Unique Australian Dining Experiences

Age-old ingredients have created a brave new cuisine in which Australian native plants sit firmly centre stage. Unique Australian Dining Experiences
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Unique Australian Dining Experiences

Age-old ingredients have created a brave new cuisine in which Australian native plants sit firmly centre stage.

By Ellie Schneider

Some of the newest ingredients popping up on Australian restaurant menus are, in fact, thousands of years old. Chefs are turning to their own backyards for inspiration. Our vast, dry country is home to a bounty of wild plants, herbs, nuts, seeds and berries, which Aborigines have used for at least 40,000 years. Now, native ingredients are helping redefine Australia's cuisine.


Celebrity chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong has developed a way of cooking that is uniquely Australian-Chinese. “When you come to Billy Kwong, I want to offer you Australia on a plate,” she says. “For me, this means integrating this country’s extraordinary native ingredients with the classic Cantonese dishes of my heritage.” For diners that includes dishes such as crispy saltbush cakes with chilli sauce; stir-fried Australian native greens; and sweet and sour pork belly with fresh muntries and pickled quandongs, eaten in a moodily lit space in Potts Point, Sydney's fine dining precinct. Critics are raving, and the queues snake down the street.


New York superstar chef David Chang opened his first restaurant outside America in Sydney in 2011. His mission was simple: to use the bounty of Australia. Take a seat at Momofuku Seiōbo's wraparound kitchen counter and delve into chef Paul Carmichael’s tasting menu, which includes dishes such as Western Australian marron roasted over coals, served with young coconut and koji butter; and busted up roti bread served with onion puree and native muntrie berries.


Tucked into a gloriously high-ceilinged historic building in the heart of Sydney, Bentley Restaurant + Bar – led by restlessly creative chef Brent Savage – responds to the call of the wild. Try spanner crab with carrot, bacon and finger lime; Moreton Bay bug with cucumber, lemon myrtle and sorrel; and duck with pickled muntries, comte and kohlrabi. Guests can dine a la carte or order the eight-course tasting menu with matching wines.


In sleepy Bowral, in the lush Southern Highlands of New South Wales, lauded chef James Viles combines high-tech cookery with a deep-seated commitment to local produce at Biota. Indigenous ingredients appear as natural, integral and harmonious components of dishes, and even extend to the cocktail menu, which includes a Native Pepperberry Mary with pepperberry gin, bush tomato and pimento. Accommodation and a variety of workshops add to the experience.


Chef Jock Zonfrillo’s is the brains behind Orana, an intimate, 31-seat fine dining restaurant inspired by Zonfrillo's constant research and immersion into Australia's native ingredients and Aboriginal culture. At dinner (Tuesday to Saturday) experience a tasting menu of 18 to 20 courses, showcasing seasonal local and native wild ingredients. Dishes may include kangaroo tendon with Tasmanian mountain pepper; South Devon beef with brush cherry, smoked potato and leek; and macadamia marshmallow.


A five hour drive north of Adelaide, Parachilna boasts an official population in the single digits, but there is a constant stream of visitors to the Fargher family’s self-proclaimed “hip Outback hotel”, The Prairie. Treat yourself to a local lager and the famous feral mixed grill, “FMG”, of kangaroo fillet, emu, camel sausage and roast potatoes with a red wine jus, followed by a quandong crumble pie and gelato trio: mango macadamia, desert lime lemon and wild berry rosella flower.


Chef-owner Ben Shewry regularly forages for seaweeds and wild weeds and keeps two sizeable kitchen gardens near his elegant inner suburban restaurant, Attica, rated 33rd on the 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. “Australia’s pantry of native ingredients gives us the raw materials for a very special and unique cuisine,” he says, serving up beautifully designed dishes such as fresh cheese and honeycomb; salted red kangaroo with bunya puree; and jumbuck with waxflower oil and desert oak.


This relaxed, inner suburban restaurant also operates as a Mission Australia social enterprise program, providing on-the-job hospitality industry skills, training and experience for Aboriginal youth. As a result, Charcoal Lane provides a unique dining experience that offers seasonally inspired dishes infused with native ingredients, such as pan seared emu fillet with beetroot and lemon myrtle risotto; paperbark-wrapped seasonal vegetables with truffle oil and rainforest herbs; and wattleseed crème brulee with native berry semifreddo.


Chef and owner Ryan Squires is busy in the open kitchen of his elegant restaurant, which overlooks the Brisbane River and Story Bridge. Squires, who has spent time cooking at some of the finest restaurants in the world, including El Bulli in Spain and Per Se in New York, returned home to Brisbane and opened Esquire in 2011. Since then, he has been lauded for his creative and sustainable approach to cooking. Esquire offers a set multi-course menu reflecting market availability. Ingredients may include Moreton Bay bugs, macadamia and blue swimmer crabs.


As the sun sets on Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Tali Wiru offers guests an intimate open-air dining experience that celebrates local indigenous flavours. Dishes may include Paroo kangaroo rillettes with dehydrated beetroot, smoked bunya nut puree, mountain pepper tuille and seablite; and bush tomato burrata with pickled onion, black olive oil and basil sponge. After dinner, guests gather around the fire, hot chocolate, port or cognac in hand, to hear an indigenous storyteller talk about the landscape and Aboriginal culture.


Cicada Lodge is an Aboriginal-owned property on the banks of the Katherine River, about 28 kilometres (17 miles) from the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory. The eco lodge is owned by the local Jawoyn people, who are keen to introduce guests to some of their traditional arts and way of life. A key element of the experience is enjoying native Australian foods, which are incorporated in a contemporary menu – think ingredients such as bush bananas and freshwater prawns. The nightly chef's menu features a specialty dish of the chef's choice, using local produce unique to the region.


Nestled in its own secluded vineyard in the heart of the Margaret River wine country is one of Australia's finest boutique hotels, Cape Lodge. Executive chef Michael Elfwing is a strong believer in using fresh local produce and creating seasonal menus that reflect a sense of place. Dishes may include Exmouth goldband snapper with braised fennel, meyer lemon, pea puree and broccolini; and shellfish soup with Esperance scallops, caramelised onions and tomato. The wine list features vintages from Margaret River's great wine estates.

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