If you thought dining out in Darwin was all about barbecues and barramundi, think again. From Parisian bistros to buzzing laneway restaurants, a flood of new venues has livened up the local dining scene. Here is our pick of the city's best bites.
RISE AND SHINE: ALLEY CATS PATISSERIE
Don't be fooled by the organic breads and tables made of wooden planking: Alley Cats is a lot more than just another hipster cafe. Owners Brigid Beilby and Joseph Stock, both pedigreed pastry chefs (Infinity Sourdough, Bondi Icebergs), lift brunch to a new level, with elegant plating and clever combinations. Shakshouka is served with smoked salmon, while the Hunter's Feast throws together pulled pork, grilled fennel, poached egg and beetroot hollandaise. Something sweet? Try the Black-B Soup: three lemon-inflected ricotta fritters served in a sea of blackberry compote.
14/68 Mitchell Street; 08 8942 1932, facebook.com/Alleycatspatisserie
URBAN BUZZ: LITTLE MISS KOREA
With its industrial fitout and bold murals, this is a classic laneway restaurant. Well done to the LMK team for finding a laneway to put it in. Most diners opt for one of the do-it-yourself barbecue set menus; the Hong Dae set includes bulgogi beef, spicy pork belly, chilli chicken and sweet soy chicken. If you would rather let someone else do the cooking, a la carte options include coffee pork ribs and tempura prawns.
Austin Lane; 08 8981 7092; littlemisskorea.com
SMOKIN': WHARF ONE FOOD & WINE
When it comes to top stops for a long lunch, Wharf One ticks all the boxes. Enjoy the water view while nibbling on the complimentary bread which, like almost everything on chef Mick Fagan's menu, comes fresh from the wood-fired oven. The pasta is hand-rolled every day, and desserts are a highlight: the strawberry jelly with thyme granita, basil and black pepper, served in a martini glass, is the perfect end to the meal.
19 Kitchener Drive; 08 8941 0033; wharfone.com.au
TREASURES OF THE ORIENT: HANUMAN
It is almost 25 years since Jimmy Shu starting treating locals to his sophisticated Asian cuisine, but locals and visitors alike continue to lap up his complex flavours, drawn from Thai, Indian and Nonya cuisines. Try the torch mushrooms, buried under a generous topping of minced pork, prawn and spices, or Shu's Nonya style chicken satay, served with peanut and tamarind sauce. Curries range from a Koh Samui-style yellow curry of slipper lobster to a goat rogan josh.
DoubleTree Esplanade, 93 Mitchell Street; 08 8941 3500; www.hanuman.com.au/darwin
RED BLOODED: CHAR RESTAURANT
Snag a seat on the tree-shaded patio and prepare to indulge your carnivorous cravings. Restaurateur John Kilroy – the man behind Brisbane's Cha Cha Char - is a master of meat, sourcing beef direct from the producers and ageing it himself. Char showcases a range of breeds from different regions, and offers detailed tasting notes to help you find your way: the grass-fed eye fillet, for instance is described as "sweet and toasty".
70 The Esplanade; 08 8981 4544; chardarwin.com.au
HIDDEN GEM: THE PEARL
This may be Darwin's most surprising eatery: a petite Parisienne salon with a white-tiled bar, tucked inside The Vic Complex on The Mall. The Pearl changes mood according to the time of day; stop in for a steak frites at lunch, an espresso in the afternoon, or cocktails in the evening. Light bites include cognac chicken liver parfait, gin cured ocean trout and venison tartar, or settle in for a six-course dinner.
The Vic Complex, The Mall, 27 Smith Street; 0435 821 648; thepearl.com.au
CIRCUS DAZE: LOLA'S PERGOLA
Every city has a go-to place for gourmet burgers, but at Lola's, you get a little something extra. This circus-themed bar is literally the most colourful place in town, and the only one with a mirror ball hanging above its deck. For an umami hit, order the deluxe lamb burger, topped with Portobello mushrooms, onion jam and blue cheese. Wash it down with one of the fine selection of boutique beers on tap, perhaps Matso's Mango Beer from Broome or Adelaide's Prancing Pony Pale Ale.
48 Marina Boulevard, Cullen Bay; 8941 5711; facebook.com/lolaspergola
GOING GREEN: EVA'S BOTANIC GARDENS CAFE
This green oasis is a tranquil place to start the day, and does a nice line in homemade breakfasts. The coconut bircher has plenty of fans; for something heartier, choose bruschetta piled high with prosciutto, whipped ricotta, tomato salsa and pesto. At lunchtime, try one of the salads: perhaps a Vietnamese chicken salad or a detox kale salad with avocado, pumpkin and goji berries.
George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, Gardens Rd; 0434 544 210;
Vibe Hotel Darwin Waterfront, 7 Kitchener Drive, is at the heart of Darwin's new waterfront precinct, and an easy walk from the centre of town. Rooms start from $98 a night. Ph: 08 8982 9998. See tfehotels.com/brands/vibe-hotels/vibe-hotel-darwin-waterfront.
The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism NT.