With the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards rolling into Melbourne in early April, we've put together a roadmap of unmissable taste experiences for our visitors.
G'day, chefs of the World's 50 Best. Welcome to Oz. We surely do have spiders big enough to drag a mouse up a fridge, but we're also the land of the exceedingly delicious. We know you may have heard about our three-hat restaurants, like Attica and Sepia, but we thought you might have some other questions for your trip. Like what is fairy bread? Where do chefs eat at 2am? And how do I get hold of some local sea urchin and crumpets? So here's a list of the very best and most Australian food we've got. Have a ripper time, you deadset legends.
School prawns from the Sydney Fish Market
Every coastal country has its special little prawns, smaller and sweeter than the readily available giants. In Sydney, it's all about "schoolies", small wild-caught estuarine prawns. You'll find piles of them at the Sydney Fish Market. They're best done simply at home, dusted with flour, fried until crisp and eaten whole, head and all – or order them at Buon Ricordo in Sydney or Ricky & Pinky in Melbourne.TD
David Thompson's pad Thai. Photo: Supplied
Pad Thai at Long Chim
Before you start looking for a typical Australian food experience, you need to accept that culturally, economically and socially, Australia is very much a part of south-east Asia. Plus – we have David Thompson, one of the finest exponents of Thai cooking in the world, whose pad thai rice noodles are the real deal. Branches in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. JD
Beer and barbecues. Photo: William Meppem
The Aussie backyard barbecue
You haven't really eaten in Australia until you've stood in somebody's backyard holding a barbecued lamb chop and a cold beer. Throw yourself on somebody – anybody – and get invited home for a weekend barbie. Take a bottle or wine, offer to help with the salads, and never tell the barbecuer he (and it usually is a he) is doing it wrong. If you can't get to the real thing, immerse yourself in the wood-fired cooking of Firedoor in Sydney or Embla in Melbourne. JD
A hamburger with the lot from Andrew's Hamburgers in Albert Park. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
Hamburger with the lot
The Australian hamburger, of David Chang rant fame, follows the great philosophy behind many Australian foods: more is more. We've sadly lost a little faith in the home product and gone down the US cheeseburger track, but visit Melbourne's 70-year-old burger joint Andrew's (or a truck stop anywhere) and you can still request a burger with the lot that means it: a beef patty embalmed in cheese, with tomato, lettuce, onion (fine), a slice of pickled beetroot (hey!), a fried egg (party down!) and pineapple for bonus points. GC
Attica's riff on avocado toast is topped with native finger lime 'caviar'. Photo: Eddie Jim
Smashed avocado on toast
It's practically an Australian icon, yet it's little more than a perfectly ripe avocado, crushed on to warm, grilled sourdough and squeezed with lime juice. If you want to get fancy try it at Melbourne's Top Paddock, where you can DIY with lime and ash salt, or get it with almond hummus, heirloom tomatoes and chilli. In Sydney, Boon Cafe in Sydney's Thai town serves avo-on-toast with herb salad, hard-boiled egg and pork crackling. JD
Pick up a piccolo at Market Lane Coffee. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Piccolo at Market Lane, Melbourne
You'll be needing coffee. Besides, we do it so well. Go straight to Melbourne's Market Lane (CBD, Carlton and Prahran), Dukes Coffee Roasters, Seven Seeds or hole-in-the-wall Cup of Truth. The piccolo is your perfect shot; but don't leave without trying Melbourne's gift to the world, a Magic (double-ristretto-turned-three-quarter latte) at Patricia Coffee Brewers. In Sydney, look for Ruby's Diner, Edition, Gypsy, Single O, Mecca, Coffee Alchemy – told you we do it well. JD
Beachside dining at NuNu restaurant in Palm Cove. Photo: Supplied
Mud crab on the beach at NuNu, north Queensland
Noma's Rene Redzepi wasn't telling a furphy (that's Australian for alternative fact) when he said this country was "crab nirvana", and the best nippers can be found in our tropical north. Canopied by palm trees and just a rod-cast from the ocean, NuNu Restaurant is exactly where you want to be eating a muddie as big as your head, wok-fried to the colour of a setting sun and snapping with chilli and tamarind. Beware of cane toads and crocs on your beach stroll back to the hotel. CB
Fleet's signature crumbed sweetbread sandwich. Photo: Kate Nutt
Schnitty sangas at Fleet, NSW
Australians are mad for schnitzels suffocated in cheese, pub gravy or on a sandwich, and at their Little Brunswick Restaurant That Could in northern NSW, Josh Lewis and Astrid McCormack rock a great riff on the theme. Fleet's "schnitty sanga" is a menu constant – crumbed veal sweetbreads licked with mustard and anchovy mayo between soft Bruns Bakery white-bread. Perfect with something cold and orange in your hand from McCormack's highly delicious wine list. CB
Continental roll from a Perth delicatessen
From Vietnamese banh mi to Bunnings sausage sangas (see below), to Fleet's sweetbread number mentioned above, you'll discover Aussies LOVE sandwiches. It's Western Australia that lays claim to the country's only region-specific sanga, though, with its continental roll – a holy hoagie trio of Italian deli meat, cheese and pickled veg on a crusty white baguette. Hit up Perth's Re Store, Kings Euro Foods and Del Basso Smallgoods for your conti fix. CB
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar boasts a killer view of Sydney's most famous beach. Photo: Brendon Thorne
Cocktails at Icebergs
You can pretty much ignore everything else on this list if you've ticked off cocktails and bar snacks at Maurice Terzini's Sydney seaside Italian restaurant and bar. Drinking an Aussie negroni (just like your regular mix of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari only made with live and local liquor) while the sun sets over the Bondi breakers and old salts throw an arm over in the pool below is about as Sydney as it gets. MR
Sunshine, sand and a schooner of beer. Photo: Jennifer Soo
A post-beach schooner at the Wallarah Hotel (aka Catho Pub)
This should really be done on the verandah while your cozzies (or bathers, or whatever you call 'em) are still sopping wet after a dip at Catherine Hill beach. Perched on the fringe of Lake Macquarie, NSW, Catho Pub is one of Australia's last ridgy-didge boozers providing clean Tooheys lines, Acca Dacca tribute bands, oysters, pool and a shady verandah for the bikies, surfers and fishos who call the place home. CB
Fish and chips at Paper Fish. Photo: Josh Robenstone
Fish and chips at Paper Fish, St Kilda
At Melbourne's answer to California's Venice Beach, St Kilda, you can watch the changing tableau of dogs, skaters, joggers, waves and weather from a stool at beachside kiosk Paper Fish. A paper cone filled with fritto misto (a mixture of fried prawns, calamari, sardines, fish fillet and crinkle-cut chips) only improves the view. RG
Charcoal chicken and pickles at El Jannah. Photo: Marco Del Grande
Charcoal chicken at El Jannah, Granville
At weekends, families flock by the Tarago-load to Sydney's favourite charcoal chicken shop. There's Lebanese deliciousness like shawarma and sujuk (beef sausage) on the menu, but you're really here for the chicken, spinning over coals and causing aromas of glistening skin and meat to cover a 200-metre radius. Consume with chips, sour pickles and at least two tubs of garlic yoghurt. CB
Breathe in a bowl of beef pho at An Restaurant. Photo: Marco Del Grande
Pho at An Restaurant, Bankstown
Australia might have the best pho outside Vietnam. "Ah! But what about Houston? And greater Los Angeles?" you say. Look, just head to south-western Sydney and breathe in a big bowl of Pho An's dac biet (a thumping chorus of sweet, sour, salt and fat) and you'll grant us the argument has solid ground. In Melbourne, try Pho Chu The or Pho Nom, while Brisbane is blessed with Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur and its magical ox pizzle extras. CB
Midnight snack: Pipis in XO at late-night haunt Golden Century.
Pipis with XO Chilli Sauce at Golden Century
Because David Chang says so. As does Neil Perry. And Dan Hong. And anyone who ever worked all night and ended up at the Golden Century at midnight, hungry for more than just food. Master chef Leung Hung invented this dish in 1990, and the fleshy pipis (big, triangular clams) and house-made XO chilli sauce on fried noodle cakes is magnificently simple and simply magnificent. TD
Thi Le's tempura Vegemite bites. Photo: Supplied
Vegemite tempura at Anchovy
The important thing to understand about eating the salty yeast spread Vegemite is that you're doing it wrong. However you're spreading it, someone will have an opinion about your butter-to-'mite ratio. Which leaves you clear to try it at Anchovy where chef Thi Le creates a Vegemite and onion stock, makes a custard, tempura-fries the cubes and pipes on whipped Laughing Cow cheese. Just like a cheese and Vegemite toastie, and Yotam Ottolenghi-approved. GC
Saltbush cakes with chilli sauce at Billy Kwong. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Crisp saltbush cakes at Billy Kwong
Aussie-Chinese food used to mean dim sims, beef and blackbean, and sweet and sour pork. But that was before Kylie Kwong started combining indigenous native ingredients with classic regional cooking methods to devastating effect. Using native saltbush leaves in traditional Northern Chinese spring onion cakes with chilli sauce is nothing short of genius. TD
Melbourne's coffee obsession extends to cocktails. Photo: Anita Jones
When the rest of the world abandoned the espresso martini (aka the vodka espresso, hero of '90s cocktail menus everywhere), Melbourne held it tighter than ever. Invented in London by bartender Dick Bradsell, the shaken king-hit of fresh espresso, vodka, Kahlua and sugar united Melbourne's coffee obsession with its burgeoning bar scene. Even at our internationally decorated cocktail bars like the Black Pearl, espresso martinis outsell other drinks three to one. Get it done. GC
Iggy's sourdough. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Iggy's bread and Pepe Saya butter
"Come to Australia and eat bread and butter" might not sound all that enticing, but it's the ability to do such fundamental foods well that is the real measure of a country's gastronomy. The bread, by baker Igor Ivanovic is slow-leavened sourdough with a super-tough crust, fabulously earthy aroma, and richness of flavour that almost precludes having it with Pepe Saya's hand-churned, cultured, fresh-tasting butter. Available in selected Sydney food stores and better restaurants. TD
Smoked eel, black garlic and malt vinegar at Automata. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Snack crawl around Chippendale
Good news, fans of Things That Are Delicious. Three of Sydney's most exciting restaurants are all within staggering distance of each other. Even better news, they don't mind if you drop by for a glass and a plate then hit the road. So you might start at Automata and ask for whatever's cooking (the menu changes daily), make your way over to LP's Quality Meats for exceptional charcuterie, then take a nosedive into Ester for the burnt pavlova or anything, really, from the wood oven. MR
Falafels from El Manara
It's cash only, brightly lit, the menu is displayed on an '80s neon board complete with pictures of food, and the walls are wood-panelled like a very small hunting lodge. But that's the charm here. More importantly, you're in for some of the best falafels in the area alongside super-garlicky toum, lamb kebabs and a ful medames for the ages. MR
Slather a crumpet with sea urchin. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Brunch at Saint Peter
Hyper-local seafood meets luxurious carbs at chef Josh Niland's fish-based Paddington restaurant. And the best bit? It's brunch, so drinking before noon isn't just acceptable, but essential. Go for hand-picked spanner crab meat served back in its own slightly furry shell alongside a beautifully flaky croissant, or sea urchin on the half-spike, rich and briny and spooned onto a hot, salty and buttery house-made crumpet. Magic. MR
Yabbies and pikelets at the Cured & Cultured bar at Bennelong. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Yabby tail pikelets at Bennelong
There's a reason why tourists cram alongside locals for sunset drinks at the Opera Bar. In the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, it's one of the most spectacular spots for a drink in, well, the world. It would be rude to the head to the House not to eat yabby tails on buckwheat pikelets under Utzon's soaring sails while you are here. SR
Fairy bread is an Aussie children's birthday party classic. Photo: Fiona Morris
White bread, the trashier the better, smeared with margarine (butter is a white collar crime) coated to corners with 100s and 1000s and served with grazed knees at a kid's party. GC
Bill Granger's ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana. Photo: Steven Siewert
Ricotta hotcakes at Bills
Welcome to ground zero for Sydney's sandy brunch culture. The breakfast reach of bronzed figurehead Bill Granger extends across Sydney, Asia and into London, but get to Bondi, get wet and order the ricotta hotcakes to understand the cult. Fat as a mattress, soft as a sigh, filled with ricotta and covered in that honeycomb butter and banana, it's Sydney on a plate. NS
Footy fare: Four 'N Twenty meat pies. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Meat pie at the 'G
You're here in time for Aussie Rules footy season so catch a match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Once you've got the hang of the lingo – speccy, smother, baaaaaallllll – your goal is to grab a Four 'N Twenty pie. No, there aren't any blackbirds in it, just mystery beef and grey-vy. Don't forget a squeeze of dead horse (tomato sauce); wash it down with a plastic cup of mid-strength beer. AS
Damper at Orana in Adelaide. Photo: Matt Turner
Native freshwater marron at Orana
Here's where we get close to the heart of an authentic Australian cuisine. A Scottish/Italian chef with a French fine-dining background obsessed by reconciling Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians – in Adelaide. Jock Zonfrillo's food is graceful, harmonious, wild, native and intensely natural, from the hot, smoking damper to the sweet, delicate freshwater marron. JD
Many old-school milk bars also sell bags of mixed lollies. Photo: Simon Schluter
Milk bar mixed bag
Pop into a corner shop to stock up on old-school Aussie treats. Our picks? You can't pass up a can of Passiona (passionfruit soda) and chocolate bars Cherry Ripe (dark-chocolate-encased crushed cherries and coconut) and Violet Crumble (choc-covered honeycomb, a favourite of Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi). Grab a mate and have a Golden Gaytime – caramel and vanilla ice-cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in biscuit nibs – as the catchphrase goes, it's hard to have a one on your own. AS
This umami-tastic seasoning is dusted over hot chips as the default setting. Expat chef Thomas Lim is dehydrating chicken skin for his fancified version at Dudley's in New York City, but head to any Aussie fish and chip shop for the finger lickin' original – the colour of which varies from pale to radioactive yellow. Even Mr Triple-Cooked Chip himself, Heston Blumenthal, was intrigued at the mention of this flavour-enhanced sensation. AS
Kate Reid's classic croissants.
Melbourne croissant boss Kate Reid's precision pastries are world-class, says The New York Times. She's graduated from a bayside hole-in-the-wall to a space-age climate-controlled cube; join the queue in the backstreets of hipster Fitzroy. Reid's almond croissants come with a stegosaurus spine of almond flakes, or try an ever-changing twice-baked number – perhaps a riff on lamington or Anzac biscuit if you're lucky. AS
Bar Liberty's salt and pepper vegies are a great drinking snack. Photo: Josh Robenstone
We've got a little more delicate and biodynamic at it since the shirazes of the '80s that you could stand a spoon in. For Australia's best, boldest and flat-out weirdest, get Banjo Harris-Plane to throw it at you at Melbourne's Bar Liberty with a side of salt and pepper veg. Ditto Love Tilly Devine in Sydders, or Monopole.
All-Aussie cocktails at Bad Frankie. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
We have embraced craft spirits with a vengeance. Artisan gin, backyard whisky, single-barrel rum, we've got it and it's good. Big names like Sullivans Cove and Four Pillars are everywhere, but for the truly hillbilly gear, Bad Frankie's bar in Fitzroy is all Aussie and has lamington jaffles (aka toasties) to boot. Sydney's Archie Rose makes everything on site. GC
Sausage sizzle snags in bread. Photo: Darren Pateman
Bunning's sausage/democracy sausage
Charitable bangers in cheap white bread with sauce are the backbone of Australia. We are a proud collection of citizens who understand that Brexit and Trump happened due to non-compulsory voting compounded by a lack of snags at polling booths to pull the youth vote. And if the #democracysausage keeps us honest, sausage sizzles outside Bunnings hardware megamarts at weekends (all funds going to schools and community groups) are possibly the reason most homes are even standing. Would we build anything without them? GC
Cheap eat: the borek stall at the Queen Victoria Market. Photo: Robert Banks
Borek at Queen Victoria Market
Sprawling over seven hectares on Melbourne's city fringe, Queen Victoria Market is arguably the country's greatest, and inarguably the city's beating heart. Visitors, chefs and home cooks shop for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood but linger for $3 boreks from the Borek Shop in the Deli Hall. Jump in the queue for a flat, chewy Turkish pastry, filled with cheese and spinach, spicy potato or spicy minced lamb. RG
Grilled fish at Franklin. Photo: Supplied
R&R in Hobart
After the W50B circus leaves town, you'll be needing some downtime. Head to Hobart, pull up a stool at Franklin and watch flathead emerge from the giant wood-fired oven, then duck into Dier Makr wine bar for a nightcap of Tassie's liquid finest in digs perfectly channelling the hip foodie vibe this island is nailing right now. Lunch the next day? Has to be Fico for linguine with crab and tarragon. Farewell cooks of the world. Come again. AB
Sydney supper club: Restaurant Hubert. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
The hit list
From coast to coast, here are the restaurants you want to eat in right now.
Duncan Welgemoed's South African meat, veg and natural wine party brings Radelaide alive.
Thi Le's contempo-Vietno greatness means blood pudding, Vegemite tempura and tidy wine in Richmond.
Bar Brose, Sydney
Analiese Gregory and the ACME crew have crafted a late-night pearler for smashable wine and even more smashable small plates. Roasted palm hearts and XO, hello.
Cutler & Co, Melbourne
Serial restaurateur Andrew McConnell's freshly primped Fitzroy flagship is cool all over again.
The Dolphin, Sydney
An old Surry Hills pub dog taught new Italian tricks by Icebergs' Maurice Terzini and his bottlenose bros. Chilled red all day, e'ry day.
The dark, natural-wine-and-fire-fuelled bistro is the epicentre of get-there dining in Melbourne.
Fen, Port Fairy, Victoria
Ryan Sessions' abalone, fresh shiitakes and roasted sea lettuce is reason alone to point a car towards Victoria' Great Ocean Road.
Fleet, Brunswick Heads, NSW
Hire a boat, steal a plane, but get to this 16-seat powerhouse of creativity in Brunswick Heads.
Watch David Moyle put Tasmania in the fire with great results.
Scando-inspired cooking showcasing Queensland's best seafood, fruit and veg in a mould-breaking restaurant disguised as a cafe.
Igni, Geelong, Victoria
In Geelong, an hour from Melbourne, Aaron Turner's charry degs make you see marron, potato noodles and saltbush like never before.
Liberte, Albany, WA
Modern and delicious French-Vietnamese isn't native to bars in Albany, Western Australia, making Amy Hamilton's cooking 1000 per cent worthy of the five-hour drive from Perth.
Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
Paul Carmichael, ladies and gentleman. Making Australian-Barbadian cuisine a thing since 2015.
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney
Pervy French, crazy wines. Order it all then get on the table. It's Sydney's best party and you're invited.
Tipo 00, Melbourne
Pasta is the game: the eternal squid ink linguine with starbursts of crab; and tortellini with rich, cheesy goo. Book ahead, or live with regret.
Ryan Sessions' abalone and shiitake dish. Photo: Eddie Jim
Compiled by Ardyn Bernoth, Callan Boys, Gemima Cody, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Roslyn Grundy, Sharnee Rawson, Myffy Rigby, Annabel Smith and Nedahl Stelio.
#50BestTalks Edible ideas with visiting chefs Daniel Humm, Will Guidara, Gaggan Anand, Jordi Roca, and Grant Achatz, hosted by Annabel Crabb, in Melbourne on Monday, April 3, tickets: goodfood.com.au/worlds50best
What did we miss? Share your must-dos in the comments below.