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Laksa, Parap Village Markets
Darwin's open-air markets are legendary, and none is more famous than Mindil Beach, with its sprawling boulevard of food trucks and ready-to-eat morsels. But for a less-touristy and more intimate market experience, you can't beat Parap Village on Saturday mornings. And the dish de rigueur is laksa. Local insight tells me Mary has the best laksa in town, but it's a task trying to find her amid the myriad stalls of samosas and curry puffs, bubbling broths and Asian greens. I hone in on the laksa stand with the longest queue and ask a young woman if this is Mary's. "I don't know, but it's the best laksa around by far," she says. I think I'm on to something. An elderly woman pummels away over a pestle and mortar, others stir great vats of broth, while another wearing a T-shirt that says "My love is all for you" ladles out the laksa ($8.50), with said love. It comes in a filled-to-the-brim plastic container; a creamy, fragrant tongue-tingler with delicate pillows of tofu, noodles, squid and prawns, topped with ground peanuts, coriander, chilli sauce and fried onion. I grab two serviettes (I'll need more) and devour the lot – for breakfast, no less. It's delicious, and the serviettes are essential for mopping my mouth and brow. Parap Village Markets.
Cucina Sotto Le Stelle
Bringing a touch of Tuscany to the Nightcliff foreshore, Cucina Sotto Le Stelle (Kitchen Under the Stars) is a twice-weekly pizza and pasta extravaganza that draws on the popular pop-up food cart phenomenon. Owner Benjamin Matthews started the dry-season venture in 2014 off the back of a successful wood-fired pizza catering business. On Wednesday and Friday evenings he can be seen working the oven in a sweat-dampened singlet, turning out authentic Italian pizzas for a voracious crowd that converges on the Seabreeze Carpark. Long communal tables extend under a string of lights, and couples, families and friends stretch out on picnic blankets with BYO stubbies and bottles of wine. Matthew churns out more than 1000 pizzas and about 400 pasta dishes a week. There are eight pizzas on the menu and three pasta/risotto dishes, which change weekly based on available local produce. I try the wood-oven roasted duck risotto with candied orange and roast fennel; it's tasty but the real hero is the pizza – Prosciutto Cotto e Funghi (mozzarella, shaved leg ham and mushrooms) for $17. Chapman Road, Nightcliff.
In a city whose culinary persuasions are dominated by Asian fair and surf 'n' turf, The Pearl is a veritable palate cleanser. Tucked inside the sandstone Victoria Arcade building off Smith Street Mall, the cafe-cum-cocktail bar (opened in late 2013 by husband and wife duo Paul and Elesha Burgan) has a French-industrial meets vintage-glam vibe and an elegant European-inspired modern-Australian menu. A cute courtyard with a faux hedge leads to the small dining space, styled with decorative mirrors, black-and-white striped walls, geometric light fittings and a burst of foliage courtesy of the wallpaper at the rear. I opt for the $65 six-course prix fix and let the chef do the choosing for me. We start with Canadian scallops and black pudding – it seems an odd match but is rich and delicious – followed by kangaroo carpaccio with walnut and chocolate. Next is a palate cleanser succeeded by coral trout with chorizo, potato and black olive; and Angus eye fillet with beetroot, chévre and dukkah. By the time dessert comes – cherry chocolate tiramisu – I'm bursting, but the food is simply too good to waste. Victoria Arcade, Darwin.
Alley Cats Patisserie
There's a brightly painted puss in the leafy courtyard, but you won't find any mangy felines roaming Alley Cats Patisserie – just great coffee and baked goods, scrumptious brunches and sweet treats. You could pop in here for a loaf of sourdough and a takeaway caffeine hit (the coffee is Campos brand), or pull up a seat at the piano and be tempted by the kitchen offerings (like the potted eggs with smoky baked beans, grilled chorizo, parmesan and rocket for $22). The House Sandwiches ($9) are far from the humble white-bread-and-spread variety, and the pulled pork baguette with fennel, apple, carrot and aioli slaw is hard to pass up. But it's the cruffin with fetta, spinach and onion jam ($9) that I covet, not to mention the cronut – a delectable croissant–doughnut hybrid. 14/69 Mitchell Street, Darwin.
Pee Wee's at the Point
Location, location, location is the key at Pee Wee's, which is positioned within a nature reserve on the northern end of Fannie Bay, with sweeping sea views. Pee Wee's is a special occasion kind of place with a distinctly Territorian take on fine dining. There are no linen tablecloths, just metallic tables assembled on a large palm-lined alfresco courtyard overlooking the water. The service is attentive and the food refined and elegant, drawing on fresh local produce. The chilled prawn salad with paw paw and chilli jam ($24) is a light and tasty appetiser, which gives me room for the double-roasted duckling that follows: a generous crispy-skin half-bird with prosciutto wrapped asparagus spears, pastry fleuron and Kakadu plum and tamarind jus ($46). The food is scrumptious and filling, and the setting superb, but I can't help wishing we were seated with the wedding party on the lawn under those magical white lanterns. 152 Alec Fong Lim Drive, East Point Reserve.
A relative new kid on the block, Seoul Food opened its doors in October 2014 and delivers a Korean twist to Darwin's thriving Asian food scene. The restaurant is part of the Élan Soho Suites Hotel complex, and is a chic addition to the CBD, fusing Korean, modern Australian, French and Italian flavours. The dining area is modest in size, with tables spilling out onto the pavement outside, but the flavours are big and refreshing. Diners can be seen slurping on traditional vegetable bibimbap, but I opt for dishes with a cross pollination of influences. The kimchi and pancetta arancini with garlic dipping sauce ($13) is delicate and crispy with a mango tang, while the pork bossam (soybean braised pork belly with white radish and pickled radish – $16) is succulent and gently spiced. For main I try a local staple with a delicious Korean bent – oven roasted NT barramundi with warm sour cabbage and spinach salad, lemongrass and ginger sauce ($34). 31 Woods Street.