A new breed of restaurants is championing fare made from fresh, locally sourced produce inspired by the seasons and created with love.
Flying the regional Victorian flag for more than 30 years, Lake House co-owner and culinary director Alla Wolf-Tasker, who turned a once-barren spot beside a man-made lake into a gastronomic getaway, champions local artisan producers in her awarded European-leaning cuisine. Central Victoria struts its stuff across a menu at home with foraging and lesser-known ingredients grown for the Lake House kitchen (luma berries, anyone?). The restaurant asserts its philosophy with dishes such as Rivers and Lakes, a tasting plate of Murray cod, trout, eel and yabbies with watercress and wild fennel. The Cape Cod-esque dining room capitalises on views of the lake, while the service sums up the notion of country hospitality. It may be only 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne but you’ll want to stay the night.
One of Australia’s most forward-thinking restaurants, outside the town of Birregurra, near the surf coast of Lorne. Improbable? Yes but also improbably good. Owner and chef Dan Hunter – formerly of Mugaritz and the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld – is doing it for himself at this simple, elegantly kitted-out timber house amid a working kitchen garden. You’ll find interesting proteins here, from puffed beef tendon to wallaby tartare with a flutter of lemon myrtle. But in Hunter’s hands a vegetable can equally prove the base for crowd-wowing creativity, including his deep-fried parsnip skin filled with apple and parsnip mousse. Aesthetically obsessive and creatively driven, Brae is a bucket-list proposition.
A smart makeover and the installation of an asador (wood-fired grill) and Josper charcoal oven have turned a gastropub into the Latin-leaning Lamaro’s Bodega. It augurs well that chef Louis Naepels comes via Grossi Florentino and owner Colonial Leisure Group is affiliated with Greenvale organic free-range pig farm and properties on the Mornington Peninsula that supply lamb, beef and veg. The menu is a pork showcase in disguise: the highlight is suckling pig from the Josper with a ribbed deck of perfect crackle and jug of satiny cooking juices. Elsewhere it insinuates itself subtly, with nubs of chorizo adding verve to wood-grilled rockling fillet with diamond clams.
In 2007, when Chris March opened this restaurant, the term “locavore” wasn’t in widespread use so he trademarked the business name in Australia. Since then he’s stuck closely to the concept in his light and airy split-level wine bar/restaurant in Stirling’s leafy main street, with much of his family-farmed produce sourced from the Adelaide Hills. Staples include roast pumpkin gnocchi and snapper and blue swimmer crab fishcakes, while the daily blackboard menu features a popular tasting platter and dishes such as pan-fried mulloway with kipfler potatoes and pulled lamb shoulder with honey-roasted vegetables. The drinks list is completely local, with 50 Adelaide Hills wines – many by the glass – and nine South Australian gins on call.
When chef and co-owner David Swain opened his original Fino at Willunga, he left the back door to the kitchen open so locals could drop in seasonal treats. Nothing much has changed at Fino Seppeltsfield, where Swain has again raided the regional pantry – arguably richer and better developed than that of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Hiramasa kingfish from Port Lincoln and local tommy ruffs join a swag of Barossa produce in dishes such as slow-cooked Hutton Vale lamb shoulder with Farmer Hayden’s carrots or local quail with Domenico Torzi’s olives. Exposed white rafters and skylights create a semi-industrial feel in the main dining area, which has been given a sleek contemporary edge as part of Seppeltsfield’s redevelopment (see page 84).
New South Wales
They say fortune favours the brave but at Sixpenny it’s diners who reap the rewards of the owners’ courage. Daniel Puskas and James Parry’s mission to bring sophistication to the suburbs has become the epitome of a new wave of Australian dining. From the herb garden in the backyard of this former corner store to the vegetables grown on their own Southern Highlands plot, there’s a calming connection to the produce on their menu. The Scandinavian mid-century dining setting, olive-green walls and sketches of native flora also emit tranquillity. The chefs deliver each course with a brief dissertation. Toasted rye adds crunch to the dusky flathead. Oyster butter lavishes potatoes. Caramelised apple veils gelatinous pork belly. It’s not only the most considered orchestration of food of a time and place, it’s the future of dining in Australia, right now.
The notion of reduced food miles and connecting with the produce that grows in one’s locale is nothing new for chef Sean Moran (Sean’s Panaroma) but his latest venture, Tomah Gardens Restaurant, truly embodies the ethos. From the tables handmade by a local craftsman to plates procured from a provincial potter and a menu driven by produce sourced in the Blue Mountains and Bilpin, it’s a clear representation of the region. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the Botanic Garden, shedding natural light on a rustic menu that takes its cues from nature. Tarragon dominates roasted free-range chicken partnered on the plate with spuds, carrots and a lick of gravy. Fennel and Bilpin apple refresh dill-cured king trout, while honey butter drizzles joy over house-made blueberry scones. It’s fuss-free food you wish you could eat every day.
Pork belly burger for brekkie? Don’t mind if we do. Especially when the pork comes from the fat, happy pigs at Gooralie farm in Goondiwindi and arrives on a Crust & Company brioche bun with fennel and apple slaw, chilli jam and kimchi mayo. It’s just one of the options on the delightfully different menu, which manages to cover dainty, decadent, sweet and savoury without being stupidly long. The dainty includes smoked rainbow trout salad with pickled beets, quinoa and horseradish crème fraîche. On the sweet side there’s fluffy hotcakes with strawberries and cream, caramel dust and Bee One Third honey. Take a seat at the communal table, gaze at the wall-sized image of golden wheat bathed in sunshine then tuck in and imagine how good life would be if all food tasted this fresh.
At Gauge there’s cleverness and contradiction in equal measure – and that’s a big part of its appeal. At first glance it looks like a slick café but the menu smacks of fine dining. Why play it safe with eggs on toast for breakfast when there’s deliciously mysterious sweet-savoury black garlic bread with brown butter and burnt vanilla on offer? Later in the day, the steady flow of Coffee Supreme gives way to a compact, curated wine list. Take a chance on the amazing blood taco, with its umami hit of bone marrow, mushroom and native thyme, or the subtle raw Mooloolaba prawns with sesame milk, shellfish oil and ice plant.
77 Grey Street, South Brisbane
Foragers’ weekly dinners (BYO) are an ideal introduction to the produce of the Southern Forests. Owner Sophie Zalokar draws from the eco lodge’s kitchen garden and her extensive black book of local farmers to create truly seasonal – and delicious –snapshots of the region. Crisp on the outside, juicy within, goujons of lamb breast teamed with cardoons (artichoke thistles) and an anchovy mayonnaise are typical of Zalokar’s bold approach to flavour. Thoughtful sourcing, meanwhile, makes even the ho-hum likes of iceberg lettuce with sunflower seeds and salad cream anything but garden variety. Warm service adds to the homely charm, as do unfussy desserts such as chamomile cream with rhubarb jelly.
The locale might be inner-city Perth but Co-op Dining’s focus is Western Australia. Owner-chef Kiren Mainwaring searches high and low, across land and sand, for the ingredients that inform his freewheeling cuisine. Hogget reared in Gingin is the star of a sweet Indian curry, while Esperance sardines are transformed into elegant rollmops, with the fish’s frames resourcefully upcycled into crunchy fried skeleton “pretzels”. Fresh buttermilk curd, jamón-like hogget and surface-ripened Jersey-milk cheese betray the operation’s strong DIY ethos, as does a knack for house-made vermouth and kombucha.
Australian Capital Territory
With its grapevines, kitchen garden and smokehouse, it’s hard to believe Pialligo Estate is just 10 minutes’ drive from Canberra’s CBD. Its sophisticated Farmhouse Restaurant is a hit with locals, who love the open fires, wrought-iron chandeliers and exciting menu. Try wines from the estate alongside an entrée of heritage sweet potatoes with local walnuts, salted lemon and creamy buttermilk sauce. Muscovy duck breast is garnished with beetroot and black radish, while complimentary petits fours – homemade salted caramels and tonka bean doughnuts – are a spectacular finale.
The team at Pod Food has mastered one of life’s greatest pleasures: long, leisurely lunches. Choose a table in the airy dining room or on the shaded verandah, surrounded by borage plants, rows of lettuce, herbs and trickling water features. The focus is on slow, thoughtful food and there are plans to grow 90 tomato plants over summer. Salad ingredients are plucked from the garden and even the cheese – whipped curd included – is made locally in Canberra. An entrée of rich, earthy portobello mushroom is topped with silky goat’s cheese and homegrown kale – the perfect precursor to a hearty main of slow-cooked pork belly with roast pear and crunchy toasted grains.
The dynamic Chloe Proud, who was responsible for the interiors of Ethos, Providore and Vita, takes pride in supporting small-scale farmers with her cold-pressed juices. Bright, fresh and full of flavour, they include Huonville cherries, pear, apple, vanilla bean, apricot, peach, lemon, ginger and Earl Grey tea. At the front of Pigeon Whole Bakers, in The Mercury’s former Art Deco building, Tasmanian Juice Press also serves lunch, eat-in or take away. Try onigiri in miso with silverbeet, edamame and pickled bitter melon or soba noodles with spring onion, ginger, dry-fried cauliflower and green fresh things. There’s cold filter coffee by Pilgrim and raw vegan treats (mmm, Cherry Ripe slice) served on ceramics locally made by Lindsey Wherrett.
This atmospheric sun parlour adorned inside with greenery and ferns, parquet floors and opulent armchairs is just off the Bass Highway in Sassafras, in the state’s north. Interior designer Vonda Mason and her photographer husband, Glenn, established their provedore and café in Tasmania to be near their home town after frequently travelling overseas for the past nine years. Fittingly, it’s so full of fine things that you’ll want to stay from breakfast time (try the zucchini and corn fritters with 41° South Tasmania hot-smoked salmon, poached eggs, dill and herb oil) through to lunch and afternoon tea (sip boutique organic tea blends from Tea Tribe). If it’s just after midday, you may be tempted by a G&T made with Wilmot Hills Distillery’s Motorcycle Gin and if you’re lucky, previous café owner Graeme Brown may even pop in to tinkle on the keys of his 1910 Bechstein grand piano.
While diehard Darwin locavores rise in the dark on Sunday to buy their fresh produce at the Rapid Creek markets, those who prefer a sleep-in can rest easy and leave it to Amma’s Café. Owner Sonali Misra sources a cornucopia of local herbs and vegetables, transforming them into richly flavoured Sri Lankan dishes starring jackfruit, okra, bitter melon, eggplant, long beans and water spinach. Wednesday is vegetarian day but on the other days local fish – perhaps Spanish mackerel in a curry or baked spiced wild-caught barramundi – are stand-outs. Although the décor is basic, the service is charming and the value is exceptional: it’s BYO and for $13 you can expect a plate piled with rice, your choice of three dishes, a pappadum and yoghurt raita.