Dine at Australia's Best Restaurants on the Cheap

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Sep 29, 2017

Here’s how to dine at Australia’s top restaurants on the cheap. By Freya Herring.

Eat like a king

How to dine at Rockpool Bar & Grill without splashing out? The restaurant at Crown Perth offers a weekday lunch with two courses and a glass of sparkling wine for just $50. The price even includes parking.

Dégustation with a difference

Rather than go the full dégustation at Brisbane’s Esquire, check out the lunch menu, priced from $60 to $90 depending on the day’s dishes. There are plenty of courses (five to seven) so it has the feel of a dégustation without the lengthy table time or price tag. If the kitchen is doing the Campari sherbet dessert with orange sorbet and curds-and-whey ice-cream, you’re in luck – this signature dish of chef Ryan Squires lives up to the hype.

Curtain-raiser

Dining at Bennelong, within the sails of the Sydney Opera House, is one of the most glorious experiences in Australia. If you’re attending a performance, choose the pre-theatre menu offering two or three incredible courses for $85 or $115, respectively, including executive chef Peter Gilmore’s Eight-Texture Chocolate Cake of MasterChef fame. Here at Bennelong, it’s called Chocolate Cake from Across the Water – a reference to the dessert’s origins at Gilmore’s other fine-diner, Quay, just across the harbour in The Rocks.

Propose a toast

Melbourne’s Cutler & Co. is a beautiful restaurant with culinary clout but if you don’t want a full-on feast, check out the bar menu. Nibble on first-rate smoked sardines on toast for only $8 or foie-gras-parfait gougères for $12.

First bite

From Tuesday to Thursday at Ides in Melbourne, you can try four dinner dishes that aren’t yet on the menu for $65. Called Sample Tables, it’s a great way to experience the kitchen’s creativity at its most raw.

Auto eats

You need to have dinner at Sydney’s outrageously excellent Automata restaurant at least once – and that means the full five courses (for $88) plus matching, naturally fermented drinks. But at lunchtime on Fridays you can try three courses for $55 and they are just as elegant, thrilling and delicious as the ones you’ll find at dinner. Trouble is, they’ll only serve to tickle your palate for more…

5 Kensington Street, Chippendale, New South Wales; (02) 8277 8555

Long and short

Australian-born David Thompson was the first chef to get a Michelin star for a restaurant specialising in Thai cuisine with his celebrated Nahm restaurant in London. Now he’s at the helm of a chain of wonderful, cheaper Thai-style restaurants by the name of Long Chim. Head into Long Chim Melbourne at lunchtime on a weekday and get a plate of perfect noodles and a fancy soda for $25. It’s Michelin food at red sauce prices.

Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, Victoria; (03) 9292 5777 

Shortstop

Secure a table at Geelong’s Igni on a Saturday night or Sunday (and from January 2018, on Friday nights too) and you’re in for the full $150 eight-course degustation. Head in at lunchtime on Fridays or Saturdays though, and you can have five courses for $100. It’s one of the most exciting restaurants in the country right now – just go already.

2 Ryan Place, Geelong, Victoria; (03) 5222 2266

Day tripper

At regional paddock-to-plate New South Wales restaurant Biota, the evening degustation costs anywhere from $100 up to $237 with matching wines. And because it’s a good one-and-a-half-hour drive south of Sydney, there’s probably the cost of a room on top of that. But head down for a leisurely lunch or dine in the fire-lit bar and you’ll enjoy à la carte with main dishes starting from as little as $16 (no, that’s not a typo).

18 Kangaloon Road, Bowral, New South Wales; (02) 4862 2005

French fancy

The cost of three courses at Canberra’s French restaurant Les Bistronomes begins at $65 on any given night, but if you’re on a budget and still want a taste of everything, try booking in for Saturday lunch. It’s $50 for five courses, and what better way to spend a weekend afternoon?

Corner of Mort and Elouera streets, Braddon, Australian Capital Territory; (02) 6248 8119

Native grazing

Orana in Adelaide is one of Australia’s best restaurants, not least because patron-chef Jock Zonfrillo pays homage to Indigenous people and their culinary traditions in his creations. The full, 18- to 20-course degustation is $195, but a less daunting seven- to 10-course Friday lunch comes in at just $95.

1/285 Rundle Street, Adelaide, South Australia; (08) 8232 3444

Aria grand

Just sitting within the chic surrounds of Aria is a joy (views over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, plus the recent refit by superstar designer George Livissianis has seen to that). At dinner it’s a minimum of $115 for no fewer than two courses, but head in at lunchtime a weekday, or pre-theatre, and experience the vibe with one course for $55 or two for $90.

1 Macquarie Street, Sydney, New South Wales; (02) 9240 2255

Lazy Sunday

Go to Ormeggio, Alessandro Pavoni’s beautiful Italian fine-diner on Sydney’s picture-perfect Middle Harbour, for your Sunday dinner and get a nice surprise – a cut-price degustation. For $79 there are five courses plus sides (usually $126), not to mention the pleasure of watching the sun set over the water with a glass of chilled wine in hand.

D’Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, New South Wales; (02) 9969 4088

Multiple-choice

Momofuku Seiōbo at The Star in Sydney is the only Momofuku outside the Americas. An alternative to the $185-a-head tasting menu in the restaurant proper – especially if you can’t get a table – is to pull up a seat at the bar. They don’t take bookings but if you get there for the 6pm opening, it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait. A favourite from the dégustation menu, the Busted Roti – a Trinidad-style butter-drenched bread – is available at the bar and goes perfectly with the signature jerk pork chop ($42).

Packed lunch

Available from Tuesday to Sunday at Perth’s Nobu, the $45 lunchtime bento box showcases some of the restaurant’s most celebrated dishes, including the incredibly tender black cod with miso. You also get sashimi, sushi, sautéed vegetables, tempura and miso soup. At Nobu in Melbourne, the lunch box is $50 and includes tomato ceviche, chicken katsu and soft-shell crab (plus they’ll throw in a glass of wine or a local beer). Dégustation in a box!

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