Pipit Restaurant, Pottsville, New South Wales © Sabine Bannard
7 Restaurants Worth Travelling For According to Top Aussie Food Critics
Hungry for memorable dining experiences? Follow the personal recommendations of these national food gurus to discover regional Australia's unmissable gourmet gems.
While there’s a roll call of stellar restaurants in our capital cities, if you’re keen to experience great food matched by bucolic country or sea views, along with hearty hospitality, hit the road. From Southeast Asian flavours by the seaside to a country Victorian restaurant where the produce travels just metres to your plate, these restaurants are well worth the journey, according to Australia’s top tastemakers.
MasterChef Australia Judge, @fooderati
Where: Brunswick Heads, northern New South Wales, a one-hour drive south of the Gold Coast.
“Fleet in Brunswick Heads is tiny but mighty, and so very full of heart. Astrid McCormack treads the floor here as front of house doyenne, and her sunshine warmth is the kind of welcoming balm you need when you’re luxuriating on the coast. Her partner Josh Lewis is responsible for the truly dynamic and personal food coming from the kitchen…all of which has usually come from just kilometres away by ocean or land. It’s tantamount to one of the most exciting, fun and soulful food experiences you can have anywhere in Australia.”
How to experience it: With less than 20 seats, degustation-only Fleet can book out months in advance, so be sure to reserve well ahead. Why not make a trip of it? Road trip to Fleet from Sydney (a seven-hour drive north along the eastern seaboard), stopping in at iconic coastal towns including: Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay.
Did you know?
Famous for its fortified wine, the Rutherglen wine region is just half an hour from Provenance.
Creative Director, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, @patnourse
Where: Beechworth, Victoria, a three-and-a-half-hour drive north-east of Melbourne, or a one-hour flight to Albury Wodonga.
“In the setting of the lush High Country of Victoria, up near the New South Wales border, Beechworth is a gold rush era town that has kept the essence of its 19th-century finery. Even against that backdrop, Provenance stands out. Michael Ryan’s food is dazzling in its freshness. Whether you’re talking about silken tofu that he makes in-house, dressed with cucumber, ginger and simmered dried daikon, or the radicchio that he brines and grills, its bittersweet quality underlined by pumpkin seeds and a purée of pickled raisins, it’s all about good ideas executed with great finesse – impossibly delicious from start to finish.”
How to experience it: Pair your meal with a martini made with local gin (such as Reed & Co Distillery Remedy Gin from Bright) and house-made yuzu bitters. Stay for a night (or three) at the adjoining accommodation, a stunning heritage cottage at the rear of the estate; former stables that also served at one time as the town bank.
Nu Nu Restaurant
Queensland Taste Editor, The Courier Mail, @anooskate
Where: Palm Cove, Far North Queensland, a 30-minute drive north of Cairns.
“Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, Nu Nu brings the magic. Through swaying palm trees, the Pacific Ocean twinkles in turquoise shades just a coconut toss from the umbrella-topped deck. While epitomising the laid-back vibes of Palm Cove, just north of Cairns, there’s a level of dining sophistication engendered through acclaimed chef Nick Holloway’s innovative and thoughtful fare. Holloway harnesses the best of far north produce with influences from Asia, Europe and beyond. Think Thai-inspired miangs (snack wrapped in a leaf), an Italian fish stew or perhaps a banana and coconut pudding, made all the better with a glass of wine from the succinct but smart list or a signature cocktail that once again highlights exotic local ingredients.”
How to experience it: Make a day of it by making a pitstop at the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for a scenic view of Far North Queensland's iconic rainforest wonders before capping off the day with a gourmet feast.
Chief Restaurant Critic, The Sydney Morning Herald, @sydneymorningherald
Where: Birregurra, Victoria, a two-hour drive south-west from Melbourne.
“Dining at Brae is much more than just a world-class meal. It’s the drive through the Victorian countryside, spotting rustic woolsheds; the walks through the restaurant’s productive gardens; or even a luxurious overnight stay overlooking the sheep in the lower paddock. Former head chef at acclaimed Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, Dan Hunter has dug deep roots here in the Otway hinterland, forever guided by the region’s finest produce, which he elevates to profound, singular, strongly principled heights.”
How to experience it: If you’re visiting for lunch and staying the night in one of Brae’s architect-designed suites, you can opt to have a supper plate delivered to your room. Be sure to stop in at the iconic Victorian city of Geelong on your way through.
Lake House Restaurant
Editorial Director, Delicious magazine, @kerrie_mccallum
Where: Daylesford, Victoria, a one-and-a-half-hour drive north-west of Melbourne.
“It's not just the serene lakeside location in Victoria's spa country, or the warmly elegant guest houses with soft throw rugs and crackling fires. It's the passion, generosity and commitment to excellent local produce by Lake House’s culinary director Alla Wolf-Tasker that has put this award-winning restaurant on the map for over 35 years.
You'll find a wine list of international renown, and everything made from scratch, with much of the vegetables and fruit for the seasonal menu supplied by the Wolf-Tasker family's new Dairy Flat Farm and cooking school (a mere 10 minutes away). It's definitely the detour that should be on every food-lovers list.”
How to experience it: Foodies bedding down at the Lake House would be wise to check out the incredible Culinary Library collection housed in the on-site Argyle Library Bar.
Editor, Good Food magazine, @ardynbernoth
Where: Pottsville, New South Wales, a 30-minute drive north of Byron Bay.
“A tiny town between Byron Bay and the Queensland border, Pottsville was never on the culinary map until chef Ben Devlin opened Pipit.
The casual, corner restaurant is entirely focused around the kitchen – a charcoal grill with drying and smoking racks, to be precise, where Devlin calmly cooks his sustainable seafood-based menu. It might be Moreton Bay bugs with ribbons of potato cooked al dente in whey, or sugarloaf cabbage stuffed with crab and macadamia, followed by desserts that star a vibrant array of tropical fruit. Always an inventive ode to the ever-changing bounty of the sea, Pipit’s an astonishing find in a sleepy seaside town.”
How to experience it: Book one of Pipit’s 12 counter seats for a front-row view of Ben and his staff in action in the open kitchen. Stay in the iconic beach town of Byron Bay and rent a car to cruise the sparkling Australian coastline on your way to Pipit.
Insider guide: pubs worth travelling for (according to Australia’s drink editors)
A La Grecque
Food and restaurant critic, Author of Prick With A Fork, @larissadubecki
Where: Aireys Inlet, Victoria, a two-hour drive south-west of Melbourne.
“A La Grecque is a bit of an institution. It’s an old house, converted into a lovely airy restaurant with a beautiful deck. Celebrity chef George Calombaris gets a lot of credit for showing that you can do excellent Greek food with great produce, but these guys have been doing it for decades. They are like a Greek dynasty – the dad, Kosta, started with his wife Pam, and they’ve passed the baton on to their son, Stratos.”
“The food is simple and produce-driven; honest and delicious. They use a lot of seafood from the local area – their octopus is beautiful and their taramasalata is stunning – a levitating, creamy whipped beauty. It’s very convivial and really well staffed – interestingly, for a place in the country they usually have some snappy service, well above the norm.”
How to experience it: The authentic fried calamari will transport you straight to the Greek Islands – if only for a few minutes – so make sure to pop an order of that in upon arrival. On the drive down, take the scenic route along the legendary Great Ocean Road for a quick sojourn to the iconic Bells Beach.