Want to get to know the real Australia? In addition to dipping a toe on its salty shores or kicking up dust in the sunburnt desert, book a table at one of its leading restaurants. Some embody the local culture with a stunning waterside location or a menu proudly bolstered by native Australian ingredients - whatever the drawcard, if you’re the kind of traveller who eats their way around a destination, add the below to your Australian bucket-list.
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.
Is every Adelaidean a locavore? In a sense, yes – the city benefits from a central position amid regions such as the Clare Valley and the Fleurieu Peninsula, all delivering some of the most delicious produce in the country. Orana, a fine-dining restaurant that has a global reputation for inventive dishes, is an exercise in expert foraging and finishing.You’ll often find the remnants of head chef Jock Zonfrillo’s foray into the nearby Hills for a forage, as well as local wines that never fail to stun.
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.
Regularly scooping awards, praise and attention is Ben Shewry’s Attica, a Ripponlea fine-diner that spotlights Native Australian produce with passion and flair. There’s no choice to be made, only a multi-plate tasting menu which often tips well into double digits. Taking you on journey through some of Australia’s traditional and most unique culinary corners, the dishes are populated with foraged treasures such as witchetty grubs, kelp and finger lime ensuring that you’ll get more than a meal – you’ll get an education.
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.
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.
Taking over an old Art Deco apartment, Perth’s Balthazar immediately strikes diners with a sleek, inviting warmth. The menu rejects the appeal of the delicate, overdone dish – it’s just good food, done well (done better if you make your way around the expertly selected wine list).
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.
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.
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.
What does it take to keep a kitchen running for over 25 years? Unfailing and unpretentious food, a rock-solid wine list and welcoming staff, according to E’cco Bistro, one of the city’s stalwart spots for a fabulous meal. Choose from hearty favourites including pork belly finished with orange marmalade and fennel, or the quail, doused in sunshine-coloured harissa.