Mention modern Australian cuisine and most foodies think of fusion foods that blend spices and techniques brought in by Australian settlers.  Recently though, restaurants are moving beyond European and Asian influences that were popularized by chefs like Tetsuya Wakada to include the Middle East.  There are restaurants all over Australia that describe their food as “modern Australian with a Middle Eastern touch.” One such is Nomad in Sydney.  

With the country opening up to tourists post Covid, chefs and restaurants are joyfully experimenting with flavours and ingredients.  Here are some that offer a refreshing take on the abundance of produce, meats and seafood widely available in Australia.  Some are casual, some are formal.  All walk the fine line between inventiveness and comfort.

Khaleej Times Australia restaurants

Chiswick Woollahra describes its food as plant to plate.  Owned by celebrity chef-restauranteur Matt Moran and assisted by head chef, Taylor Cullen, Chiswick takes pride in its seasonal menus based on what’s available in the in-house kitchen garden. The restaurant occupies a large corner plot in a leafy suburb of Sydney.  Inside, cozy rooms are crowded with hip young locals who return for a tightly crafted menu. Highlights include the wood-baked halloumi with fennel, rock oysters with lime mignonette, slow-roasted lamb shoulder with mint salsa, and kingfish crudo with horseradish.  Given the abundance of greens, vegetables and edible flowers that grow on site, the seasonings and toppings are fresh and sparkling. Service can be slow given the crowds.  For more details, visit https://www.chiswickwoollahra.com.au/

Mode Kitchen & Bar at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney looks to the Mediterranean for its influence and has come up with a largely gluten-free menu.  Chef Francesco Manelli roams the world for ingredients and seasonings and puts them together in inventive ways.  Try the degustation menu for AUD$130 per person to get a bird’s eye view of his cooking.  Regular menu items include signature dishes such as zucchini flowers with ricotta, truffles and green peas; Tasmanian octopus with sambal and chick peas; and Wagyu beef tartare with caviar, mustard and chives.  The service is formal but not stuffy.  Don’t miss the frozen Pavlova served with rhubarb, strawberry and pistachio.  Named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, this dessert has Australia and neighbouring New Zealand both claiming that they invented it. The meringue like confection at Mode is delicious. For more details, visit https://modekitchenandbar.com.au/

Fish Butchery is exactly what it sounds like: an outlet that is an ode to seafood. Owned by celebrity chef, author and teacher Josh Niland, who was selected in 2021 as a “gamechanging producer” by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the restaurant is all about increasing the “yield” of fish.  Niland’s contention is that people only use half the fish and dump the rest, a sheer waste in his mind.  He wants to teach home cooks to use more fishy parts– eyes, blood, bones, sperm– to create meals.  One way that he does this is by ageing and seasoning fish so that it tastes like meat– try his dry-aged swordfish bacon and see.  The salmon wellington for instance, follows the broad recipe of a beef wellington but is made with, well, salmon.  Similarly, Fish Butchery’s chorizo and sausages are made with seasoned fish parts instead of meat. “If the…potential yield of one fish (is) doubled, that would be one less fish removed from the ocean,” says Niland. For more details, visit https://fishbutchery.com.au/

Nomad in Surry Hills, Sydney has an open barn-like feel.  Its young and handsome waitstaff offer spirited opinions about menu choices, many of which draw from the Middle East.  A great option for groups is the “feast” menu, priced at AUD$95 per person for the table to share.  It includes a bounty of choices: spiced fava bean hummus; focaccia with Persian lime zaa’tar; BBQ spatchcock, harissa, toum, guindilla; lamb’s neck pie cooked with raisin-and-caper salsa.  The kitchen uses dates, coriander, fennel, saffron and other gentle seasonings.  Paired with Australia’s excellent produce and meats, these make for a piquant and sparkling meal.  The fried green olives with preserved tomatoes are addictive, and the olive ice cream makes for a great finale.  For more details, visit https://nomad.sydney/

Khaleej Times Australia restaurants
Khaleej Times Australia restaurants

The Depot Bondi Beach is where the surfers gather after their morning swim to eat wholesome organic food with a neighbourhood feel.  Most of the locals come for the baked goods: fresh almond croissants, brioches, chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with macadamia nuts, and breads.  People bring their laptops and progress to heavier breakfast like the smashed avocado toast, said to have been invented in Australia.  The breakfast quesadilla is filled with scrambled eggs and seasoned with salsa and cheese. It is a terrific preamble for a swim in the cold South Pacific Ocean just minutes away. Towards dinner time, the restaurant serves its signature dishes including Nduja and grapefruit butter baked chicken, and barramundi in a bag with broccolini, ginger, chilli and lemon.  For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/thedepotbondi/

Opera Kitchen is a scene as much as it is a restaurant.  Just outside the iconic Sydney Opera House, it is often standing-room-only crowds.  Chic Sydneysiders enjoy pre-show meals before repairing into the opera house for The Phantom of the Opera. The fare is therefore simple and rustic.  Think paninis, French fries (or chips as they are called here), poke bowls, ramen, pasta, and salads.  There is something for everyone as long as they aren’t fussy.  With great views of the Harbour bridge and the Sydney skyline, there is enough diversion beyond people watching.  It is best to order and pick up your food, given the crowds. Waiters do their best but service can take time. For more details, visit https://www.operakitchen.com.au/

Sydney is a city of neighbourhoods.  Whether it is a cheeseburger at the Potting Shed, Kangaroo rump along with live music at The Orient hotel, wood-fired pizza or fresh pasta, dumplings or biriyani, there is something for everyone.  The best way is to walk the streets, enjoy the largely temperate year-round weather, duck into interesting alleys and feel your way through the city.  What’s more, with all the walking, you can tuck into the delicious fare on offer without guilt.

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