50 dishes that define Australian dining

Here are the dishes making waves right now around Australia, from the fine diner to the cafe and back again. 50 dishes that define Australian dining
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50 dishes that define Australian dining

What are the flavours that will take Australia into the next half century?


By Australian Gourmet Traveller

Here are the dishes making waves right now around the country, from the fine diner to the cafe and back again.

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produced by Australian Gourmet Traveller
and Tourism Australia

Your guide to Australia's fine-dining scene, Sydney's best restaurants, Melbourne's late night bars and more

Stracciatella, fermented fennel, chamomile oil

Stracciatella, fermented fennel,
chamomile oil
Embla, Melbourne, Victoria

Embla (Melbourne, Victoria)

Stracciatella – otherwise known as the super-creamy heart of any self-respecting burrata – combines with fermented fennel and the aromatic, herbaceous note of chamomile oil for a light and delicate left-of-centre winner. File it under “shouldn’t work, but does”.

Eight-hour lamb shoulder

Eight-hour lamb shoulder
Cumulus Inc, Melbourne, Victoria

Cumulus Inc (Melbourne, Victoria)

It’s so simple: whole lamb shoulder cooked low and slow until it’s magicked into a crust of dark gold and the meat surrenders on favourable terms. Consider it less of a dish, more of a patriotic duty. 

Avocado with citrus, toast and local kelp salt

Avocado with citrus, toast and local kelp salt
The Kettle Black, Melbourne, Victoria

The Kettle Black (Melbourne, Victoria)

There are now around 1.2 billion versions of avocado on toast across the globe, but this combination gets it right by playing it straight and simple. Half a perfectly ripe avocado (stone out, skin on) arrives with sourdough toast, a wedge of lime, and salt made with dehydrated kelp. It’s DIY made perfect with carefully sourced, top-notch ingredients.  

Too many Italians and only one Asian

Too Many Italians and Only One Asian
Nora, Melbourne, Victoria

Nora (Melbourne, Victoria)

Sarin Rojanametin’s witty tribute to Carlton’s Italian food culture might look like pesto pasta, but the pasta is actually green papaya, and the pesto a mix of roasted cashew nuts, sator beans and pieces of school prawn tossed with sorrel oil and fermented garlic powder. It’s a clever trick that succeeds on the strength of balance and flavour.  

Laham nayyeh

Laham nayyeh
Gerard’s Bistro, Brisbane, Queensland

Gerard's Bistro (Brisbane, Queensland)

It’s lamb rather than beef that makes the cut in this clever textural twist on a classic Lebanese tartare. Bundles of hand-chopped lamb and pickled radish, spiced up with fiery harissa and fragrant with preserved lime, arrive dotted on a crisp saj flatbread. Swirls of creamy cured yolk with a scatter of lemon balm bring the zing. 

Fish fingers with charred toast

Fish fingers with charred toast
Bodega, New South Wales

Bodega (Sydney, New South Wales)

On the menu since day one of service 10 years ago, Bodega’s signature dish sounds pretty straightforward on paper: fish, garlic, burnt toast. But it is truly more than the sum of its parts. Slices of kingfish on fingers of blackened toast with a confetti of cuttlefish ceviche, coriander, onion and grated mojama come together in a brilliantly balanced mouthful of flavour. 

Veal sweetbread schnitty sanga

Veal sweetbread schnitty sanga
Fleet, Brunswick Heads, New South Wales

Fleet (Brunswick Heads, New South Wales)

The perfect bar snack for a perfectly outré wine bar? It’d have to involve something fried. It would want to be a sandwich. There ought to be anchovies involved, possibly in a mayonnaise. And it’d need a clever twist. We give you Fleet’s schnitzel sandwich: rounds of soft white bread enfolding hot, golden-crumbed veal sweetbreads and a lick of anchovy mayo. Just add wine. 

Spaghetti fresca with clams and smoked tomatoes

Spaghetti fresca with clams and smoked tomatoes
Tipo 00, Melbourne, Victoria

Tipo 00 (Melbourne, Victoria)

The world’s finest carbohydrate is magicked to a Platonic ideal with house-made spaghetti, clams, garlic and chilli. Then the Tipo kitchen takes it to a whole new level with the addition of smoked cherry tomatoes. Two words: pasta perfection. 

Pretzel and whipped bottarga

Pretzel and whipped bottarga
10 William St, Paddington, New South Wales

10 William St (Sydney, New South Wales)

Chef Dan Pepperell may have jumped ship to Hubert, but his pretzel with bottarga remains a stalwart on the 10 William St menu. The seeded pretzels arrive at the table hot, with a plate of feather-light dip made zesty with bright salty roe. Umami for days – it’s a bar snack to be reckoned with.

brown rice bowl

Brown rice bowl
Tricycle Café, Hobart, Tasmania

Tricycle Cafe (Hobart, Tasmania)

The brown rice bowl changes daily and is always delicious – the Sri Lankan chicken curry is a standout – but it’s Adam James’s umami-rich, often spicy fermented vegetables and condiments that make this dish memorable. And, of course, there’s the rice. It’s biodynamic, rain-fed brown rice with pepitas and sunflower seeds, kale, spring onion and chilli oil mixed through it. It might even be healthy. 

Double-boiled wallaby tail soup

Double-boiled wallaby tail soup
Flower Drum, Melbourne, Victoria

Flower Drum (Melbourne, Victoria)

A taste of the Australian terroir in a hallowed temple to high-end Cantonese food. Anthony Lui takes Flinders Island wallaby tail and painstakingly refines it into a rich, luscious broth powered by wolfberries and sweetened with yam. It’s both uniquely Australian and undeniably Canto – a multicultural masterpiece of harmony. 

Panna cotta lamington

Panna cotta lamington
Flour & Stone, Woolloomooloo, New South Wales

Flour and Stone (Sydney, New South Wales)

Nadine Ingram takes everything you love about this Australian classic and turns it up. First, she soaks the vanilla sponge squares with panna cotta. They’re then layered with berry compote, coated with dark chocolate, and finished with desiccated coconut and coconut flakes. Crunch, squish and cream – witness the evolution of an Australian icon. 

Garlic bread, burnt vanilla, brown butter

Garlic bread, burnt vanilla, brown butter
Gauge, Brisbane, Queensland

Gauge (Brisbane, Queensland)

Sticky fermented black garlic and treacle add to the sharp aesthetic, which is then neatly undone by a smooth quenelle of rich salty-sweet brown butter garnished with bitter burnt vanilla that also adds richness and balance. It has become so popular it now appears on Gauge’s evening menu as dessert, too

Prawn, fig-leaf cream and turmeric wafer

Prawn, fig-leaf cream and turmeric wafer
Aløft, Hobart, Tasmania

Aløft (Hobart, Tasmania)

The extraordinary thing about this dish is the fig-leaf cream, which tastes like coconut. It’s haunting and addictive, weirdly taking you straight to South East Asia, which is exactly Glenn Byrnes’ plan. The flavour of coconut is wrought using Tasmanian ingredients. The turmeric wafer and herb-spiked sambal are exceptional, too. 

Macaroni, pig's head and egg yolk

Macaroni, pig’s head and egg yolk
Acme, Sydney, New South Wales

Acme (Sydney, New South Wales)

Many of Acme’s brightest moments come when skilfully made fresh pasta meets flavours it seldom encounters in Italy. And few are as bright (or as satisfying) as one of the kitchen’s earliest hits. Mitch Orr takes the key elements of sisig, the Filipino classic of pig’s head double-cooked, marinated in vinegar and served topped with a raw- or runny-yolked egg, and grafts them onto impeccable macaroni

Anchovy and its bones

Anchovy and its bones
Provenance, Beechworth, Victoria

Provenance (Beechworth, Victoria)

It’s the most spectral of snacks: a fat, dusky-pink filleted Sicilian anchovy accessorised with – what else? – its skeleton, fried whole. A double-whammy of salty, brittle shatter and raw, velvety give. Meta never tasted better.

Strawberry gum and set buttermilk

Strawberry gum and set buttermilk
Orana, Adelaide, South Australia

Orana (Adelaide, South Australia)

This elegant palate-cleanser is built around the unlikely foundation of eucalyptus. A quenelle of set buttermilk sits in a pool of strawberry juice and wildly fragrant green oil made from strawberry-gum leaves. This has been the finishing note on Orana menus since the restaurant opened, and long may it continue

Yabby jaffle

Yabby jaffle
Monster, Hotel Hotel, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Monster (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory)

Fun fact: Monster’s yabby jaffle started life as a snack when Sean McConnell was cooking at Močan & Green Grout. In his luxe version at Hotel Hotel, poached yabby meat is stuffed into fluffy white bread along with horseradish, crème fraîche and Gruyère, then it’s toasted to a perfect shade of gold. It’s sharp, buttery, cheesy goodness. Club sandwich who?

Snacks

Snacks, Igni
Geelong, Victoria

Igni (Geelong, Victoria)

Even the pre-dinner bites are stars at Igni. House-made guanciale. Swatches of chicken skin topped with whipped cod roe. Baby zucchini flowers harbouring just-cooked mussels. Umami-rich beef jerky. And as for the crisp saltbush leaves dusted in vinegar powder, they ought to be packaged and sold in vending machines.

Nahm prik nuum sandwich

Nahm prik nuum sandwich
Boon Café, Sydney, New South Wales

Boon Cafe (Sydney, Australia)

Half Thai, half Sydney café, and pure Boon, this spicy sanga takes a fiery relish traditionally served with crudités and remixes it with salted butter and Brickfields sourdough into an inspired and utterly devastating take on the salad sandwich. Thailand meets the tuckshop in the most interesting of ways. 

Mackerel dumplings

Mackerel dumplings
ShanDong Mama, Melbourne, Victoria

ShanDong MaMa (Melbourne, Victoria)

It’s the ShanDong MaMa mystery: how can mackerel’s assertiveness be tamed into cumulonimbus-light, aromatic dumplings that practically levitate their way to your mouth? (Spoiler alert: the fish is turned into a fine mousse with ginger, coriander and chives.) Either plain boiled or pan-fried, they’re the stuff of dumpling reverie. 

Oyster Ice

Oyster ice
Brae, Birregurra, Victoria

Brae (Birregurra, Victoria)

It’s the oyster exponential: oyster brine combined with sheep’s milk curd into a savoury ice-cream, topped with a blitz of powdered freeze-dried sherry vinegar and dehydrated oyster and sea lettuce. The pure taste of the sea – served on the shell, naturally. 

Croissants

Croissants
Lune Croissanterie, Richmond, Victoria

Lune Croissanterie (Melbourne, Victoria)

The definition of “artisan” may have been bastardised beyond meaning in an era of mass production, but Lune will brook no slights. Kate Reid has moved to bigger digs in Fitzroy, but her exacting iterations of French pâtisserie perfection remain truly artisanal – which explains why the queue forms before sunrise and they sell out by mid-morning.

Banjaan borani

Banjaan borani
Parwana, Adelaide, South Australia

Parwana (Adelaide, South Australia)

The easy harmony of eggplant simmered in fresh tomato sauce produces the most seductive of slippery vegetable dishes. The secret is the texture – silky-soft without collapsing into mush – and its balanced accents of garlic yoghurt and fresh mint. 

Blood sausage sanga

Blood sausage sanga
ester, Chippendale, New South Wales

ester (Sydney, Australia)

Mat Lindsay’s inspired take on the classic backyard sausage sandwich sees minced pork belly mixed with rice, pine nuts and a healthy dash of pig’s blood. It’s steamed and then roasted in the wood-fired oven before being placed on his canny replacement for spongy sliced-white: a steamed bread reminiscent of Chinese mantou buns. Sticking to tradition, it’s best folded in half and eaten with your hands. 

Pecan sticky buns

Pecan sticky buns
Sweet Envy, Hobart, Tasmania

Sweet Envy (Hobart, Tasmania)

Master pâtissier Alistair Wise’s croissant-based dough rolled with frangipane spiked with orange zest and amaretto is a unique homage to buns he ate at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Before baking, the buns are doused in dark salty caramel cooked just short of being burnt, which cuts the sweetness, infusing everything – even the pecans. 

Fried chicken

Fried chicken
Eleven Bridge, Sydney, New South Wales

Eleven Bridge (Sydney, Australia)

Think of it as the world’s fanciest chicken nugget: a round of boned-out chicken wing, deep-fried, skewered with a bone for ease of snacking, and then bathed in kombu butter and topped, for good measure, with a healthy dollop of caviar. A finger-lickin’-good union of the sublime and the ridiculous. 

Braised bone marrow

Braised bone marrow
Lalla Rookh, Perth, Western Australia

Lalla Rookh (Perth, Western Australia)

Joel Valvasori-Pereza’s knack for reimagining robust Friulano cooking traditions made him one of the west’s most interesting dining prospects. Few dishes exemplify his flavour-first thinking quite as boldly as this split beef bone, cooked osso buco-style, and served with fat fingers of charred focaccia. It was a crowd favourite at Lalla Rookh, which he left in 2016; if you can’t catch it there, expect it to resurface on the menu at Valvasori- Pereza’s newest venture, Lulu La Delizia, a trattoria in Subiaco focusing on handmade pasta.

Burrata and shellfish oil

Burrata and shellfish oil
Automata, Sydney, New South Wales

Automata (Sydney, New South Wales)

In a roundabout way we have Clayton Wells’s partner, Tania Fergusson, to thank for this unlikely flavour bomb. It was for Fergusson’s amusement at home that Wells had been recreating the shellfish oil he’d learnt to make at Tetsuya’s, and when he was looking for an interesting spin on the increasingly ubiquitous cheese, there it was. The only thing better than cutting into the creamy-centred cheese to release the vibrant orange oil is tasting it.

Chinizza

Chinizza
Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne, Victoria

Lee Ho Fook (Melbourne, Victoria)

You’d have to be some kind of po-faced stick-in-the-mud not to get this “Chinese pizza”, a glorious so-wrong-it’s-right arrangement of fried pancake base massed with thinly sliced spring onions, shallots, chilli and brilliant buffalo mozzarella. So salty, crunchy and soothing you’ll want to order one for breakfast. Or at the end of a long night.

Grilled pipis with lemon myrtle, smoked almond and garlic

Grilled pipis with lemon myrtle, smoked almond and garlic
Paper Daisy, Halcyon House, Cabarita, New South Wales

Paper Daisy, Halcyon House (Cabarita, New South Wales)

Australia’s surf clams have had their star turns (most notably with XO sauce and wodges of fried vermicelli at Sydney’s Cantonese landmark, Golden Century), but they’ve never been more Hollywood than against the glam backdrop of Paper Daisy at Halcyon House, the boutique hotel at Cabarita Beach on the north coast of New South Wales. Here, chef Ben Devlin plays their briny bite off against the likes of potatoes and peas, or lemon myrtle, smoked almond and garlic.

Miso and pink lady soft serve

Miso and pink lady soft-serve
Supernormal, Melbourne, Victoria

Supernormal (Melbourne, Victoria)

Old-school dessert meets new-school ideas at Andrew McConnell’s Japanese canteen. Take one soft-serve machine, add the savoury element of miso and the tartness of apple and, hey presto, a palate-refreshing Oz-Asian mash-up that’s a little bit kooky and totally unique. 

Marron, young coconut, continental deli koji butter

Marron, young coconut, koji butter
Momofuku Seiōbo, Sydney, New South Wales

Momofuku Seiōbo (Sydney, Australia)

Smoke and sweetness, the freshness of the sea, the complexity of a gentle ferment, the richness of butter, and the cascading textures of marron barbecued to order and slippery young coconut make this a standout among standouts on this menu.

Baked vacherin and polish sausage

Baked vacherin and Polish sausage
Continental Deli Bar & Bistro, Sydney, New South Wales

Continental Deli Bar & Bistro (Sydney, New South Wales)

If excess paves the road to wisdom, then Continental’s baked cheese is brilliance in a box. Chef Jesse Warkentin pops a deeply creamy cow’s milk washed-rind into the oven with white wine and herbs. If the threat of winey molten cheese wasn’t enough, he teams it not with bread or crudités for the dipping, but – wait for it – green olives and rounds of smoked Polish sausage.

Potatoes with oyster and raw mushroom

Potatoes with oyster and raw mushroom
Sixpenny, Sydney, New South Wales

Sixpenny (Sydney, New South Wales)

Steak frites, bangers and mash, fish and chips – potatoes are perennial co-stars. But the spuds at Sixpenny get their moment in the limelight in an ever-evolving course on the dégustation: roasted baby potatoes in house-made mustard, say, or poached Dutch creams in a toasted rye butter topped with slices of raw button mushrooms and an oyster emulsion. The not-so-humble spud. 

Caraway pastry with smoked trout and caviar

Caraway pastry with smoked trout and caviar
Oakridge winery, Coldstream, Victoria

Oakridge (Coldstream, Victoria)

This dish combines the firepower of chef Matt Stone and his sous-chef/baker/partner, Jo Barrett, to scintillating effect. Barrett’s superb escargot-shaped pastry (made from croissant dough studded with caraway seeds) is the stage for local smoked trout, trout roe, sour cream and herbs. There’s a whiff of the Nordic here, alongside a heap of Yarra Valley flavour.

Red-claw yabbies, lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets

Red-claw yabbies, lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets
Bennelong, Sydney, New South Wales

Bennelong (Sydney, Australia)

Uniting that most Australian of crustaceans, the yabby, with that most Australian of after-school snacks, the pikelet, could, in the wrong hands, be a clunky piece of stunt-casting. In the hands of Peter Gilmore and Rob Cockerill at Bennelong, though, it’s Australia on a plate, the yabbies poached and chilled, ready to be forked onto the pancakes, warm and toasty in a fold of linen.

Wood-roasted abalone

Wood-roasted abalone
Franklin, Hobart, Tasmania

Franklin (Hobart, Tasmania)

Knowing how good it was when he’d cooked it beachside over coals, David Moyle decided abalone had to be on Franklin’s menu. It’s steamed whole for more than an hour, cleaned, thinly sliced, then returned with seaweed to its shell and roasted in the wood-fired oven. Finished with house-made oyster sauce spiked with black pepper and lightened with eggwhite, it’s magnificent.

Peri peri chicken

Peri peri chicken
Africola, Adelaide, South Australia

Africola (Adelaide, South Australia)

Chef Duncan Welgemoed transforms this Portuguese staple with robust South African vigour into a spectacular meal for two. Roasted chicken from the wood-fired oven is basted in “Mpumalanga fire” (Welgemoed’s feisty take on caramelised peri peri sauce), accompanied by iron pots of chicken hearts and livers, cornmeal porridge topped with tomato gravy and leek ash, and a side plate of banana curry.

Whipped emu egg and sugarbag

Whipped emu egg and sugarbag
Attica, Melbourne, Victoria

Attica (Melbourne, Victoria)

Take an emu egg. Slice it open. Take out the contents and whip them with mead until they form a consistency something like a sabayon. Pour it back into the shell and serve it with sugarbag honey from stingless native bees, pickled quandongs, Daintree dark chocolate and wattleseed ice-cream. And there you have it: one of Australia’s most interesting desserts.

Massaman tartare

Massaman tartare
Rick Shores, Gold Coast, Queensland

Rick Shores (Gold Coast, Queensland)

Chopped to order, and presented with an ochre- coloured salt-flecked yolk at its centre, this radical take on diced raw beef is amped up with a gutsy massaman paste, white pepper, slivers of pickled garlic and more.

Raw wagyu shoulder with grilled enoki, duck-egg cream and seaweed

Raw wagyu shoulder with grilled enoki, duck-egg cream and seaweed
The Bridge Room, Sydney, New South Wales

The Bridge Room (Sydney, Australia)

Inspired by a memorable meal at a Kyoto restaurant that specialises in Kobe beef, Ross Lusted created this tartare, blending Japanese and Australian flavours. Translucent slices of well-marbled wagyu shoulder melt onto a bed of enoki mushrooms. They’re finished with a salted duck-egg cream and Olsson’s red gum-smoked salt. Lusted’s decision to slice rather than chop the meat means the dish is less of a tartare and more of an ode to raw beef.

Rice and flesh

Rice and Flesh
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Melbourne, Victoria

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (Melbourne, Victoria)

There’s an historical backstory to the dish, of course, but all you really need to know about Heston Blumenthal’s rice and flesh to enjoy it is this: it’s a sunflower- yellow pond of tangy, saffron-spiked risotto lapping at pieces of kangaroo tail subtly cooked in curried red wine sauce. Comfort food circa 1390.

Chicken fricassée

Chicken fricassée
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney, New South Wales

Restaurant Hubert (Sydney, Australia)

Go with a gang, order the chicken, and don’t leave without gnawing the feet. Chef Dan Pepperell brines the Holmbrae bird, steams it, then deep-fries it, chops it up and puts it back together – head, feet and all. The whole fricasseed chook is served of confit button and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and all the plate’s players come glistening with a glossy white wine and tarragon sauce. Unleash the Burgundy.

Saltbush cakes

Saltbush cakes
Billy Kwong, Potts Point, New South Wales

Billy Kwong (Sydney, New South Wales)

Is it a dumpling? Is it a doughnut? Kylie Kwong’s savoury Canto-stralian saltbush cakes recall a number of things, but their taste is pure outback. Crisp deep-fried pastry is filled with leaves of the glossy native green, and house-made chilli and tamari sauces are on hand to complement the leaves’ bitterness.

Saganaki with peppered figs

Saganaki with peppered figs
Hellenic Republic, Melbourne, Victoria

Hellenic Republic (Melbourne, Victoria)

Sweet meets salt. A toasty wedge of golden-crusted, almost blistered kefalograviera cheese still sizzling in the cast-iron pan, capped with baby figs in a syrupy sauce driven by honey, balsamic vinegar and plenty of black pepper. It’s all in the balance – and the speed with which it arrives at the table.

Kimchi and beef sandwich

Kimchi and beef sandwich
esquire, Brisbane, Queensland

esquire (Brisbane, Queensland)

Ryan Squires is famous for pushing the envelope, but this cracker of a snack is more about filling it beautifully. A crisp wafer of house-fermented and dehydrated kimchi arrives sandwiched between slivers of beef, one air-dried, the other raw, dialled up with powdered sesame seeds, dried ginger and toasted nori in sesame oil. Consider that umami goodness signed, sealed and delivered.

Crab noodles

Crab noodles
Long Chim, Perth, Western Australia

Long Chim (Perth, Western Australia)

Long Chim branches opening around the country is one instance of chain dining we can get behind, not least because Thai food authority David Thompson has developed a selection of dishes exclusive to each restaurant. In Perth, a dazzling riff on Chanthaburi’s regional signature, sen chan pad pu, a medium-hot noodle dish packing crisp crab, tomalley, fish sauce and tamarind.

Tiramisù 

Tiramisù
Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, Bondi Beach, New South Wales

Icebergs Dining Room & Bar (Sydney, New South Wales)

This Icebergs dessert is a little bit of a treasure hunt, and a lot of tiramisù. When it first hits your table, the sizeable slab of mascarpone mousse looks relatively unassuming but underneath you’ll find cubes of coffee jelly, Marsala caramel sauce, coffee sorbet, meringue sticks and gold dust – and that’s just the first bite.

Ma po tofu

Ma po tofu
Dainty Sichuan, Melbourne, Victoria

Dainty Sichuan (Melbourne, Victoria)

“Pockmarked grandmother’s beancurd” – Team Dainty didn’t invent the name, but their version of the dish has achieved international fame thanks to its take-no-prisoners onslaught of tofu and minced beef with chilli and enough Sichuan pepper to numb the mouth into next week. It ought to come with a warning. In fact, it does: a two-chilli legend on the menu. Take it seriously.

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