This is a job that leaves a lot of outtakes in its wake. For every restaurant that ends up being featured in Australia Fare, five or 10 or 20 meals were eaten in pursuit of that one column.
The restaurants I cover should ideally reveal something greater about Australia: a story that has not been told, an unexamined angle. These are restaurant reviews, but they are also cultural essays, culinary investigations — snapshots of this country and the people in it.
I eat many great meals that don’t quite encapsulate a particular Australian experience or phenomenon enough to warrant a full column. (I’ve had some pretty mediocre food as well, but that’s for another day.)
Yet weeks or months later, I find myself thinking about a dish, a meal, a place.
It seems a waste to keep these to myself, the fantastic dishes and wonderful little finds. Here are four of those experiences that have stuck with me.
Oneyada Thai Cafe
Victoria Parade, in Melbourne, is known for its pho houses, but another noodle lured me to this part of town.
Oneyada Thai Cafe is an adorably colorful little shopfront, serving Thai breakfast and lunch. It opened in 2016 as an offshoot of the nearby and well-known Jinda Thai, owned by the Tanapat family.
The breakfast dishes here are great, but it is their khao soi gai that haunts me. The northern Thai egg noodle curry soup is one of those dishes that can easily become an obsession, and it is hard to find in Australia at all, let alone a version this good.
Oneyada’s is just about perfect: creamy coconut curry with a warming spice kick, chewy egg noodles, hunks of on-the-bone chicken pieces, fistfuls of chopped scallions and cilantro and red onion and fried shallots.
The fresh crunch of all those different kinds of oniony bits and herbs cuts through the rich broth so beautifully it makes me a little emotional.
239 Victoria Street (Ferguson Street); Abbotsford, Victoria; 03 9041 1525
This restaurant reminded me of lots of places, none of them having much in common with its home in Gold Coast, Queensland.
Lupo’s location, in the crook of a strip mall behind a building on a highway, conjures Los Angeles. Its design has the feeling of a European cafe dropped into the middle of the tropics: lace curtains, burnished walls, copper bar, fans rotating warm ocean air.
The soundtrack was awesome: Otis Redding leading into “Sandinista!” by the Clash.
The menu looked like a lot of menus at a lot of new Australian restaurants these days — everyone seems to have a kingfish ceviche and a steak (or lamb, or emu) tartare.
But Lupo excels at turning those tropes on their head, particularly the steak tartare. Here it is served as a steak sandwich, but the bread is in the form of thin, intensely crispy crostini, which is then doused in very good Spanish paprika.
I’m not talking about a sprinkle here, I mean a literal pile of paprika. It sounds concerning, but it is an overkill that works — and that I’m still thinking about months later.
2460 Gold Coast Hwy (Glenelg Avenue); Broadbeach, Queensland; 0424 675 774; restaurantlupo.com.au
A lovely restaurant in North Fremantle — just south of Perth — Propeller serves smart, modern Middle Eastern food.
I had an exceedingly pleasant meal there, next to a brick wall dripping with ivy, but most of the food blended in my memory with many other modern Middle Eastern meals I’ve had in Australia and Los Angeles and elsewhere.
All of it, that is, except one dish: a jumble of chicken livers cooked simply and perfectly in a piquant vinegar molasses combination and tossed with fat green and red grapes.
The grapes had obviously seen a hint of the hot pan, but not so much that they lost their structural, juicy integrity. The richness of the pink livers with the bawdy fruit is one of those combinations that seems so elemental I am surprised this is my first grape-liver encounter.
Perhaps “hot grapes and liver” doesn’t sound particularly appealing. But believe me, hot grapes and liver is awesome.
222 Queen Victoria Street (Harvest Road); North Fremantle, Western Australia; 08 9335 9366; propellernorthfreo.com.au
Recently opened in Sydney, Rey’s Place is an instantly likable restaurant, for many reasons. It’s simply a nice place to eat and drink, wedged into a very old, very narrow brick building with a tiny bar, a tiny kitchen and a few tables on two levels.
The owner, Jonathan Bayad, works the floor — usually by himself — and is an immensely friendly host. The modern Filipino food being served is exciting for Sydney and Australia. The genre “modern Filipino” did not exist here before Rey’s Place opened.
But what stayed with me following my visit to Rey’s Place was the cocktails.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given Mr. Bayad’s history as a bar manager. (To handle the food, he has brought on the chef Shaun Oligo.)
The drinks straddle the line between tropical and refined, with a deft elegance that is rare in this time of tiki revival. Many are built around Don Papa, the small-batch Filipino rum, and those are wonderfully boozy but balanced.
But Mr. Bayad can also build a tropical dream in a glass with gin (the Thrilla in Manila is like a dairy-less grown-up orange Creamsicle) or tequila (which, paired with apple and fennel for the Fresh Like Baguio City, is refreshing and subtle).
Go for the fried chicken wings stuffed with adobo mousse. Stay — and come back again — for the cocktails.
123 Crown St, Darlinghurst (Stanley Street); Sydney, New South Wales; 02 9361 5938; reysplace.com.au
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