After the Olympics, time to go for the grub

Most folks went here for the Olympics. I went to eat. And for the thousands who poured from the stadiums and stayed on for a holiday, it's food they have on their minds now, not medals.

Australian cuisine can be baffling - simple and unadorned at one restaurant; unexpectedly sophisticated at the next - much like the Aussies themselves. When traveling to this cosmopolitan city, prepare for a singular experience on the plate - and in the heart and belly.

Remember that Australia is the cradle of fusion cuisine, emanating from the Regency Culinary College in Adelaide. Alumni who have made their mark as globally renowned chefs include Graham Kerr, Jeremiah Tower, Andrew Fielke, and Cheong Lieu. For those lingering on after the Games, it's time to regear those palates for some truly eclectic eating.

Unusual shellfish like Balmain "bugs" (local slipper lobsters), 15 kinds of oysters, and wonderful cheeses and apples from Tasmania are readily available. Exotic fruits and nuts from Queensland's orchards, prime vegetables, Devonshire-like cream from the rolling tablelands, plus ocean and freshwater fish from the perimeter of the continent, make for a dazzling bounty .

Here are some of the restaurants in Sydney that will give you an idea of the fascinating diversity of the Australian dining experience. Warning: Dining in Australia is expensive, partly due to the custom of only one "turn" per table per night. This means that whether you arrive at 6:30 or 9 p.m., the table is yours for the entire evening.

Merrony's, Circular Quay. Tel: 9247-9323

I first met Paul Merrony in 1991 at the Ritz Carlton Cultural Festival in Boston. Along with another culinary wunderkind, Neill Perry, Mr. Merrony was introducing the skeptical Beantown to the new marvels of what he calls in his recently published book, "The New French CoOking" [sic] in Australia. My own take of his menus would be "Grande-Mere's Favorite Grandson Becomes a Chef." French food is seldom thought of as comfort food, but in Merrony's talented hands, each carefully crafted dish satisfies both palate and soul.

The Wock Pool, Darling Harbor. Tel: 9211-9888

The casual offspring of Mr. Perry's world-famed "Rockpool" on the Rocks in Sydney. Less formal than the original "Rock," the "Pool" is chic, noisy, and nobly honors Perry's inimitable touch with "Oz Nouveau" cuisine.

Edna's Table, 204 Clarence Street. Tel: 9267-3933

An experience not to be missed. The menu is a homage to the recent spotlight on aboriginal "Bush Cuisine." Owner-chef Raymond Kersh and his sister, Jennice, are "originals" and personify Australian hospitality. The food is superb, albeit exotic for many palates. Many mysterious little sauces appear with each course, and one I enthused about came to the table with the recipe furled around the dish.

Paramount, Potts Point. Tel: 9358-1652

Chef/owner and author Christine Manfield is known as the Queen of Spice, has developed an eating milieu well-suited to fiery flavors. The sleek, hard-edged decor of both the restaurant and its companion take-away shop across the street are cool venues for the bursting flavors of Manfield's complex, marvelous cuisine.

The Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral Beach. Tel: 9969-5050

Once a swimmer's changing shed, this delightful harbor-side restaurant is the joint genius of chef Genevieve Harris and designer Victoria Alexander. The menu is the best example of contemporary Australian cuisine in Sydney, melding Asian, Mediterranean, and Indian influences.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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