Australian Food Invades New York City
The fresh ingredients and generous spirit of Down Under cuisine is a perfect fit for the Big Apple.
A generation ago, a slew of Chinese eateries debuted in New York City succeeded by a score of Thai restaurants and then a spate of tapas eateries. But the latest trend stems from a country situated 10,000 miles away: Australian eateries are proliferating in New York faster than you can say “G-day mate.”
Australian eateries have cropped up in a slew of neighborhoods in Manhattan, including Flinders Lane, Burke & Wills, two Ruby’s Café, The Thirsty Koala, and The Australian, and in Brooklyn, Sheep Station and Northern Territory.
Aussies fit right into New York City’s multicultural environment, and their good cheer and entrepreneurial spirit blend into the city’s ethos. Their food is distinctive and many Aussie eateries create a bonhomie that stressed-out New Yorkers crave.
New York restaurant consultant Clark Wolf says New Yorkers are attracted to Down Under eateries because “they offer the best ingredients” and that often boils down to “seafood, seafood, and more seafood.”
Furthermore, Wolf says, “For Australians eating out is a celebration and so it is for New Yorkers.” New York City restaurants either make diners feel “like they’re in New York or transported across the world.”
A Native of Queenscliff, Australia, located 100 miles south of Melbourne, 37-year-old Tim Harris grew up in a restaurant family because his dad owned one. He moved to New York City in 2007 to work at the Australian Restaurant Group, which ran Sunburnt Cow in the East Village (which closed in 2014 after Hurricane Sandy) and stayed.
With partner and fellow Aussie Matilda Boland, he raised $750,000 in 2013 to open Burke & Wills, a fine-dining Australian eatery on the Upper West Side. It’s an upscale eatery with an average dinner price of $120 a couple.
Harris describes the menu as “seasonal and product-driven, specializing in fresh food, with influences of the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia. We serve kangaroo, Australian lamb, and Australian fish, such as Tasmanian ocean trout.” Harris says the kangaroo burger is prepared with a little pork to add some fat since kangaroo meat is so lean.
But it also adopts to American tastes, serving standbys grilled chicken and grilled salmon, and offering happy hours with $1 oysters served at the bar and sophisticated cocktails at its upstairs lounge, Manhattan Cricket Club. “On the Upper West Side, you can’t open a restaurant without serving salmon and chicken,” he says.
What contributes to making it authentically Down Under is its all-Australian wine list and Aussie beers, Coopers and Fosters. And Harris says the “warm, welcoming, generous atmosphere” is truly indicative of Down Under.
Five of his 16 full-time employees are Australians. “They’re great at telling stories, and people are interested in Australia, because it’s one of those places on those bucket list destinations. You get this level of personal engagement that you don’t get in a run-of-the mill restaurant,” Harris explains.
But not all Australian restaurateurs think alike. When Jamie Toll raised $700,000 to open Northern Territory in an industrial area near the waterfront in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 2014, he wanted to avoid expected Aussie cuisine. Northern Territory doesn’t serve kangaroo because Toll says “most Australians don’t eat kangaroo; it’s cheap game meat.”
When the Australian dollar strengthened after the 2008 economic crisis in the U.S., Toll says it made raising money easier. Raising half a million from Australians would have cost close to a million several years before the crisis.
The 41-year-old Toll, who worked at fine-dining eateries such as Tetuysa in Sydney and WD-50 and Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City, says Northern Territory seats 150 people on three levels and includes a rooftop bar with a dazzling view of Manhattan. It serves Australians meat pies and barbecue lamb, chicken, and shrimp, and offers Aussie desserts such as pavlova, a blend of cream, meringue and fruits.
He named it Northern Territory as an inside joke since it refers to the outskirts of Australia, which fits since the restaurant is located in Brooklyn, on the outskirts of Manhattan.
About 30 percent of his staff is Australian and they contribute to creating a “generous” atmosphere. Toll says if you ask an Australian for feedback at an eatery, he’ll say nice things, but New Yorkers will say “straight to your face if they’re having a problem with something.” Hence, “You have to think on your feet and problem solve.”
His target audience at Northern Territory consists of locals, mostly Millennials, aged 21 to 37, tourists who come for the view, and Australians who read about it in the local press. A recent description in New Yorker’s dining pages raised its profile, attracted hundreds of people to its Instagram pages, and “legitimized” us, Toll says.
Australians are attracted to living in New York City. “It’s what we aspire to. It’s the capital of the world,” Toll reveals.
But making it in New York isn’t easy. Harris from Burke & Wills says to succeed as a New York restaurateur, “You need to work seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day for the first three years. If you’re not prepared to do that, don’t open a restaurant.”