Mr. Harper's Travel Guide
American travelers to Australia tend to confine their visits to a few locations, especially Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. But this vast continent contains lush rain forests, arid lunar landscapes, dramatic mountain ranges, swathes of pristine beach and an amazing diversity of exotic wildlife ...
American travelers to Australia tend to confine their visits to a few locations, especially Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. But this vast continent contains lush rain forests, arid lunar landscapes, dramatic mountain ranges, swathes of pristine beach and an amazing diversity of exotic wildlife. And from the primeval wilderness of the Northern Territory to the Victorian manors of the Barossa Valley, the Australians themselves are unfailingly genial and hospitable. Sydney remains one of the great modern cities of the world, but even once-provincial Perth has lately evolved into a buzzing pan-Asian metropolis.
December-March is summer and June-September winter, though nearly half of Australia (which is the size of the Lower 48 states) lies in the tropics. Coastal cities are temperate and have mild winters (see below). The Great Barrier Reef’s average highs range from the upper 70s to the upper 80s year-round.
Recommended Luxury Hotels in Australia
Best Restaurants in Australia
A Perth institution for more than 25 years, Coco’s is the place to see and be seen. Much of its appeal stems from the splendid view of the skyline. The staff could not have been more professional, and we relished our dinner. We started with linguine served with Moreton Bay bugs (slipper lobster). And, as the restaurant is known for its steaks, we opted for the excellent Black Angus sirloin with potatoes dauphinoise, all in a Cabernet jus.
One floor above the buzzing Establishment Bar, this restaurant offers diners a tranquil, formal atmosphere in which waitstaff in smartly tailored suits move gracefully among white Corinthian columns supporting a pressed-tin ceiling. When I saw the sparkling wine cart with bottles illuminated dramatically from below, I feared that est. might be more flash than substance, but the dishes we tried all proved to be delicious as well as beautiful. I especially liked the mud crab with crème fraîche and fragrant piel de sapo melon topped with paper-thin radish slices and hearts of palm cones; a perfectly cooked marron (crayfish) tail with fennel, black garlic and stem lettuce; and pink dry-aged local sirloin with rapini, salt-baked turnip, olives and potato “crumb.” Closed Sunday.Level 1, Establishment 252 George Street Sydney http://merivale.com.au/est
There comes a time on every trip when I crave something comforting and familiar, and I found it at this lovely Italian restaurant. Downstairs is a lively grill, while upstairs is like being in Italy, thanks to chandeliers and frescoed walls. The smartly dressed waitstaff performed with polite precision. The menu features classic Italian dishes employing carefully sourced local ingredients. You will wish the risotto with prawns, saffron and zucchini would go on forever. But then you'd miss the suckling pig with salami, apples, dates, pepper, sherry purée and mustard greens. Closed Sunday.80 Bourke Street Melbourne Three-course menu, US$105 http://www.grossiflorentino.com/
As lively and appealing as downtown Sydney is, you cannot fully appreciate life in this beautiful place until you visit one of the city’s spectacular beaches. Bondi, to the east, is a particular favorite for its stretch of inviting yellow sand and legendary surf. Ideally situated on the cliffs at Bondi’s south end, this bright, predominantly white restaurant offers a panoramic view through huge windows. On the Italian menu, you’ll find pastas such as squid-ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, tomato and basil, as well as main courses like pork belly, cheek and crackling with radicchio jam, beet and endive. If you can’t secure a reservation, consider sitting at the bar, ordering from the light menu and soaking up the glorious view.1 Notts Avenue Bondi Beach Sydney US$80 http://www.idrb.com/
Set in a long, sleek space just below street level, ezard embodies chic elegance, with subdued lighting, tables set with white linen, and impeccable service. The kitchen, under chefs Teage Ezard and Jarrod Di Blasi, brings together East and West in delicious, refined dishes. Among those you might consider are cured kingfish with pickled cucumber, wasabi, native finger lime, soy and sesame; steamed scallop dumplings with aromatic hot-and-sour broth, and snow ear white fungi; and Chinese-style duck breast with fermented black bean-and-chili dressing, smoked tofu and an Asian herb salad. In lesser hands, dishes like these could be chaotic mashups; here, they are masterful. Closed Sunday.187 Flinders Lane Melbourne US$75 http://www.ezard.com.au/
The name comes from the historic Newspaper House building on St. Georges Terrace. “Print Hall” is the umbrella term for several venues, including the Print Hall flagship restaurant. The latter is sleek and sophisticated, with linen-clad tables and an accommodating staff. A dish of blue manna crab topped with almond, enoki mushrooms and bean sprouts was visually uninspiring, but it proved to be packed with flavor and featured a surprising mix of pleasing textures. Even better was a crisp-skinned pan-roasted barramundi with Coorong pipis (cockles), zucchini and dill, all in a rich seafood sauce.
If one place exemplifies Melbourne’s Asian fusion movement, this is it. In a large, bright, open space, the restaurant has both table and counter seating (and can get noisy). The menu offers a tour of Thailand with exciting side trips elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Among the best dishes we tried were the spicy corn and coriander fritters embellished with house-made chili jam, and a just-fiery-enough rendang curry of braised wagyu beef enlivened with cumin, coriander and toasted coconut.125 Flinders Lane Melbourne US$50 http://www.chinchinrestaurant.com.au/
This bulwark of classic Cantonese cuisine is one of Melbourne’s most beloved restaurants. Its chef, Anthony Lui, has been at the stoves for 33 years. I almost passed on this place, but given the importance of Asia’s influence in the city’s restaurant life, I relented. I’m glad I did. The dim sum were exemplary; a pork and shrimp wonton soup proved deeply flavorful; and diced pork with fried tofu, peppers and pine nuts in a spicy Szechuan sauce was delicious. The service could not have been more gracious.17 Market Lane Melbourne Four-course seasonal menu, US$90; chef's six-course menu, US$145 http://www.flowerdrum.melbourne/
Located on Hobart’s waterfront steps from the Salamanca Market, this popular bistro draws locals with delicious Bruny Island oysters and excellent pizzas from a woodburning oven, plus a full menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes such as veal and pork meatballs with white polenta and grilled ciabatta, pappardelle with lamb ragu, grilled Tassal salmon with faro and du Puy lentil braise, and venison and pork sausage risotto with pinto beans, rosemary and Reggiano cheese.2 Salamanca Square Battery Point, Tasmania http://www.smolt.com.au/
Friendly, slightly earnest and perfect for lunch, this new restaurant in an old stable building dating to 1820 illustrates how serious the Hobart food scene has become. Delicious ćevapi (a Bosnian dish of spicy ground meat with yogurt sauce), roasted chickpeas with mussels, and “the daily lamb”— a changing preparation of superb Tasmanian lamb — are standards. These are complemented by a splendid list of local wines. Closed Sunday and Monday.100 Elizabeth Street Hobart, Tasmania http://ethoseatdrink.com/
One of the best places to try Sydney’s Asian-fusion cuisine is The Bridge Room, whose owner and chef previously served as head of food and beverage development for Aman resorts. Inside the stylish mid-century modern space, we enjoyed dishes such as Moreton Bay bugs (a local crustacean) with a sweet and savory sauce of chili paste and tamarind, all topped with shaved hearts of palm; ash-grilled duck breast with white carrots, salsify ribbons and Medjool dates; and a unique dessert of a peanut butter-like quenelle of whipped black sesame seed and white chocolate atop puffed black rice with rolls of pressed melon. Closed Sunday and Monday.44 Bridge Street Sydney US$95 http://www.thebridgeroom.com.au/
The upscale warehouse look might lead you to think that the food here isn’t all that serious. Certainly, the crowd — a cross section of ages — is convivial to the point of being boisterous. But the casual fare on the menu, which changes frequently, is well-conceived and well-presented. You could begin with a salad of broccoli, walnuts and sardines, and then move to a main course such as grilled spatchcock chicken with cabbage and a Jerusalem artichoke gratin.45 Flinders Lane Melbourne US$65 http://cumulusinc.com.au/
At the north end of Daylesford, we came across what looked to be a colonial-era tavern, except with the word “Kazuki’s" in the windows and a door flanked by delicate Japanese maples. Entering the restaurant, we were immediately struck by a golden carp on a black wall. Owner/chef Kazuki Tsuya hails from Akita in northern Honshu. He firmly adheres to the traditions of his homeland, but enlivens them with fresh Daylesford-area produce and lively experimentation.
We enjoyed a meal that I will long remember: delicate dumplings filled with Moreton Bay bugs — a wonderful small crustacean — in a sake emulsion with rainbow chard; a sublime mix of snapper and scampi with a squid-ink lasagnette and a jamón-inflected sauce Américaine; and to finish, a mango pudding with tapioca pearls and roasted pineapple. Every plate was a miniature work of art.1 Camp Street Daylesford http://www.kazukis.com.au/
Set on the eastern side of Circular Quay, ARIA has magnificent views of the Opera House. The interior is subdued, accentuating the glittering lights of the harbor. The food is contemporary, with much of the produce, meat and fish locally obtained. Among the starters, look for the salmon with apple, dill and horseradish. The delicious main-course lamb loin comes with globe artichoke à la barigoule (braised with garlic, onions and carrots in a wine-butter broth), pine nuts and harissa. The international wine list, unsurprisingly, is strong on Australian bottlings.1 Macquarie Street East Circular Quay Sydney Three-course menu, US$100; four courses, US$120 http://www.ariarestaurant.com/sydney
This restaurant is also part of the Print Hall complex. I loved the Asia-inspired setting and the wide-ranging menu of street-food starters. We shared crisp jumbo tiger prawns with a tangy yuzu sauce, followed by pad Thai topped with prawns and sweet pork, and served with a spicy chili jam. The Apple Daily does not accept reservations, so a late lunch is ideal.
The most talked-about restaurant in Tasmania occupies a former VW garage in Hobart. Locals flock to sample chef Luke Burgess’s innovative locavore cooking. The menu changes constantly, but usually includes dishes such as potato crostini with smoked-eel mousse; poached spanner crab, lacy lady peas, lovage oil, sea lettuce and shaved kombu (kelp); slow-roasted wagyu beef culotte, compressed lettuce stems and mustard emulsion; and buckwheat-and-crème-fraîche ice cream with quince and walnuts for dessert. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.103 Murray Street Hobart, Tasmania http://www.garagistes.com.au/
It is hard to beat the view here, right on the water facing Sydney’s two iconic structures, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Inside, Quay is a bit glitzy, but no matter. The food and the service are superb. The four-course prix-fixe menu is full of tantalizing choices. Among them: a rich congee (Chinese rice porridge) with a generous portion of mud crab meat; abalone with fermented shiitake chawanmushi (egg custard), smoked pork cheek and sesame; Flinders Island lamb with native coastal greens, black garlic, leeks and seaweed; and a dessert of prune confit with 15-year-old Madeira, bittersweet chocolate ganache and brûlée cream. The wine list offers an extensive by-the-glass selection, including sakes and sherries, and an appealing array of half-bottles and magnums.Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal The Rocks Sydney Four-course menu, US$130 http://www.quay.com.au/
With memorable views over the Derwent River, this restaurant adjacent to the MONA is the slickest in Tasmania. Brittany-born, Sydney-raised chef Philippe Leban presents an intriguing avant-garde cuisine de terroir, or experimental contemporary Australian cooking using the best local seasonal produce. The menu changes often, but runs to dishes such as miniature oysters served with crabmeat and sherry gelée, roast rabbit with root vegetables, and, for dessert, coffee floating island with a lemongrass-infused crème anglaise. Closed for dinner Sunday-Tuesday and for lunch on Tuesday.651-655 Main Road Berriedale, Tasmania http://www.mona.net.au/mona/restaurant
With its setting on the top floor of the Customs House overlooking Circular Quay, Cafe Sydney might be tempted to rest comfortably in the knowledge that people will come for the view regardless of the quality of the food. But we had a thoroughly delightful lunch of light tempura-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with salt cod accompanied by tomato confit, caper berries and a large poached prawn; and crispy-skinned tandoori-roasted Tasmanian ocean trout with saffron-infused cucumber, savory onion bhaji (fritters) and cool, creamy raita. Ask for a table on the terrace (ideally the left side) for unobstructed views of the Harbour Bridge.Fifth Floor, Customs House 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay Sydney http://cafesydney.com/
After a stint with Marco Pierre White in London, Australian chef Martin Benn worked for years as head chef at the famous Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s before launching his own place in the central business district. With a low-lit décor combining elements of an old-fashioned men’s club and a Parisian brasserie, it is popular for corporate dining at noon but draws serious gourmets in the evening. Benn’s menus follow the seasons and include superb dishes such as spanner crab with sake-vinegar jelly, brown butter emulsion, pea and horseradish; yellowfin tuna sashimi with roast chicken, yuzu, green tea and nori; roast duck breast with lemon aspen fruit, sheep yogurt, mulberry vinegar and sorrel; and char-grilled wagyu beef with roasted Jerusalem artichoke, pine mushroom and kombu. Closed Sunday and Monday.201 Sussex Street Sydney Five-course menu, US$135; nine courses, US$150 http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au/