Fine-Dine On The Wild Side—where to eat in Kakadu

It doesn’t have to be all billy tea and damper when you’re exploring the Northern Territory. Here’s the best place for a romantic meal in Kakadu: Mimi’s Restaurant, Cooinda.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda

Let’s face it, ‘going bush’ doesn’t mean what it used to. I mean, you can still grab a swag and a full water bottle, and trek into the big green yonder if you want, but you don’t have to.

As we travel through Kakadu National Park, one of the most magnificent natural treasures of Australia and a place we’ve been lucky enough to visit more than once, Christina and I are struck by how easy it is to get around.

We find immaculate roads, clear and relevant signage, and—as we pull into Cooinda Lodge—the realisation that ‘roughing it’ no longer needs to be part of your travel vocabulary in Kakadu.

That’s not to say this isn’t wild country or that you won’t experience the Australian Outback as it should be.

It’s just easier.

Book your accommodation in Cooinda here.

What is Cooinda?

Historically a central hub for explorers visiting Kakadu, Cooinda started out as a ’tent store’ in 1964. When crocodile hunter and self-proclaimed ‘bushy’ Tom Opitz, and his Londoner wife Judy set up shop, Cooinda was little more than a supply stop for adventurers to this remote part of the Top End.

Slowly, the site, whose name means ‘happy meeting place’ in Bininj Kunwok, developed into a motel of sorts, though most travellers stuck with their tents.

These days visitors can (and do) still camp here, but exploring the grounds of Cooinda, it’s clear that things have changed beyond anything that Tom or Judy would recognise as their pioneer whistle stop.

Everything—from basic camping to high-end luxury retreat-style safari lodge glamping—is available here. And with that, so the food offerings are just as wide-reaching.

Cooinda Lodge Kakadu NT - Yellow Water Villa's bed and nook

From coin-op self-catering barbecues and a food truck (actually, the fish and chips from the Too Deadly Takeaway is superb) to Mimi’s Restaurant, serving a range of bush-tucker inspired dishes, there’s something for everyone, which is kind of the point of Cooinda.

Mimi’s Restaurant, Cooinda Lodge Kakadu

As we take our seats at our pretty table, which is laid with native flowers, a locally-made scented candle and an Aboriginal artwork tablecloth, restaurant manager Chon comes to show us some gins from Willing Distillery in Darwin.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - Willing Distillery craft ginsWhere to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - locally made scented candle

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - chef and forager Krystle-dee Dalton

Chef and forager Krystle-Dee Dalton talks us through the dishes she’s prepared

The G&Ts he serves us go down a treat, cooling our blood and awakening our palates. The Desert Lime Gin is bright, sharp and herbal though with a drive of anise flavour that I’m not so keen on, but the Kakadu Plum and Quandong Gin is sweeter with more juniper and a floral finish that is excellent.

Willing Distillery is the most northerly distillery in Australia, just round he corner from Darwin Airport. But unless you’re in Darwin or Cooinda, you’re not likely to find this stuff. In fact Chon had to go to Darwin in person to pick up these bottles.

For dinner, we’re being treated to the tasting plate, which showcases the best of the bush tucker offerings here at Mimi’s.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - mixed platter

It’s a wonderful medley of local meat: buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile and barramundi.

Mimi’s Tasting Plate at Cooinda Lodge

Rum Jungle Buffalo Fillet and Bush Tomato Chutney
This is the first time we’ve tasted buffalo, and it comes as a thick-cut steak. It’s juicy and beefy, but with a slightly gamey finish. It’s the robust, satisfying meat I was hoping it would be

Kangaroo Fillet and Mango Quandong Chutney
The kangaroo, sliced into thin minute steaks, is delicate, surprisingly tender and has no gaminess at all. This really shows the talent of the kitchen

Salt and Pepper Crocodile and Lemon Myrtle Aioli
Fried in a tempura batter, the crocodile goujons are wonderful. Deliciously chewy with a crisp coating and a light, delicate flavour

Paperbark Barramundi with Mixed Marinated Olives
Smoked in locally sourced paperbark, the barramundi is incredible. The smoking has enhanced the light flavour of the fish rather than overtaking it, which you’d expect

This all comes with a bowl of very satisfying fries and spiced slaw.

As for dessert, we’re presented with exquisite domes of panna cotta, decorate with sweet fermented native bush apple and a sharp dusting of powdered Kakadu plum.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - panna cotta

What’s the rest of the food like at Cooinda?

While we’re here, Christina and I get a chance to try all of the food outlets, including the special menu that Head Chef Phillip Foote creates every now and again. It’s well worth having if there’s one of these menus available when you’re here.

For us, it’s the Taste of Full Moon menu, which is a riff on our tasting plates and with full servings rather than the small portions we had.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - special seasonal menuWhere to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - Full Moon buffalo and mozarella Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - kangaroo and carrot

As we mentioned earlier, the fish and chips (and the crocodile tacos Christina orders) from the Too Deadly Takeaway food truck is to die for, but the absolute standout for me is my dinner from the Barra Bar and Bistro.

The diner side of Mimi’s (you order from the kiosk outside rather than a la carte table service inside), the Barra Bistro has many of the pub classics on its menu.

My chicken parmie burger is quite possibly the best chicken burger I’ve had. Crisp crumbed tender chicken, perfectly melted oozy cheese, a generous serve of pickles, creamy tasty slaw and a bun that can somehow hold it all, plus a huge pile of fries—I’m in heaven.

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda - chicken parmie burger

Of all the things we were expecting to be impressed with on this trip of a lifetime to Kakadu, the food has surprised us.

I’m not saying only come to Kakadu for the food, but when you do come here, you might as well leave your billy tea and your damper kit at home!

Where to eat in Kakadu NT - Mimi's Restaurant, Cooinda

We dined at Cooinda Lodge as media guests of Kakadu Tourism and NT Tourism, but our experiences and opinions remain our own.

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