Australia's bucket list food experiences
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 an exciting array of native ingredients and a food culture that is constantly evolving, as international dishes are reimagined and adapted by the local cuisine. Not only can you indulge in unique flavours, but you can enjoy them in one-of-a-kind surrounds. Try a plate of Asian street food on a Darwin beach at sunset, or tuck into a meat pie at Melbourne's most famous sporting ground. Plus, there are world-class restaurants run by world-renowned celebrity chefs. Here are our picks for bucket list Australian food experiences.
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.
Celebrate summer with mango treats
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 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. You'll find many mango dishes on menus across the state, like the frozen treats at Frosty Mango on the coastal route to Far North Queensland, or pick up a fresh bunch at a local market.
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, listed for five years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list while holding the title of Best Restaurant in Australasia for three of those years. 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 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, 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 pizza. 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, from the crisp apples of the Huon Valley to the fresh oysters of the Freycinet Peninsula. One of the best ocean-to-plate experiences can be found near Bruny Island, a rugged escape just off the coast near Hobart. Book a Tasmanian Seafood Seduction tour with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys and you’ll be whisked away down the Derwent River to the sheltered waters surrounding Bruny Island. Let your guides pick oysters from the clear waters and snorkel for prized abalone, lobster and sea urchin. With views of deserted beaches and beautiful bays, it’s an on-the-water picnic you won’t soon forget.
Go to the Western Australia Gourmet Escape
The Western Australia 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 Peninsula
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 the Northern Territory
Native Australian ingredients are fundamental to the country's cuisine, and the Northern Territory offers opportunities to experience bush foods and the culture that has used them for thousands of years. Near Alice Springs, enjoy an immersive dining experience with Arrernte Aboriginal chef and host Bob Pernuka Taylor from RT Tours. On a Mbantua dinner, you'll indulge in a three-course meal infused with unique flavours of the Australian bush. After dinner, spot the animals that only come out after dark, and marvel at millions of stars above. Nitmiluk Tours will take you through the winding Nitmiluk Gorge on a sunset dinner cruise, where you'll eat a three-course meal cooked on-board as the setting sun transforms the landscape. Learn about seasonal bush foods and medicines used by the Luritja and Pertame (Southern Aranda) people with a Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Tours, set in the breathtaking backdrop of Kings Canyon.
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 on their team.
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 standalone restaurant Gauge is winning a swag of awards for its inventive dishes, like the garlic bread with burnt vanilla and brown butter. 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 region, 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. Try Code Black in Brunswick or Proud Mary in Collingwood.
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 al fresco 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 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.