Best restaurants for uniquely Australian food

Terry Durack

Restaurants Restaurants

Experiences Experiences

Age-old ingredients have created a brave new cuisine, with Australian native plants firmly at centre stage

Prairie Hotel, Flinders Ranges, NSW

Some of the newest ingredients landing on plates at Australian restaurant tables are thousands of years old, as Australian chefs turn to their own backyard for inspiration. That backyard, mind you, stretches over 6.5 million square kilometres (2.5 million square miles), so they have a bit of ground to cover. As Australian Aboriginals have known for 40,000 years, this vast, dry country is home to countless wild, native plants, herbs, nuts, seeds and berries across the six climatic seasons recognised in Aboriginal culture. Visitors to Australia can now sample the results of this inspiration on tables that range from the finest restaurant in the land to an outback country pub. Here are just a few.

New South Wales’ most uniquely Australian restaurants

Billy Kwong, Sydney, NSW, Instagram photo by @kylie_kwong

Billy Kwong, Sydney

Culinary evangelist and owner/chef 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 you, that means prawn and cricket wontons with sweet chilli sauce; lush, green saltbush pancakes; and red-braised caramelised wallaby with black bean and chilli, eaten while perched on a stool in a casual/chic modern Asian diner. Critics are raving, and the queues go out the door and down the street.

Momofuku Seiobo
, Sydney

When New York superstar chef David Chang opened his first restaurant outside America in Sydney in 2012, his mission statement was simple: to use the bounty of Australia. Take a stool at the wrap-around kitchen counter under the black and white AC/DC posters and yes, you will still find the Momofuku trademark steamed pork belly buns on the menu, but chef Ben Greeno is just as likely to present you with subtly sweet marron (a native freshwater crayfish) with seaweed and salsify, or a dessert of malty ice-cream enlivened with the crunch of wattleseed meringue. “We have to get our heads around what’s out there, and we have to use what we’ve got” says Chang. “I hope it gets to the point where everybody in this country starts cooking kangaroo and wallaby. That has to be the long-term goal.”

Biota, Bowral

In a sleepy country town in the lush southern highlands of New South Wales, big-city chef James Viles combines high-tech cookery with a deep-seated commitment to local produce at Biota – right down to the ducks and geese grazing outside around a Disneyland pond. Indigenous ingredients appear as natural, integral and harmonious components of dishes such as molasses-glazed beef with saltbush, native berries and leek; and cuttlefish with its own ink, oyster crème and sea lettuce emulsion. A popular bar and monthly farmers’ market adds to the experience.

Bentley Restaurant + Bar
, Sydney

Tucked into a gloriously tall-ceilinged historic building in the heart of Sydney, Bentley – led by restlessly creative chef Brent Savage – responds to the call of the wild. Sample rare and rested kangaroo fillet with a glossy sticky riberry sauce, and a dessert of aerated chocolate with fig leaf ice-cream and tangy lemon aspen. The corporate-by-day, chic-by-night crowds are lapping it up.

South Australia’s most uniquely Australian restaurants

Orana, Adelaide

Downstairs, you can knock back a coldie (beer) with a slow-braised kangaroo sarnie (sandwich) in Street-ADL, Glaswegian chef/owner Jock Zonfrillo’s accessible, energetic modern bar. Upstairs is Orana, an intimate, 25-seat fine dining restaurant inspired by Zonfrillo’s constant research and immersion into Australia’s native ingredients and indigenous culture. Kick off with crisp-fried saltbush leaves and Kangaroo Island scallops with salty iceplant, and go on to wagyu beef topped with vibrant green bittergrass and fresh mudcrab teamed with sandpaper fig and wild pea. An evocative, sensitive, modern Australian dining experience.

The Prairie Hotel, Flinders Ranges

Located a good five-hour drive from Adelaide “where the desert meets the Flinders Ranges”, Parachilna boasts an official population of just seven, 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 infamous Feral Mixed Grill of kangaroo fillet, emu, camel sausage and creamy mash with a red wine and pepper leaf glaze, followed by a quandong crumble pie. 

Victoria’s most uniquely Australian restaurants

Attica, Melbourne

Owner/chef Ben Shewry regularly forages for seaweeds and wild weeds and keeps two sizeable kitchen gardens near his quietly elegant inner-suburban restaurant, Attica, rated number 21 in the 2013 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 seared Flinders Island wallaby with Bunya pine shavings, macadamia nut puree, chicory, begonia and ground berries, and the grandly titled “Native Fruits of Australia”: a gloriously sweet and sour assembly of lillypilly, Illawarra plum, poached quandongs, candied rosella flower, muntries, riberries and Davidson’s plum.

Charcoal Lane, Melbourne

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 offers a unique dining experience that offers seasonally inspired dishes infused with native ingredients, such as dukkah-crusted saltbush lamb with lilly pilly and pepper-leaf couscous, and steamed apple and muntries berry pudding.

Western Australia’s most uniquely Australian restaurants

Greenhouse, Perth

The brainchild of Dutch-born artist, builder and environmentalist Joost Bakker, Greenhouse is as much about sustainable environmental choices as it is about rustic, honest eating in one of the hottest places in town. A roof garden supplies herbs and vegetables; furniture is repurposed and rebuilt on site; insulation comes from hay bales, and all waste is composted. It’s a fitting environment for tousle-haired chef Matt Stone’s serious-yet-casual take on contemporary cuisine, heavily biased towards locally sourced indigenous flavours. Rare kangaroo loin is teamed with native apple, sorrel and kohlrabi, and pan-fried barramundi with bush tomato butter and gazpacho.

Queensland’s most uniquely Australian restaurant

Tukka, Brisbane

The kitchen garden here at Tukka grows a great deal of the indigenous produce used by head chef and keen gardener Bryant Wells, whose tasting platter of game meats, fruits, nuts, berries and dips acts as an open invitation to taste Australia. Meats border on the exotic, from Western Australian barramundi and Tasmanian possum, to Queensland kangaroo and crocodile from Cairns.

Tukka’s degustation menu showcases quality native Australian produce at its finest:

- Lavender cured Cairns crocodile with a melon salad, pickled cucumber and chilli lime emulsion
- Seared Queensland kangaroo, roasted apricots, buttered zucchini and a Davidson plum jus
- Marburg emu fillet, sweet potato and Tonka bean puree and cider braised nashi pear