From market fresh produce to some of the world's most innovative fine dining, foodies travelling to Australia have plenty to keep their palates busy.
By Paul Chai
Australia has native ingredients not found anywhere else in the world and a food culture that is constantly evolving, taking the best international cuisines and giving them an Australian twist. There are countless unique places to enjoy your food. Try a plate of Asian street food on a Darwin beach at sunset, or a meat pie at Melbourne's most famous sporting ground. Plus there are top-class restaurants run by world-renowned celebrity chefs. Here are 15 bucket list Australian food experiences.
GO TO QUAY RESTAURANT
Thanks to chef Peter Gilmore's intricately prepared and delicately balanced dishes, Quay has won more awards than any other restaurant in Australia. It's one of two Australian restaurants on the prestigious S Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Located on Sydney Harbour's waterfront, with sweeping views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, this is a uniquely Australian dining experience with food and views that are both world class.
Eat a mango with your hands
The start of the mango season signals summer in Australia, and enjoying these plump, sweet fruit as the weather warms up is an Australian rite of passage. Mangoes have become synonymous with the state of Queensland (the north-eastern corner of Australia, where you'll find the Great Barrier Reef), where they're grown in large numbers, so there's no better place to eat one. Australians will tell you the best way to enjoy this tropical treasure is the deliciously messy, traditional way: by slicing the "cheeks" off each side, picking them up with your hands, and eating the flesh inside. Extra points if you're sitting on a beach while you eat.
SAVOUR A DEGUSTATION AT ATTICA
Ben Shewry is one of the most lauded chefs in Australia, thanks to his sophisticated but playful menus, which make use of unusual native ingredients and fresh local produce. A degustation at his Melbourne restaurant Attica offers a great insight into Australia's most cutting edge cuisine trends. Book well in advance.
Try a "Freakshake" at Patissez
Invented in an unassuming Canberra café, the "freakshake" – a milkshake piled ridiculously high with whipped cream, brownies, marshmallows and even doughnuts – became an Instagram sensation overnight. Patissez, in Canberra, is the home of this calorie-loaded creation. While there have been many imitators, this is still the place to go to sample "Freak of the Week" concoctions, which might include milkshakes crowned with bourbon-infused whipped cream and maple bacon. It is not just the shakes here that are creative: you can also order bespoke cake and great coffee, but maybe hold the sugar.
EAT AUSTRALIA'S BEST PIZZA
The inner city Melbourne neighbourhood of Carlton has a rich history of Italian immigration. It's in Carlton, in fact, that Australia's love affair with coffee began percolating, when first generation Italian-Australians moved here many decades ago. Today, the area known as Little Italy plays host to a flourishing hub of excellent Italian-Australian restaurants, and the best of the best is arguably 400 Gradi. Owner Johnny Di Francesco is the former world's best pizza maker (currently ranked No.8), who made history as the first Australian to be accredited by the Naples Pizza Association, in a wonderful example of the fusion between Italian and Australian cultures and cuisines. Order the Margherita. This simple cheese and tomato pizza is the same recipe that he used to win the world's best title, and it's exquisite.
TASTE FRESH LOCAL PRODUCE IN TASMANIA
Tasmania produces some of the freshest food in the world, including top-quality seafood plucked straight from the Southern Ocean, gorgeous raw milk cheeses from unspoiled Bruny Island, and crisp apples (the state is known as the "Apple Isle"). Hobart’s Franklin restaurant – which has long been considered the best restaurant on the island – is on a mission to champion local produce. The seasonal menu changes regularly, but look out for fresh Tasmanian oysters, sea urchins or clams. You can also grab a drink in the adjoining bar. The fresh water, natural peats and cool weather help make excellent Tasmanian whisky, which has been recognised by experts in Scotland as some of the best whisky in the world.
GO TO THE MARGARET RIVER GOURMET ESCAPE
The Margaret River Gourmet Escape celebrates a region where Australia's surf culture and fine dining collide. Each year a roster of international chefs head to the world's only wine region with surf beaches on its doorstep to celebrate the fresh produce, iconic Australian wines and the amazing seafood that the region produces. Drawn by the waves, many of the area's most skilled chefs and winemakers are also keen surfers. They include Elephant Beach Café chef Tony Howell, who uses the local seawater to brine his meat and boil his prawns. Visit during the Gourmet Escape and you will see why so many celebrity chefs consider this one of the most interesting and original foodie events on the calendar.
TASTE THE FLEURIEU PENININSULA
South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, a 45 minute drive from Adelaide, contains some of the best wine, restaurants and produce available at Australian cellar doors. Learn about how the winemakers of McLaren Vale region have adapted wine varieties such as shiraz and cabernet to Australian conditions, developing the area's distinct flavours in the process. Drive to Willunga and visit boutique winemaker Hither & Yon or go to the cellar door of the long-established d’Arenberg. The Star of Greece restaurant offers unforgettable clifftop dining.
EAT BUSH TUCKER IN KAKADU
You can sample bush tucker that is only found in Australia's Top End on a one day safari in Kakadu National Park with Animal Tracks. Aboriginal guides will show you some of the amazing food that can be foraged from the outback, with flavours that your tastebuds have probably never known. You will learn about traditional bush food such as buffalo and magpie geese, explore Kakadu and finish with a traditional Aboriginal campfire and dinner.
EAT ON THE SAND AT MINDIL BEACH SUNSET MARKET
There is a laid-back charm to Darwin that you don’t find in most cities. Darwin is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and its proximity to South-East Asia has had a huge influence on its food scene. This mix of cultures and relaxed vibe is celebrated twice a week at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market from the last Thursday in April to the last Thursday in October. You'll smell the amazing aromas before you see the stalls selling Thai, Indonesian and Sri Lankan street food, which patrons then take down to the sand so they can watch the sun set over the Arafura Sea.
EAT A MEAT PIE AT THE MCG
There is no better way to understand Melbourne's obsession with sport – and in particular the game of Australian football, also known as Aussie rules or AFL, after the Australian Football League – than joining the tens of thousands of fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (usually called the MCG, or just "the G"). Every weekend the city centre is full of football fans heading to this hallowed ground, where a meat pie and tomato sauce is the traditional snack of choice. Simple, very Australian, piping hot and eaten to the tune of thousands cheering their side on.
SAMPLE OUR FASTEST-GROWING FOOD HUB
The rapidly growing Brisbane food scene has taken café staples, such as Bircher muesli and banana bread, and applied a fine dining finesse to create an original style of food that's spreading throughout the Queensland capital. The team at Sourced Grocer was one of the first to do an upmarket take on café staples that seems perfectly matched to the laid-back nature of Brisbane, and now its new restaurant Gauge is winning a swag of awards. Try the brunch menu at Bare Bones Society for another example of high end café fare. This reinvention of favourites, coupled with a big increase in people relocating to this part of Australia, is fast turning the city into Australia's newest foodie destination.
DRINK COFFEE IN MELBOURNE
Melbourne has turned coffee into an art form. Coffee professionals all over the city are experimenting with roasting techniques and brewing styles and Melbourne has attracted world champion baristas from elsewhere in Australia and overseas to make outstandingly good brews. The coffee culture in Melbourne is constantly changing. There is always a new café, a new single-origin coffee or a new technique to explore, and this simple combination of friendly Australian service, great food and innovative coffee is being exported to the world. Named after a Melbourne suburb, Brunswick Cafe in New York is doing its best to emulate the Aussie coffee experience, but you really are better off with the original.
DINE ALFRESCO AROUND WESTERN AUSTRALIA
There is nothing quite like eating produce just metres from where it grew wild, such as the shores of Bunker Bay, south of Perth. The pop-up diners at Fervor not only use native produce but set up alfresco diners in the West Australian countryside, where your ceiling is the stars. Chef Paul Iskov might offer simply dressed local marron (a premium Australian speciality similar to lobster) on a stretch of secluded Margaret River beach, or use fresh fruit from the native boab tree at an outback experience in Broome. Each meal celebrates ingredients in their natural environment.
TASTE THAI STREET FOOD IN PERTH
David Thompson is one of Australia's best-known chefs and his love of Thai food led him to open nahm in London, which became the world's first Thai restaurant to earn a Michelin star. In 2010 Thompson opened a second nahm restaurant, in Bangkok, which was voted the best restaurant in Asia for two years running. Thompson embodies Australia's love affair with Asian cuisine, and now you can sample his new venture, Long Chim, in the luxurious surrounds of the COMO The Treasury in Perth. Celebrate a local talent, recognised the world over for elevating Thai cuisine to new heights, and discover why his food is one of Australia's greatest exports.