manicured lawns? Visit Bar Rochford, a wine bar unlike other wine bars, which occupies an upstairs space in the capital’s oldest edifice, the Melbourne Building. Alongside its healthy list of tipples, this rustic and intimate space serves some of the best food in the country, a simple, relaxed smattering of delicious things including pairings of kangaroo and macadamia and blackberry or kingfish with pineapple and jalapeno.
Perth’s Wildflower puts an elegant foot forward into the city’s hospitality scene with dedicated focus native Australian cultivation, cooking techniques and ingredients. The menu is informed by the Noongar calendar, the six seasons recognised by the Indigenous community, and everything stems from here.
Longitude 131°, NT19/21
With your feet in the desert and the stars as your ceiling, there are few eateries with more ambience than Longitude 131°. The drawcard is unquestionably its aspect towards towering Uluru but the food is no second fiddle; each ingredient is sustainably sourced and carefully handled, with special attention paid to native spoils such as macerated quandongs or tarragon-spiked lobster.
Rick Shores, Qld20/21
Breezy and perched on the Burleigh Heads beachfront, Rick Shores delivers more than just delicious food. Echoing the stunning view over the Pacific, the menu focuses on seafood in all its tasty forms: there’s a fried bug roll with crisp lettuce and Sriracha, a fresh burst of kingfish sashimi with persimmon and ponzu or a barramundi and pandan leaf curry.