Australia’s fabled outback remains one of the most remote regions in the world, beckoning explorers and adventurers for centuries. Together with the bush, it is home to a fascinating range of animals native to the nation’s vast states and territories. In the country’s more populous areas, a famed wine industry continues to flourish, featuring more than 100 distinct grape varieties.
A dream culinary destination for wine lovers, foodies and people planning a trip to Australia, visitors to this sunburnt island have the unique opportunity to sample native Australian meats like emu, wallaby and camel alongside refined wines crafted after the regions of their origins.
Here, we discuss the best native Australian meats and pair them with examples of some of the country’s most exciting wines. All the wines that are recommended in this article should be available in the UK market. The wines are marked with £ signs which refer to the following price ranges:
£ = £10 to £15
££ = £15 to £25
£££ = £25+
Similar in both taste and texture to a very lean cut of beef, emu meat has been enjoyed by Australians for centuries. Despite being relatively unknown outside of the country, emu is a delicious and incredibly heart-healthy red meat – 97% fat free and packed with iron and vitamin C. Its high protein content and low level of cholesterol make it ideal for discerning health-conscious diners who don’t want to compromise on taste.
Look for fan, top loin and inside strip cuts for the tenderest meat and only cook to a rare or medium-rare doneness in order to avoid drying out this lean meat. Perfect for throwing on the barbie, mild flavoured emu goes especially well with sweet marinades of honey, soy sauce, ginger or garlic.
Australia’s most famous native bird calls for an equally classic Australian wine combo, and what could be more Aussie than a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz? Often referred to as the Great Australian Red, the richness of the Cabernet and spice of the Shiraz make a perfect match for a smoky, barbecued Emu steak.
Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz Cabernet (South Australia) is a classic, sweet fruit and soy characters meld seamlessly. £££
Wirra Wirra Church Block Shiraz – Cabernet – Merlot (McLaren Vale) is another Australian household name, ripe mulberry fruit with spicy on the finish. £
Perfect for slightly more adventurous foodies, ostrich is a low calorie, low cholesterol red meat that has 40% less fat than beef and much more flavour! Its taste is sweeter and richer than most red meats, with a tangy gaminess that has been described as similar to venison mixed with wild turkey.
The best cuts for most preparations are the tender fan filet, tenderloin and top loin. Due to being leaner than beef, it is best cooked over high heat for just long enough to seal the meat and then prepared to a medium-rare or medium doneness to retain moisture. Some people compare it to a great filet mignon!
This gamy bird calls for vibrant wine flavours, so why not think outside the box with Australia’s growing band of “Alternative” grape varieties. These often originate from Mediterranean countries and are perfectly suited to Australia’s hot dry climate, much like the Ostrich itself.
Sangiovese from Coriole (McLaren Vale), the sour cherry and dark plum notes going well with the venison-like flavour of Ostrich. £
S.C Pannell Tempranillo- Touriga (McLaren Vale) is a juicy, fresh, slurpy little number using the two famous varieties from Spain and Portugal. £
Malbecs are also worth looking out for, a speciality of the Langhorne Creek region, top producers are Bremerton and Bleasedale.
Another lean meat best cooked for just a short time, kangaroo has a mild but distinct flavour that will appeal to people who enjoy gamy meats. The first Europeans to settle on Australia ate kangaroo out of necessity and it is now served as a somewhat controversial delicacy in high end Australian restaurants.
High in protein and low in fat (only 1 to 2 percent!), kangaroo meat is always wild. Barbecue or pan fry the strip loin or roast rump kebabs for best results! Try it paired with garlic, rosemary and pepper marinades, or, for a saucier dish, try with cooked plums, redcurrants or oranges.
Shiraz is as synonymous with Australia as the kangaroo, and it’s a happy coincidence that they make a great food and wine combo. Seek out the cooler climate versions from Victoria as they provide pepper and tannic bite along with the juicy blue fruits that make a great match with a rare roo steak.
Bests Bin 1 (Great Western) has layers of cracked black pepper and lip-smacking raspberry fruit. £
Innocent Bystander Syrah (Yarra Valley) has more of the white pepper (indicating a cooler climate) in a light, moreish style. £
Producers are increasingly labelling these wines Syrah not Shiraz to indicate a cool climate origin and style (it’s the same grape).
The petite wallaby boasts a richer burgundy colour and a more delicate flavour than its larger cousin, the kangaroo. Only sourced in the wild and comprised of less than 1% fat, it is the leanest meat on our list. Very low in cholesterol and high in protein and minerals, it is a great addition to any healthy diet.
Incredibly tender when cooked properly, the best cuts are the loin filet, porterhouse and leg filet. When braised and cooked for longer, the rump and shanks will not disappoint. Its delicate flavour can be easily overpowered, but it is delicious when paired with light fruity sauces.
The more delicate flavour of Wallaby requires a wine that whispers its flavours rather than shouting them. Step forward Pinot Noir, whose light body, silky texture and red cherry fruit flavours are a superb match for the delicate, lean meat of Wallaby.
The Mornington Peninsula in Victoria is Australia’s go-to region for Pinot, try Kooyong’s “Massale” Pinot Noir, full of plum and herbs. ££
Tasmania is making name for itself with this variety, Brown Brothers Devils Corner is astonishingly good value, a mouthful of summer fruits. £
Dry rose would also be a great match, of which there are an increasing number being made
Spinifex Rosé (Barossa Valley) is savoury, dry and full of white currant and cranberry fruits. ££
Nearly three decades after The Crocodile Hunter introduced people the world over to these magnificent native Australian animals, they have become a popular choice of meat among adventurous diners. Most often described as tasting like fish with a texture similar to a blend of scallops and chicken, its fleshy white meat is wholly unique.
Low in fat and high in protein, farm-raised Australian Saltwater Crocodile is best cooked in a similar manner to lean pork or chicken and it fantastic when grilled. The incredibly moist but bland tasting meat should be liberally seasoned with herbs and spices.
This moist but delicately flavoured white meat is calling out for a textural white wine with spicy notes. The new wave of modern Chardonnay, leaner and more mineral and savoury than in the past, would be perfect.
The Yarra Valley leads the way with this style and Oakridge is a stand-out producer, from its iconic 864 Chardonnay (£££) to Over the Shoulder (£).
Adelaide Hills is also producing some outstanding mod-Oz chardonnay, The Lane “The Beginning” Chardonnay being a benchmark. ££
The spicy, herbal Grüner Veltliner is making delicious white wines in the Adelaide Hills, for those looking for the texture and weight of Chardonnay but with less oak Hangdorf Hill is the leading producer, making a dry, citrusy, herbal Grüner Veltliner whose snappy acidity (excuse the pun!) would make it a great match for croc meat. ££
With over 20% of its territory being desert, Australia has the largest population of camels in the world. A fantastic source of protein and vitamin E, the best camel meat comes from young animals, as their meat becomes tougher over time. Known for being a delicious lean red meat, it tastes like a cross between lamb and beef.
Best when braised or roasted for several hours to break up its connective tissue and render its fat, it takes well to bold spices and smoky flavours. Tenderloin and filets can be grilled, but must be briefly cooked on very high heat to seal in the flavour and moisture.
This rich, strongly flavoured meat calls for a robust red with tannic force and rich fruit to match, enter Cabernet Sauvignon. The Classic region of Coonawarra delivers dark fruited Cabs with an earthy richness that would soak up a camel steak.
Balnaves is the name if you’re pushing the boat out, their “Tally” Cabernet Sauvignon is a masterpiece of power and elegance. £££
Wynns provide quality and value at all price points, their Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon surely one of the best value in the region, full of fleshy cassis fruit. £
Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon (Clare Valley) is one of the best value Cabernets in Australia and would give many wines at twice the price a run for their money. £
Restaurants that offer alternative meats
For those of you planning a trip to Australia, here are a handful of excellent restaurants where you can be sure to sample some of the country’s most exciting native meat and wine varieties.
This multiple award-winning restaurant in the coastal town of Cairns specialises in native game and alternative meats, along with local produce and fresh seafood. Try the Asian-style chargrilled kangaroo sirloin, the slow-roasted wallaby topside, or sample a variety of meats with their Australian game platter.
The only Aboriginal owned and operated cafe in Western Australia’s capital city of Perth, Kuditj is a casual eatery featuring a wide range of native meats cooked in mostly traditional styles. The house-named kaditj kangaroo burger is complemented by bush tomato relish and homemade aioli, while the hot crocodile roll is reminiscent of a New England lobster roll. Don’t miss the emu meatball sub with cheese and wild sauce!
Australia’s most densely-populated state, Victoria is better known for its gourmet produce than alternative meat, but Melbourne’s Tjanabi restaurant has been hailed for its commitment to serving indigenous Australian foods. The kangaroo fillet is fantastic, but for a real treat order the crumbed crocodile tail filet. Seasoned with coastal saltbush and fiery Tasmanian pepper, it’s a dish you won’t soon forget!
While spending time strolling down the long, picturesque beachfronts of Adelaide, routinely ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities, visit the elegant Orana restaurant and enjoy the best of Australian cuisine. Of particular note are is the kangaroo dish, ingeniously prepared with mountain pepper and ox eye daisy.
New South Wales
Camel Kingdom, Sydney
This casual neighbourhood joint in the nation’s capital serves – as its name suggests – a range of camel meat dishes. The hugely popular camel burger is nearly grease-free and made from camel meat and camel fat. But the restaurants best dish is the ultra-tender camel tenderloin steak, dry rubbed with a delicious blend of herbs and spices.
Outback Jack’s Bar & Grille, Darwin
Australia’s Northern Territory is known for its beautiful wildlife, scenic vistas and rugged outback culture. Outback Jack’s Bar & Grille in Darwin cooks up Native Australian fare with flair. For a genuine taste of the bush, order the Skippy Dundee kangaroo and crocodile skewers, chargrilled and seasoned to perfection.
Patrick Smith is an experienced traveller who has lived and studied Down Under and who works for the luxury tour operator Exsus. Patrick wrote this article together with Tim Wildman, a Master of Wine with a professional specialty in Australian wine and owner of Vineyard Safaris which offers premium one day wine tours in Australia.