While Australian cities have a wealth of great places to dine, nothing quite beats taking to the open road on a food adventure. These far-flung foodie spots will leave you sated, wowed and glad you took the road less travelled.
Remember the days when eating in the country rarely stretched beyond sausage rolls and pub grub? Oh, how times have changed. Today, regional restaurants confidently go head to head with their urban counterparts for industry awards and international recognition, which means no matter which direction from the city you head, there’s a good chance you’ll hit culinary gold.
What’s perhaps even more notable though, are the intrepid operators popping up in tiny towns well off the mainstream tourist routes. In obscure outposts everywhere from Brunswick Heads to Birregurra, it seems a new generation of chefs is realising that great local produce is best eaten in situ, and diners are lapping it up in droves.
So what’s behind this new golden age of regional dining? According to restaurateur, Kirstyn Sessions of acclaimed restaurant, Fen in Port Fairy, Victoria it might have something to do with regional players capitalising on ready access to exceptional produce.
“We love being able to show off our part of Australia to the world,” Sessions says. “And food that is grown locally or that’s native to the area is one of the best ways to express what’s really unique and special about the region.”
Hungry for your next culinary road trip? We’ve put together a hit list of some of Australia’s best destination dining spots – some fancy, others casual. The only rule? Book. In. Advance. They might be in the middle of nowhere but these spots are hot, hot, hot.
New South Wales
In Bowral, Biota Dining serves inventive mod-Aus tasting menus with exceptional produce that chef James Viles often plucks straight from the source (aka his abundant kitchen garden). Think smoked beef rump with potato and freshwater eel crème. Along with its incredible food, the attention to detail and personalised service at Brunswick Heads’ Fleet are legendary. Seating just 14, this minimal, wood-lined space champions local produce (local sea urchin, Ballina prawns, perhaps) and thoughtfully made booze. Keen to go casual? A scenic drive into the Bryon hinterland leads to popular mod-Japanese Doma Café in Federal. Housed in an old weatherboard general store, expect super laid-back vibes and authentic sashimi, maki sushi and katsu burgers. Meanwhile, 25 minutes north-west of Wagga, the tiny village of Coolamon is drawing droves of dairy-loving day-trippers thanks to the recently opened café at Coolamon Cheese. Go for the excellent cheese, stay for the great Campos coffee, warm service, excellent lunch fare and well-chosen local Riverina wines.
Consistently rated among Australia’s finest restaurants, Dan Hunter’s Brae has helped redefine Australian cuisine. Located 90 minutes’ drive west of Melbourne, the timber farmhouse draws international foodies and press for its highly original, hyper local tasting menu. At Fen, in the sleepy seaside town of Port Fairy, chef Ryan Sessions is introducing diners to stunning native and local produce like green-lip abalone, sea parsley and western district lamb. With its on-site olive grove, orchards and organic kitchen garden, Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld is a pub, but not as you know it. Along with chef Robin Wickens’ inspired seasonal fare, the epic wine list and stunning mountain views all add to the charm. The weekly Sunday lunch spread at Tamsin’s Table in Poowong, West Gippsland is a great way to appreciate the culinary joys of paddock-to-plate dining. Not only is she an incredible cook, Tamsin grows, bakes, bottles, harvests and rears every edible thing on site.
Gastronomes have been detouring to Rodney Dunne’s bucolic Derwent Valley cooking school for years. His new venue, Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store, now lures crowds to the tiny town of New Norfolk for a dining experience where local, seasonal produce is celebrated. Further north in Legana (near Launceston), chef Matt Adams is working deliciously creative culinary magic at Timbre Kitchen, thanks in part to a big wood oven (think wood roasted chicken with brown butter) and his flock of goats (hello cheese and curd). Perhaps one of Tassie’s best kept food secrets comes via surf-mad Japanese sushi chef, Masaaki Koyama, whose hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Masaaki’s in Geeveston serves some of the freshest, most meticulously sourced real-deal sushi you’ll find.
At the rainforest-shrouded Spirit House in Yandina, the hour’s drive north-west of the Sunshine Coast is rewarded with equal parts culinary heaven and zen-like retreat vibes. Chef Tom Swapp’s menu offers mod and trad takes on Thai, with local produce playing a starring role. Further inland at Maleny, The Tamarind has French-trained chef Daniel Jarrett combining classical technique, local ingredients and pan-Asian flavours with delicious results. Nestled in the rainforest, the breezy outdoor pavilions make for an unforgettable dining location. Located further north in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, The Long Apron at Spicer’s Clovelly Estate in Montville sees Michelin-trained British chef, Chris Hagan showcasing the coast’s excellent seafood and produce in a multi-course, European-inspired tasting menu.
With a population of less than 400, the tiny Adelaide Hills village of Summertown makes an unlikely gastro destination, but thanks to laid-back wine bar/eatery, The Summertown Aristologist it’s now on the map. The compact menu heroes local produce, while the 500-strong wine list offers plenty of justification for settling in. At Auburn’s Terroir, the kitchen runs with “a strict locavore philosophy.” So along with attentive service and serious wines, you can expect to feast on the very best of seasonal Clare Valley bounty. Try chef Dan Moss’s 4-course tasting menu and be sure to savour a Clare Riesling (or two).
Leanne Clancey is our regular Eating Out columnist. Leanne is a freelance writer, restaurant critic, author, salami judge and self-appointed aperitivo authority based in Melbourne. When she’s not writing, assessing cured meats or uncovering obscure holiday destinations, you’ll find her acting as an official ambassador for Scarf – a social enterprise that provides hospitality training and mentoring for young people from Melbourne’s migrant and refugee communities. You can follow Leanne on Instagram and Twitter at @tourdeclance.