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Australia


 

Sydney

Tetsuya's, 529 Kent Street. Tel: +61 (0)2 9267 2900
Tetsuya's comes with a formidable reputation: for the past four years voted fourth or fifth-best restaurant in the entire world by readers of Restaurant magazine. Chef/proprietor Tetsuya Wakuda grew up in the Japanese town of Hamamatsu, before his family relocated to Sydney in 1982. Since opening the original Tetsuya's in 1989, he has moved to his current simple, relaxing restaurant that sits behind manned gates that shield it from the hustle and bustle of Kent Street, with the dining room focused on the calming interior garden, filled with scarlet-coloured maple trees, streams and waterfalls. Everyone has the tasting menu of around 10 courses, and you may opt for a matching wine service, or choose from the outstanding wine list. We did a little of each, drinking some fine Riesling by the bottle, but also having glasses of sparkling, red and dessert wines, chosen extremely well by the sommelier. The food is Japanese in influence and execution, so interpretations of sushi and tempura do appear, but Tetsuya leans heavily on modern French cuisine, sources fine local produce, and is constantly inventing new techniques and combinations in his experimental kitchen above the restaurant. Not every dish here absolutely wowed me, but overall it was outstandingly good in terms of service, food and wine. Highlights for me included the signature confit of Tasmanian ocean trout with konbu, daikon and fennel, that was an extraordinary piece of fish, barely cooked, with the punch and vivid flavours of the daikon (a sort of raddish) and konbu (a seaweed, rich in the meaty, earthy flavours of Umami). I probably preferred the ravioli of Queensland spanner crab, a single, soft parcel of pasta encasing dense white meat, served with a tangy tomato and basil vinaigrette. Of the more substantial courses (though the confit trout was a very healthy portion), grilled Wagyu beef with lime and wasabi was delicious, though I did find the paper-thin slices of beef slightly less interesting in terms of texture than they might have been. Twice-cooked spatchcock had been de-boned, and was meltingly moresih served simply with Soya beans. After a gorgeous and unusual dish of Comte cheese, shredded over warm, jus-enriched puy lentils, beetroot and blood oange sorbet was the first of three brilliant desserts, each simple and light enough to be manageable, but delicious enough to satisfy even the sweetest of tooth. If you can manage to secure a table at Tetsuya's, do so. (2008)
Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, lunch Saturday only. The tasting dinner is $195, with matching wines at $95.

Doyle's, Watsons Bay. Tel +61 (0)2 9337 2007
The best thing about Doyle's is probably the ferry trip to it, sailing out of Circular Quay between the Bridge and the Opera House, and the view once you get there. In truth the seafood at this large, bustling restaurant institution was far from perfect, with prawns and scallops cooked to a rubbery blandness, and the fish and chips in a good, light batter, but the fish slightly overcooked and again rather lacking in flavour. A slice of Sydney history that in the ultimate foodie analysis fails to rise above tourist-focused mediocrity, but you will enjoy the overall experience of a trip there. Moderately priced. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Golden Century, 393-399 Sussex St. Tel: +61 (0)2 9212 3901
Another Sydney institution in the heart of Chinatown, the Golden century is a vast seafood-focused Chinese restaurant over two floors, that was jam-packed with both Asian family customers and tourists on my visit. The food may be a slightly Australianised version of authentic, but it was of excellent quality on my visit, served with bustling good humour amongst the cacophonous surroundings, by the efficient staff. On the ground floor, marvel at the wall of fish tanks housing the freshest of ingredients possible in a slice of downtown Kowloon, but make the trip upstairs to at least gaze longingly at a ferociously upmarket wine list, with big vertical collections of Petrus, Leroy, Lafite, Grange and all the world's great wines. Obviously there are some high-rolling regulars here. Highlights for me where the Oriental version of salt and pepper squid, the scallops sautéed with snow peas and masses of pungent garlic and chilli, king mushrooms with vegetables and the deep fried squab pigeon. Peking duck and omelette rice were both exemplary of their type. Moderate prices. (2008)
Open daily, from lunch until well after midnight

Kables Restaurant, The Four Seasons Hotel, 199 George St. Tel: +61 (0)2 9238 0000
I ate in the private dining room of the fine dining restaurant within the upmarket Four Seasons, close to Sydney Harbour . Although eating a special meal whilst in town as International Judge at the Sydney Wine Show, the food on display suggests this is worth checking out. A little amuse of soft cured ocean trout with smoked sour cream and avruga caviar was delicious, the sour cream had been through some sort of 'molecular gastronomy' process to transform it into squishy little pea-sized balls, but the fish was deliciously soft and subtle. Next up was seared scallops and yellow fin tuna, both really well-cooked, and served with pungent pickled ginger, ponzu and another interesting twist, little flakes of powdered sesame oil. Main course breast of duck was lightly roasted and just the right side of being pink, served with caramelised celeriac, brandied cherries, and sprinkled with little shards of a fascinating, bittersweet black olive liquorice. After some good cheeses, a dessert of wafer-thin, soft pancakes filled with red berries and a thyme-infused crème anglais was delicious, arriving with a little scoop of a sweet, strawberry jelly. Head Chef Carl Middleton is cooking some really interesting and high quality food that sits somewhere between 'safe' and cutting edge. We had a special BYO arrangement that night, though the wine list is apparently very good. Expensive. (2008)
Open Tuesday - Saturday for lunch and dinner

China Doll, Woolloomooloo Wharf. Tel: +61 (0)2 9380 6744
The wharf is a smart development, with upmarket housing (Russell Crowe has a flat here) and plenty of trendy bars and restaurants. Along with four of my fellow judges from the Sydney Wine Show, I adjourned here for lunch after tasting on our final day. This was a fabulous find, and a wonderful place to take a table on the wharfside and enjoy a culinary journey through southeast Asia cooked with marvellous flair. We started with some Chilli Salt Squid, the chunks of soft meat in a hot and spicy coating. Corn and Zucchini Cakes were Bhaji-like dumplings, served with a fresh coriander and chilli sambal, but the best of our starters was arguably Steamed pork & prawn wontons with Chinese black vinegar, which were extraordinarily soft and melting, and densely-packed with meat. Every dish here was fresh, well-cooked and beautifully put together, other highlights being a Penang Curry of braised Wagu beef shin which was gorgeous - a deep, rich, sweet yet hot curry sauce containing meltingly soft chunks of beef - and free range Thirlmere duck pancakes. We had one or two swift Tsingtao beers before turning to the excellent wine list, where Poliziano's Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was perfect with the beef at $95.00. All in all, this get's a top recommendation. Moderate. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner.

DeVine, 32 Market Street. Tel: +61 (0)2 9262 6906
DeVine is a small, friendly and informal wine bar on this busy corner in the central business district, with a really interesting wine list and, on my visit, food that was pretty good rather than great. We ate in the slightly (and I mean slightly) more formal restaurant, which is tucked behind the bar area, and Austrian Sommelier Andreas guided us towards a most enjoyable Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal from a list that features Austrian, German and Italian wines in some depth, most of which DeVine imports directly. After some shared antipasti - excellent hams and rare roast beef, roasted peppers and artichokes - I chose one of the days' specials: blue-eye cooked with an aubergine stack and a little potato cake. The fish was really excellent - a full flavoured fish with flaking white meat, seared very simply but well seasoned and very tasty. I passed on dessert after a few days of conspicuous consumption, but a citrus tart, served with homemade vanilla ice-cream was well received by my dining companion. Relaxed and funky, DeVine is a good one to remember on a Saturday evening as its location in the business district meant it was near empty when places in more tourist areas were fully booked. Moderate/expensive. (2008)
Lucn and dinner Monday - Friday, dinner only Saturday, closed Sunday

Quayside Brasserie, East Circular Quay. Tel +61 (0)2 9251 0122
Wandering out of my hotel near Sydney's Circular Quay one evening without a restaurant booking, few of the touristy restaurants that line the quayside round towards the Opera House appealed, until Quayside Brasserie came into view, prominently positioned with commanding views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. A large, simple but fairly chic dining room is overlooked by the bustling open kitchen that runs down one side of the room. I only had a main course - a rather good, pan-fried duck breast cooked moist and just pink, served with a heap of flavourful braised bok-choy and a garlicky potato dauphinoise. Washed down with a glass of Pinot Noir, this was pretty good food in a stunning setting, and definitely seemed a significant cut above most of its immediate competitors. Moderate. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Melbourne and surrounds

The four restaurants reviewed in the city are all in the Southbank area. I was based in Southbank, and feeling fairly exhausted towards the end of a month-long trip, we chose from the copious number of restaurants on our doorstep rather than take taxis or have to read streetmaps each evening!

Melbourne: Tutto Bene, Level 2, Southgate Complex, Southbank. Tel: +61 (0)3 9696 3334
Tutto Bene is a long-established and popular Italian restaurant within this shopping and restaurant complex that faces the Yarra River and Flinders Street Station in the buzzing Southbank district. Chef Simon Humble is a risotto specialist, and after a fine salad Caprese (ripe, sweet tomatoes, soft tangy mozzarella, plenty of basil and excellent olive oil) I chose a simple risotto with snow peas and prosciutto from a selection of around 16 different risotti, themed as 'classic', 'vegetarian', 'seafood' and 'meat'. It was a fine dish that was creamy without being cloying, the rice cooked perfectly and the flavours subtle yet distinctive. Tutto Bene also makes its own gelati, and a selection including a gorgeously sharp and tangy cassis sorbet finished off an excellent, moderately priced meal. Fine bread with Humble's own brand olive oil is served, and a bottle of Southbank Marlborough Sauvignon was only $35. Bustling, honest and most enjoyable. Moderate. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Melbourne: Rockpool, Crown Complex, Southbank. Tel: +61 (0)3 8648 1900
Securing a table at Neil Perry's Rockpool on a weekend night needs advanced planning, so when I phoned on a Friday hoping for a table I was not surprised that the only time on offer was 10:00pm. Too late for me, but the receptionist suggested I might just wander along and try for a bar table, where reservations are not accepted, and where you can choose from the limited bar menu, or full a la carte menu if lucky enough to get in. At 7:00pm we did just that and had no problem getting a table for two, basically a really nice table adjacent to the bar but within the main dining room, separated only by a low screen. We stuck to the bar menu and it was superb. A couple of glasses of Domaine Chandon 2004 Blanc de Blanc ($13) washed down a lovely ceviche, filled with salmon, scallops and an unidentified but tasty white fish, liberally spiked and sparked with lime, coriander, chives and garlic. One of Rockpool bar's signature Wagyu beef burgers followed (absolutely melt-in-the-mouth superb), washed down with a glass of Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon ($14). With coffee I ordered passionfruit marshmallows and salted peanut chocolate petit fours - these were absolutely sensational flavours and textures to round off an excellent, inexpensive meal ($160 for two all in). A seriously good choice this, especially if you cannot secure that elusive restaurant table. Moderate/expensive (2008)
Closed Saturday lunch service only

Melbourne: Nobu, Crown Complex, Southbank. Tel: +61 (0)3 9696 6566
I guess it would be very easy to knock Nobu, now a slick global chain of almost 20 restaurants that is as formulaic as anything lower down the food chain. And yet my meal in the recently opened Melbourne branch was of excellent quality from start to finish. Upstairs is a bar and casual dining area, ram-jammed on my visit and a noisy, lively but fun place to have a drink and some appetisers before heading downstairs for dinner - for us that meant some excellent yellowtail tuna sashimi liberally sprinkled with jalapeno peppers. Downstairs is still lively and bustling, but more relaxed, and our party of eight shared a succession of dishes that included Nobu's signature broiled black cod with miso, which was superb, the fish flaking into moist, sweet chunks. New style sashimi, where salmon and scallops were semi-cooked in a warm oil was delicious, and some oysters, served wrapped in crisp-fried noodles with wasabi, caviar and spinach where also excitingly tasty. Not everything hit the mark, with sushi being fairly pedestrian for example, but if you are prepared to blow a sizeable budget on very good (mostly) Japanese food served in a slightly frenetic but bustling environment, then this is a great celebratory venue and experience. Expensive. (2008)
Open daily for dinner only

Melbourne: Number 8, Complex, Southbank. Tel: +61 (0)3 9292 7899
Number 8 bills itself as the flagship restaurant of the vast Crown complex, where it rubs shoulders with Rockpool and Nobu. In fact, I beg to differ, as this was probably the poorest meal of the three restaurants. Number 8 is a large, open space, with tables on a mezzanine level, the main floor and the terrace overlooking the River Yarra. Staff busied about but looked slightly harried, and indeed the service missed a beat all evening, being in turns a bit slow and a bit taciturn. A starter of ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers on a bed of roasted red peppers and wild rocket was pretty good, though the flowers where a touch soft and verging on the slimy, and the balsamic dressing a touch crude. My main course of Prosciutto wrapped fillet of Tasmanian salmon was slightly dry too, perhaps roasted just two minutes too long, though the accompanying lime and roast almond dressing was vibrant and tasty. We had a bottle of Leeuwin's Art Series Riesling, which at $45 was pretty well priced and a great match for the food. Though rarely tempted by dessert, the cool evening of Melbourne encouraged me to order warm apple, blueberry and hazelnut crumble. Served in a shallow ramekin the crumble was OK, but suffered from the slightly drying re-heating process of a pre-cooked dish, and the accompanying treacle ice cream wasn't as good (i.e. treacly) as it sounds. All in the meal for two was $195 or about £100, which was a lot for the absolute quality on offer. Moderate/expensive (2008).
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Melbourne: Caffè Duomo, 9 Block Arcade. tel: +61 (0)3 9650 5041
In a little Victorian arcade off Collins Street, one of Melbourne's main shopping districts, there are numerous cafés serving from breakfast until early evening. A quick word for this bustling little bistro, which became a regular breakfast stop for freshly-squeezed watermelon juice, excellent Italian coffee and some of the city's best eggs benedict. Inexpensive. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and early dinner

Mount Dandenong: Credo, Olinda. Tel: +61 (0)3 9751 1844
The Dandenong's, an area of mountains and beautiful rainforest filled with B&Bs and charming villages, lies to the east of Melbourne, just a stone's throw from the Yarra Valley. I stayed here for a couple of nights, and ate a terrific meal in Credo, in the village of Olinda. Taking advantage of BYO ($8.50 corkage), I took along a bottle of Innocent Bystander's Sangiovese Merlot, and drank it along with a really good risotto of seasonal vegetables, with plenty of peas, green beans, mushrooms and kalamata olives. The stock was flavoursome and the risotto cooked perfectly. My main course eye fillet steak was cut as thick as your forearm, and was really well cooked: seared and blackened outside, and just pink in the centre. The accompanying twice-baked sweet potato was miraculously soft yet sliceable (so often sweet potato turns to mush) and a heap of green beans were deliciously and liberally doused with garlic. We shared a blood orange and chocolate pudding for dessert, which was beautiful: an unctuous but light steamed pudding, with bitter chocolate bite and sweet, zesty orange flavours. This was as a delightful meal in casual, café-style setting, where excellent ingredients were cooked simply and well, in imaginative combinations. Moderate. (2008).
Open seven days for dinner, lunch Saturday and Sunday only

Mount Dandenong: The Pig & Whistle, nr Olinda. Tel: +61 (0)3 9751 2366
This is a lovely pub in the mountains, with a roaring log fire and traditional, cosy and welcoming restaurant where BYO is welcomed with just $5 corkage. If you come here, come hungry: the food was good, with well rendered comfort food dishes like game pie with mustard mash, and surf 'n turf, with a welterweight of Morton Bay Bugs topping 200 grams of eye fillet steak. Puddings too are huge: I thought "rocky road sundae" would be a lighter option than some of the steamed puddings, crème brûllées, etc on the menu, but it turned out to be about a gallon of ice cream with fistfulls of nutty chocolate and marshmallow topping that I barely dented before admitting defeat. Inexpensive. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Yarra Valley: Healsville Hotel, Healsville. Tel: +61 (0)3 5962 4002
The town of Healsville is a nice place to stroll around as you visit the wineries of the Yarra Valley, and dead centre of it is this historic hotel that has been given a stylish new lease of life under new ownership. It has built a rock-solid reputation as one fo the valley's best places for good beers, wines and food. There's a casual bar/restaurant, plenty of tables in the garden out back, and the attached deli and sandwich shop is also at your disposal if nothing on the restaurant menu appeals. The food here was really fresh and good: I had a grilled ciabatta sandwich of roasted pumpkin, rocket and goat's cheese , whilst my partners salt and pepper calamari was lightly seasoned and floured, fried to crisp perfection and had a serious bite of chilli. Excellent coffees too, in a fine, casual lunchtime spot. Inexpensive. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Geelong: Pettavel Estate, Pettavel Rd. Tel: +61 (0)3 5266 1120
Pettavel winery in Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, is a determinedly fine dining destination. Dinner is served only on a Friday evening, but at lunchtimes a five-course 'banquet' is on offer in the stylish, cool, contemporary restaurant with panoramic views over the vineyards. The menu changes regularly, but on my visit started with a wonderful dish, or trio of dishes: simply called 'tomato' on the menu, it turned out to be pungent, sharp tartare of tomato flesh with capers, onion, coriander and lemon, a little schooner of 'essence' of tomato, with a confit basil leaf, and a gazpacho sorbet, served with fresh anchovy. Each was fresh, vibrant and decidedly tomatoey. Next came a linguini of Morton bay bugs which was superb: the home made linguini and fat, fleshy seafood doused with a warm olive oil dressing and crusted with a crunchy melange of breadcrumbs and preserved lemon. Third up was quail, with a breast and leg that had been dressed in a spicy, crunchy coating and deep fried, served with a plum, hazelnut and watercress dressing. Though disconcertingly reminiscent of Colonel Saunders, the quail was moist and tender and the sauce delicate yet full flavoured. With each of these, and the course that followed, I chose a half glass of one of Pettavel's wines (at around $4 a time), and whilst few of these really rocked my boat, it was a nice way to mix and match and I chose their Pinot Noir with my main course of saddle of local rabbit with a pithiver of leg. The saddle was moist, rich and dense, and the pithiver - an impossibly elegant little puff pastry dome - was filled with dark confit leg meat. This dish was served with braised red cabbage, and was entirely successful. For dessert, a raspberry and chocolate trifle was playful and very good, a tall glass filled with alternating layers of a dark, moist, booze-laden chocolate cake, custard and a jelly infused with plenty of fresh raspberries. At $70, this is a bit of a bargain way to enjoy serious food for a few hours of a lazy afternoon. Moderate. (2008)

Mornington Peninsula: Montalto Winery Restaurant, 33 Shoreham Road. Tel: +61 (0)3 5989 8412
Another winery, another very highly rated restaurant. Unfortunately a missed ferry crossing from Queenscliff to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula meant we turned up too late for lunch, but the charming restaurant manager invited us to sit down and enjoy a plate of cheeses and dessert. I am very glad we did, because not only was this simple lunch of excellent quality, but the wines - served in tasting-sized portions on request - where outstanding I thought. The airy, contemporary dining room looks out through a wall of glass to the estate's vineyards and sculpture park, and we started with a platter of local and imported (all French on my visit) cheeses, served with Lavoche bread and brioche, which were all in excellent condition. For pudding, baked crepes filled with sautéed pineapple and served with coconut and lime parfait were deliciously soft and light, with the parfait both intense and refreshing. This light lunch was very satisfying, and makes me want to return for the full thing some day. Moderate/expensive. (2008)
Open for lunch daily, dinner weekends only except in summer

Torquay: Peppers Sands Resort, 2 Sands Blvd. Tel: +61 (0)3 5264 8801
Torquay is little more than an hour to the west of Melbourne, and is the town that marks the start of the Great Ocean Road, one of the world's great drives that culminates in visiting the 12 Apostoles monoliths in the Southern Ocean. I based myself here one night to drive the route, and stayed at the upmarket Peppers Sands hotel. Torquay itself is surfer central, and as this was also off season, most of the local cafes and bars were either closed or didn't appeal, so we ended up eating in Peppers' Hanners restaurant. A large, minimalist space with picture windows to Peppers' championship golf course, the short menu and wine list was reasonably priced and the food was good. We shared a portion of three-cheese risotto with wild mushrooms as a starter, which was rich and well-cooked, though needed salt and pepper to bring it to life. Next up I chose a slow-cooked chicken tagine, served with a chick-pea and preserved lemon salad and some pitta breads. This was very good, with the tagine flavours nicely aromatic, spicy and dense, and the salad fresh and palate cleansing. With a bottle of wine from their fairly uninspiring list, the total came to less than $100 for two. This whole resort is slightly soulless, but the restaurant is a decent choice if you find yourself in Torquay and in need of decent food with some grown-up style. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Cairns & Port Douglas


The highlights of a visit to this northern Queensland town are the Great Barrier Reef just offshore, and the Daintree rainforest to the north. Unfortunately my February visit coincided with torrential tropical storms that put both out of bounds: more emphasis was then placed on the town and its restaurant scene, and it didn't take long to realise that Cairns, so beloved of backpackers and outdoorsy types, is far from a gourmet heaven.

Cairns: Perotta's, 38 Abbot St. Tel: +61 (0)7 4031 5899
This café/restaurant a block or two back from the airy and pleasant new esplanade was a decent choice for lunch. It backs onto the Cairns Gallery of Art, and from a short lunchtime menu of sandwiches, salads, pastas and a few daily specials, I chose an $18 steak sandwich, served with oven-roasted tomatoes, rocket and Taleggio cheese, served on grilled sourdough. The steak was juicy and charry, the tomatoes sweet and ripe, and washed down with a Boag's beer from Tasmania (the best of a poorish selection) it made a fine pit stop. Wines run to about 30 bottles, with almost everything available by the glass. Inexpensive. (2008) Open daily for lunch and dinner

Cairns: Atlantis Fish Restaurant, Trinity Beach. Tel: +61 (0)7 4057 8550
Right on the beachfront in Trinity Beach, a 15 minute drive north of Cairns, this very low-key shack, with canvas roof and walls, houses what I had been told is one of the area's best fish and seafood kitchens. Inside the décor is basic and a touch mix and match, but the short menu is immediately appealing with dishes like pan-fried Barramundi fillet on sweet potato puree with a basil marscapone, or for the meat lover, fig and mint-crusted rack of lamb with cous cous salad and sweetcorn salsa. I chose macademia nut-crusted tuna with spinach, mustard potatoes and papaya fondue. Two inch-thick tranches of milky-white tuna where beautifully cooked, the macademia adding lovely texture and flavour, the mustard mash adding sharp, tangy contrast, and the silky papaya fondue giving sweetness another texture to play with. Atlantis is BYO, and they will keep your whites chilled well which is absolutely necessary: be warned that Cairns is muggily hot and humid, and the lack of air-conditioning here was almost enough to spoil an excellent evening with some really good food. My main course cost $29.50, which is about average for mains, with starters at $15 and puddings at $10. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Port Douglas: Salsa Bar & Grill, 26 Wharf St. Tel: +61 (0)7 4099 4922
Another very popular base for visits to the Reef and Daintree forest, Port Douglas lies 65 kilometres north of Cairns. My choice for lunch was this brightly coloured building opposite the waterfront, with a broad deck cooled by fans and a wall of water running down one side. My starter of a selection of small tapas was delicious, with some tuna sushi pungently filled with fresh fish, wasabi and ginger, and a lovely little thai fishcake on a tangy, creamy banana sauce. For my main course I chose preserved lemon tempura of reef trout, served over a wakame and kipfler potato salad, enlivened with plenty of spring onion and sun-dried tomato. The batter was puffy and crisp, the preserved lemon adding a subtle bite, and the fish plump and moist. Although rumour has it desserts are wonderful, we moved straight onto excellent espressos. We drank Grosset Watervale Riesling by the glass, from a good wine list of around 50 bins, exclusively Antipodean apart from some Champagnes. Moderate/expensive. (2008)
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Ayers Rock


Kuniya Restaurant, Sails in the Desert, Ayers Rock Resort. Tel: +61 (0)2 8296 8010
A visit to the awe-inspiring Uluru - Ayers Rock - exceeds all expectations, the rock's sheer beauty and mysterious spirituality overcoming the clamouring bus-fulls of tourists "doing Ayers Rock" that descend in tidal waves. Unfortunately, the only accommodation between the Rock and Alice Springs, 300 miles to the north, is in one of the handful of hotels that make up the Ayers Rock Resort. Being a monopoly, prices are huge and standards are average - the notion of good value flies out of the window. We booked the resort's only full-service, a la carte restaurant (the rest offer buffet dining), which tried hard to do 'posh' haute cuisine dining, but failed to deliver. With starters at $30, main courses at $50+ and vastly overpriced wines ($15 for a small glass of Katnook's basic Shiraz, served so hot that I immediately dropped three ice cubes into it), the food would have to be bloody good to justify the prices. A little tart of citrus and goat's cheese was adequate but no more, and lamb chops were tasty enough, but failed to excite. The best of a bad bunch maybe, but a $300 bill for two was about $150 too much for what was offered. Expensive. (2008)
Open daily for dinner only

McLaren Vale


McLaren Vale: The Blessed Cheese. Tel: +61 (0)8 8323 7958
This is a buzzing little cheese shop, deli and coffee shop, usually filled with winemakers and happy locals, tucking into not only delicious cheese platters, but wonderful, overstuffed grilled sandwiches, a small selection of daily special lunch plates and some yummy looking cakes and pastries with first class coffee. The range of locally sourced deli goods ranges from smoked meats to honeys and preserves, and they'll even make up a wine and cheese matching basket for you - you take your basket of cheeses to the participating wineries, who will pour you samples of specially chosen wines to match. The crowded, small café is supplemented by a pavement terrace, where you can enjoy the to and fro of McLaren Vale life. Inexpensive. (2007)

McLaren Vale: Market 190. Tel: +61 (0)8 8323 8558
Market 190 is a brilliant spot for breakfast on a sunny South Australian morning. Sit at one of the tables around the front terrace and lawn, and order the 'Vintage Breakfast', a copious plate of Venison sausages from nearby Kangaroo Island, scrambled local eggs, thick smoked bacon and juicy grilled mushrooms. Coffee is great too, and lunches run from gourmet sandwiches to dishes made using local produce, some of which can also be purchased from the deli inside the store: look out for 'Spice Girls' range of condiments and sauces from a local company. I think Market 190 would become a regular hang-out of mine if I lived in the area. Inexpensive. (2007)

Willunga: Russell's Pizza. Tel: +61 (0)8 8556 2571
This place is a real institution in the wine country, where Russell has been turning out his wood-fired oven pizzas for over 15 years, to very happy customers. Russell's is a pretty tumbledown place, with bags of atmosphere and a big open fire burning in the courtyard. There are indoor and outdoor pizza ovens, built by Russell (who has even published a book on how to build your own pizza oven) and the deal is that you pay $30 (about £15) and a procession of pizza's will be carried through the restaurant, letting you take as many or as few slices as you wish. Do not miss the seafood pizza, and definitely do not miss the spiced Moroccan pizza, with ground lamb, coriander, mint and yoghurt. Desserts (included in the price) are said to be excellent, but having had one slice of pizza too many, I passed. Inexpensive. (2007)

Willunga: Fino. Tel: +61 (0)8 8556 4488
Newly opened in the winter of 2006, Fino is a Meditterranean style restaurant in the town of Willunga that has all the local foodies buzzing. It is a contemporary and casually chic dining room, where really good local ingredients are shaped into quite traditional dishes, yet with a thoroughly modern flair. A coarse, meaty rabbit terrine was delicious served with a caper-laced salad and crusty bread. A dish of thickly cut skate, peppered and grilled in plenty of olive oil was just terrific, the fish flaking at the touch of a fork. Coffee was excellent too, completing a moderately priced lunch served with charm. (2007)

McLaren Vale: The Victory Hotel, Sellicks Beach. Tel: +61 (0)8556 3083
The Victory is an historic Victorian era pub and hotel owned by an ex-winery owner and wine nut, with an impressive cellar. Food can be eaten indoors or out on the terrace, which is the recommendation as The Victory occupies an incredible hilltop position with views over the ocean. Food is wholesome, well-sourced and well cooked. I really enjoyed a starter of salt and pepper squid, served with a chilli dipping sauce. The squid was beautifully soft and delicate, and matched a lemony Australian Riesling very nicely. For mains I chose braised Venison shanks, served on a mound of creamy mash, with a rich red wine gravy. The Victory is a bustling place. It's not fancy, and has a pubby atmosphere, including the owner's two golden retrievers in attendance, but it is a pretty special spot and the food is good. Moderate. (2007)

McLaren Vale: Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat. Tel: +61 (0)8 8323 9182
Built onto the Chapel Hill winery, the Gourmet Retreat is the most upmarket place to stay and eat in the Vale. It is a beautiful space, with elegant, subtle décor incorporating lots of natural wood and stone. This is the full gourmet experience, with fine tableware and linens, and extremely good food on my visit. A little appetiser of carpaccio of King George whiting was delicious, flaked with smoked almonds. The first course was a knock-out: a fricassee of Marron (large langoustine tails) on a lightly creamy pasta and asparagus. Then, poached pigeon breast with a mushroom confit, that was again top-notch with beautifully gamy pigeon. My main course was a rich and strongly flavoured dish of beef, bone marrow and broad beans, the beef having been wrapped in pork for cooking, so that the richness and flavour of the pork infused into the meat and sauce. Dessert of citrus sorbet was delightfully fresh and light, and Lavazza coffee was served with absolutely scrumptious chocolate truffles. This is very seriously good food, and highly recommended. Expensive. (2007)

Canberra and surrounds

Canberra: Caffe Della Piazza, 19 Garema Place. Te: (0)2 6248 9711
This is one of the upmarket but casual café/restaurants in downtown Canberra where you will be rubbing shoulders with politicians, lobbyists and media from the nearby Parliament. Seafood, small plates and more substantial dishes feature on an eclectic, Italian influenced menu and daily-changing blackboard selection, accompanied by a fine wine list including older vintages. I drank Henschke 1993 Riesling with a plate of assorted dips and flatbread, followed by a delicious plate of tiger prawns, simply char-grilled and served with a lemony butter sauce. Modern, serious cuisine and a buzzing atmosphere make this a fun spot, indoors or on the sunny pavement terrace. (2005)

Canberra: Chairman & Yip, 108 Bunda St. Tel: (0)2 6248 7109
I must admit I loved this downtown Chinese restaurant where I enjoyed one of the best meals of my trip, despite eating in more upmarket places. Chairman & Yip is no mom and pop little place by any means: it is fairly large, with a terrific wine list and exceptional staff that seem to really know and understand the food on offer. Seafood is the big thing here, with daily specials chalked on the blackboard and menus concealed within a pile of Oriental Arts magazines on your table to fool the first-time visitor. We shared some exceptionally good and flavoursome duck pancakes and a plate of king prawns in a cream and spinach sauce to start, moving on to share a superb red chicken curry, blue-eye cod poached and served with a lightly creamy sauce, and a blackened salmon dish, roasted with cinnamon and blackening spices. Washed down with a bottle of Pewsey Vale 1997 Riesling (which was superb, buttery and rich but still cut through the sauces beautifully), this was a moderately priced and excellent meal. (2005)

Canberra: Park Hyatt Hotel. Tel: +61 (0)2 6270 1234
The Park Hyatt is a large hotel created from an original 1920's modernist building. It is a luxurious and extremely comfortable five-star hotel, where I was delighted to find the buffet-service restaurant (my pet hate and normally a huge, flashing red danger sign for food quality) was very good indeed, with icy-fresh oysters and tiger prawns the highlight of the cold table, and some very good hot food that was consistently fresh and tasty on the two or three occasions I ate there on a four night stay. (2005)

Murumbatman: Shaw Winery, 34 Isabel Dr. Tel: (0)2 6227 5827
The restaurant at Shaw winery in the Murumbatman district in the north of the Canberra vineyard area is new, opened only in spring 2005 and is still one of the few vineyard restaurants. Owner Graeme Shaw has chosen an Italian theme, not only with some excellent foods, but a delicatessen selection of olive oils, vinegars and pastas, and a wood-fired oven making some of the best pizzas in the region. There is a broad terrace overlooking the vineyards, and a spacious restaurant indoors. The chef here is taking the establishment of this restaurant very seriously, with his herb and vegetable garden shaping up to the side of the building, and there are hens and cross-bred sheep amongst the ingredients in waiting on the estate farm. The food is very good indeed, including some lovely antipasti style starters of cheeses, salads, seafood and dips, and a terrific artichoke and Parma ham pizza to follow. Any of Shaw vineyards quality wines can be purchased at retail prices plus three dollars (just over one pound sterling), including their excellent Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Terrific espresso to finish makes this an excellent venue for a day in the vineyards, being less than an hour from central Canberra. (2005)

Barossa


Salter's Kitchen, Saltram Winery, Nurioopta Rd. Tel: (0)8 8561 0200
One of the top winery restaurants, Salter's Kitchen is an airy, modern restaurant, tasting bar and delicatessen as part of the historic Saltram estate. It mixes quite cutting edge, fusion cuisine with suitablity generous wine country portions and a very relaxed ambiance where the young, polo-shirted staff are as enthusiastic about the wines as they are the locally-sourced ingredients in many of the dishes. Excellent potato, sea salt and rosemary flatbread was served with olive oil and Dukkah, a North African dry paste of nuts and seeds that is absolutely addictive (it's home made and can be bought in the deli). My main course of a beautifully cooked piece of cod came with a liberal topping of Moreton bay bugs - sautéed prawn - and a zingingly fresh salad. Washed down with a glass of wine from a great selection at the tasting bar, this is a top lunch spot, though it is also open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. (2005)

Seppeltsfield winery, Seppeltsfield Rd. Tel: (0)8 8568 6217
A visit to the Seppelt winery is an absolute treat, as you drive down its famous avenue of palm trees and turn into the absolutely beautiful old winery, parts of which date from 1851, and anticipate a tasting of their extraordinary old ports, sherries and tokajis, including the famous 100-year-old Tawny. Seppelt's grounds are gorgeous, with mature gardens and winding paths to follow. One of the nicest treats is to book yourself a tour, followed by a picnic - the visitor centre will make you up a basket with some sparkling wine, and a selection of cheeses, charcutrie and sweet things to enjoy on the lawns. (2005)


WA - Perth

Lamonts Cottesloe, 12 Station Street, Cottesloe, tel. +61 8 9385 0666.
Kate Lamont is one of Western Australia's best known chefs. She also happens to be the granddaughter of Jack Mann, the legendary winemaker. In fact, she started out making wine at her family's winery, Lamonts in the Swan Valley before donning a chef's hat and opening Western Australia's first winery restaurant. That was 20 years ago when, she says, "a restaurant without beer was unusual!" She has since rolled out Lamonts eateries in Margaret River, East Perth and, most recently, trendy Perth suburb Cottesloe. Lamonts Cottesloe is a great find for wine lovers because it's an enoteca. You can buy a bottle to take away or pay a mark up of $18.50 (as at September 2009) and enjoy it with an extensive "small tastes" menu based on local, seasonal produce (Exmouth prawns and asparagus when I visited). What's more, irrespective of price, every wine from the impressive Australian and international range is available by the glass. Lamonts run a comprehensive tasting programme, with "Wine & food conversations" running from April to October. Find out more at
www.lamonts.com.au. Open Daily from noon until 11pm. (2009)

Must Wine Bar, Highgate, 519 Beaufort St Highgate, tel. +61 8 9328 8255.
Located on buzzy Beaufort Street this is one of Perth's best wine bars with a bistro serving chef patron Russell Blaikie's inspired locally-sourced, seasonal dishes (very much a WA theme). Kick off in style in the Chinese lacquer box-like Champagne Lounge upstairs, which lists around 40 Champagnes. Five Champagnes, housed in a hollowed out block of ice, come by the flute. Downstairs you can mix and match excellent and generously-sized   
dishes like steamed Marshalls Torbay asparagus with "Over the Moon" organic feta and macademia crumble, Roquefort souffle with chives and Angel Hair Pasta tossed with Blue Manna Crab. Must's co-owner, Garry Gosatti, drives the much-lauded 500 bin wine list which recently won the Gourmet Traveller Australian Best Wine Bar Wine List of the Year Awards 2009. Check out the website for seasonal food and wine matching events: www.must.com.au. Open daily from noon until midnight. (2009)

Hyatt Regency Perth, 99 Adelaide Terrace, tel. +61 8 9225 1234.
Inevitably, this member of the global Hyatt chain has a corporate feel but it's one of Perth's few five star hotels and has the facilities to match. If you visit at the end of October, it's worth knowing that they host a tasting of the Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia's Top 50 medal-winning wines and the show's Awards dinner, tickets for both of which are available to the public. www.perth.regency.hyatt.com. (2009)

WA - Maragret River

Cullen Wines, Caves Road, Cowaramup, tel. +61 8 9755 5277.
An iconic winery, certified biodynamic to boot, whose light and airy restaurant overlooking the vineyards also flies the flag for quality, sustainability and integrity. Vegetables, herbs and salad come from two biodynamic kitchen gardens which extend into the vineyards. Peas for my Deep Sea Snow Crab and Cullen garden pea risotto came from cover crop between the vine rows. Bought in food is, wherever possible, biodynamic, organic and local and includes gluten free options. The menu might feature Yallingup woodfired sourdough bread, Bindoo organic beef or Margaret River Creamery organic cheeses. Head chef Matt Egan has a delicate touch and lets the ingredients speak for themselves; Indian sous chef Sathish Kumar's influence delivers an Asian twist. The six-bedroom Cullen Wines Homestead, built by founders Dr Kevin and Di Cullen, is available for let. www.cullenwines.com.au. Open daily from 10am until 4.30pm. (2009)

Leeuwin Estate, Stevens Rd, Margaret River, tel. +61 8 9759 0000.
Another iconic winery, with a stand out restaurant; also a renowned concert venue. It's worth asking for a table outside on the balcony overlooking the garden. When I first visited with sommeliers and a wine buyer for Michelin starred establishments, we were blown away by the freshness of the fish and local marron (freshwater crayfish), a speciality. This time, I went richer and creamier, opting for a sumptuous Shark Bay crab soufflé   
and warming Augusta Dhufish, scallop and mussel chowder. The wine list offers current and older vintages, which is great news for lovers of Leeuwin Estate's famously ageworthy Art Series Chardonnay. www.leeuwinestate.com.au. Open daily for lunch and (unusually for a winery venue) on Saturday evenings. (2009)

Burnside Bungalows, 287 Burnside Road, Margaret River, tel. +61 8 9757 2139.
This biodynamic farm and vineyard (good Zinfandel) has four rammed earth and limestone bungalows to let. It's located on a quiet road off the Bussell Highway leading into Margaret River Town to which you can cycle (Burnside hire out bikes) or walk on trails through the surrounding Bramley National Park. You can buy a tasty breakfast basket with fresh homemade bread, jam and produce from the farm; guests can also help themselves to fruit and vegetables from the vegetable patch and orchard. A fun farm stay if you have children in tow. www.burnsidebungalows.com.au. (2009)

The Settlers Tavern, 114 Bussell Highway, tel. +61 8 9757 2398.
With its TAB betting station and throng of locals, the front bar of this traditional tavern on Margaret River's main drag could be intimidating. Just remember this is chi chi Margaret River, head straight for the bistro at the back and you'll find plenty to reassure you on the +250 bin wine list. It was voted Gourmet Traveller's Best Pub Restaurant List in Australia, 2009 and hosts Karen and Rob Gough are wine nuts, so it's an interesting list at that. The food also rises to the occasion - everything is made in the kitchen, preservative-free and your surf and turf is as fresh as a daisy: oysters and fish are shucked and filleted to order and steak is of the local wagyu variety. Also a live music venue and wifi hotspot. www.settlerstavern.com. Bistro (all-day menu) open daily 12 noon - 8.30pm. (2009)

Must Wine Bar Margaret River, 114 Bussell Highway, tel. +61 08 9758 8877.
The more sedate sister-restaurant of Must Wine Bar Highgate opened in 2009 and, while its menu is similar, the Margaret River venue has two aces up its sleeve. Food-wise, it's famous for its locally sourced, dry-aged Butterfield beef. Local farm boy and The Dorchester-trained chef-patron Russell Blaikie says "I simply wanted to eat meat like I enjoyed when I was a kid." Blaikie is also well-known for producing his own charcuterie for which he has won the national championship for 9 years. As for wine, Garry Gossati, has created a unique 500 bin list, about half of which comprises the most comprehensive listing of Margaret River wines you'll ever find. Gossati invited every producer within the Margaret River GI to submit a wine, so lots of hidden gems here, as well as a separate Top 50 selection of famous names. Indulge yourself and stay closer than staggering distance in one of Must's suites, above the restaurant. Check out the website for seasonal food and wine matching events at www.must.com.au. Open daily from noon until midnight. (2009)

Cape Lodge, 3341 Caves Road, Yallingup, tel. +61 8 9755 6311.
Cape Lodge has evolved from a luxury B&B into a boutique hotel which was voted Luxury Travel Magazine's Best Boutique Hotel in Australia 2009 and listed in Conde Nast Traveller's "World's Best 100 Hotels" Gold List 2008. This is where the likes of Sting and Bryn Terfel stay when playing at Leeuwin Estate and its secluded, peaceful setting off Caves Road is beautifully landscaped. I suspect that the VIPs stay in the separate, five bedroom   
luxury Vineyard Residence. Otherwise, its very spacious suites are located in three lodges dotted around the grounds. It's one of the very few places to stay in Margaret River that has a restaurant. And it's not any old restaurant. The standard of cuisine and service is exemplary, really first rate, without being stuffy. Rather, the lakeside setting and clubby adjoining lounge make for relaxed dining. The menu changes daily, but I was glad to eat there several times because it meant I was able to savour Head Chef Tony Howell's signature sashimi of hiramasa with Asian omelette and jasmine rice twice! Mr Cannavan, with whom I dined one evening, rated his food very highly too, including a main course of perfectly cooked Margaret River venison. Although Australian cheeses can lack depth and character, the Cape Lodge platter impressed, especially with the Tarago River Shadows of Blue from Victoria State. It's a shame that the wine list is not as ambitious, but I'm told that changes are afoot. Finally, Cape Lodge offers cookery courses which I fancy will be very good indeed. www.capelodge.com.au. Open daily for breakfast (8 until 10.30am), dinner (from 6.30pm) and for weekend brunch - 10.00am to 1.00pm) (2009)

Pemberton

Stonebarn, located off the South Western Highway, tel. +61 8 9773 1002.
This is a new, designer boutique hotel surrounded by the towering karri and jarrah trees for which this wine region, just south of Margaret River, is famous. With six large, super stylish and comfortable suites, this is a high-end offering. The aim is to keep it small and intimate, focused on personal service from chef/manager Xavier Poupel whose cuisine is fairly classic/conservative rather than showy. The hotel is located not a million miles from The Wine & Truffle Company in neighbouring Manjimup (well worth visiting - see www.wineandtruffle.com.au), with whom Stonebarn offer gourmet truffle weekends, at least until their own truffiere bears fruit. NB When I visited, guests were encouraged to BYO as Stonebarn had not yet been granted a liquor licence. www.stonebarn.com.au. (2009)