Sunday, May 27, 2018

Dining out in Darwin

A few weeks ago, Tim and I went to Darwin on holidays.  Darwin is in the Northern Territory, right at the top end of Australia.  Rather than having four seasons, Darwin has a wet season and a dry season.  The peak tourist season is during the dry season, which runs from May until October.  It is still very hot during the dry season (plus thirty degree Celsius temperatures), but it is not as humid as during the wet season, and it virtually never rains.   

While in Darwin and its surrounds, we took the opportunity to sample the local cuisine.  I can say that Darwin and Kakadu boast some of the most delicious food that you will eat, so it is definitely worth seeking out some top end specialities if you visit the Northern Territory.  

On our first night in Darwin, we visited the Mindil Beach Market for dinner.  On the way there, we witnessed the most glorious pink sunset. 

At the Market, there are food vans of nearly every variety you can think of, together with entertainment and shopping opportunities.  Crocodile claw keyring anyone?  

There is a carnival atmosphere at the Market, and it is a lot of fun.

 On our second night, we went to The Tap on Mitchell, a pub-style dining venue with a large, open air dining area fronting Mitchell Street, one of the main streets in Darwin. 

At The Tap, we could not go past the grilled barramundi (~$30), given that Darwin is famed for this fish:

The servings are generous at The Tap - Tim and I could have shared this dish, which came with two large pieces of barramundi.

Here is Tim enjoying a top end beer at The Tap:

After that, we went on tour for a few days to Kakadu National Park. We stayed one night at the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, which is literally in the shape of a crocodile.  There are not too many options in Kakadu for dining, so luckily, the hotel restaurant, Escarpment, is a top notch venue, despite the presence of a dated buffet option (which we skipped for a la carte).

Again, cognisant  that  the Territory has some unique food to offer, we went with local delicacies wherever possible.  We started with the crocodile spring rolls:

I had never tried crocodile before and was unsure what to expect.  Some say that crocodile is like chicken; I think it is more like firm white fish, and is very tasty.

For main, Tim had the steak with sweet potato chips:

while I went for the kangaroo and mango salad:

I don't know what was in the dressing on the kangaroo, but it was utterly devine.

For dessert, we shared a wattleseed panna cotta with mango icecream:

This was good, but an anti-climax after the delicious kangaroo main.

Our next night landed us back in Darwin.  That night we ate at a Chinese restaurant near our hotel which was OK but nothing out of the ordinary.

After a day in Litchfield National Park, we arrived back in Darwin on sunset.  We decided to make our way to the thriving restaurant district at the Darwin Waterfront.  Our restaurant of choice that night was CHOW Vietnamese restaurant.  I love the fresh, vibrant flavours of Vietnamese food, and this restaurant did not disappoint.

For entrée, we shared the pork and prawn rice paper rolls ($9):  

These were good, but not unusual.

For main, Tim ordered the Sweet and Sour Soup with chicken, tamarind, okra, pineapple and tomato ($21): 

He enjoyed it as it was quite different to anything he had tried before.

I went for the Vietnamese Chicken Curry ($22), with chicken cooked on the bone, a coconut curry sauce and sweet potato: 

What can I say - this was sensational!

For dessert, we shared the tasting plate for one ($16), with ginger deep fried icecream, coconut cake and lychee jellies:


This was terrific too, my favourite being the deep fried icecream.

Seating was available inside or out - we combined the best of both worlds by being under cover in an open area of the restaurant.  This is the groovy mural on the back wall of the restaurant: 

I adored CHOW and wish it was closer so that I could go back.

The next day, we went out to Cullens Bay.  At night, there may be a thriving restaurant scene there, but it is almost deserted during the day.  At the gift shop, we found small tubs of Crazy Acres icecream ($6), made locally in the Territory at Berry Springs:

We tried the mango flavour, but there is also banana, passionfruit and vanilla.  The icecream is made with simple, natural ingredients and is absolutely delicious.  

That night, we headed to Rorkes Beer Wine Food for dinner.  Rorkes is situated in a lovely art deco style building, with many original fixtures still intact.  A very modern feature of Rorkes is that some of the tables come with their own beer taps to pour your own beer.

It was a very quiet night at Rorkes on the night that we were there.  We were a little disappointed that the online menu was not reflective of the much more limited menu at the venue.

Tim ordered the pub classic, chicken parmigiana:

while I ordered a rather lacklustre sweet potato gnocchi:

It was a grand venue, but the food was not inspiring.  It is not a place that I would be keen to revisit other than for the art deco features of the interior and the novelty of pouring your own beverage.

On our last day in Darwin, we did a Darwin Heritage Walk walking tour with John of Walk Darwin.  The last stop on our tour was at Lyons Cottage on The Esplanade.  There is a café there being part of a commercial outlet called Aboriginal Bush Traders, where John told us that we could buy a Devonshire tea with damper instead of a scone and with Australian native flavoured jam.  

Umm, well, don't go to Aboriginal Bush Traders and ask for a Devonshire tea as the staff will look at you as if you have gone completely bonkers.  We know because we tried it.  Instead, you need to order the Damper and Jam ($10.50), being a wattleseed damper served with your  choice of jam (we ordered the Kakadu Plum Jam), and to make it into a Devonshire tea, you have to order the tea separately. 

Although the service was rather unenthusiastic and slow, the damper was nice and it was a lot of fun to try this uniquely Aussie style of "Devonshire tea".

To cap off our Darwin trip, we went to the Hotel Darwin for lunch.  In its heyday, the Hotel Darwin was the place to be, but is now a shadow of its former self, although it has retained some lovely architectural features in amongst the modern less genteel trimmings of an Australian pub.

On John's recommendation, we ordered  the Territory Tasting Plate ($22), with salt bush seasoned emu, lemon myrtle fried crocodile and chargrilled kangaroo:

I couldn't taste the difference between the emu and the 'roo, and the crocodile reliably tasted like fish.  I enjoyed the novelty value of this dish more than anything.

Hotel Darwin also boasts that theirs is the best steak sandwich ($24) in the Territory, so we also ordered one of those: 

It was certainly very hearty and tasty, though unusually served on Turkish bread.

There you have it - our culinary tour of Darwin and Kakadu.  Hope you enjoyed it!


Kari said...

I really enjoyed our time in Darwin and the NT when we visited, and agree they have amazing food options in Darwin - far more than I'd expected! I'm glad you found some good meals.

Cat said...

Darwin has a great food scene! I just came back after 7 months there (in the wet), it's much trendier than you'd expect. Chow is great too!

Johanna GGG said...

Sounds like you had a great trip - I think the markets were some of my favourite places to eat in Darwin when I used to go there for work - though there were some other places I enjoyed - glad you ate so well and rather adventurously. I like the sound of the aussie devonshire tea

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I was quite impressed by the food in Darwin too. I think it's the Asian influence but it's super tasty!

Kayte said...

So much fun to learn about Darwin and hear about the things you did and saw and ate. Oh my goodness...croc and are a brave soul. It all did look really good, though. Such fun when you travel and bring back all the info!