Where to eat in Australia? Here is a snapshot of Australia’s best restaurants…

Photos courtesy of Attica, Brae, Quay and Sepia

 

Australia, the land of milk, honey, wagyu and pristine seafood, might well be one of the world’s most under-appreciated foodie destinations.
Over the past 3 years, Australia consistently came in with just 1 or 2 listings on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, on par with Singapore (whose population is a quarter of Australia’s). Continental USA, which is about the same size as Australia, scooped an average of 7 entries per year during the same period.
With celebrity chefs and trend-setting restaurateurs setting their sights down under, the situation looks set to change.
In 2011, Momofuku Seiōbo debuted in Sydney, the first restaurant by David Chang of the Momofuku group to open outside the USA.
Joining the fray in mid 2015 is Kensington Street Social, a joint project between Loh Lik Peng and Jason Atherton in the former’s soon-to-open The Old Clare boutique hotel in Sydney.
Come August 2015, Heston Blumenthal, owner of the three-Michelin starred Fat Duck and two-Michelin starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, will cut the ribbons to his outpost at Crown Melbourne, the first overseas foray for the feted British chef.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Chang of Momofuku was quoted as saying: “I’ve just fallen in love with Australia. I’m just fascinated by the food scene in Sydney and Melbourne. People are excited about food in Australia. It’s fresh and it’s energetic.”
Interestingly, Sydney and Melbourne are not the only Australian cities with a vibrant food scene. With the 2011 opening of the Museum of New and Old Art in Tasmania, the once-sleepy city of Hobart has been given a shot in the arm with restaurants like Garagiste and, mostly recently, Franklin, gradually creeping onto the dining bandwagon.
Haven’t been to Australia of late? No worries; get your fork and spoon ready and join us on a armchair roundup of Australia’s best restaurants.
Note: Since we couldn’t get seats at Franklin and Garagiste, both Tasmanian restaurants have been omitted from the story but we have a hunch that if we’d planned our reservations well in advance, they would’ve made the list quite effortlessly.
Brae: Raw wallaby wrapped in BBQ radicchio (Photo courtesy of Brae)
Brae
After spending time as chef de cuisine of Mugaritz and, most recently, Royal Mail, Dan Hunter resurfaced in a whitewashed country house set in a 30-acre property in the Birregura region, an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne. With an olive grove, an orchard and an edible herb garden in his backyard, Hunter rises to the occasion with an inspired menu of terroir-driven creations encapsulated in a delicious 10-course tasting menu (the snacks course alone features 9 items). Petit pois procured from a nearby bio-dynamic farm are gently smoked in the BBQ, served with calamari, fermented celeriac and rounded with beef fat to deliver a perfect balance of sweet, tart and crisp finish. Freshly plucked broad beans, strawberries and fig leaf from the resident edible garden are served alongside green almonds in a pool of minimalist yoghurt whey to heighten the intensity of the fresh vegetables on the palate. A delicious meat dish of raw wallaby ensconced in BBQ radicchio keeps things interesting for the carnivores, as does the 18 day-aged Peking duck roasted in a wood fire oven. If there is any doubt if Brae is worth the schlep, take it from us that it is. 4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra VIC 3242, Australia; +61 3 5236 2226; www.braerestaurant.com
Attica: Salted kangaroo with red carrots in bunya bunya (Photo courtesy of Attica)
 
Attica
When in Australia, a trip to Attica, voted no. 32 on S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list 2014, is a must, if only to steep in the storied life of chef-owner, Ben Shewry, told over a 10-course dinner that spans 5 hours. The New Zealand native who gained international fame for his passion for foraging now has access to multiple plots of edible garden at Ripponlea Estate – all within a 4-minute walk from the restaurant – and these edible herbs, fruits and flowers (plus a handful of native ingredients like red pepper berries from Tasmania), feature in Shewry’s tasting menu that draws inspiration from both New Zealand (where Shewry grew up) and Australia. Bunya bunya (ground berries) from Shewry’s 15-acre garden is teamed with rare salted red kangaroo meat and red carrots from Mornington Peninsula while slow-roasted Greta Valley pork loin is crusted in coriander seeds and served with a sauce of fresh corn, rotten corn (a traditional Maori technique for preserving corn) and lemon aspen. Just so to remind you that you a truly down under, Shewry also serves up a snack of pikelet (or blinis) made with wallaby blood that comes complete with a tongue-in-cheek recipe. 74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea VIC 3185, Australia; +61 3 9530 0111; www.attica.com.au
The Bridge Room: Steamed Victorian Murray cod with winter melon and new season ginger in reduced Chinkiang black vinegar sauce

 

The Bridge Room
You can say the Ross Lusted is a dark horse in Sydney’s culinary race.  A latecomer to the chef-restaurateur business after almost a decade as the jet-setting F&B head at Aman Resorts, Lusted hung up his white collar in favour of a chef’s white so that he can get his hands busy in the kitchen once again. For the South African’s Sydney debut in 2012, he handpicked a decent-sized space just a stone’s throw from the Circular Quay and decked it with lightwood and glass to yield a contemporary sheen. This set the stage for Lusted’s light and uncluttered cuisine that throws the spotlight on the Australian produce at hand. There is only one a la carte menu here, which plays at lunch and dinner but if tasting menu is your preferred route, Lusted will gladly whip-up one for you (about 5 courses for lunch and 9 for dinner). Ash-dusted grilled duck is served with new season cherries, caramelised pear puree and aged vinegar with mulberry powder while steamed Victorian Murray cod arrives with winter melon and new season ginger in a reduced Chinkiang black vinegar sauce flavoured with chillies and garlic. Judging from what we had at lunch, Lusted is a master in exercising restraint with the Asian and European influences that inspire him. Truly, Aman’s lose is Sydney’s gain. 44 Bridge St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia; +61 2 9247 7000; www.thebridgeroom.com.au
Quay: Snow egg dessert (Photo courtesy of Quay)

 

Quay
If Asian fusion is your cup of tea, Quay Restaurant at The Rocks offers that and an added bonus of panoramic views of the Sydney Harbour that spans from the Harbour Bridge to the iconic Sydney Opera House. Executive chef, Peter Gilmore has distilled a contemporary Australian menu that draws inspirations from Asia and dishes like 5 sea textures (red prawn, squid, octopus, vongole and scallop) in an intensely savoury – if salty – XO sauce and congee of Australian mud crab in umami-packed chicken broth with fresh palm and egg yolk emulsion reflect the restaurant’s lineage. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring dessert of “snow egg”, a Quay Restaurant icon (and the most talked about dessert in all of Australia) that is completely worth a detour. Depending on how hungry you are, these dishes are available in the 4 course set menu, 8 course tasting menu and the a la carte. When making a reservation, request for the glass-wrapped upper deck for breathtaking harbour views. Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal 5 Hickson Road, The Rocks NSW 2000, Australia; +61 2 9251 5600; www.quay.com.au
Sepia: Kingfish “bacon” (Photo courtesy of Sepia)

 

Sepia
If there is one lesson to be learnt from a dinner at Sepia, it is that nobody understands umami (or the fifth taste) better than its chef-owner, Martin Benn. Banking on his extensive knowledge of the fifth taste, the native of Britain and former Tetsuya’s head chef has created a Japanese-influenced menu (pick from the four-course set menu or degustation menu) that showcases Australia’s abundant produce from the sea and land, each prepped with umami-enriching ingredients. For amuse-bouche, kingfish is compressed and matched with iberico strips and served as “bacon” topped with smoked ikura pearls and ponzu while for mains, David Blackmore wagyu brisket is charcoal grilled to yield a deep smoky tang and paired with Japanese pickles and miso mustard. Most come for Benn’s tasting menu but if you’re hard-pressed for time, a 4-course set menu is available for midweek dinners and Friday lunch. 201 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia; +61 2 9283 1990; www.sepiarestaurant.com.au
Momofuku Seiobo: 154 day-aged seared Ranger’s Valley wagyu served with fermented rye-dusted swede

 

Momofuku Seiōbo

With David Chang, you never know what to expect. After planting the Momofuku flag firmly in New York, the co-founder of Lucky Peach magazine spread his wings and landed a prized spot 3 years ago on the grounds of Sydney’s one and only casino hotel, The Star. Unlike its noodle bar flagship, noodles are not on the tasting menu at Momofuku Seiobo and neither is American or Korean fare. Head chef, Ben Greeno, an Englishman and the former sous chef of Noma, has conceived a borderless cuisine neatly translated into a 10-course tasting menu that draws inspiration from his time in Europe. Snacks like deep-fried parson’s nose topped with caviar tickles the palate before Greeno sweeps you off your feet with dishes like the 154 day-aged seared Ranger’s Valley wagyu served with fermented rye-dusted swede. As Greeno will tell you, there are no signature dishes here but the seared wagyu cubed with sliced radish, fermented black bean powder and charred watermelon rind dressing has – ironically enough – been on the menu since day one. The Star/80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont NSW 2009, Australia; +61 2 9777 9000; www.momofuku.com/sydney/seiobo

© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.

 

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