There are certain experiences you absolutely, categorically, must enjoy in this life – and dining at one of our world-standard regional restaurants is one of them. We asked Australian food writer Sally Hammond to share her favourites – and she scoured the countryside to serve up the 10 best dining experiences out there. Bon appétit…
1. Palate, Saffire Freycinet
Chef Hugh Whitehouse’s background sparkles with awards and is based on a lifetime’s solid principles. His skills are the ideal mix for this resort in one of the loveliest corners of this already stunning island-state, and Palate is the perfect showcase for the squeaky-fresh local seafood.
The 40-seat restaurant (available only for in-house guests) is intimate yet feels expansive because of its two tiers enabling magnificent sweeping views over Great Oyster Bay and featuring glimpses of whales and dolphins – if you are lucky enough to catch one.
The expanse of mountains and pristine water could just tempt your attention away. But they won’t, because the east-coast oysters – some of the best in the world – and the local pasture-fed lamb, dealt with by the exceptional kitchen team – are just too amazing.
Palate, Saffire Freycinet, 2352 Coles Bay Rd, Coles Bay.
Open breakfast, lunch and dinner daily for in-house guests only.
Ph: 03 6256 7888; saffire-freycinet.com.au
2. The Stackings, Peppermint Bay
A beautiful view, lawns, tranquillity – what more could anyone want as a backdrop to a fine meal? Idyllic is an overworked word, but in this context it almost falls short.
In a state which prides itself on the bounty surrounding it in chilly yet crystal clear waters, fishermen chef David Moyle is the perfect choice. His background enables him and his team to coax every last flavour and texture of each ingredient and deliver it to your plate.
With views and food like this as a lure, it’s little wonder that diners think nothing of making the short and scenic trip south from Hobart.
The Stackings, Peppermint Bay, 3435 Channel Hwy, Woodbridge.
Open lunch Thursday-Monday (summer), weekends (winter).
3. Appellation at The Louise
In a valley bursting with stars, their names reading like an upmarket wine list, Appellation, on its hilltop, has a name that says it all. Since its beginning, the drive and exuberance of its chefs and owners has spurred this on to the top.
The view of the sweeping valleys and the aromas of your meal being readied in the kitchen is an ideal aperitif. Most of what you eat will be local. If not grown in the kitchen garden, or hand-selected according to the rhythms of the seasons at markets, it will come from bespoke producers.
Every whim is dealt with. Luxury suites mean you can prolong the dinner experience and stay over for breakfast.
Can’t wait to arrive? A helicopter transfer can be arranged from Adelaide. Easy.
Appellation at The Louise, Seppeltsfield and Stonewall Rds, Marananga, Barossa Valley.
Open for dinner daily.
4. Petaluma’s Bridgewater Mill
Seated in the galleried dining area, you could forget that this is also a winery of great gravitas and distinction. The awards back this up, and the cellar door below is where it all began in 1976.
The ideal distance from Adelaide, Petaluma is an easy place to reach, while still seeming a destination in itself. Most diners make sure they see the 1860s still-working ex-flour mill waterwheel as they relax in the cooler air on the deck outside.
Offering the best in Australian dining with a European edge, here you are at the source of fine wines, with sleek service, and a kitchen under chef Zac Ronayne’s direction that gets it superbly right.
Petaluma’s Bridgewater Mill, Mt Barker Rd, Bridgewater.
Open for lunch daily.
Ph: 08 8339 9200; petaluma.com.au5. Rick Stein at Bannisters
If a simple dish of local oysters could influence celebrity chef Rick Stein’s direction, causing him, decades later, to put his name to a restaurant in this part of the New South Wales South Coast, then just think what
a meal here could do for your life!
With an absolute (and absolutely stunning) waterfront view, you will be torn between that and executive chef Julian Lloyd’s dishes. Former head chef for Stein in Padstow, his sensational seafood cuisine sits perfectly with the name and location.
Part of Bannisters Lodge, there’s that glorious feel of luxury that doesn’t have to try too hard, just because it’s so effortlessly good.
Rick Stein at Bannisters, 191 Mitchell Pde, Mollymook.
Open dinner, Monday to Saturday; lunch Wednesday and weekends; breakfast daily from 7.30am.
6. Biota Dining
The high point of the Southern Highlands is no longer the altitude or the autumn leaves. Biota Dining has cornered cred and compliments (not to mention awards) for its concerned creativity. Think food that is sourced locally from producers who care enormously about getting it right. Ditto for the chefs.
The cuisine, developed by James Viles, restaurant chef and director, is Garden of Eden-style dining – absolutely seasonal, and what the team can’t source or forage near at hand, they grow, using the garden and glasshouse. Ducks, geese and yabbies come from just metres away.
It all comes together on your plate in a space that’s been aesthetically designed to support without intruding. Paradise regained!
Biota Dining, 18 Kangaloon Rd, Bowral.
Open Monday and Wednesday to Saturday, lunch and dinner; Sunday brunch and lunch.
Ph: 02 4862 2005; biotadining.com7. Royal Mail Hotel
Sleepy little Dunkeld, a small town in farming and mountain country, this is perhaps not the place you would expect to find fine dining, let alone heart-stoppingly beautiful gastronomy. Yet this reborn country hotel with its curved, vaguely art-deco façade tempts diners all the way from Melbourne, hours away.
It helps that there’s accommodation on-site, but even if there wasn’t they would still come, as chef Dan Hunter, formerly of the prestigious two-Michelin starred Mugaritz restaurant in Spain, has serious food-lovers in a tizz.
The hotel’s owner reportedly had a dream to create the best restaurant in Australia, and it looks like they’ve pulled it off – The Royal Mail consistently nabs top state and national restaurant awards.
Royal Mail Hotel, Glenelg Hwy, (98 Parker St), Dunkeld.
Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday.
Ph: 03 5577 2241; royalmail.com.au8. Lake House
Legendary founder, owner, and perhaps most importantly, chef Alla Wolf Tasker has spent two decades investing her vision, tireless energy and expertise into something which has resulted, quite simply, in one of the first Australian places to truly be considered ‘destination dining’.
The dream continues with a spa and accommodation and an ever-present ethos of fine country dining, continuing the tradition of regional Michelin-starred restaurants throughout France.
It doesn’t hurt that the dining overlooks a reed-fringed lake, nor that kookaburras zoom in to entertain diners. But underneath all this, Alla and her team are the ones that work the magic that is Lake House.
Lake House, King St, Daylesford.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Ph: 03 5348 3329; lakehouse.com.au9. Wasabi
Surprisingly hot is most people’s reaction to wasabi when they first taste it. And that’s how diners feel about this place in its new location, with its toes almost dabbling in the Noosa River.
Owner, Danielle Gjestland, was named Young Restaurateur of the Year in 2009, and knows exactly what she’s doing. Just as skilled is Kyoto-born chef Hajime Horiguchi, whose menu perfectly blends his heritage with local produce. Above the main dining space, the traditional tatami room adds further authenticity to the Japanese experience.
Like the rest of us, you’ll be thrilled to find top Japanese food served in a space with such serenity. For extra wow-factor, time your dinner to coincide with sunset over the river. Hot!
Wasabi, 2 Quamby Pl, Noosa.
Open for lunch Friday and Sunday, dinner Wednesday to Sunday.
10. Vasse Felix
Margaret River’s pioneer winemaker, Dr Tom Cullity, could never have expected all this when he planted his first vines in 1967. Aiming to simply make the ‘best possible wine’, he didn’t foresee how he would eventually spawn a local wine and tourism industry, nor the ultimate extent of his own venture.
The restaurant is quite rightly surrounded by vines and bushland, and the effect is mesmerising – a spell broken only by long-term chef Aaron Carr’s food. An avid surfer, Carr’s been making waves on and off-shore since becoming executive chef at Vasse Felix back in 1995, creating dishes that compliment the vineyard’s wines with uncanny talent. Now that’s a man who’s got his priorities straight…
Vasse Felix, cnr Tom Cullity Dr and Caves Rd, Cowaramup.
Open for morning tea and lunch daily.
So there you have it: a veritable bucket list of regional eats.
Think we’ve missed something? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org