What is Australian cuisine? It’s a question eaters have been grappling with for some time, not least in the lead-up to Melbourne hosting the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in April.
Is it the smashed avos and flat whites that so many of us preface our weekends with? Is it the leftover spag bol we hurriedly eat at our desks during “lunch hour”? Is it the wild food stuffs and eons-old traditions of the country’s first people: a wonderland of ancient cuisines and cultures that varies around the country like footy team allegiances? Or is it ethnic food flavours that piggy-backed to Australia on migrant shoulders? The edible keepsakes of England, Italy, Greece, Thailand, India, Africa and more, besides? (And let’s not forget the gustatory pleasures of “Thaitalian” and Australian-Chinese cooking, either: bizarre, yet compelling franken-genres that, really, could have only been brought to life Down Under).
Is it the things we grill on hotplates in backyards that are as much about feeding our stomachs as it is bringing people together? And what of the things we pick up in drive-through windows, between the train and the office, and after the pub to soften the blow of the morning-after? Maybe it’s the things we buy at farmers markets, specialty butchers and fishmongers. But it could just as easily be the plants that we grow in our backyards, too.
The answer, of course, is all of the above, and much, much, more. While Planet Food is a wide, deeply complex world, much of Australia’s brain power seems, right now, to be focused on this country’s restaurants. From the waterside markets of Darwin to the flashiest white-tablecloth diners in the capitals, we eat at them. We take photos of, and at, them. We discuss them at length around the water-cooler and while eating at other restaurants, invariably planning which other restaurants we’re going to be dining at next. Dinner, without us realising it, is no longer just about staving off hunger. We went out to get fish and chips for the family, but came back with a discussion about national identity. With this in mind, Broadsheet decided it was high-time we began taking a closer look at the restaurants that make up Australia’s wonderfully diverse food scene.
“So you’re publishing restaurant reviews, then?”
No. Yes. Sort of. If you happen to be within booking distance of the restaurants profiled each month, then yes, these essays will absolutely help you get the most out of your visit. (Please post us photos or tag us in your Instagram posts if you do). But what we really want to do is talk about why each of these restaurants is helping advance Australian fare.
More importantly, we want to do it in a way that’s accessible and of value to everyone, from the journeyman (and journeywoman) chef catching up on reading while in an airport lounge, to the greenest first-year apprentice taking his or her first steps in the industry; from the serious eater that books restaurants before flights, to the single parent wondering what all the fuss over activated nuts is about.
This is how it works. On the first Saturday of every month, we’ll be publishing a long-form piece that argues why a particular venue in Australia is turning our heads. It could be somewhere new and shiny. It could be somewhere well-established. The restaurant in question might be a household name, but it could as easily be as unfamiliar to readers as Japanese black metal. (On that note, a cheery hajimemashite to all you metal-loving Japanophiles among the Broadsheet readership).
While these essays aren’t restaurant reviews per se, we’re going to be approaching them as if they were, which means visiting each venue unannounced and paying our own way. In most cases, we’ll be writing about venues we’ve dined at previously and building our argument based on multiple visits and experiences. One of the great shames about the immediacy of the current news cycle – and, as a publisher, we’re all too aware of the value of being first on the scene – is that restaurants are, perhaps unfairly, expected to come out of the box fully assembled and ready to go. Restaurants – and not to mention their kitchens and front-of-house teams – being able to grow into their skin and find their feet is a luxury very few get to experience. We’re hoping this series goes some ways to addressing that issue.
We’re not entirely sure what we’ll unearth along the way or how long this journey will take, but we’re excited about strapping on our boots and exploring everything Australia has to offer. We’re looking forward to sharing what we learn with you all and, maybe, we’ll have an answer to that pesky question at the top of this page.