The Australian outback isn't generally thought of as a destination with great culinary diversity. Its bounty is of an entirely different sort--big skies, huge swathes of empty space, stoic cowboys -- and food-wise, things tend to be just as oversized and straightforward. This is cattle country, home of the Wagyu steak, the kangaroo pie, and the occasional potato. Fresh vegetables are few and far between. That is, unless you know where to look. Our recommendation: about 300 miles north of Adelaide.
Above: a table at the Prairie Hotel's restaurant
Planted squarely between the ancient gorges of the Flinders Ranges and the vast desert plains that give way to Lake Torrens, the Prairie Hotel (PrairieHotel.com.au) in Parachilna (population: seven) is a literal foodie oasis. And in the kitchen, chef Jane Fargher has pioneered a new wave of out-back eating, which takes inspiration from a surprising selection of native bush foods and gives the region's staples a gourmet twist.
Above: the feral antipasto
It's presentation as much as substance that makes this remote dining room feel like a Manhattan outpost. Though you can order a cowboy-friendly, chargrilled, dry-aged Scotch fillet dressed in local olive oil, the emphasis is on sharing big platters and tasting a bit of everything. The feral mixed grill features seasonally evolving renditions of extremely local meats -- kangaroo, emu filet mignon, camel sausage -- and at lunch-time, the antipasto is the same adventure in a slightly lighter form: emu pate, a peppery kangaroo mettwurst, and a plate of goat cheese, hummus, and chargrilled vegetables.
At left: red goat curry
Bush fruits and veggies also play a major role. Delicately roasted bush tomatoes (smaller, denser, and more intensely flavored than their Italian cousins) provide a nice contrast to a delicate buttered potato and green pea mash. Fargher also likes to cook with a healthy dash of indigenous herbs and seasonings, including lemon myrtle, wild basil, acacia seeds, and native pepper, which flavor the kitchen's stock of homemade chili jams and chutneys. In a land where the spirit of adventure is alive and well, these flavors feel right at home.
DOWN UNDER DONE WELL Three other great harvest-inspired restaurants in South Australia
SKILLOGALEE The terrace at this Clare Valley boutique winery and inn overlooks not only the garden that inspires its delicate dishes, but also the fruit trees (fig, olive, and loquat, a type of Asian plum) that figure into its small bites. Try the figs with grassy sheep's milk haloumi imported from Kangaroo Island. Box 87, Sevenhill; Skillogalee.com.au
ANDRE'S CUCINA This innovative Italian kitchen in downtown Adelaide grows its own produce in the nearby hills, including the red Aztec corn used in its creative polentas (go for the one with pork ragu, beetroot, bitter cocoa, and peppered pecorino). Its menu changes daily, but the chef's specialty -- a homey five-course feast -- is a must. 94 Frome St., Adelaide; AndresCucina.com.au
TIN CAT CAFE The entrees at this local art gallery and family-run kitchen are served in a cozy, vintage-furnished cafe with a cute back garden. Locally sourced produce makes its refreshing takes on Aussie meat pie even better; a spring favorite fuses rabbit and prune with chard and chestnuts. 107 Rundle St., Kent Town; TinCat.com.au