Apr 14, 2016
With half serves, friendly service and the single-best seats in the house, these Australian restaurants are perfect for “selfies” – diners eating alone, that is.
Half serves. That’s one of Pan-Asian canteen Supernormal’s many great qualities. While every other juke joint in town is doing the old “no changes to the menu” routine, chef Andrew McConnell’s staff will offer to miniaturise dishes such as the white cut chicken in a wicked slosh of chilli oil mollified by the velvety smoothness of sesame sauce, or the lamb ribs cooked to the point of utter deliciousness and bristling with a cumin crust. It takes the solo diner’s appetite further, to places marked “pot sticker dumplings”, “lobster roll” and “fried custard with ginger syrup”. It’s raucous and fun and you can sit at the bar to watch the chefs do their thing – or make new friends and head downstairs to the karaoke room.
￼180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
You need to start with a Negroni, the classic Italian apéritif that is actually Bar Di Stasio distilled into liquid form. You have to take a seat at the bar so you can survey the red Callum Morton installation over the front door and the hole punched through the wall leading to older sibling (and St Kilda institution) Café Di Stasio. Then you should take your time grazing the menu of Italian goodness designed for everyone from the solo diner to the big group. It includes dishes such as lamb costolette (chops) that can be ordered individually, roast duck that comes by the piece and a rich wild-boar ragù on a single gnocchi – or does that make it gnoccho?
31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Dining alone needn’t be all about getting lost in the noise of the crowd. Why not treat your special someone – in this case, you – to Melbourne’s primo sushi experience? Tucked away in a Richmond backstreet, the softly lit Minamishima is a refined temple to the art of raw fish. The 15-course, no-menu sushi experience is enjoyed by a mere 12 people a night, arranged along the bar to watch sushi master Koichi Minamishima and his offsider deftly palming lightly vinegared rice into shape then meticulously adding buttery flounder fin, tuna belly or scampi with a dab of finger lime. It’s more like theatre than dinner and if you get lonely, there’s affable sommelier Randolph Cheung on hand to talk about the equally lovely wine list.
4 Lord Street, Richmond
￼New South Wales
From the moment New Yorker David Chang opened Momofuku Seiōbo in 2011, Sydneysiders held it aloft as one of the city’s best establishments. After a few years of rockin’ the dining foundations, head chef Ben Greeno vacated the role and along came the calypso craftiness of Paul Carmichael, former executive chef of NYC’s Momofuku Má Pêche. Much of Seiōbo remains the same – with the countertop seating circling the kitchen a perfect place for the solo diner to perch – but Carmichael applies techniques from his homeland of Barbados to Australian native ingredients like no other. Davidson plum adds zing to creamy raw scallop. Blood pudding gets a kick from desert lime. Calamari bathes in Granny Smith and kombu broth, before golden roti – served à la Trinidad – beckons to reel in marron smoked over coals and smeared in koji butter. Bloody brilliant.
The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
Sydney hasn’t had much of a delicatessen culture – until now. Thanks to the 1950s-clad crew from Porteño and Bodega, the bounty of canned seafood, fresh fromage and classic cocktails at Continental has us hooked. Beyond the big red door, punters sit on high stools to sample everything from smoked sardines and cured scallops to jamón Ibérico, tonguewurst and Pyengana cheddar. Upstairs, the bistro menu pays homage to the classic European dishes chefs Elvis Abrahanowicz and Jesse Warkentin cut their teeth on. Sirloin tartare is firm and creamy, yellowbelly flounder sits on sweet roasted ratatouille and confit chicken leg splashes about in a puddle of chardonnay sauce. The bistro has proved so popular that you can order its dishes from the deli, too. Continental strikes that fine balance between sophistication and a homely, warm local.
210 Australia Street, Newtown
Is it time for the humble ramen to shine? If ever an establishment looked likely to coax us into plumbing the depths of this wondrous Japanese noodle soup, perhaps Salaryman is it. Former Flying Fish pan-handler Stephen Seckold’s izakaya-styled ramen bar screams ’90s rock amid the grungy swagger of Sydney’s Surry Hills. The darkened den sees a sea of slurping ramen fans sidle up on stools at the kitchen counter, in the bar or in groups at tables. Snack on salmon pastrami with pickled mustard seeds and fried chicken wings stuffed with crayfish and garlic butter. Then revel in ramen that relies on broths brewed overnight. Traditional triple pork tantanmen has porky wobble, shoyu egg and bok choy, while rib-eye ramen is a play on the Sunday roast with its béarnaise and horseradish kick. Someone – anyone – please pass the chopsticks.
52-54 Albion Street, Surry Hills
Having to choose just one main course is a big commitment when you’re dining solo. Playing the field with individually ordered skewers – straight off the smokin’ binchōtan charcoal grill – is so much more fun. And nobody’s counting how many frosty mugs of Asahi you get through, either. Choose whatever skewers take your fancy, maybe some grilled rice balls and tori karaage on the side. Traditional skewers include excellent torikawa – smoky, crisp chicken skin on a stick (as deliciously decadent as it sounds) or less artery-hardening chicken thigh. It’s also worth sampling some of the less conventional options such as bocconcini, tomato and basil wrapped in thinly sliced pork belly. This is a cavernous space with welcoming staff. Nab a seat at the bar and the action in the open kitchen will keep you entertained.
Shop 5, 220 Melbourne Street, West End
This is the easiest, breeziest spot in West End for breakfast or lunch for one. Park yourself on a stool at the big open window with a well-brewed Five Senses coffee and watch the passing parade. Or claim your place at the communal table, admire the strikingly simple forest-green and white interior and flick through the collection of cookbooks and magazines. The menu is an interesting read in its own right; it isn’t often you have the option of a breakfast carbonara – think fat, al-dente pasta ribbons with field mushrooms, Pecorino Romano and a perfectly silky 63-degree egg to bring it all together. Later in the day, there’s a fish taco that’s really best eaten alone. When you wrap your chops around the crunchy tempura barramundi with Asian slaw, wasabi mayo and coriander, you’ll be glad there’s no need to make conversation.
Corner Vulture and Cambridge streets, West End
Australian Capital Territory
As cooler weather descends upon the capital, Chez Frederic is the perfect place to escape for hearty handmade pasta dishes and a glass of wine. Customers order at the counter and sit at communal marble tables, tucking into plates piled high with robust beef stew and lasagne. This no-fuss approach to dining is both refreshing and chic, as are the industrial polished-concrete walls dotted with black-and-white French photographs. Settle in on the cushioned stools and strike up a conversation with your neighbour while enjoying a comforting veal and pork Bolognese or grass-fed sow ribs marinated in sweet honey-plum sauce. And don’t leave without trying the homemade tiramisù. The bonus of dining alone? No sharing.
4/14 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
Don’t bother asking for skinny milk when you order coffee at Barrio. The team here makes smooth brews using full-fat unhomogenised milk from local dairy farms. It’s a nod to their honest and authentic approach and locals love it. Foodies file into the small, cosy space to sit at the long communal table or on bar stools by the window, grazing on thickly cut dark rye bread topped with silky avocado and tōgarashi (Japanese spice) or guava paste and gouda cheese tortillas. Dishes change regularly and according to the seasons. Take a book or newspaper and settle in for the morning. If there’s no room inside, grab a table on the footpath and people-watch as you sip on chai with homemade nut milk.
￼ORI Building, 59/30 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
Ramen might be on the rise out west but this veteran noodle bar still serves Perth’s bowl to beat. Little has changed at Nao since it opened more than a decade ago, largely because owner Naoki Kobayashi got it so right at the start. The restaurant’s eggy, springy noodles are made daily in house, while the deep, comforting soup blends chicken and pork stocks to winning effect. In ramen bar tradition, diners can customise their order to the nth degree, from extra slices of tender chashu pork to spicy cod roe and grated garlic enhancements. Don’t be deterred by those lunchtime queues, either: the wait time for solo diners is minimal, just as long as you’re happy to eat at Nao’s communal counter.
117 Murray Street, Perth
Budburst Small Bar
Sure, you could ask for a table for one at this model neighbourhood hangout but the best seats in the house are at Budburst’s handsome copper bar. Newly minted publican Rachael Niall clearly understands the art of hospitality, as evinced by the convivial atmosphere that she and her fellows conjure night after night. But while warm service and great drinks are reason enough to set course for Mount Hawthorn, it’s the en pointe cooking of Gwenael Lesle that convinces guests to stick around. Whether you make a meal of modern, deftly composed small plates such as cured ocean trout with fennel panna cotta or go old-school with textbook charcuterie and a truly benchmark croque-monsieur, Budburst is a haven for the hungry (and thirsty) solo diner.
406 Oxford Street, Mount Hawthorn
There can be few more sociable and welcoming restaurants than Peel St, where chefs Martin Corcoran and Jordan Theodoros dispense fresh, full-flavoured dishes from an open kitchen that runs the full width of the restaurant. Solo diners can get a full view of the action sitting at the long polished-concrete bar or choose to mix with other lone diners at a communal table. The blackboard wall menu tells the story with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours in dishes such as heirloom baby carrots with labneh, haloumi, crunchy cumin, orange dressing and za’atar; banana blossom chicken with chilli jam, coconut salad and crisp shallots; or the signature mulloway fish pasty. Even the “smaller” servings are generous so ask for half serves where possible.
9 Peel Street, Adelaide
There’s only one place for a solitary diner here and that’s right in the kitchen, where six ringside seats go close to making you a player in Thai chef Prachaya Skolaree’s team. Kick off with starters such as the betel-leaf-wrapped miang of smoked trout and the deep-fried soft shell crab before navigating your way through mid-sized dishes ranging from crisp pork belly in ginger curry paste to grilled chicken salad with coconut sambal or a hot “jungle” beef curry. If it all looks too much, just call for the popular fixed-price “tuk tuk” tasting menu and let the staff choose up to nine small dishes for you. Book well ahead.
309 North Terrace, Adelaide
Take a seat at Aløft’s bar, above The Glass House on the floating Brooke Street Pier on Hobart’s stunning Derwent River, and watch the restaurant’s team as it toils. Chef and owner Christian Ryan (The Source at MONA) and Glenn Byrnes (Garagistes, Vue de Monde) work closely with small producers of heirloom vegetables and native herbs. Their aim? To create Asian-inspired food that replaces ingredients not grown in Tasmania with local produce such as the native kunzea plant. Dishes are served on plates handcrafted by Ridgeline Pottery and come in small (master stock pig’s ear and prickly ash), medium (grilled zucchini and corn congee) and large (roast pork, silverbeet and kunzea custard). Dessert for one? Yes. Don’t miss the coffee and condensed milk ice-cream. ￼
Brooke Street Pier, Hobart