Wet or dry, Darwin is unique. A brilliant, loveable, laconic city of Greek and Indonesian, Irish and Chinese, Aboriginal and European, urban and outback, old and new. Especially new.
Darwin dining used to be all about curry laksa, steamed mud crab, bloody big steak and cold beer, but according to Lisa Heames of Laneway Specialty Coffee, "there's a whole new generation of passionate, enthusiastic, owner-operators in their mid-thirties that's having a real impact."
Jimmy Shu put Darwin dining on the map when he opened Hanuman in 1992, and it's still cutting it - big, blessedly cool, and cruising along with charming staff and a top wine list. A terrific Indian/Thai menu runs to tangy sweet-sour Hanuman oysters, golden samosas, and a turmeric-bright meen moolie curry of chunky, fresh, local wild barramundi.
93 Mitchell Street, Darwin, 08 8941 3500, hanuman.com.au
THE BIG NIGHT OUT
Pee Wee's at the Point
Honeymooning tables fringe the shoreline under native fig trees or cluster on the wide verandah enjoying sweeping views across Fannie Bay to Darwin. Award-winning chef Paul Joyes gives a celebratory twist to Top End favourites crocodile tail and pearl meat, but the big orders are for double-roasted duckling, and confit pork belly with crackling.
Alec Fong Lim Drive, East Point Reserve, Darwin, 08 8981 6868, peewees.com.au
THE NEXT-GEN BISTRO
Elle Burgan's little Parisienne salon, with a 19th-century hotel courtyard outside, and a lovely white-tiled, black-grouted bar inside, is a good add for Darwin dining; you'll enjoy its gin-cured ocean trout, angus eye fillet and coffee-by-day, cocktails-by-night vibe.
Shop 9, The Vic Complex, The Mall, 27 Smith Street, Darwin, 0435 821 648, thepearl.com.au
Yots Greek Taverna
Romantically situated in the Cullen Bay Marina, Yots plays off Darwin's strong Greek heritage with a happy blend of old-school (spicy whitebait, good dips, Greek village salad) and new (Greco barramundi, oven-baked with spinach and capers).
54 Marina Boulevard, Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin, 08 8981 4433, yots.com.au
Resortwear tourists and corporate spenders alike come to this sister restaurant of Brisbane's Char Char Char for fine dining, Territory style, shaded by the most splendid tree in Darwin. Cue espresso martinis, a terrific wine list and big, crusty, charred rib eye steaks with sweet potato chips, barbecued corn and (fusion alert) wasabi butter.
Corner of The Esplanade and Knuckey Streets, Darwin, 08 8981 4544, chardarwin.com.au
Rorke's Beer Wine Food
This lively, two-level, corner bar/pub aims to be part of the new Darwin set, with its slip-into booths, hi-lo seating, live music, plenty of cocktail action, and great vibe.
22 Smith Street, Darwin, 08 8942 1000, rorkes.com.au
Parap Village Market
A laksa at Saturday's Parap market is non-negotiable, at either the legendary Mary's Laksa (coconut-creamy broth with hot chilli sauce and wontons for extra fun in the sun) or close rival Yati's Laksa. Other great markets: Mindil Beach Sunset, Nightcliff and Rapid Creek.
Parap Village Markets, Saturdays 8am-2pm, Parap Place, Darwin, 08 8942 0805, parapvillagemarkets.com.au
THE HOT & NEW
Little Miss Korea
The "Miss" is Sam Lee, "Little" is Onkar Sharma, and "Korea" is chef Chung Jae Lee, formerly of Seoul Food, and together they spell Darwin's new hipster night out. Diners gather around dry martinis and glowing coals in an industrial graffitied warehouse as if in an opium den, grilling their own beef, pork belly, marinated chicken and prawns.
Austin Lane, Darwin, 08 8981 7092, facebook.com/LittleMissKoreaDarwin
Laneway Specialty Coffee
Noma's Rene Redzepi was in this bustly corner café the week before I visited, and ARIA's Matt Moran the day prior, for the excellent Campos Coffee, communal table, just-what-you-want menu of eggs, sourdough, avocado, feta and kale, and serious small cake action. Owners Adam and Danielle Mann and Lisa Heames opened in 2014, inspired by Melbourne's high-energy coffee culture, and haven't had a quiet day since.
4/1 Vickers Street, Parap, 08 8941 4511
THE SEAFOOD SHACK
"No chips, no salad, and no bull" promises Rachael Ciesiolka (last seen on MasterChef Season 6). With a rudimentary kitchen inside Darwin Fish Market and a few picnic tables outside, it's the no-frills, no-fuss, BYO spot for oysters, prawns and mud crab.
Frances Bay Drive, Fishermans Wharf, 0407 722 422.
Also good to know: Moorish, for its lively tapas scene; Roast and Noodles for cheap-and-cheerful Chinese barbecue; Wharf Number One, for wood-fired grills by the water; Manolis for Greek; Chow Eating House for Vietnamese street food; Milk Bar Cafe, for coffee and beer; and Fork & Dagger in Palmerston for steak.
Jill Dupleix is co-director of Australia's Top Restaurants, an annual listing of the country's top 500 restaurants, australiastoprestaurants.com.