The following is a list of the best restaurants visited during a monthlong tour, with notes on some favorite dishes.
The Loose Box Restaurant, 6825 Great Eastern Highway, Mundaring. Tel: (61-8) 9295-1787.
If Michelin gave stars in Australia, Alain Fabregues's The Loose Box would have three. It is the epitome of French perfection and attention to detail. I loved the colorful goat cheese, truffle, mushroom, eggplant, tomato and capsicum terrine for its brilliant flavors and welcoming texture.
Fraser's, Fraser Avenue, King's Park, West Perth. Tel: (8) 9481-7100.
Chris Taylor of the welcoming Fraser's, in the center of a lovely park, offers honest fare. Such dishes as his char-grilled dhufish fillet with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and parsley show how the chef wisely allows perfectly chosen ingredients to speak for themselves.
Universal Wine Bar, 285 Rundle St., Adelaide. Tel: (8) 8232-5000; fax: (8) 8232-5757; e-mail: universal@ portal.net.au
A fine, casual wine bar for sampling the nation's best wines. Try anything the waiter suggests, or, if they are on the list that day, go for one of those big Rhone-style reds, such as the powerful RBJ Theologicum mourvedre grenache or Charles Melton's Nine Popes, starting with a lovely light Lenswood sauvignon blanc.
Charlick's Feed Store, Ebenezer Place, East End, Adelaide. Tel: (8) 8223-7566; fax: (8) 8223-7065.
This new, casual dining spot is owned by Maggie and Colin Beer, modern pioneers of the Australian food world. Try the smoked tommy ruffs (sardine-size fish) with green olive and pickled lemon dressing, and sample alongside it a glass of the refreshing white Chapel Hill McLaren Vale verdelho, made from the Portuguese verdelho grape with overtones of honeysuckle and tropical fruits.
The Grange, Hilton International, Victoria Square, Adelaide. Tel: (8) 8217-2000.
If you have time for only one meal in Australia, head for the Grange to sample Malaysian-born Chinese chef Cheong Liew's shark's-fin pouch in venison consommé, spiced with tarragon, a dish that is filled with bravery and brilliance, or his red roasted barramundi with green chilies, coriander, snow-pea shoots and calamari shavings, a dish with such genius you won't want to finish it, for all you'll have left is the memory.
Petaluma Bridgewater Mill, Mount Barker Road, Bridgewater. Tel: (8) 8339-3422.
This trendy spot just outside Adelaide is run by the Petaluma winery and showcases its wines. Try the Croser champagne, as well the fried salt-and-pepper quail with lime and ginger relish, or the roasted duck breast with bok choy, kumquats and cinnamon glaze.
Cicada, 29 Challis Ave., Potts Point, Sydney. Tel: (61-2) 9358-1255.
Peter Doyle has reached the pinnacle of modern Australian cooking. His food is seamless, unconventional, balanced and sensible; I fell in love with his perfect jewel box of a package: avocado, crab, mint and coriander, a starter that was like a soothing bath for the palate.
Tetsuya's, 729 Darling St., Rozelle, Sydney. Tel: (2) 9555-1017.
Tetsuya Wakuda is a leader of Australia's fine fusion cuisine, merging the best of Japanese philosophy and classical French technique. In a most unassuming setting, plan on sampling his signature confit of ocean trout with ocean-trout roe, braised red capsicum, leeks, konbu seaweed, capers and parsley oil. Think texture, color, flavor, essence.
Bistro Moncur, the Woollahra Hotel, 116 Queen St., Woollahra, Sydney. Tel: (2) 9363-2782.
Damien Pignolet offers great Australian-style French bistro classics in an embracing, warm setting in one of Sydney's most chic neighborhoods. Try the vegetable couscous.
MG Garage. 490 Crown St., Surry Hills, New South Wales. Tel: (2) 9383-9383.
The new trendy spot, with the Greek-born chef Janni Kyritsis, is actually in an MG car showroom. Specialties include guinea fowl baked in clay with pancetta, mushrooms and barley pilaf, as well as many dishes with a fine, Middle Eastern touch.
Two Small Rooms, 517 Milton Road, Toowong, Brisbane. Tel: (61-7) 3371-5251.
One of the best bets in Brisbane. This warm and charming spot run by Michael Conrad and the chef David Pugh offers lovely, simple fare. Try their outstanding mud-crab omelette with stir-fried vegetables and spicy prawn sauce.
This is one place where I was able to get a simple roasted rack of lamb without the trimmings that camouflage the delicate flavor. Their Mandalong lambs are slaughtered at 9 months: They are weaned at 3 months and fattened on grain for better texture and flavor.
E'cco, 100 Boundary St., Brisbane. Tel: (7) 3831-8344.
Philip Johnson offers no-nonsense food in a lovely setting. He uses all the clichés in the book, but his creations manage to taste original and appealing.
Try the Moreton Bay bugs, a type of shellfish, with pine nuts and aioli; roast chicken with couscous, yogurt, artichokes and asparagus, or sand crabs with chilies and lemon oil. Save room for the Venetian espresso cake with coconut ice cream and shavings of fresh coconut.
Pier Nine Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill, Eagle Street Pier, 1 Eagle St., Brisbane. Tel: (7) 3229-2194.
This is a beautiful waterside setting for great oysters and such specials as king prawns with garlic hollandaise or Victoria black-lip mussels with ginger, chili, sweet curry leaves and lime juice.
Flower Drum, 17 Market Lane, Melbourne. Tel: (61-3) 9662-3655.
For Chinese food like you have never had before, depend on the owner Gilbert Lau to wow you with such specialties as tender baby abalone the size of an oyster, bathed in vinegar, ginger and soy. The dish was a gastronomic revelation.
Richmond Hill Café & Larder, 48-50 Bridge Road, Richmond. Tel: (3) 9421-2808; fax: (3) 9421-2818.
Stephanie Alexander, one of Australia's top restaurateurs and food personalities, has opened this casual café with an exquisite cheese room, great wines and a modern menu that includes pastas, such traditional fare as boeuf à la mode and cheese plates with fruits, nuts and breads. Sunday nights are reserved for a variety of functions, such as cabaret nights and wine dinners.