ISO: Restaurants with seasonal menus and local produce in Sydney and Melbourne
I am from California and I am interested in finding restaurants that feature Australian produce. I don't want to spend a lot but realize that these place aren't cheap.
i also have a few etiquette question:
Do most people order an entree and main for dinner ? Is it ok to split an entree and dessert, if you and your partner are having your own main dish?
Any other rules people from the US should know when dinning out in OZ?
Because Australia is so far from the rest of the world, and shipping stuff is expensive, most Australian restaurants tend to use local wherever possible. However, many basic ingredients may be imported (chinese garlic being my current pet hate). That said, there are places that work hard to exploit local produce, especially in Tasmania. Maybe tell us where you are going to be and we could come up with some suggestions.
Most people would have entree and main for dinner, but it is completely acceptable to either skip or split. Many casual restaurants will actively encourage sharing. If you tell them (I'll have the oysters and we'll share) you'll get extra cutlery etc. However, do keep an eye on portion size - my limited US experience has been that portions can be very large, that isn't necessarily the case here.
Tipping is, despite the best efforts of well-paid waitstaff to make you believe the contrary, very uncommon in Australia. Think of it as being factored into the price. If you would like to tip, rounding up the bill is suggested - 10% is a big tip in Australia.
First let's qualify what you mean by "Australian produce". To us locals we use that term for meat, fish and vegetables grown in Australia, but I often see visitors using that term to mean Aboriginal food. If it is the latter, then I am afraid there are very few places that serve it, it was trendy a few years ago but most of those restaurants have closed. Others may have ideas.
If it is the former then Australia does have some great local produce, and the same rule applies here as anywhere i.e. the better the restaurant (and more expensive) the better the produce, and of course better produce is usually local and sourced from named producers or from named breeds. In Sydney and Melbourne grab the Good Food Guides (SMH in Sydney and The Age in Melbourne) and head for places with a score of 14+, if you avoid the 2 and 3 hatted restaurants then you should get good local produce, good cooking and reasonable prices. I think both guides are now iPhone apps which will help with navigation. Bottom line is that getting good local produce is easy, we are a net producer and import far less than many countries.
Etiquette: common sense rules apply. Nearly all restaurants will be happy for you to share a few dishes, or rearrange the menu to suit your appetite. My partner usually has two entrees, rather than an entree and main, and we often share dessert (I would have two mains to balance this out but she has banned that!). Obviously they can get a bit sniffy if you only split an entree between you and make it last 3 hours at peak service.
Mr G is spot on his advice about the "American disease" (tipping), IMO it is still totally acceptable not to tip, although "open" credit card receipts now seem quite common (is this a new phenomenon or is it my failing memory?) but wait-staff do get $$ signs in the eyes when the US accent is heard.
Other etiquette; you use entree correctly which is a good start. People generally eat later in Aus than the US; you are usually expected to linger over you meal rather than rush it, some table turning takes place but not in most places; ask for the bill, it won't appear unless you do; some restaurants are BYO booze, most will have a wine shop or pub close by to buy grog, always take more than you need and it is fine to take it home with you; service is quite casual and laid-back, this is not a bad thing, we like it like that; Mexican food gets worse the further you are away from Mexico, we are a long way away....!
A word about the tipping- the reason it is so necessary to tip in the States is because in many places it is common for waitstaff to make as little as $2 per hour (below minimum wage). Most of their salary comes from tips and many rely on it for survival (just one reason why the service is so much better there).
Here that is absolutely not the case. They get paid very well in comparison, so don't feel bad about not tipping. :)
Leaving sydney today. Thank you all for your tips, everyone was spot on. I still can't get over the variety of produce grown in one place. I know its a big place but WOW. Although it seems that there are no traditional seasons either, as saw a lot of stone fruits available.
I laughed about the garlic being imported from china because that is also very common in California despite the fact the we have a town that claims to be the garlic growing capital of the world or something like that :) Thanks again.