Melissa Leong: Where I’ll be eating as soon as borders lift

 

I find it ironic that I've finally landed my dream travel assignment writing for Escape and it comes during lockdown.

While it may be challenging for the restless to stay put, this time off from travelling has given me an opportunity to reflect on some of the incredible places and plates I've seen and eaten around this amazing continent, and I find myself dreaming of what I want to visit as soon
as borders lift.

What I'm left with is an appreciation of our regional quirks, country pubs and all the weird and wonderful things that make the Australian food scene so special. And if there's one thing you should know about me, there's no distance I won't travel on the rumour of a food experience. I've sampled a fair few snacks from southern Tasmania to the Northern Territory and everywhere in between.

With that in mind, here are my picks on where to go, and what to eat when you get there.

 

Grab a salad and fish pie from the Bay Grocer in Byron Bay.
Grab a salad and fish pie from the Bay Grocer in Byron Bay.

BEACHSIDE PICNIC - BYRON BAY, NSW

When Sarah Swan left Sydney and her job as Neil Perry's right-hand at Rockpool Group to pursue her dream of a tree change, she probably didn't anticipate how integral a part of the Byron Bay food community she would become. Her venues with business partner Jeremy Burn, 100 Mile Table and Duk, were immediate successes, and their foray into purveying local produce in early 2019 is no less of a hit. At Bay Grocer, you'll find a celebration of Byron Shire's food bowl - cute cheeses and cultured butterballs by cheesemaker Debra Allard, smoky fish rillettes by The Bay Smokehouse, expertly cured Italian goods by award-winning Salumi Australia and Bay Grocer's own canned spiced beer nuts are all top beach-picnic picks. And if you're staying in the area, be sure to pick up a fish pie or a slab
of lamb moussaka for ready-to-eat dinner at your Airbnb.

Pick up some food for the soul at Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves.
Pick up some food for the soul at Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves.

HAVE YOU MET STANLEY? - BRISBANE, QLD

Years ago, if you asked a food lover which states vied for top banana in the cuisine stakes, Brisbane probably wouldn't have been first to mind. But over the past few years, the city has managed to snaffle some of the nation's most promising chefs and restaurateurs, with high-octane results. Take Howard Smith Wharves - it hosts a handful of the city's most exclusive places, such as Jonathan Barthelmess's Greca, to be seen in as well as dine in. Louis Tikaram's return to Australia has been triumphant. Leaving the LA glam of EP & LP, he's now closer to his Mullumbimby roots. It's clear that being by the coast of his youth has been a great move. Louis opened his two-storey restaurant Stanley at the wharf late last year and while 2020 has been the year nobody saw coming, his food is the kind of balm to soothe the
soul. Think clean Cantonese classics and Queensland's best seasonal produce, treated with humour, warmth and intelligence.

Find the nation’s most promising chefs and restaurateurs at Stanley restaurant.
Find the nation’s most promising chefs and restaurateurs at Stanley restaurant.

THE CHEESE PLATE AT GRANDVEWE CHEESES - BIRCHS BAY, TASMANIA

I once stood in the carpark here, overlooking Bruny Island, and made a decision to give up my life in the big smoke and move from Sydney to Tasmania. Was it the fresh air and peace? Was it the cheese platter? I'll never know, but one thing's for sure: Australia's only organic sheep dairy is worth the 50-minute drive from Hobart to check out. I lived here for a time with head cheesemaker Nicole Gilliver and her family, learning how to milk sheep and make cheese, and, yes, I did it while sporting pin curls. While you might not feel like working so hard for your lunch, all you need do is pick a sunny spot on the deck and order up. Complete your visit with their award-winning Hartshorn Distillery sheep-whey vodka, made from the by-product of the cheesemaking process. This is the kind of no-waste philosophy that makes family owned businesses like Grandvewe great.

Australia’s only organic sheep dairy is worth the 50-minute drive from Hobart to check out.
Australia’s only organic sheep dairy is worth the 50-minute drive from Hobart to check out.

COUNTRY-TOWN CHINESE THAT'S ANYTHING BUT - CHOW'S TABLE, MARGARET RIVER, WA

I love a classic Australian country-town Chinese restaurant with those hokey sign fonts advertising the likes of Mongolian lamb and sweet and sour pork. If it's Aussie Chinese, more, please. A 3.5-hour drive south of Perth and deep in Margaret River wine country, at Chow's Table in Yallingup you'll find none of these things.

This gem is tucked into The House of Cards vineyard in Yallingup, where chef Mal Chow creates dishes that showcase a modern and dynamic interpretation of classic Chinese cuisine. He has collaborated with Michelin-starred chef Andrew Wong of London's A Wong and, from closer to home, celebrated chef-owner of Melbourne's Lee Ho Fook, Victor Liong, and holds his own with style, grace and focus. Honouring the jewels of Western Australian produce as well as his Chinese heritage with careful consideration, his menu features clean yet bold flavours. Now, that makes for some good chow.

For great Aussie Chinese, don’t go past Chow’s Table.
For great Aussie Chinese, don’t go past Chow’s Table.

LAKSA FOR BREAKFAST - DARWIN, NT

Further north - about as far north as you can get, in fact - Darwin's produce is some of our nation's most vibrant thanks to its climate. Closer to Indonesia than any other Australian city, its food scene is a celebration of all things subtropical.
A weekend morning is all about markets. Start at Rapid Creek where you'll find lush greens and every Southeast Asian aromat you can think of. I'm talking
kaffir lime leaves as big as your forearm. But it's over at Parap Village Markets where you'll find one of Darwin's worst-kept secrets. Yati's laksa is a market must-do for anyone who loves slurping their way into Saturday. Yati may have passed her legacy to her friend Christiana to run, but her namesake laksa truck remains a red-hot go-to for locals and visitors in the know who crave rich coconutty broth and noodle goodness
for their first meal of the day.

See also:

The Daylesford farm stay Melissa Leong daydreams about

Aussie's hilarious takedown of tipping

How to eat your way through Melbourne's neighbourhoods

How to spend an indulgent weekend away in the Tamar Valley

Originally published as Melissa Leong: Where I'll be eating as soon as borders lift


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