Not up for ham glazing, turkey stuffing or cracker-joke groaning? These fine establishments will make your Chrissy lunch a festive affair.
New South Wales
The new wave of Australian dining has created a cluster of talented chefs all vying for attention but few have had the impact of Lumi’s Federico Zanellato, who takes a modern approach to Italian and Japanese food. As ripples kiss the wharf on Pyrmont Bay, floor-to-ceiling windows reveal harbour views. Inside, Zanellato’s supreme technique and application results in stunning aesthetics and damn deliciousness. His five-course Christmas Day menu ($235 per person) will replicate the journey of his menu proper. Think agnolotti accentuated by porcini butter, cumquat and octopus entwined in spaghetti or lime koshu and red-miso-lathered lamb.
Biota owner James Viles has helped define the food of the Southern Highlands through selective sourcing and an innate understanding of the cooking of his bounty. The result is refined and considered. His Christmas Day menu ($185) bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary with crab éclairs and slivers of goose ham followed by a classic slow-roasted rib-eye with heirloom vegetables and potato dumplings. A spin on pavlova, using local fruit, makes for the ideal summery swan song.
From Italy’s Sardinia to the foamy undertow of Freshwater, Giovanni Pilu and Marilyn Annecchini have given us, arguably, Sydney’s finest Italian restaurant. Pilu’s food is just as spectacular as his restaurant’s coastal setting and his Christmas Day menu ($230) is no different. Start with prawns and chilli mayonnaise before diving into curls of squid-ink malloreddus pasta with calamari, pencil leeks and eggplant. And lunch at Pilu wouldn’t be complete without the crunch and wobble of its signature suckling pig.
Australian Capital Territory
The Boat House by the Lake
Christmas lunch with a water view is hard to beat and the family steering The Boathouse by the Lake has dished it up for decades. The intimate, white-tablecloth setting is one of Canberra’s most stunning locations, with Lake Burley Griffin lapping gently on the foreshore and late-afternoon sun streaming through table-side windows. This year’s six-course dégustation includes pastrami-like Wagyu karubi (a cut taken from further down the belly) and yellowfin tuna sashimi dusted with shards of fried chicken skin and fresh Tasmanian wasabi. But it’s the dessert of beetroot curd with Dutch gingerbread and smoked Valrhona chocolate ice-cream that gets people talking. Love it or not, you’ll always remember it. Lunch for adults is $190 and for children, $90.
This converted house, first built in the 1890s, is a block back from Salamanca Place in Hobart’s historic Battery Point. Get into the spirit with Pagan’s Cerise apple cherry cider or pop a bottle of one of the state’s best cool-climate sparkling wines (we vote for Apogee’s Deluxe Vintage Rosé from Pipers River or the elegant Alexandra by Lake Barrington Vineyard). Yes, there will be turkey but Christmas lunch at Monty’s ($150) offers a contemporary take: ham hock and jowl will be accompanied by green apples, pickled cucumber and rye, followed by free-range turkey and root vegetables. Known for his technically complex but simply described desserts, chef Terry Clark is offering “cherries, oranges, pears, almonds and brandy”. Christmas will be even merrier after lunch, with Peter Althaus’s Domaine A Campaniac single-cask brandy in hand. Santa would approve.
Take the family on a festive vacation to Vietnam via France without leaving Brisbane. Sip Champagne and soak up the opulence of Libertine’s heritage-listed dining room. It may have all the trappings of an elegant Paris bistro but clever takes on Vietnamese-style share plates are the perfect way to celebrate Christmas Day ($109) in the subtropical Queensland climes. Whether it’s a delicate mouthful of coconut chilli crab or crackling roast pork belly, the Vietnamese balance of flavours make a fresh change from turkey.
Christmas, or Natale, in Italy is a boisterous, joyful celebration of families coming together around a big table for great food, wine and conversation. In Brisbane, the entire family can sit back and enjoy in a similar way at Popolo without anyone having to lift a finger. This version of the beloved pranzo di Natale ($105) enjoys one of Brisbane’s best views, taking in the river and the city skyline. Tradition holds that the feast begins with simple antipasti and continues over many shared courses as the wine flows. When the meal is over, the adjacent South Bank Parklands are ideal for a late-afternoon stroll or nap.
This is the box seat for Christmas dining, showcasing spectacular wall-to-wall views of Adelaide and tables on several levels so everyone can share the sights. It’s normally special-night-out territory where romantic couples can canoodle in comfort – the sort of place Liberace would have played while he waited for fame – but at Christmas you can settle in for a three-hour, four-course extravaganza. It all starts with olive bread and vichyssoise soup before moving on to a series of tasting plates that include Barossa chicken and ham hock terrine, glazed pork belly with carrot and date relish and, naturally, Christmas pud with sauce anglaise. Forget obtaining a seat next to the windows – they’re booked years in advance – but included in the $160 set price is a decent range of wines and other beverages.
A sea of white napery, crystal chandeliers and vast windows overlooking North Terrace and Parliament House (not that anyone will be in there): this is about as festive as Christmas gets in Adelaide, with what’s billed as the Christmas Day Long Lunch – a five-course feast ($169) that includes matching wines. You’ll start with seared scallop with pork floss then move on through roast duck breast with confit leg to Angus beef fillet with truffled potatoes and wild mushrooms, rounding up with a bitter chocolate tart with espresso cream and salted pistachio crumble. Some of Woodside Cheese Wright’s finest cheeses bring proceedings to a close.
While Cape Lodge’s annual Christmas get-together is open to all, only in-house guests will be able to walk home after lunch. Considering this year’s event will feature six courses and matching wines ($245), a post-meal siesta is a tantalising prospect indeed. Guests can expect plenty of up-market holiday cheer – think fancy seafood in the vein of handpicked Augusta crab with garden-grown pea panna cotta and crab toast, as well as a chocolate, cherry and chestnut log. And, in keeping with the restaurant’s own tradition, chef Michael Elfwing has confirmed that partridge farmed from nearby Wagin will also star.
Between his restaurants, books and TV appearances, Guillaume Brahimi is one of Australia’s best-known proponents of French cuisine but don’t go thinking the former rugby player is all about white tablecloths and toques. The menu at Bistro Guillaume, for example, might champion the classics but the room’s lime-green accents and views to the Crown Perth swimming pool suggest a fun rather than formal bent. The restaurant’s Christmas Day four-courser ($170) is also an ideal way to add a little joyeux to your Noël. While foie gras and chocolate delice are nods to the chef’s birthplace, seafood platters with smoked salmon, marron and oysters are dinky-di Aussie; ditto the mini pavlova for dessert. A kids’ three-course menu ($50) is also available and guests receive a beer, soft drink or glass of Champagne on arrival.
Andy Harmer is no stranger to premium ingredients. The chef is a perennial fan of high-end goodies such as foie gras, caviar and crayfish, which dot The Point Albert Park menu like so many delicious statements of intent. It’s a very contemporary approach to Euro-classic cuisine, meaning his special Christmas Day menu – $295 for six courses, plus amuse-bouche and petits fours – is in safe hands. Sure, you could go the buffet option ($195), featuring such festive favourites as turkey with redcurrant jelly, roast pork and cold seafood. But the main menu is Christmas with real elegance – and you get a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne on arrival. As an added bonus, the Albert Park fine-diner has been zhooshed in time for the season – its sleek, modern design capitalising on the gorgeous views of Albert Park Lake.
Matteo Pignatelli has been hosting Christmas lunches in his sumptuous Fitzroy dining room for 20 years and for many of his regulars, it’s as much a tradition as Carols by Candlelight. Chef Brendan McQueen puts his signature spin on the Christmas menu ($170), melding European and Japanese influences. Matteo’s is an Old World-influenced glamourpuss and the waiters are as polished as a Ferrari but, in Pignatelli’s irreverent hands, it’s a lighthearted occasion.
The Greeks sure know how to do Christmas right, even though they officially observe the occasion on January 7. (A minor technicality.) George Calombaris and co. celebrate in convivial style at his casual Greek taverna. The undulating terracotta-pot-covered ceiling is one of the city’s best design features and the vibe in the hands of the young waiters is Melbourne by way of Mykonos. This year’s five-course Christmas sharing menu – $145 for adults, $85 for children aged eight to 12 – will likely feature a bunch of Gazi favourites (will it be the fried saganaki and cumquat compote? The satiny taramosalata? Surely one of the souvlaki with the amazingly puffy flatbread will make an appearance?), as well as some special festive fare. Opa!