Australia is hot property these days when it comes to the pedigree of the dining opportunities afforded by our capital cities, with Sydney, Melbourne and formerly humble Hobart home to establishments that can hold their heads high on the world’s culinary stage. But even more exciting to the adventurous foodie traveller is the latest generation of regional gourmet hotspots dotted around the country.
The desire for destination dining experiences has opened up huge opportunities for entrepreneurial regional chefs to capitalise on the popular ‘paddock to plate’ ethos and make the most of seasonal produce and ingredients unique to their local area. Gastronomic delights can be found off many a beaten track around the country, but here’s a selection of the crème de la crème of Australia’s regional foodie hotspots. Don’t forget to book your stay at ChoiceHotels.com.
1. Explore moreish Moree (NSW)
The north-western New South Wales town of Moree is renowned for its proliferation of hot artesian springs (hello spa short break!), but that’s not the only good stuff that comes from the ground around this lovely Art Deco town. With a rich agricultural heritage, the surrounding area produces a huge variety of crops, including olives, grapes and pecans. There’s a plethora of farm gate enterprises to discover, and the very tasty annual Moree on a Plate food and wine festival showcases the region’s produce to perfection.
While the food and wine festival has attracted numerous visiting celebrity chefs, Moree now also has its very own celebrity connection. Renowned chef Nick Whitehouse has worked in some of Europe’s most prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants and even cooked for Princess Diana. He’s now bringing his vast experience to the Maslina Bar and Grill at the award-winning Econo Lodge Moree.
2. Enjoy fine fare or go grass roots on the Sunshine Coast (QLD)
With its spectacular beaches, lush hinterland and enviable year-round weather, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast never goes out of style as a holiday hotspot. With all that going for it, and more, it’s not necessarily the coast’s dining scene that attracts so many visitors to the region, but it’s definitely one of the reasons they keep coming back for more!
With several high-profile events, including the Noosa Food and Wine Festival and the much-anticipated new kid on the block, the Curated Plate Culinary Festival, the Sunshine Coast has evolved into a hugely exciting foodie destination. Some of the best chefs in the world have settled in the region in recent years, and they’ve certainly given back as good as they’ve got at fine dining restaurants like the Spirit House, Wasabi and the Long Apron. There’s also a very grass roots produce and paddock-to-plate scene to explore, which has sprung up around the bucolic hinterland towns of Montville and Maleny. Locally produced cheese, chocolate, and a seasonal abundance of fresh produce are just some of what’s in store for visitors. Looking for the ultimate accommodation in this amazing holiday destination? You won’t forget your stay at the award-winning Breeze Mooloolaba, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member.
3. Have a tasty time in Horsham (VIC)
Horsham is no secret to the Melbourne foodie set, with plenty willing to drive the three and a half hours to the western Grampian Ranges to get their fix of characterful wines, zesty olives, fresh produce and award-winning cafes and restaurants. If you’re looking for reasons, here are just a few of many. The Grampians Olive Co serves up lunch and tastings of their hero olive oil, grown and cold-pressed on site at what is one Australia’s oldest olive groves. With several boutique wineries from which to choose, it’s a wise idea to pace yourself.
The cellar doors of the picturesque Norton Estate and the renowned Barangaroo Boutique Wines are two of the highlights. When it comes time for the main dining event of the day, stick a pin in a map of the main street and take your pick of the many delicious options on offer – everything from modern Asian cuisine to the contemporary seasonal menu at Baa 3400. Book your stay at Comfort Inn May Park or Comfort Inn Capital Horsham.
4. Discover the delicious best of Bunbury (WA)
To the locals it may be ‘just another day in WA’, but the Bunbury Geographe region (about two hours south of Perth) has a burgeoning foodie culture all its own. While the rolling hills, lush pastures, and sweeping coastline might feel remote, it’s cold pressed juices, organic wood-fired bread and gourmet dining all the way. There’s a distinct Italian flavour to the culture and cuisine of the seven regions of Bunbury Geographe, although the town of Bunbury itself is home to everything from modern Japanese fusion to spicy South American flavours.
Don’t forego a visit to any of the local wineries, which are linked by a truly stunning drive. The Alternative Wine Trail offers a suggested self-drive itinerary. The superb Capel Vale and Willow Bridge Estate wineries are perhaps the best known stops en route, but there are lots of other small batch producers to discover as well. Stay at the Quality Hotel Lighthouse and enjoy the on-site Basalt Restaurant & Bar that offers a 180-degree views of the Indian Ocean, Leschenault Inlet and Bunbury City.
5. Book a gourmet short break in Bendigo (VIC)
Over the past few years, the goldfields-era town of Bendigo (and its surrounding area) has slowly but surely established itself as a genuine contender in the high-stakes regional Victorian food and wine scene. From brewhouse coffee and grass-fed local beef to lush seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheeses and the world-class shiraz produced by more than 50 wineries in the picturesque Heathcote region, Bendigo is the gourmet gift that just keeps on giving!
Include a visit to one of the region’s many farmers markets during your stay. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with local producers. Next, spend some time enjoying the city’s super-cool café and coffee culture (which actually gives Melbourne a run for its money!). Chancery Lane is a good spot to start. For upscale dining options, book a table at Masons of Bendigo, or head for Wine Bank on View – which is housed in a gorgeous heritage listed bank building.
Like many of these key regional dining destinations, Heathcote has its own very popular wine and food festival which, naturally, provides a showcase for local growers and winemakers. If you’re staying at the conveniently located Comfort Inn Julie-Anna, don’t forget to check out the Julie-Anna’s restaurant. Quality Hotel Lakeside and Quality Inn Colonial are great accommodations options in Bendigo that also have onsite restaurants to choose from.
6. See what’s on the menu in Margaret River (WA)
At three hour’s drive from Perth, Margaret River takes a bit of getting to, but it’s a true foodie ‘destination’ in its own right – and once you’re there, it’s very hard to find a reason to leave. The region’s many acclaimed winemakers have acquired a stellar reputation – both in Australia and around the world, and there’s a relaxed but very sophisticated culinary scene to match.
The secret is not to rush your time in Margaret River, because there’s a lot to see, eat, drink and experience. Whether it’s strolling through the bustling Margaret River Farmers’ Market and chatting to local growers, visiting family-run Eagle Bay Olives and relaxing with a tasting box on their shaded lawn area, sniffing out truffles, dipping freshly baked bread in locally produced olive oils, or grazing on the superb Indigenous-inspired seasonal menu at Dunsborough’s Yarri Restaurant and Bar, exploring ‘Margs’ over a few days is the ultimate food-lover’s adventure.
7. Enjoy a scenic drive on the Great Ocean Road (VIC)
The spectacular scenery along the Great Ocean Road isn’t the only thing that will ‘wow’ you about this picturesque part of regional Victoria. The dining scene here is an absolute treat, and whatever you do, don’t miss experiencing Brae at Birregurra. The sustainable paddock-to-plate menu draws on whatever is in season, and much of the produce originates from the restaurant’s own organic farm. You’ll need to book well in advance, particularly for peak periods. If you’re driving from Melbourne, make a stop to enjoy a meal at Quality Hotel Bayside Geelong‘s on-site restaurant, Black Salt.
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.
Cover image courtesy of Yarri Restaurant and Bar