Poised at the top of Australia’s Top End, the laid-back city of Darwin lies ‘within cooee’ of the natural wonders and Aboriginal heritage of Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park. Get a complete taste of Darwin with these great restaurants.
Sri Lankan born chef and restaurateur Jimmy Shu opened Hanuman in 1992, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients from local Asian market gardens. Master chefs from India, Thailand and Malaysia man the restaurant’s kitchen, serving up authentic Thai, Nonya (Chinese/Malay cuisine) and Tamil flavors. The exotic setting, featuring furniture, tableware and artworks from around the world and moody lighting, matches the exotic flavors and ingredients of dishes. Dishes include the restaurant’s signature dish of fresh oysters with the zingy scents and flavors of lemongrass, sweet basil, ginger, chili and fresh coriander. Diners can also order local wild barramundi fillets cooked with turmeric, fresh curry leaf and coconut, as well as a good range of vegetarian dishes and exotic desserts, including black rice brulee infused with pandan leaf, Sri Lankan love cake and chocolate water chestnut cake. Hanuman seats 90 guests indoors and a further 90 people on a leafy outdoor terrace.
An award-winning, sustainable and certified restaurant, Saffrron offers both exciting Indian cuisine and a remarkable eco-dining experience. Here, diners can enjoy fresh Top End barramundi poached in coconut milk, spiced up with turmeric and ginger, and served on biodegradable tableware made from bamboo and sugarcane. All the delicious options on the menu can be washed down with a carbon-neutral beer, and followed by a fragrant and refreshing dessert of homemade rosewater ice-cream. Saffrron is owned and operated by chef Selvam Kandasamy, who trained at the prestigious Sheraton Hotel in Madras, and his wife Joanna. Indian favorites, including tandoori dishes, range from mild to fiery. The seafood is locally caught, and fresh organic produce is sourced from a market garden in the wonderfully named town of Humpty Doo and the famous Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin.
Located waterside at Stokes Hill Wharf, the large outdoor deck of Crustaceans on the Wharf is a relaxed place to watch ships go by while basking in the glow of a fiery tropical sunset. Succulent, char-grilled steaks and fresh seafood are the specialties here. Seafood platters are piled high with oysters, prawns, calamari, mud crab and Moreton Bay bugs and the 500-gram Scotch fillet steak served with half a grilled lobster, chips and salad would satisfy even the heartiest appetite. Also on the menu are local favorites like wild barramundi and crocodile. Children under 10 years old eat free from the kids menu for every main meal purchased, making Crustaceans great value for family outings and celebrations.
Yots Greek Taverna is a one of Darwin’s leading restaurants located on the Waterfront Boardwalk at Cullen Bay. Yots offers modern and traditional Greek cuisine with fresh seafood meals a specialty. There are fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, oysters and delicious seafood delivered to the restaurant daily. The fully licensed restaurant offers fine wines, liqueurs and other drinks to complement traditional Greek dishes, which include moussaka, souvlaki, spanakopita, stuffed eggplant (aubergine), Greek salad and vegetarian dishes. Oysters are freshly shucked at the table. Quieter tables for two are located on the lower deck, right at water level. A nice extra: diners on this level are supplied with a platter of bread to toss to the fish.
Nirvana Restaurant has held a place as one of Darwin’s premier nightspots for the past 18 years. The intimate interior features Chesterfield lounges, private booth seating, dark timber and ambient lighting, while the menu offers a mix of Asian cuisines and an extensive cocktail, spirit and liqueur range to rival any bar in the world. Live entertainment includes jazz, funk, folk and blues, with exotic belly dancers on Saturday nights and popular jam sessions on Tuesday nights. As well as the cocktail bar, offering a choice of 36 international boutique beers and Australian microbrews, there is also an absinthe bar, with traditional absinthe fountains and a selection of 10 absinthe brands from all over the world.
Char Restaurant is a Darwin dining experience that offers the best of fresh local produce, international and local wines and innovative cuisine within the beautiful surroundings of heritage-listed Admiralty House and its grounds. As its name implies, the specialty here is char-grilled steak. The consistent quality of the meat offered is substantially due to the fact that restaurateur John Kilroy is a nationally recognized beef judge. John sources the beef direct from producers and suppliers, then ages it for five weeks, giving diners a chance to taste different breeds, brands and regions. There are also many interesting Modern Australian dishes on the menu with both European and Asian influences and fresh local seafood choices. Outdoor dining is available beneath a canopy of palms and tropical trees.
A hit with the younger crowd and Darwin’s influx of international backpackers, Monsoons is pumping on most nights. Lunchtime is a quieter bet, with the peace to peruse a menu of gourmet pizzas, share dishes, salads and burgers. There are also long lunch specials every Sunday. At night, hearty main courses include Northern Territory buffalo burgers, beer-battered barramundi and steaks. There’s an extensive cocktail list and beer list, Australian and New Zealand wines, live music most nights and crab races every Monday night.
The name of this popular Darwin cafe harks back to 1974, when Cyclone Tracy flattened the city. The extensive use of corrugated iron for the exterior and decor is a reference to the flying tin from roofs that posed the greatest danger during the cyclone. But behind the rusty corrugated iron facade of The Cyclone Cafe, there’s a friendly space serving excellent coffee, widely acclaimed as the best in Darwin, and milkshakes. There are also all-day breakfast favorites such as eggs Benedict and Boston beans, healthy salads, cheese melts and delicious sandwiches and homemade cakes. Local artworks and jewelry are not just part of the decor but for sale as well.