THE Australian experience is not just about sparkling harbours, red deserts and exotic native wildlife.
The cities also provide ample world-class dining options for the travelling gourmand. Whatever the global trendsetters can dish up, the talented Antipodeans chefs can match -- with Aussie flair.
International foodies worth their salt would have heard of the dining experiences to be had at the likes of Quay and Rockpool (both frequent dwellers on the top of Restaurant magazine's list of the world's best); they would also be avidly following the career moves of Aussie chefs such as Matt Moran and Neil Perry.
The modern Australian experience has little to do with cliched stereotypes. The dining scene reflects the country's multiculturalism. In fact, the cuisine frequently touted as "Modern Australian" (or "Mod-Oz") is more likely to include the flavours of Asia and the techniques of Europe than billy tea and a barbecued 'roo steak.
The nation's best chefs collectively cover almost every cuisine type imaginable.
Over the past decade, Australia has become a culinary destination par excellence, as the rest of the world is fast discovering. The past 30 years have brought a revolution in what we eat and drink, driven by the arrival of migrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Indonesia.
They thankfully brought with them their food, flavours and cooking styles. This cultural intermingling has revitalised the national diet and we are today fuelled by espresso, octopus salads and stir-fry meals.
The restaurants are increasingly embracing more locally-grown "bush tucker" -- the food found in the bush and deserts that has sustained Australia's indigenous population for more than 50,000 years.
"Modern Australian" is a label that is loosely defined and thus, freely and creatively interpreted. At any restaurant, the promise is that you will be tantalised, delighted and surprised. Your taste buds should be prepared for new, enthralling experiences when on such a gastronomic journey.
How does "chargrilled Pemberton marron on palm sugar dressed greens" or "seared Abrolhos scallops on steamed Vasse asparagus with a lime, caper and avocado pannacotta" sound? Even more intriguingly, how do they taste?
In Australia, you can have just about any kind of cuisine, but the predominant styles are Mod-Oz, Mod-Med and East-West fusion.
Fresh Australian produce flavoured by such exotic herbs and spices as lemongrass, chilli and lemon myrtle, cooked using techniques such as stir-frying, and presented nouvelle designer food style are a combination that has spread like wildfire.
Local seafood -- calamari, smoked trout, rock oysters, Tasmanian salmon and the much-respected barramundi -- is served everywhere. Be sure to try native specialities such as warrigal (a green similar to spinach), kangaroo and emu meat, wattle-seed, kiwi fruit and macadamia.
There's plenty of exceptional dining in Australia, but it's the little things that count: the produce on a given day, the weather and the indescribable vibe. Is your mouth watering yet?
l For the most casual diner to the most demanding gastronome, Melbourne is marvellous for dining. Quality cafes, innovative chefs, a range of authentic food precincts and headline-grabbing restaurants add up to one unforgettable food and wine destination. Those with the self-discipline to undertake the culinary equivalent of window-shopping in its dining precincts will be richly rewarded. Lonsdale Street is the Greek sector, great for baklava or late-night souvlaki. Lygon Street in Carlton is famed for Italian food. Victoria Street in Richmond boasts Vietnamese eateries to serve any budget, while Little Bourke Street has an array of quality Chinese restaurants to satisfy noodle and dumpling cravings.
l Melbourne is considered Australia's hub of Italian and Greek cuisine although it is currently caught up in a love affair with the Middle East.
It is home to a Chinese restaurant often voted to be Australia's best, Flower Drum. Circa, the Prince is modern European, Pearl fuses Asian, Middle-Eastern and Australian flavours, while Vue de monde will insist that you try its wagyu tartare with vichysoisse foam.
l Sydney was the take-off point for the brash new "Mod Oz" and "Mod-Med" fusion styles, which have become the hallmark of the Australian eating style. It's also home to some of the top restaurants in the world including Quay, Marque, Attica and Rockpool.
l Dig further into Sydney's suburbs and you'll find Darlinghurst and Newtown bursting with vegetarian and Asian restaurants, Leichhardt justly renowned for Italian cuisine, and Chinatown or Ashfield good for dim sum and yum cha sessions.
l In Canberra, The Chairman & Yip is a bit of a work of art. The plush, measured surrounds scream money and taste, while the seafood-focused Asian cuisine has just a touch of that East-meets-West thing going on.
There's modern Turkish at the famous Ottoman Cuisine, superb Italian at Mezzalira, and Mod-Oz at Courgette in the city centre and Artespresso in Kingston.
For food with a spectacular view of the city, try Alto -- a revolving restaurant in Telstra Tower on Black Mountain -- or there's the venerable Waters Edge.
l An institution in Brisbane is e'cco, while Restaurant II blends Asian and Mediterranean flavours with results like tartlet of scrambled eggs and crab. In nearby Noosa, River House serves up "Mod-Oz style" tuna sashimi with ginger, lime and black sesame dressing. In the ranks of utterly fabulous restaurants is Absynthe, headed by French expat Meyjitte Boughenout. The dishes at this Gold Coast fine diner range from the classic to the extraordinary as the chef's Michelin-star experience combines with distinctly Australian produce.