In Food + Drink

These Australian Restaurants Are Reinventing Traditional Degustations

Degustations are evolving from long, drawn out affairs to more relaxed, seriously fun dining experiences.

First came prix fix and a la carte, then the degustation menu, followed by an explosion of ‘designed to share’ dishes on restaurant menus. Currently, the ‘feed me’ menu – a generous chef’s choice menu of dishes to share – is having its moment. Degustations, once the height of class and sophistication, suddenly seemed to require a level of commitment most of us reserve for special birthdays or anniversaries (especially once they push twenty courses).

But now, a handful of restaurants are around Australia are reinventing the degustation wheel.  Gone are stiff white table cloths; the age of innovative menus, bold flavour profiles and even brand-new cuisines is now.

Some of these restaurants are relatively new; others are oft-frequented institutions. All of them deliver degustations in playful and impressive ways. Here’s where to find the most exciting tasting menus across the country.

Nora, Melbourne

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Snacks at Nora. Photo: Facebook

Carlton’s fine diner Nora is the home of “Thai food, pulled apart, questioned and reimagined.” It’s a challenging menu that draws on wide ranging influences – from northern Thai to Italian –with quirkily named dishes, such as ‘Too many Italians and only one Asian’, ‘Daft Punk is playing in my mouth,’ and ‘Study of perspective’. Teetotallers can rejoice; the non-alcoholic menu is just as wild, with concoctions that weave together Thai and roast rice, and watermelon with lime, black sesame and chilli.

The Low Down: Nora’s tasting menu consists of 10-12 courses (with the option of hand crafted juices and infusions alongside matched alcoholic pairings), each one situating traditional foundations of Thai cuisine in new, unique contexts. Prices start at $95 per person.

LuMi Dining, Sydney

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The bread is absolutely essential at Lumi. Photo: Lumi

Pyrmont’s LuMi Dining offers Italian cuisine with a Japanese twist. Carving out a unique space in Sydney’s dining scene, head chef Federico Zanellato applies his skills (honed at world-famous restaurants like Noma and Attica) to create a memorable degustation menu that’s not quite Italian, not quite Japanese, but something totally new.

The Low Down: Tasting menus are available in either five or eight course varieties. The five-course comes in at $75 per person (with matching wine available for an extra $60), and is available only for lunch on Friday and Saturday. The eight-course menu (the proverbial jewel in the crown) is available for dinner Wednesday to Sunday, lunch on Sunday and on request for lunch on Friday and Saturday. It’s $115 per person, or $195 per person with matching wines.

Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant, Adelaide

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A chestnut, sweet potato and gooseberry from Hardy’s Verandah. Photo: Facebook

Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant is situated in prime position, with a verandah that looks over the Adelaide Hills, which act food bowl for head chef Wayne Brown’s ingredients list. There’s a ‘valley to verandah’ philosophy here, which results in dishes like smoked pig jowl with scallop and peach marmalade, and pink snapper with yuzu kosho and pumpkin.

The Low Down: The Short Story menu is $109 pp (wine matching is $70 extra) and consists of five courses and snacks to start. The Full Story menu is $160 pp (wine matching $120 extra) throws in an extra three courses for your enjoyment. Menus are prepared daily, so don’t expect to see the exact same menu twice.

St Hugo’s Restaurant, Adelaide

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The cheese course features acorns from the winery’s cork oak trees. Photo: Facebook

With its seasonal menus and particular brand of luxury, St Hugo’s is a prime example of what makes Adelaide such an appealing destination for epicureans. Executive chef Mark McNamara and chief winemaker Dan Swincer have succeeded in creating near-perfect harmony with their tasting menu, designed to promote seasonal South Australian produce and “wine-centric cuisine”.

The low down: Choose between a seasonal four-course ($120 pp) or an eight-course ($220 pp) menu – both come with paired wines. Dishes are every bit deserving of the acclaim they’re receiving in South Australia and beyond. Think smoked kingfish with oyster cream, kohlrabi salsa and wakame crackers, and seared wagyu with grilled romaine lettuce and Jerusalem artichoke “chips”.

Amaru, Melbourne

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A dish from Amaru. Photo: Amaru

Amaru brings the concept of simple, heartfelt hospitality to Armadale, alongside contemporary Australian fare done right. Helmed by former Vue de Monde sous chef Clinton McIver, this restaurant is about elegant dining in a no-fuss setting that allows for both the food and Australian, French and Italian wines to shine. Expect balanced flavours, unusual combinations (like dry aged kangaroo, raw liquorice, quince and smoked onion), and techniques you won’t see elsewhere.

The Low Down: Amaru currently offers two tasting menus – the nine-course ’Insight’ menu for $85 pp, and the 16-course ‘Sensory’ menu for $155 pp. Sommelier pairing starts at an extra $110 pp.

Dier Makr, Hobart

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Whipped Bottarga, Urchin, Parsley Oil. Photo: Dier Makr

Dier Makr (pronounced die-er maker) is quietly lifting the bar in Hobart’s one-time dreary fine dining scene with a unique interpretation on the modern European wine bar concept. Channeling minimalist interior vibes and far-reaching culinary influences (menu items named after unlikely unions – ‘pork, peaches’, ‘chicken liver parfait, figs, saba’ to name a new), chef Kobi Ruzicka has been keeping locals and visitors alike guessing with seasonal, unpredictable menus since opening late last year.

The low down: At $65 for nine courses, Dier Makr is leading the charge in value for money. Drinks are extra, as are specials from the blackboard every night. There’s no menu online – diners are encouraged to simply book a table if they’re feeling adventurous.

Wildflower, Perth

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Food aside, the dining room is seriously pretty. Photo: Wildflower

The degustation menus at Perth’s newest rooftop restaurant revolves around the six seasons of the Indigenous Noongar calendar – Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang – and Australia’s native ingredients these seasons naturally favour.  Makuru season, when red meat animals like kangaroo and emu are hunted, heavy rains start to fall and Scarlett banksia are in full bloom has passed, making way for Djilba, the season of conception. Wildflower’s degustation includes an array of these seasonal Indigenous ingredients  – soured Geraldton wax cream, sea parsley oil, fennel pollen and Kakadu plum, just to name a few.

The Low Down: The Djilba five-course tasting menu is $145 pp, with vegetarian options available. Sommelier’s matched Western Australian wines are available for an extra $95 pp, and native Australian non-alcoholic beverage pairing is available for an extra $45 pp.

Chu The Fat, Brisbane

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Dumplings at Chu The Fat. Photo: Chu The Phat

After success with Madame Wu and Embassy XO, Adrian Rosato brings Chu The Fat to Fish Lane. His newest venture feels, smells and looks like it’s been plucked straight from the street markets of countries like Taiwan, Korea or Hong Kong. Executive chef Brandon Barker’s produce-driven tasting menu is uncomplicated, authentic and refreshing, striking that sweet spot between casual and refined – a quality that’s demarcating the up-and-coming South Brisbane dining precinct.

The low down: The dishes on the banquet menu are designed to be shared with the whole table. Settle in for an eight-dish, $55 pp meal of pork and kimchi spring rolls, Cone Bay barramundi with creamed spinach and sweet vinegar sauce, and much more.

Automata, Sydney

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Automata’s menu changes regularly. Photo: Automata

What with the Wu Tang Clan blaring on the speakers, the long communal tables and the ever-changing menu, it’s clear Automata isn’t your average fine dining restaurant. Chef Clayton Wells brings an energy to fine dining not often seen elsewhere, and the result is a borderline addictive experience accented with standout ingredients and unusual flavour profiles, like steamed hapuka, cured roe, kombu butter and laver.

The Low Down: The five-course tasting menu goes for $88 pp (dessert included), with the option of adding a cheese course in for an extra $12 pp. Expertly matched wines are available for $60 pp.

(Lead image (vertical):Snacks at Nora. Photo: Facebook; Lead image (horizontal): Hardy’s Verandah. Photo: Facebook)

Published 03 October, 2017