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Travel is one of the most enriching and adored pastimes on the planet. Yet the personal reasons for why and when we choose to do it can be as unique as the spots on a leopard. If there’s one thing that unites most travellers though, it’s food.
Whether seeking exotic foreign flavours or paddock-to-plate dining in our own backyard, it’s an experience to be savoured and shared.
In Australia we’re spoiled for choice with phenomenal dining venues on our doorstep, particularly in the big cities. Quay Restaurant on Sydney Harbour, Wildflower in Perth, and Society in Melbourne, to name a few.
But we’re not interested in those right now. We’re turning our attention to the experiences found where you may not expect, of which there are some genuinely incredible options.
- Taste your way through Australia’s native ingredients
- Shuck oysters fresh from sea in Tasmania
- Enjoy a seafood bounty on Port Phillip Bay
- Hunt for truffles in WA’s south west
- Make pizzas with the master in Melbourne
- Experience paddock-to-plate on a premium Wagyu farm
- Have your fish and frame it too at Pipit
- Breathe in views of Uluru from an open air restaurant
- Embrace plant-based degustation dining
- Forage, cook and feast in the Derwent Valley
- Dine on the wild side in Canberra
- Picnic on a sand cay amid the Great Barrier Reef
Taste your way through Australia’s native ingredients
Native basil and chilli pickled mussels; lion’s mane mushroom in a luxurious crocodile broth. These are just two tantalising dishes from the 20-course tasting menu at Restaurant Botanic. And it’s truly ‘garden to plate’.
Led by Chef Justin James, the Three Hat restaurant – enveloped by Adelaide Botanic Gardens – brings the depth of native ingredients to the forefront, plating up inventive flavour combinations from elements sourced locally and within the Gardens itself.
Complementing the menus are three paired drink options, ranging from the non-alcoholic ‘Temperance’ featuring infusions and ferments through to a ‘Sommelier’s Reserve’ of rare and exclusive vintages.
As expected, the setting is as much a part of the experience as the food. A curved 12-seater chef’s table allows you to watch the culinary symphony unfold in the kitchen while the main dining area has views of the surrounding greenery.
From $330 per person, at Restaurant Botanic.
Shuck oysters fresh from sea in Tasmania
Popping down to your local fishmongers for a dozen oysters is always a good idea. But while indeed delicious, they can’t compare with those plucked and shucked fresh at the source.
This exact experience can be enjoyed at Saffire Freycinet, an all-inclusive five star lodge nestled on the shores of Coles Bay in southern Tasmania. But not just anyone can take part.
Exclusively for guests, Saffire’s tour sees you don waders to learn about the local marine ecology from an expert guide before harvesting your own oysters and tucking into them au naturale or drizzled in lemon. With a glass of Tassie wine, of course.
Free of charge for guests at Saffire Freycinet.
Enjoy a seafood bounty on Port Phillip Bay
Mussels taste better when they’re fresher too. With that in mind, newly-launched Portarlington Mussel Tours on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula – accessible by fast ferry from downtown Melbourne – is plating up a meal worth travelling for. And it’s hands-on too.
This small group tour sees you join fourth generation farmer Lance Wiffen and his wife Lizzie on an immaculately-restored 40-year old Huon pine vessel, Valerie, for a fun and informative front row seat of the farming process.
Once out on scenic Port Phillip Bay, you’ll be able to get hands-on and help harvest the mussels after they’re pulled from the water on ropes, before enjoying a cooking demonstration and tasting. Local platters and drinks are also included.
There’s plenty of opportunity for sightseeing as well, with the distinctive Melbourne skyline and You Yangs mountains rising in the distance. If you happen to spy a few dolphins along the way, that’s an added bonus!
From $230 per person, from Portarlington Mussel Tours.
Hunt for truffles in WA’s south west
When you think of truffle hunts, images of pigs or dogs sniffing out the highly-prized delicacies in orchards, also known as truffières, spring to mind. Most likely in Italy or France. Yet Australia has a thriving truffle industry too, one now spanning all states after Tassie and WA paved the way back in the 90s.
While it’s easy to buy truffles in stores, joining a hunt gives you a much greater appreciation for the effort going into every one.
Truffle Hill in Manjimup (a town which also hosts the famed Truffle Kerfuffle festival every June) is one of the best places to do so. Why? Because it’s among the world’s largest producers of black Périgord – the most fragrant of all the truffles.
Hunting season is rather short, lasting from early June to around mid-August, but it’s worth the trek if you can make it. Naturally, you’ll have a chance to get your hands dirty, as well as taste your way through truffle-infused delights at the cellar.
From $75 per person, at Truffle Hill.
Make pizzas with the master in Melbourne
Of the reasons to visit Naples, pizza sits at the top. After all, it’s the birthplace of the dish, famed for the simple yet delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas emerging from its woodfire ovens – lavished in tomato sauce, sprinkled in mozzarella and cooked to perfection.
While a pizza pilgrimage is a very worthwhile holiday, you can actually enjoy an authentic taste of Napoli pizza at 400 Gradi restaurant in Melbourne’s Brunswick East.
Owner Johnny Di Francesco has been named Oceania’s best pizza chef on multiple occasions, while 400 Gradi received the first Australian certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association). That’s a mark of quality right there.
Rather than just tucking into a slice, Di Francesco invites guests to join a hands-on masterclass in which they learn the secrets of making his award-winning pizzas – and get to enjoy the delicious, lightly-charred finished product, of course.
Booked individually or as a group, the 2-hour session begins with making dough from scratch, and culminates with a glass of Italian wine as you enjoy your mouth-watering creation. You get to take home some extra dough too.
From $200 per person, at 400 Gradi.
Experience paddock-to-plate on a premium Wagyu farm
Wagyu is widely considered to be the best beef on the planet. The highly-marbled meat is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and Australia is one of the world’s largest producers.
Mayura Station on South Australia’s Limestone Coast has picked up a slew of international accolades for its premium wagyu. It’s available in three tiers, including Gold and Platinum, though the appropriately-named ‘Signature Series’ is its prime offering.
Instead of simply leaving you to DIY your own steaks, Mayura has its own onsite restaurant – The Tasting Room – plating up succulent four-course dinners that showcase the produce to buttery perfection. Courses one to three each showcase a different cut.
From $160 per person at Mayura Station.
Also worth checking out is Beechmont Estate – a luxury accommodation experience in the Gold Coast Hinterland, replete with its own wagyu farm and Chef Hatted restaurant to boot.
Have your fish and frame it too at Pipit
Though long overshadowed by the Gold Coast to the north, the Tweed region of northern NSW is getting its moment in the spotlight thanks to its flourishing restaurant scene, which includes Bistro Livi and Tweed River House. Pipit in Pottsville is its shining star.
Opened in 2019, the casual Ben Devlin-helmed restaurant now has an enviable two Chef Hats to its name, with ‘long’ and ‘short’ set menus showcasing the bounty of fresh produce available in the area. Yet it isn’t just the menus worth visiting for.
Combining a passion for seafood, sustainability and all things Japan, Devlin uses a traditional fish painting method known as ‘gyotaku’ to create elegant ink prints of the produce used in the restaurant. Tuna, carrots, you name it, it’s had a print made. And they’re available to purchase.
For something even more special, Devlin holds art and food classes from time to time, allowing diners and food lovers to get hands-on and create a Japanese gyotaku print of their own.
2-course short menu from $110 per person, 8-course Long menu $160 per person, at Pipit.
Breathe in views of Uluru from an open air restaurant
Out in the elements overlooking sacred Uluru, the Sounds of Silence dinner at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort is known the world over. Yet, at the same resort, there’s another more induglent experience worth biting into as well: Tali Wiru.
Meaning ‘beautiful dune’ in the Anangu language, it’s an elevated take on the classic Sounds of Silence, one which swaps out the buffet in favour of a refined, multi-course menu infused with native ingredients and paired with premium wines.
After kicking off with Champagne and canapés, it then plates up the rich history and culture of the area, with Indigenous storytellers sharing their ongoing connection to the land.
On the main menu you’ll find the likes of scallops with pickled muntries and a saltbush, quandong and rosella crumb, followed by toothfish, sea grapes and beach succulents. For dessert? A decadent desert honey mousse with Kakadu plum compote.
From $385 per person, at Voyages Ayers Rock Resort.
Embrace plant-based degustation dining
Vegan and vegetarian dining may get a bad rap at times, but the reality is you can do just as much in the kitchen sans animal products. Case in point is No Bones Byron Bay, whose plant-based tasting menu is, in a word, enlightening.
Given Byron’s reputation for embracing alternative lifestyles, it’s no surprise a venue such as this exists in the town. However, many people don’t even know No Bones is there, with its off-the-beaten path location giving it the feel of a hidden gem.
On the menu card you’ll find the likes of fish tacos, fried chicken and duck curry, all of which are completely vegan. The cocktail too is similarly inventive, while the vibe’s relaxed and casual.
The fact you’re in Byron Bay, with the sound of the waves just up the road at Main Beach cutting through the din of the restaurant, makes the experience even better.
From $45 per person, at No Bones.
For a more high end experience, seek out the fabulous Alibi at Ovolo Woolloomooloo in Sydney, or perhaps d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant, within the McLaren Vale’s d’Arenberg Winery. While you’re there, stop for a wine tasting at the adjacent d’Arenberg Cube.
Forage, cook and feast in the Derwent Valley
Some 35 minutes out of Hobart, housed within a former asylum in New Norfolk, The Agrarian Kitchen is a fascinating destination indeed. In addition to a two Chef Hatted restaurant, it also boasts Tasmania’s most acclaimed cooking school.
Since 2008, its hands-on classes have championed making food from its base elements. Think produce freshly harvested from its own kitchen garden, along with locally raised meat, dairy and sustainably sourced seafood.
Classes such as the Agrarian Experience are suitable for all levels, from home cooks to pro chefs. The intimate small-group experience includes foraging, harvesting, cooking and learning, with plenty of eating as well.
Those looking to take their skills to a higher level can take part in in-depth masterclasses focusing on the likes of butchery and cheesemaking.
When the lessons are done, The Agrarian Kitchen restaurant plates up delicious set menus featuring the likes of Angasi oyster, lamb loin and smoked fish with green polenta.
Dining from $150 per person, at The Agrarian Kitchen.
Dine on the wild side in Canberra
Canberra is known for many things. Parliament House, foreign embassies, and museums and galleries, to name a few. Yet it’s also home to a rather unique dining experience.
Housed within the National Zoo complex, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, which is also home to a unique accommodation offering, invites guests to enjoy a delicious four-course dinner paired with Champagne and Australian wines – plus visits from lions and hyenas.
Exclusively for in-house guests as part of the all-inclusive experience, it’s a chance to witness some of Africa’s most remarkable creatures up close – an appetiser for jetting off to the African continent and staying at one of the beautiful safari lodges.
There are several fantastic rooms to check into at the lodge, including Giraffe Treehouses frequented by their namesake and Jungle Bungalows visited by tigers and bears.
From $1,550 per person, at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. The all-inclusive rate includes lodge accommodation, dining, drinks and exclusive tours.
Picnic on a sand cay amid the Great Barrier Reef
Stretching over 2,000kms along the Queensland coast, the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef lives up to its name and hype. It’s achingly beautiful – a vibrant rainbow of marine life. Whether from above or below, it’s a true sight to behold.
Rather than rubbing shoulders with the crowds on a day cruise though, why not take your visit to the next level with a heli-picnic? Nautilus Aviation has just the one.
Departing from Cairns, your chopper soars along the coast – tropical rainforest to your left, azure waters to your right – before heading out across the Coral Sea to idyllic Vlasoff Cay.
Here, with a gourmet picnic hamper, bottle of sparkling wine and a beach umbrella ready to stick into the sand, you have a private island experience that tickles the taste buds as well as dazzling your eyes.
From $949 per person, with Nautilus Aviation.