A raft of regional dining stars are putting small-town Australia on the map – simultaneously creating thriving food- and wine-based communities. Set your compass for the nation’s top places to eat around in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and more.
Image credit: Jana Langhorst.
You never know what you’ll get on a Provenance (pictured top) menu but it will be refined, experimental, knock-you-sideways delicious and will almost always have a Japanese twist – think duck heart yakitori or soy milk pudding with chocolate mochi. Never one to shy away from creativity, chef Michael Ryan has decided to ditch the restaurant’s previous six- and eight-course set menus and introduce a kaiseki-style offering of four courses, each featuring a number of small dishes, served on lacquer trays. “It will reduce contact, allow me to change the menu constantly and give diners many more things to try,” says Ryan.
The atmosphere: The open fire and muted colour palette combine to create an elegant country feel.
Where to stay: The 1850s bank building where the restaurant is housed also has two king-sized guestrooms decorated with Asian-influenced furnishings and one self-contained apartment with its own fully equipped kitchen and lounge room.
While you’re in town: Sample the venues that make Beechworth such a brilliant proposition. There’s Bridge Road Brewers, with its 20-tap tasting bar, and café-deli Project Forty Nine, which is proudly parochial. And the wine region’s chardonnay is just one reason to take a road trip around its cellar doors.
The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery
Image credit: Luke Burgess.
New Norfolk, Tasmania
Farm-to-table has become something of a cliché in Australian cooking but few do it with the steady hand, experience and endless generosity of The Agrarian Kitchen’s co-owners, Rodney Dunn and Séverine Demanet. On a storybook patch of the island state, the restaurant’s bounty is picked, plucked and fished locally, including fresh produce and livestock from its nearby farm. The takeaway kiosk – more like an upmarket bakery – that was opened during lockdown will still be serving rolled sponges with homemade jam and vegetable pasties filled with garden greens. As at many other eateries, à la carte has made way for set menus that will change constantly to make the most of the best ingredients avaiable each day.
The atmosphere: Dunn’s ethos is “casual excellence” and the service has the same honesty and authenticity as the food.
Where to stay: The colonial-era Glen Derwent Heritage Retreat bed and breakfast consists of a main house and two self-contained cottages, the Master’s Stable and Tank Cottage, filled with antique furnishings. You can book a single room or cottage, or the entire property.
Image credit: Sabine Bannard.
Run by local chef Ben Devlin (ex-Halcyon House) and his wife, Yen Trinh, pretty Pipit is one of the most renowned restaurants on the Tweed Coast and a celebration of woodfired cooking and bountiful Northern Rivers produce. During lockdown, the restaurant began serving Vietnamese takeaway packs featuring banh mi, doughnuts and iced coffee, which it’s still offering for a fresh lunch. They also have special dine-and-do packages, such as food photography workshops and wine tastings, to get you ready for feasting.
The atmosphere: Coastal, cheerful and communal – in a socially distanced way, of course – with a busy open kitchen and charcoal firepit.
Where to stay: Blink and you’re in the Greek Islands at breezy blue-and-white Halcyon House at Cabarita Beach, 15 minutes north.
SEE ALSO: 15 NSW Restaurants Worth Travelling For
Wilyabrup, Western Australia
The team at this sustainable Margaret River property has a simple motto: “We are farmers first.” A meal here, created from homegrown vegetables, trout, pork, grapes and honey, tells a story of provenance and place. For the foreseeable future, the restaurant will be serving a four-course set menu for lunch over two sittings. The wine tastings are still going ahead but must be booked in advance.
The atmosphere: The restaurant is located on 56 hectares of farmland so the ambience is one of rural seclusion paired with the cosy comforts of a family home. Ask for a table on the sunny deck and leave yourself time for a wander around the gardens to see the current harvest and meet the piglets and chickens.
Where to stay: The property has a four-bedroom guesthouse hidden among the grapevines, with uninterrupted views of the sun dipping behind the escarpment each evening.
The Summertown Aristologist
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
There’s a young team behind this hip cellar door with a food focus. Eighty per cent of the restaurant’s fresh produce comes straight from its kitchen garden and is paired with natural wines. Bucking the set-menu trend, the restaurant has returned to its à la carte roots. It’s now an all-day dining destination, open from 12pm to 8pm, and guests are encouraged to pop in for a full three-course meal or a quick snack of saucisson and cheese and a glass of wine. Ask to see the cellar reserve wines, which are hidden behind a secret door. The collection has a strong focus on French, Slovakian and Catalan varietals that you won’t find anywhere else.
The atmosphere: Rough-hewn timber furniture and arrangements of dried native foliage help this creative little corner of the Adelaide Hills blend into its surroundings. “Our focus has always been community – the farmers and the winemakers,” says restaurant manager Sarah Feehan. “When you visit us, we want you to get a sense of that community, too.”
Where to stay: Tiny house Jude is just 10 minutes drive away. Sleeping up to four people in bushland serenity, it’s one of the most coveted stays in the Hills. Or check in to Mount Lofty House, a grand manor recently converted into an equally grand hotel. Options here run the gamut, from a compact suite for two to a cottage with five bedrooms.
Cabarita Beach, NSW
Halcyon House could be the most unlikely high-end hotel in Australia and its restaurant, Paper Daisy, is the dining gem to match. Residents of the tiny northern NSW coastal hamlet of Cabarita Beach – all 103 of them have witnessed the stunning makeover of the town’s tired 1960s motel into a showpiece of Australian-Mediterranean design, while Paper Daisy has become a lightning rod for regional excellence. The restaurant champions Northern Rivers produce with a light, sometimes irreverent, touch – flitting easily from a reimagined prawn cocktail to the signature paperbark-wrapped grilled fish. Even the bar menu has X factor: think a club sandwich made with mortadella and chicken skin on milk bread or pippies with semolina pasta, native pepper and macadamia oil. For all the accolades brought by this four-year-old dining favourite, Cabarita (known as “Cabbo” by locals) remains a sleepy seaside village, thanks in part to large areas of protected wetlands and limits on development that have kept the town resolutely low-rise: the perfect place to indulge your memories of halcyon childhood summers.
Where to stay: Book one of Halcyon House’s 21 individually styled rooms, which are lavished with antique furniture and a phantasmagoria of floral wallpaper, objets d’art and soft furnishings. Spend your days lazing by the pool or indulging in spa treatments.
While you’re in town: It’s all about the beach here and Halcyon House is only metres from the sand. The village vibe is bolstered by pit stops such as Pandanus Cafe, which serves a mean coffee and classic menu of eggs. Byron Bay is just 40 minutes’ drive away; head to The Farm for a paddock-to-plate experience or The Bolt Hole, the best little gin joint in town.
Albany, Western Australia
It may be located 400 kilometres south of Perth but what’s a little distance when it comes to the impressive dining experience offered by Liberté, the captivating Parisian inspired restaurant and bar inside this port town’s historic London Hotel? It’s improbable, oui, down to a fit-out best described as Belle Époque maximalism. But all bets are off when it comes to owner and chef Amy Hamilton, whose menu elevates French and Vietnamese flavours using ingredients from WA’s Great Southern region. Expect bar-friendly snacking through dishes such as fried whitebait paired with smoked chilli mayo; heavily caramelized Brussels sprouts bright with lime and sriracha; and the signature flat egg noodles tossed with crab, fish sauce and plenty of garlic and butter. Just add killer cocktails and local wines with a natural bent and all is well with the world. Liberté proves there’s more to WA regionalism than Margaret River and Broome.
Where to stay: The 10-room Beach House at Bayside is a Mediterraneanstyle villa – with a guest lounge, fireplace and library – that’s more like staying in a wealthy friend’s well-appointed home. The bonus? It lies just 150 metres beyond the dunes on the five-kilometre stretch of sand known as Middleton Beach, the closest to Albany’s town centre.
While you’re in town: The rugged clifftops here make the perfect perch for whalespotting. Even Albany’s historic main shopping drag, York Street, has direct views to the beautiful blue of Princess Royal Harbour. One must-do: drive to The Gap, a spectacular viewing platform 40 metres above the surging sea. Travelling on your stomach? The Alkaline Café (1/89 Frederick Street; 08 9842 5441) is the health-loving home of breakfast bowls, gluten-free waffles and chia pudding, while Gourmandise & Co heads in the direction marked “indulgence”, with all sorts of French goodness for breakfast and lunch.
Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel
It’s one of the best expressions of Australian fine dining that you’ll find anywhere: the food is a study in robust local produce and top-shelf technique. Sweeping views of the magnificent Grampians aren’t bad, either. Dining and wine tastings should return to normal once current Victorian restrictions are lifted.
The atmosphere: This is one of the most beautiful eateries in the state, furnished with solid stone tables and a minimalist restraint that doesn’t distract from the pristine bushland setting. For an immersive and exclusive experience, be sure to book the four-person Chef’s Table inside the kitchen, where you’ll get to see all the behind-the-scenes creativity and even try dishes before they make on to the menu.
Where to stay: The Royal Mail Hotel has 20 guestrooms and eight cottages, two of them with two bedrooms. The pick is a Deluxe Mountain View room, which has a private balcony with a dazzling outlook over Mount Abrupt (Mud-Dadjug) and Mount Sturgeon (Wurgarri).
While you’re in town: It would be a crime to get so close to Grampians National Park without taking a hike. Hotel staff will provide you with maps and advice on climbing mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt (both should take about three hours to navigate).
Birre-where? This town in Victoria’s Otways hinterland was little known outside its 800-strong population when chef Dan Hunter arrived in 2013, turning a simple farmhouse into the last word in Scandi style while also winning numerous accolades, including a coveted place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. About a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, Brae is marching to the beat of its own drum. Hunter’s self-sufficient bent applies to beehives, a hardworking wood oven and 12 hectares of organic farm around which diners can stretch their legs during the lengthy dégustation – much of which is peppered with native ingredients (cooked green ants, mountain pepper and lilly pilly, to name just a few). It’s a tour de force menu that might include raw diced prawn wrapped in nasturtium leaf; roasted beetroot with honeycomb, trout roe and eel doughnut; or the famous slowroasted parsnip dessert with parsnip and apple mousse beneath a tart sprinkling of dehydrated apple. Show stoppers are guaranteed. It's set to re-open at 16 September.
Where to stay: Good news: Brae has six luxury suites with the same design smarts as the restaurant. And the attention to detail here extends to in-room cocktailmaking kits, turntables with a collection of classic vinyl and designer gumboots for a traipse around the fields. With an equally excellent breakfast brought to the door in the morning (organic, woodfired sourdough, pastries, preserves and seasonal produce harvested from the property and nearby), well, you’ll never want to leave.
Brunswick Heads, NSW
One of Australia’s most exciting restaurants is also one of its smallest. At just 14 seats, tiny Fleet has punched well above its weight to bring the charming town of Brunswick Heads, on NSW’s Far North Coast, out of the shadow of its attention-hogging neighbour – Byron Bay. Although the choice of location was driven by practicalities – including more modest rents – since opening in 2015, chef Josh Lewis and front-of-house star Astrid McCormack have turned this “small restaurant masquerading as a bar” (their words) into a must-visit diner booked out well in advance. The veal sweetbread schnitty sanga has become the restaurant’s signature but the rest of the menu is a “here today, gone tomorrow” proposition built around the region’s best produce. It also heroes the topnotch seafood you’d expect of an area surrounded by pristine water, where boating and fishing are major drawcards for the annual influx of holiday-makers.
Where to stay: A short drive from Fleet, the recently revitalised Sails Motel has a cool Palm Springs aesthetic, with 22 rooms appointed in chic neutraltoned furnishings and an updated pool area with sun loungers. For a boutique experience, head to The Atlantic, a 20-minute drive south. It has four meticulously restored Hamptons-inspired cottages just a couple of blocks from Byron Bay’s main street.
While you’re in town: When you’re onto a good thing… Fleet’s Lewis and McCormack recently doubled down on their love for “Bruns” by taking over its only Mexican restaurant, rebranding it La Casita. Their mission? To continue the tequilafuelled good times while upping the food ante. And be sure to have a drink in the shady beer garden at the historic Hotel Brunswick, overlooking the river.