The thought of holiday dining on a budget is enough to make any food lover lose their appetite. Tiana Templeman shows how to avoid paying big bucks without resorting to tins of baked beans . . .
Mention holiday dining on a budget and you’ll likely hear sorry tales involving Vegemite sandwiches and instant noodles. But not from me. After many years spent travelling with a wallet substantially smaller than my love of good food, I’ve discovered there are many ways to dine like a king while paying like a pauper. All it takes is a little planning and creativity and you too can enjoy memorable holiday dining without breaking the bank.

Not many people think “cooking class” when it comes to dining out but these provide a wonderful and surprisingly cost-effective opportunity to enjoy good food and wine together with convivial conversation. Your newfound cooking skills will also make a wonderful souvenir to take home.

Try The Spirit House (www.spirithouse.com.au) in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and enjoy free wine and beer while you dine on Thai food prepared during the class, or check out The Agrarian Kitchen (www.theagrariankitchen.com), a hands-on, farm-based school in Tasmania’s beautiful Derwent Valley. A cooking class is particularly good for solo travellers who enjoy good food but not dining alone in a restaurant.

Lunch is almost always cheaper than dinner, especially at restaurants with a strong evening trade. Keep an eye out for specials designed to get people through the door for this traditionally quieter sitting. Jamie Oliver’s acclaimed Fifteen Melbourne (www.fifteenmelbourne.com.au) offers an Express Lunch with two courses and a glass of wine for $45, while Lanzafame Trattoria (www.lanzafame.com.au) in Sydney takes a different approach, with “12 dishes for $12” available from noon each day. Grilled blue eyed cod with white wine, green olives, capers and parsley and linguine with prawns are just two of the meals on offer. Look for similar deals when you’re out sightseeing and check the local paper for advertised specials.

Multi-course set menus are another way to stretch your dining dollar. These are available at many restaurants but I’ve found the regional ones tend to offer the best value (in other words, you won’t need dinner). For example, while planning a trip to the Yarra Valley I discovered the restaurant at De Bortoli (www.debortoli.com.au) does a four-course Chef’s Menu for $55 per person. Restaurants with a good set menu tend to book out, though, so be prepared to book early.

If dinner is your favourite meal, try supplementing it with free eats from the hotel (and no, I don’t just mean muffins plundered during breakfast). Paying a little extra to stay in a club floor room comes with numerous benefits, including evening drinks and canapés, which means you’ll only need a light dinner or can perhaps even share a meal. I wouldn’t advise doing this somewhere fancy but most waiters don’t mind if you ask for an extra plate and order a side of vegetables or salad to round things out.

If you haven’t the courage to try this tactic while dining out, consider ordering a club sandwich and bowl of fries from room service and share your meal in private.

Self-catering is easy on the budget and helps travellers better appreciate a destination’s culinary landscape. A trip to the local farmers’ market (www.farmersmarkets.org.au) makes for an enjoyable outing and provides all you need for a picnic. Those staying in self-contained digs can take full advantage of this.

Another option is to save your holiday dining dollars for one truly memorable meal. Savour getting to know your destination and spend time choosing an exquisite restaurant with an excellent reputation. There’s an illicit thrill in knowing that even budget travellers can afford to dine anywhere they like, albeit only once. Or maybe twice? After all, you are on holiday.

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