From laidback coastal-themed cafés to bold new brasseries, there’s been an influx of Australian restaurants in the capital, ensuring that food from ‘down-under’ is firmly in the spotlight…
Words Hannah Hopkins
One such restaurant championing Aussie food is Dickie Fitz, a laidback, art-deco style restaurant serving up smokey BBQ and fresh Asian-inspired flavours in Fitzrovia. We spoke to the Executive Chef Matt Robinson to find out why the cuisine is gaining a following, and to discover some inspiring recipes that you can create at home…
We’ve noticed there’s been a wave of Australian restaurants opening lately – why do you think Londoners love them?
Australia is a prime holiday and Gap year destination. I guess people fall in love with the lifestyle and culture and they want to recapture that when they are home. It’s also naturally healthy – the cuisine is not made up of heavy sauces and starches so you can eat and socialise more without feeling you have to hit the gym straight after!
For the uninitiated, how would you describe Australian food?
Australian or Australasian food is carving its own path and draws its influence from its neighbours and people who have migrated there over the years. In my eyes there is a huge south-east Asian and Japanese influence as well as Italian, Greek and Lebanese. The food itself is produce-driven with huge flavour – it’s colourful, fresh and as vibrant as the Australian climate.
The menu at Dickie Fitz is inspired by flavours of Australia and the Pacific. What are your favourite dishes on the menu?
I’m very proud of the whole menu to be honest as it has so many hero dishes. For example, the tuna tatami with ponzu is impossible to take off as the regulars would kick off! I really like the way we have integrated some nostalgic Australian items like chicken salt, lamingtons, banana bread and kangaroo, and made them sophisticated and interesting. I also really enjoy promoting Aussie Gins and quality Aussie Beef.
You mentioned Aussie food is quite healthy?
Yes, it’s naturally very healthy, particularly our south-east Asian inspired dishes which are low in fat, dairy and carbohydrates.
Australia is famed for great wine, mouth-watering seafood and excellent BBQs. Do you have a tip for cooking BBQ food and a bottle of wine you’d recommend to go with it?
Always cook over charcoal or wood as the flavour is totally different. We use a mix of wood charcoal and coconut husk at Dickie Fitz. A personal favourite wine of mine is ‘Hill of Grace’ – it’s only ever opened on a special occasion! We sell a wine called ‘Passion has Red Lips’ from a similar region but a tenth of the price with a big, bold flavour.
How much of the menu was inspired by your native Sydney?
Without thinking, a lot of the inspiration comes from Sydney but like anything you need to tailor it to meet the needs of food trends and changes in the local market. A lot of the ideas I had with the menu came from my travels around Asia and Italy as well as my childhood in Sydney.
How important was it that the interiors and vibe at Dickie Fitz reflected the food?
Crucially we wanted to offer our guests a sexy, sophisticated look and vibe which says that our food should be taken seriously and that we have pride in what we offer. We didn’t want people to think that we offered the stereotypical ‘beer-drinking Aussie men in loud, floral shirts and shorts’ BBQ food which I’ve found many people naturally think of when you talk about Aussie food in London. The yellow colour scheme has brought that bright, sunshine feeling to the restaurant which definitely puts smiles on our guests’ faces and the art deco elements help to radiate the elegance we were aiming for.
Can you give us a quick recipe for a star cocktail?
The Tim Tam Martini is quick, simple and a real crowd pleaser.
And finally, one for an easy-to-make but impressive dish?
Loved Dickie Fitz? Here are five other places where you can sample Aussie food…
Granger & Co
Owned by Bill Granger (the Aussie equivalent of Jamie Oliver), the Granger & Co outposts are the ideal spot for midday munching, covering everything from healthy yet hearty bowls of grains and fresh pasta, to lighter ‘Pizzettas’ and raw tuna salads.
Bringing a slice of Melbourne to London is Farm Girl, Rose Mann’s hotly-anticipated Notting Hill café which takes a simple, holistic approach to food and aims to recreate Australian café culture in Blighty.
An urban mix of Italian and Australian food, Bernardi’s comes complete with a marble bar, a terrace full of olive trees and dishes to die for. No frills or fuss here, just plate after plate of deliciousness: pea and pecorino arancini, pork and veal meatballs and rich crab tagliatelle top the must-try list.
Named after an iconic Australian plant, Lantana Café was opened by three Aussie locals who missed the thriving café culture they had at home.
This Australian-owned coffee shop attracts an affluent clientele, with a Fulham location and immaculately presented coffees from Caravan roastery. The food’s pretty good, too, with dishes like kangaroo steak sandwich, Barossa hash and crab croquettes.