Australian expats success stories: The 20 Australians who opened cafes, bars, hotels, resorts around the world

As the current Nobel Laureate for Literature might say, the times they have a-changed. How else to explain the fact that Australia's once-raging case of cultural cringe that saw us reflexively compare ourselves to the rest of the world – and usually come up short in the process – do a 180-degree turn? These days we still export our backpackers en masse to the world, but now they're being joined by a growing number of people making big waves in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Chefs. Entrepreneurs. Hoteliers. Coffee geeks. Bar svengalis.

Just try to move 100 metres in Bali's Seminyak without bumping into one of the Aussie chefs crowding the area with their second-label restaurants. Pause to give thanks for the Australian inheritors of the third-wave coffee scene shaking up the often sad caffeinated offerings in London and New York. And just don't be surprised to hear a little touch of a Strine accent at your boutique accommodation in the most exotic locations in the world. 

So why now? You could quite easily mount an argument for the macro case, that globalisation means doing business in Dubai is now as easy as it used to be in Dubbo. The world is getting ever smaller. But maybe the sentiment underscoring it all boils down to this simple fact, as old as our old mate the cultural cringe: Have Australian passport. Will travel. 

To celebrate the Australians making waves abroad, and providing their fellow Australians with such a variety of quality travel experiences, Traveller asked six success stories about their move from here to there – and their insider tips about their adopted part of the world. 

INTERVIEWS BY LARISSA DUBECKI, JANE REDDY, ANDREA BLACK AND SHERIDEN RHODES

THE CHEF

GREG MALOUF Executive chef, Zaahira, Dubai

THE PLACE Due to open in April, the 130-seat Zaahira is a contemporary Lebanese restaurant in Dubai's five-star H Hotel. Swimming against the Euro-leaning nature of Dubai's glittering restaurants, it is aiming for what Malouf calls "quality Middle Eastern food in a fun environment at an affordable price".  The award-winning chef plans a menu of faithful Lebanese and Middle Eastern food.

BACKSTORY Perhaps it was inevitable that the man considered the "Sultan of Middle Eastern cooking" in Australia should wind up in Dubai. Australian-born to Lebanese parents, Greg Malouf trained at the legendary Mietta's and made his name in the early '90s at O'Connells in South Melbourne, followed by MoMo, which operated over 12 years on two different Melbourne sites. Upping stumps in 2012, Malouf first headed to London's Petersham Nurseries, where he introduced his particular brand of Lebanese-inspired cooking and retained its coveted Michelin star. Dubai came calling in 2013 in the shape of Cle Dubai – a glamorous 250-seat restaurant in the city's financial district, where Paris Hilton and a Kardashian sister attended the opening night party. Malouf left Cle Dubai last year.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT DUBAI There's no question that Dubai is a challenging city – the word "soulless" is bandied around a lot – and you have to have a sense of humour. But after living here for three years, it's earned my respect, mainly for the way it shows what sheer energy, ambition and a truck-load of oil-dollars can achieve in just a few decades. I love the razzle-dazzle of Dubai, I love its OTT, over-sized craziness, its nerve, the scope of shopping, the climate and the variety of food.

DON'T MISS My apartment looks out at the Burj Khalifa, and it's a view I never tire of. There's no question the hotels and resorts are amazing (and there's something for everyone) and I also reckon you'd be mad to miss the shopping – even if you don't think that shopping is your "thing". I also love being able to wander down to the art galleries in the restored homes in Bastakiya, the oldest part of the city along the Dubai Creek. And I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the desert.

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT DUBAI Visitors often come away disappointed by the souks, and it's true that there isn't much charm about the spice, gold and textile markets, especially compared with those in other Middle Eastern cities. But they're missing the point. I'd recommend focusing on exploring all that new Arabia has to offer instead.

ESSENTIALS 

Zaahira Restaurant, H Hotel 1st floor, 1 Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, UAE. Due to open first half 2017. See visitdubai.com

Dubai Marina Waterfront.

Dubai Marina Waterfront. Photo: iStock

THE ECO RESORT PIONEERS

RORY HUNTER AND MELITA KOULMANDAS HUNTER

Founders, Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

THE PLACE Set on the tiny island of Koh Ouen, a 45-minute boat ride from Sihanoukville, and opened in 2012, Song Saa's focus is on conservation-based luxury tourism with 24 high-end private pool villas with linen-draped canopy beds and furniture made from driftwood and repurposed fishing boats. There's a private beach, infinity edge pool, spa and yoga sanctuaries and watersports include snorkelling and scuba diving. Koh Ouen is connected by wooden bridge to the island of Koh Bong and Cambodia's first marine reserve was established around the two islands in 2007. Central to the resort was the establishment of the Song Saa Foundation in 2013 with a three-pronged focus on local water, people and land. 

BACKSTORY The couple, from Sydney, moved to Cambodia in 2005, originally for a 12-month stint. A Khmer friend told them about a beautiful archipelago with virgin rainforest and untouched beaches, just a few miles off the coast from the mainland, populated only by fishermen. They spent two magical weeks exploring the islands and were touched by the warm welcome the locals gave them, even though they had never encountered a foreigner before. On their last day, they stopped on the island of Koh Ouen where they ended up speaking to a family who planned to go back to the mainland to make their money through rice farming. Apparently life was becoming more and more difficult as fishermen on the islands as the waters became increasingly over-fished. They were asked if they wanted to buy the island. A week later they returned with the money.

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT CAMBODIA The country's beautiful culture and people. We would describe Song Saa as "Soulful" – The island is an incredible source of nourishment and has natural healing energy. It is  calming and nurturing and  many of our guests feel this when they stay with us. We'd also say that Song Saa is unique in its closeness to the local community.  

DON'T MISS Our five-mile beach picnic, during which guests can ride by private luxury speedboat or the local longtail boat to a lovely beach strip, to enjoy a  gourmet lunch against a backdrop of turquoise water and pure white sand.

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT CAMBODIA Many Australians have no idea about Cambodia's beautiful coastal islands and that the Koh Rong Archipelago is like visiting Thailand 40 years ago. 

ESSENTIALS 

Song Saa Private Island costs from $US890 a night for a one-bedroom jungle villa with pool. See songsaa.com

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia.

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia. Photo: Sunya Thadathanawong

THE BAR CZAR

DOMINIC TRACY

Co-owner and bar manager, The Great Georgiana bar, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, US 

THE PLACE The Great Georgiana is a bar in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighbourhood that my two business partners and I opened three-and-a-half years ago. It's an unpretentious cocktail and wine bar with upscale bar food where you will hear the world's best music and know that people will be friendly. We very specifically wanted to open a bar in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. It's a beautiful "old Brooklyn" neighbourhood with wide streets and brownstones. And it's really friendly, everybody knows each other. If you embark on a short walk to the shops you might get 10 handshakes along the way. Spike Lee is from here and well as Mos Def, Michael Jordan and Rosie Perez.   

We built a DJ booth, we wanted it to be part of the experience and we book lots of DJs who are big record collectors, some of the best in New York.

BACKSTORY I ran a bar in Melbourne called Yah Yah's and I'd been visiting to New York for years. I fell in love with the city. Once this place gets its hooks into you, it doesn't really leave your head. One night, over a few drinks, my friend (and now business partner) Chris Connor and I got talking about opening a bar in Brooklyn. We needed someone on the ground in New York so through an Australian friend met James Gregg who had experience in bars in the area.

As business partners, we were three guys in our 30s who together had some experience but had never opened a bar in New York before. I foolishly thought that, because I'd opened bars before in Melbourne it would be relatively easy but there's a lot of red tape here. James and I worked hands on in the bar every day for three years with no days or nights off. On April 20 last year when James was cycling home from work he got hit by a truck and was killed. He was 33 years old. James was a really well-loved guy in the neighbourhood, when he died a whole sea of people – including all of our 12 staff – descended on the bar, so many that the street was blocked off.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT NEW YORK There's so much happening here, New York has got everything times one million. I went to the taping of Saturday Night Live recently. My friend Courtney Barnett was playing and got me into the show, then she played at the after party where I met Larry David. It was very brief, but it was Larry, so I'll take it. 

DON'T MISS In the summertime, there are free concerts in the city's parks. I saw Big Daddy Kane perform in Tompkins Square Park recently. You can see anyone from The Zombies to Kanye at Central Park or Prospect Park. Also, you have to go to see Marjorie Eliot perform jazz in the front parlour of her home in Harlem. It happens every Sunday afternoon for a small donation.

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT NEW YORK I don't know why anyone stays in Midtown Manhattan, you really don't need to see Times Square. Well, see it if you must but 10 minutes is all you need. There are so many better parts of Manhattan and the other boroughs to stay. 

ESSENTIALS The Great Georgiana, 248 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn, New York. See thegreatgeorgiana.com 

The Great Georgiana bar, Fort Greene, Brooklyn NY.

The Great Georgiana bar, Fort Greene, Brooklyn NY. Photo: Supplied

THE BOUTIQUE HOTELIER

ROB POTTER-SANDERS

Owner, Masseria Trapana, Puglia, Italy

THE PLACE Boutique to the power of 10, Masseria Trapana is a nine-room hotel in the Puglia region, 10 minutes outside the Baroque city of Lecce and three kilometres from the Adriatic coastline. Opened by Rob Potter-Sanders last year, the meticulously renovated 16th-century building is part of a growing trend: the conversion into small luxury hotels of traditional masserie – self-sufficient homes of the nobility, with chapels, olive groves and thick sandstone walls to prevent attack.

BACKSTORY 

Potter-Sanders knew when he was a young man washing dishes in a Tuscan restaurant that he would one day open his own boutique hotel in the region. Twenty-five years later he achieved his dream – only the location was the far more rustic and remote Puglia – the "heel" of the Italian boot – rather than refined Tuscany. "Tuscany was very 'done' and it was very expensive," he says, "Puglia is an undiscovered gem." Before becoming a hotelier, the Sydneysider worked in PR and marketing for various hotels; he moved to Italy five years ago to work in a friend's hotel and get acquainted with the notorious Italian bureaucracy. Eventually setting his sights on Puglia: "I saw maybe 28 masserie but I fell in love with the first one I saw and bought it. Nothing had been done to it for 200 years. It was quite cheap, but expensive to renovate."

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT PUGLIA It's still very untouched by tourism but it's where Italians choose to holiday. It's a rustic peninsula so the Adriatic is on one side and the Ionian sea on the other, and the beach is never very far away. It has the best beaches in Italy, too – white and sandy rather than rocky. 

DON'T MISS Lecce. It's unbelievably beautiful; in my opinion it's more beautiful than Florence. The entire city is made of white limestone, which makes it extraordinarily positive compared to the dark stone of other cities such as Rome and Florence. 

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT PUGLIA Not taking the afternoon siesta. The day is long and dinner is at 9 or 9.30pm. All Australian guests ask us to book dinner for 7.30 but the restaurants don't open before 8pm or 8.30.

ESSENTIALS Masseria Trapana, Strada Provinciale, Lecce, Italy +39 0832 183 2101. Rooms start from  €250 a night. See trapana.com

Masseria Trapana Dining Room.

Masseria Trapana Dining Room. Photo: Supplied

THE RESTAURATEUR

MICHELLE GARNAUT

Chief executive of the M Restaurant Group, including Capital M, Beijing, M on the Bund, Shanghai and M Glam, Shanghai. 

THE PLACES A collection of award-winning upscale restaurants in China, M Restaurant Group is the brainchild of Australian cook, restaurateur and philanthropist Michelle Garnaut (hence the signature "M"). Melbourne-born Garnaut has three outlets in China: Capital M in Beijing, M on the Bund and Glam, a chic dining lounge in Shanghai. "After opening restaurants in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, I know their lifeline has always been deliciousness, consistency, community and a real sense of hospitality." Expect classics such as M's Crispy Suckling Pig and M's Very Famous Pavlova. 

BACKSTORY Described by Time magazine as "the pioneer of China's fashionable-dining scene", Garnaut is one of Asia's leading restaurateurs. After roaming three continents, she landed in Hong Kong in 1984 where she worked at Restaurant 97. Five years later she opened her first overseas venture M on the Fringe (now closed). At the time it offered a sophisticated new take on Western fine dining and attracted a loyal and famous clientele including Pierce Brosnan and Kate Moss. A decade later Garnaut took an even more ground-breaking step in mainland China, opening M on the Bund in Shanghai. At the time the historic waterfront was mostly known for dilapidated offices rather than the cosmopolitan nightlife it offers today. A downstairs bar in the Art Deco Nissin Shipping Building called Glamour followed, later morphing into the Glam Shanghai. The long planned for Capital M in Beijing meanwhile opened in 2009, overlooking the north end of Tiananmen. In 2015 Garnaut was the recipient of the Advance Global Australian Award in food and agriculture.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CHINA It's constantly surprising. Every corner you turn you see something that, mostly, puts a smile on your face. The enthusiasm of the people and the change that's constantly happening, is fantastically energetic. 

DON'T MISS The food. Don't just go to the latest trendy bars; try the local food. Go anywhere there's a queue. Wander the back streets of Shanghai, particularly the French Concession area, and check out the West Bund's burgeoning art scene. In Beijing the historic Dashila area is fabulous. Go to the duck restaurant, which hasn't even got an English name. It's incredible.

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT CHINA Australians often think that the people are stand-offish. Chinese people are pretty straightforward; they're fairly blunt, but they're also extremely friendly if you make an effort to smile and interact. 

ESSENTIALS M on the Bund and Glam Shanghai, 7F, 5 The Bund, Shanghai; Capital M, 3/F, No.2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street, Beijing. See m-restaurantgroup.com

SunFeb19cover? Michelle Garnaut, CEO of the M Restaurant Group. Beijing

M Restaurant, Beijing Photo: Supplied

THE CAFE QUEEN

KATIE ALLAN

Owner, Revolver Espresso and Baby Revolver, Seminyak, Bali

THE PLACE Tucked off the bustling main drag of Jalan Oberoi in the uber trendy Seminyak, Revolver Espresso has become a Bali institution. Expats, travellers and locals  flock to this shrine to java hidden behind heavy wooden doors down a side lane. Inside, aside from superb, consistently good coffee (just like you'll find back home), a warm welcome awaits. The bohemian, eclectic 150-seat cafe is staffed by friendly Balinese. There's a creative menu featuring all day breakfasts such as "Highway Robbery", vintage furnishings, free Wi-Fi and a funky, laidback vibe. It's Bondi meets Bali, minus the attitude.

BACKSTORY Like many Australians, it was surfing that first drew the then 20-year-old Katie Allan to Bali. Allan spent a few months in Bali each year training for the World Surf League's World Qualifying Series (WQS). With a brother living in Bali, it wasn't long before the Island of the Gods, with its appealing lifestyle, felt like home. The idea for Revolver manifested a decade ago when Allan was doing the hard yards at some of Sydney's top cafes. After injuries left her unable to surf competitively she realised there was a huge gap in the market for specialty coffee in Bali. With a little help from industry friends, she took the plunge and opened Revolver in 2012. In the early days Revolver had just 30 seats. A mezzanine was added, and two years back the cafe's rear wall was demolished, expanding the space to seat 150. At the same time a sister outlet, Baby Revolver, was opened down the road to take the pressure off the takeaway business. Revolver also now has a roastery supplying some of Bali's best cafes and restaurants.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT BALI Bali is magic; the lifestyle's amazing and the diversity is insane. Whether you're a surfer, shopper, foodie, hippie, hipster, artist, business mogul or entrepreneur, it offers something for everyone.

DON'T MISS Climbing Mount Batur at dawn and dining at the superb Locavore Ubud. You can't miss feasting on fresh seafood with the sand between your toes at Jimbaran Sunset Beach Bar and Grill. Spend the day at the beautiful Bingin Beach and stay at least one night on Ubud's Sayang Ridge. The views will take your breath away. 

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT BALI That Kuta represents even a portion of the Bali spirit and what the island has to offer.

ESSENTIALS Revolver Espresso, Jalan Kayu Aya, Gang 51, Seminyak, Oberoi; Baby Revolver, Jalan Petitenget #102, Seminyak. See revolverespresso.com

Revolver Espresso, Seminyak, Bali.

Revolver Espresso, Seminyak, Bali. Photo: Alana Dimou

THE ISLAND RESORT GURU

MARK HEHIR

Curator and chief executive of The Small Maldives Island Company (TSMIC); general manager, Amilla Fushi and Finolhu.

THE PLACES Amilla Fushi and Finolhu are located in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve in the Indian Ocean. Run by Australian based TSMIC, and both luxury resorts boast a strong Australian pedigree. Amilla offers 67 decadent residences and treehouses all with private pools; Finolhu is the playful younger sibling with 125 villas and a hip, retro party vibe. 

BACKSTORY Born and raised in Melbourne, Hehir's love affair with the Maldives spans two decades. He first came to the Maldives via Sri Lanka in 1997 as executive chef and food and beverage director of the Hilton Rangali, Maldives. In his early days as a chef he ran the kitchens of Melbourne's Hotel Como before heading to London's Dorchester Hotel. Hehir was a part of the opening team at the renowned Huvafen Fushi by Per Aquum, as well as the Maldives Hilton Rangali (now Conrad Maldives) after working for various Anantara properties in Asia. In 2011 he was appointed general manager at the One&Only Reethi Rah before taking the leap of faith and partnering as chief executive of TSMIC and general manager for both Finolhu and Amilla Fushi.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THE MALDIVES Its location. Situated between Europe, Britain and the Middle East on one side, and all of Asia and Australia on the other, it attracts travellers from around the world.  

DON'T MISS You must snorkel the reefs where you'll see turtles, abundant fish life and even the odd dolphin. Even better is the diving. Both Amilla and Finolhu are located in Hanifaru Bay, an uninhabited, marine protected area at the core area of the biosphere reserve, long renowned for underwater photography and diving.

ONE THING AUSTRALIANS ALWAYS GET WRONG ABOUT THE MALDIVES They pronounce it with an Aussie twang, "Mal-dives", when it should be pronounced "Mal-dee-ves". They also used to think they could get a taxi from the airport as they didn't understand the one island, one resort concept. Here there are only air taxis which take around 30 minutes to reach our islands from the Ibrahim Nasir International (Male) Airport.

ESSENTIALS From $US900 per night, see finolhu.com. From $US1800 per night, see amilla.mv

Finolhu, Maldives.

Finolhu, Maldives. Photo: Klaus Lorke

MORE  AUSTRALIAN CHEFS OVERSEAS

SKYE GYNGELL

Spring, London

The chef who put London's Petersham Nurseries on the Michelin-starred map now wows critics with her "perfectionist simplicity" at Spring, housed amid the neoclassical elegance of centrally located Somerset House. See springrestaurant.co.uk

CURTIS STONE

Maude, Los Angeles

He's better known in his homeland for his advertisements for a certain supermarket chain, but  restaurant Maude is one of the hottest tickets in Curtis Stone's adopted LA, with a star ingredient-focused degustation menu that changes monthly. See mauderestaurant.com

GRANT SMILLIE, DAVID COMBES and LOUIS TIKRAM

E.P. & L.P, Los Angeles

The trio (Smillie and Combes as owners; Tikram as executive chef) is showing LA how south-east Asian flavours are done at their multilevel restaurant and lounge in West Hollywood. See eplosangeles.com

BRETT GRAHAM

The Ledbury, London

The Novocastrian is sitting pretty at number 14 on the World's Best Restaurants list with a focus on game and British produce at his central London restaurant. See theledbury.com

SHANE OSBORN

Arcane, Hong Kong

This Perth-born high flyer made his name with two Michelin stars at London's Pied a Terre, but now his signature Euro flair can be found in the business district of Hong Kong's main island. See arcane.hk

DAVID THOMPSON 

Nahm, Bangkok

An authority on Thai cuisine after falling in love with its punchy yet complex flavours three decades ago, now Thompson's Bangkok restaurant is one of Asia's best, and his encyclopedic cookbook, Thai Food, is considered the last word on the subject. See comohotels.com

FRANK CAMORRA

MoVida Bali

Melbourne's tapas kings have wholeheartedly embraced the laidback Bali ethos with their first international excursion. The open-air restaurant boasts furniture and fabrics made by local artisans, and makes the perfect spot to down a Moritz while gazing over Seminyak beach. See katamama.com

LUKE MANGAN

Salt, Asia

Australia's Mr International has restaurants in Sydney, Jakarta, Singapore, the Maldives, on the high seas (with P&O cruises) and in the air (as the chef for Virgin), but his Tokyo grill sums up his patriotic ethos perfectly by flying the flag for Australian produce and wine. See lukemangan.com

JAMES HENRY

Belon, Hong Kong

Paris lamented when James Henry closed Bones, the hottest restaurant in the hip 11th arrondissement, but now the peripatetic chef has taken a taste of France to Hong Kong at what's being dubbed as a "neo-bistro", complete with natural wine list. See belonsoho.com

MATTHEW CRABBE

Two Rooms Grill, Tokyo

Sydney-born Crabbe made his name in Tokyo as head chef at the Park Hyatt's New York Grill before launching (with partners) his own sizzling steak temple, as well as the speakeasy R2 Supper Club and steakhouse Ruby Jack's. See tworooms.jp

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