From top-end beachside fare to Asian chic, Jennifer Pinkerton samples the pick of culinary newcomers to breeze through the Territory’s tropics.
Cue a new era: the previous 12 months have seen Darwin’s food scene sprout black cockatoo wings and take flight. Hip, artisan eateries and food trucks are emerging with greater gusto than a wet-season storm. And it’s not just the food that delights, either, with many new establishments also acing the atmosphere stakes. Either fully or partially, diners can sit outdoors amid the dry season air. We checked out a handful of freshly hatched havens to whet your appetite for a tropical bite.
1. Nightcliff Foreshore’s food truck scene
Twenty minutes north of the CBD in artsy hub Nightcliff, a ‘village walk’ of new-breed food trucks has popped up alongside the suburb’s milky-blue ocean fringe. Beginning at the Nightcliff Pool carpark, roll over to Jetty & the Fish (Friday to Sunday). This pint-sized red van, owned by young guns Kate Jellis and Grant Dwyer, serves NT threadfin salmon, as well as southern Mexican -inspired fish tacos with spicy white sauce, cabbage and coriander. Further north lies Teardrop Coffee (Monday to Saturday), a pop-up blue-and-white vintage van with the pick of early morning locations: a stand-up paddle boarder’s section of beach, set right by the Aralia Street and Casuarina Drive intersection. Here, owner Imogen Gough brews java beside a scattering of milk crates and a lush strip of lawn. By night, just around the bend at the Seabreeze carpark (Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays), you’ll find the jewel in the foreshore’s food truck crown. Cucina Sotto Le Stelle translates from Italian to ‘kitchen under the stars’. his mobile restaurant’s chef Benjamin Matthews wood-fires traditional pizzas, while diners share long, communal tables set beneath illuminated flame trees. Try the risotto with NT squid ink, garlic and blue swimmer crab. But do take note that the menu here shifts with the seasons, so while you may not always find your favourite, you can be assured the freshest produce Matthews can get his hands on.
2. Seoul Food Darwin style
Sitting at the fancy end of the spectrum, Seoul Food is the newest fine-dining offering on the block. Based on the ground floor of hotel Élan Solo Suites, it was set up with culinary guidance from Chung Jae Lee, former South Australia Chef of the Year. The modern-looking restaurant blends traditional Korean food with French flourishes for intriguing and well-considered mash-ups. Plates emerge from the open kitchen looking like edible canvases. Think flecked sauces and sprays of black sesame. Must-try dishes include Seoul Food’s pumpkin, ginger and coconut soup with Korean mandu (pork dumpling); kimchi and pancetta arancini with smoked garlic dipping sauce; and beef carpaccio with nashi pear, avocado, and a soy and sesame dressing. The sizzling vegetarian bibimbap (rice bowl), served in a heavy, heated bowl is a fresh and filling stand-out. 31 Woods St, Darwin
3. De La Plage
Darwin’s latest cafe might also boast its best views. Housed in a disused surf club storeroom, De la Plage occupies a grassy expanse that overlooks Casuarina Coastal Reserve, 25 minutes north of the CBD. Run by Belgian and Australian-Turkish duo, Claire Pirau and Sevan Guzel, the café’s menu is inspired by the ladies’ respective heritages. Belgian treats include brown sugar and lime crêpes, while a decadent fig and dark chocolate baklava is among the Turkish offerings. AT favourites comprise the chia seed porridge with Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit, as well as a refreshing watermelon salad. De la Plage pulls off a chilled beach vibe, Darwin style, and there are plans afoot to have tunes spinning out across the lawns on weekends. Darribah Road, Brinkin
Plus, one to keep an eye out for…
Lola’s, which opened in June, is a cabaret and carnival-themed restaurant and bar in the harbour-side precinct of Cullen Bay. It is the sister bar to Monte’s Lounge, an Alice Springs staple with a cracker of an outdoor area and more atmosphere than you’ll find at a footy grand final. Lola’s serves up another NT newbie, too, a draught beer from local Darwin label One Mile Brewery. Cheekily, the beer’s name is drawn from the knock-off time for public servants: 4:21. Marina Boulevard, Cullen Bay