From an intimate dinner with friends to an exclusive business lunch, these private dining rooms – catered by some of Australia’s finest chefs – are elegant, ambient and often suitably subterranean.￼
Acland St Cantina
The subterranean Acland St Cantina is an Instagrammer’s paradise: a Day of the Dead fantasia complete with decorative skulls, votive candles and plenty of intimate nooks and crannies. But it features even further depths: its 14-seat private dining space is a wine cellar that’s as glossy-magazine-worthy as the restaurant proper with its carefully judged aesthetic of rough-edged concrete, exposed ceiling beams and a world of wine lining the walls (though going the tequila route is equally acceptable). The entire Prince complex has a new head hombre, chef Daniel Southern, who keeps the party going with Cantina’s Tex-Mex menu of tacos – including Baja-style fish – guacamole with corn chips and, of course, the odd mole. Olé!
2 Acland Street, St Kilda; (03) 9536 1175
SEE ALSO: Australia’s Best Suburban Restaurants
Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel
A member of pub royalty, the Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel recently enjoyed an expensive makeover best described as “modern baronial manor”. It’s entirely in keeping with the food, which is meaty and manly. New chef and owner Sean Donovan is best known for revitalising Footscray’s Station Hotel into the pub of any carnivore’s fevered dreams and has worked the same magic here. It’s not only grass-fed steak (with the signature tarragon-driven béarnaise) coming off the wood-fired barbecue; there’s also king prawns in a bright, caper-led salad and buttery whole flounder. Or veer off-piste to the produce-driven pleasures of gooey burrata, grilled zucchini, basil and black olives. When it’s party time, gather 14 of your closest friends and head downstairs to the old wine cellar – a cosy hidey-hole lined with red bricks and vintage wine signs.
166 Johnston Street, Fitzroy; (03) 9416 5055
The native habitat of Melbourne’s young and lovely set, The Smith is a see-and-be-seen place where the cocktails are frivolous (Oriental Mistress, anyone?) and the trend-conscious food from Michael Lambie is licensed to thrill a crowd with a short culinary attention span. It’s a travelling flirt-fest from South-East Asia to Mexico: oysters are dabbed with pork belly and kimchi; prawn-stuffed, tempura-battered betel leaves are served with a refreshing ponzu dipping sauce; and soft-shell crab gets the Latin treatment in a tortilla with avocado, black beans and a whack of jalapeño. Retreat from the madding crowd – or invite it along with you to the private dining spaces upstairs that seat up to 70 and are kitted out with Eames chairs, vintage posters and interconnecting balconies.
213 High Street, Prahran; (03) 9514 2444
Reviews by Larissa Dubecki
This reclaimed prewar power station is not only a vibrant creative hub for Brisbane’s arts and music scene, it also houses a semi-private dining room for a maximum of 28 people. Nestled within Bar Alto, at the rear of the venue, the space features beautiful views of the Brisbane River and New Farm Park through soaring windows on two sides. Begin the shindig with cocktails on the deck overlooking the river then head inside, past the graffitied walls and weathered concrete pillars, to be seated beneath a constellation of industrial bare bulbs suspended from the high ceiling. Dine on delicate gnocchi with local spanner crab, chilli and fennel or Venetian-style crespelle filled with ricotta, pumpkin and burnt sage butter, followed by grilled lamb rump with figs. Don’t be fooled by the name; this smart, contemporary Italian restaurant offers a range of dishes in keeping with its creative surroundings.
The Powerhouse, 119 Lamington Street, New Farm; (07) 3358 1063
Public has a range of private dining options tucked away upstairs from the bustling bar and restaurant. The wood-panelled Library seats 12 and is intimate and stylish in a slightly scholarly way, with wingback leather armchairs and couches for lounging after the deal is done. The larger Dining Room lends itself just as well to boardroom meetings as it does to formal dinners for 20. Or combine the two spaces and make it your own for a cocktail function for up to 45 guests. Menus are designed for ultimate flexibility while encompassing the fun, edgy food and booze for which Public is renowned. Canapés include the excellent emu tartare with soy, pork with kimchi and crackling, and brisket with salsa verde. Hearty share plates like slow-cooked lamb shoulder or whole river trout feature on the banquet menu. The KFD (Kentucky fried duck) served in brown paper bags is a great way to get the party started.
Upper Level 1, 400 George Street, Brisbane; (07) 3210 2288
Reviews by Morag Kobez
Keep your eyes peeled for high-profile politicians when you sit at Wild Duck’s comfortable cushioned booths. Our prime minister made headlines when he dined here with controversial MP Clive Palmer in 2014. It’s modern Asian cuisine served by slick, attentive staff amid traditional wooden furnishings and it’s a great place to cut deals or enjoy a team lunch in one of five private rooms, each seating eight to 16 people or up to 40 if the spaces are combined. Share dishes such as crisp fried duck infused with sweet caramelised ginger vinegar and the theatrical dragon-shaped eggplant, lightly fried and perched on a bed of crisp noodles. Mr Palmer gave the banana split rave reviews but a Hakushu single-malt whisky is an even better excuse to linger.
Shop 77-78, 71 Giles Street, Kingston Foreshore; (02) 6232 7997
With its soft lighting, sparkling silver and mellow acoustics, Courgette lives up to its reputation for elegance. Owner-chef James Mussillon treats patrons to European-inspired dishes punctuated by foams, emulsions and flowers. This fine-diner, which offers a four-course dinner for $88, entices a steady stream of locals celebrating milestones. Suits settle inside private rooms for long lunches featuring seared yellowfin tuna with wasabi mousse and finger lime pearls. Sous-vide Angus beef with red cabbage gel and port-thyme jus is best served in the 10-seat Cellar Room, where you’re surrounded by stunning wines, including aged rieslings.
54 Marcus Clarke Street, Civic; (02) 6247 4042￼
Reviews by Lucy Barbour
Rockpool Bar & Grill
While many come to Rockpool to be seen, Neil Perry’s western outpost is equipped to handle more discreet outings. The restaurant’s elegant 10-person Boardroom is perfect for a power lunch, while the airy River Room can host up to 22 guests. Regardless of where you’re sitting, Perth’s most comprehensive menu is yours. A quenelle of lush steak tartare is typical of the kitchen’s modern-steakhouse magic. But juicy charcoal-roasted rankin cod suggests beef (dry-aged in-house) is only part of the Rockpool story. The rockstar cellar puts the world of wine at your fingertips and light and fluffy doughnuts maintain that simple-luxe aesthetic through to the finish.
Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood; (08) 6252 1900
Is there a better-looking restaurant in Perth? A fantasy of polished Carrara marble, floor-to-ceiling glass and Scandi furnishings, Wildflower knows how to make an impression. Jed Gerrard’s menu inspired by native ingredients is as head-turning as the room’s fourth-storey views. Marron, Western Australia’s freshwater crayfish, is cleverly teamed with saltbush, lemon myrtle and a nutty brown butter. A cold cream flavoured with native basil adds an anise note to raw and sweet Shark Bay scallops, while Davidson plum is the hometown hero in a pork belly and tenderloin one-two. Wildflower is special-occasion dining, especially if you’re sitting in the 20-seat private space to the side of the main room.
State Buildings, 1 Cathedral Avenue, Perth; (08) 6168 7780
Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen
Black Cow Bistro
This handsome Art Deco bistro in a former butcher shop in Launceston’s CBD seats 40 people in the restaurant and up to 12 in the semi-private dining room. Although Black Cow Bistro is renowned for its grass-fed, dry-aged beef (that’d explain the name), there’s plenty of seafood, such as the kingfish sashimi with shaved radish, palm sugar and yuzu kosho dressing. If slow-cooked Robbins Island rump with roast garlic jus, sauerkraut and leaves doesn’t get your mouth watering, you might prefer oven-baked pink ling with sweet-corn purée, chargrilled asparagus and watercress. However, everyone will agree on the Eton mess with lemon curd and Marsala berries.
70 George Street, Launceston; (03) 6331 9333
In this charming 1840s cottage north of Hobart, private dining rooms can be set up in a number of configurations for four to 10 people. It’s all very refined (as evidenced by the range of glasses laid out on the late Georgian credenza) and owner-chef Scott Minervini sends out welcome gougères filled with blue-cheese panna cotta. Lebrina is one of the only restaurants where you can enjoy Peter Althaus’s 2005 Domaine A HPA Wood Matured Chardonnay (only 900 bottles were made), which is a heavenly match with the potato gnocchi filled with venison and rosemary or the twice-cooked soufflé of Heidi Farm Gruyère. Stick with the Tasmanian wines and pair the beef eye fillet tagliata with the (decanted) first pinot noir released from Domaine Dawnelle (2013). Then end on toasted brioche with lemon ice-cream, candied cumquats and lemon curd, paired with the Coal River Valley’s 2009 Craigow Gewürztraminer.
155 New Town Road, New Town; (03) 6228 7775
Reviews by Jo Cook
Coal Cellar + Grill
The $6-million transformation of the Hilton’s former Grange restaurant and lobby area now has Coal Cellar + Grill as its centrepiece, providing a close-up view of its massive charcoal grill and rotisserie, where one-kilogram Angus Tomahawk steaks and whole baby barramundi get the treatment. It’s a cleverly designed space that provides several discrete dining options, including four surrounding private rooms accessed through sliding doors – ideal for small private dinners or larger corporate events. Beyond the grill, dining alternatives include dishes such as squid-ink-cured ocean trout with lemon myrtle tapioca and a salad of compressed and grilled watermelon infused with sangria and topped with a feta, apple and pistachio crumble. A glass-encased 3000-bottle wine cellar sits next to the bar.
Hilton Adelaide, 233 Victoria Square, Adelaide; (08) 8237 0697
Chloe’s 140-year-old bluestone mansion features fine antiques, a wine cellar filled with well-aged treasures and modern dishes by chef Johnny Triscari. There’s no better place to enjoy them than in Chloe’s Georgian Room, named for its authentic Georgian trappings that include a mahogany dining table seating up to 24, flanked by Georgian mirrors from a Scottish castle and lit by English and French chandeliers. French doors open to the terrace, with gardens that insulate diners from a busy traffic intersection over the wall. The smaller Louis Tannert Room can accommodate 12. Triscari offers an eight-course dégustation as well as signature dishes such as Kangaroo Island marron with a crisp duck skin salad and smoked duck breast with chargrilled eggplant and sautéed miso mushrooms.￼
￼36 College Road, Kent Town; (08) 8362 2574￼
Reviews by Nigel Hopkins
New South Wales
Bar H Dining
Descend a staircase made of train sleepers and step into a candlelit den for one of the most inspired contemporary Asian feasts Down Under. Bar H Dining's chef and co-owner, Hamish Ingham, earned his stripes as head chef of Kylie Kwong’s Billy Kwong and here the menu shines a light on his love of Chinese and Japanese. In fact, Chuka dishes – Japanese-style Chinese – are rarely seen in Australia and Ingham’s lively interpretation is accentuated by the vibrant wine bar setting. As guests get well lubricated and sated at street level, groups of up to 24 gather for the feast beneath at their own private party. Expect deliciously plump wagyu beef dumplings with a Sichuan dressing, crisp then gelatinous pig’s ears with soya bean salad and kombu-cured Black Angus with yuzu miso.
80 Campbell Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9280 1980￼
Bistro Guillame CBD
Chef Guillaume Brahimi is reconnecting with French techniques in delicate and considered dishes that highlight best-in-season produce. Kick back and let one of Australia’s finest Frenchies reveal his hand like few others can. There’s duck à l'orange with a touch of endive or a decadent twice-baked souffle. The semi-private dining room has a glimpse of the main dining area.
259 George Street, Sydney
Forget oscillating. This place rocks the suburbs – not with music but with the palate of owner-chef Karl Firla, perhaps Australia’s most underrated chef. Firla’s innate connection with produce underpins precision technique, which is challenging our perception of the neighbourhood restaurant. Oscillate Wildly's tiny two-storey shopfront space with white walls and a big black bar leads upstairs to a private dining room that accommodates up to 16 on a large square table. Firla allows sophistication and simplicity to rule each creation. Blushing beef gets a slap from horseradish. Eggplant tempers the sweetness of pork cheek. Cauliflower calms the richness of foie gras “snowflakes”. It’s as breathtaking, aesthetically, as it is appetising. ￼
275 Australia Street, Newtown; (02) 9517 4700
Reviews by Anthony Huckstep
Other Cosy Restaurants
Intimate dining spaces are having a moment. Why? Because there are times when you just want dinner - without the show. Here's where to go with a party of two or three for an intimate, cosy, convivial dining experience.
Unassuming but elegant, Sixpenny in Sydney’s Inner West is a true neighbourhood eatery. “We aspire to [re-create] the experience of being invited over to a friend’s house for dinner," says restaurant manager George Papaioannou of the 35-seater. It's housed in a modest corner shopfront with no theatrics, no clattering open kitchen or outré art. Instead, low-key soft furnishings, thoughtful lighting and food served with heart make dining here “feel familiar”.
It could be that intimate spaces like Sixpenny are a backlash against the brash, boisterous alternatives that have long defined so many Australian restaurants – all showiness and razzle-dazzle, from décor to music. And it’s a sensibility that’s gaining traction.
In Victoria, there’s the small but perfectly formed Igni, which caters to just 28 patrons. And in Brunswick Heads on the Far North Coast of NSW, the tiny Fleet serves 14; its compact size matched by the restrained, seasonal menu. Witness, also, two new micro Japanese eateries in Melbourne: the 16-seater Ishizuka, which focuses on traditional kaiseki haute cuisine, and Tempura Hajime, where a mere 12 diners gather around a central bar for morsels of deliciousness. And you might sit elbow to elbow at the 20-seater Templo in Hobart but the experience feels convivial rather than claustrophobic. Sometimes the best things really do come in small packages.
By Alexandra Carlton
A huge, lantern like installation cocoons diners at Melbourne's Ishizuka.
Image credit: Felix Forest