The Queen Adelaide is a railway dining car from a different era. A white-tablecloth restaurant that is one of three eating options aboard the Ghan, a train line that traverses the Australian Outback, it evokes an age when rail travel featured comfortable beds, fine dining, and days-long sojourns through uncharted territory. Rather than utilitarian, heat-and-serve snacks, The Queen Adelaide offers a menu inspired by Australia’s native flora and fauna, including dishes such as crocodile sausage, grilled Australian barramundi fish, and quandong (Australian wild peach) pancakes.
Enjoying the restaurant is part of a multi-day, multi-stop travel experience through the heart of the continent. Travelers can choose itineraries that range from a simple overnight journey from Darwin to Alice Springs to a two-week trans-continental trip from Adelaide to Darwin and back. On the way, travelers can stop for a tour of a Top End cattle farm, explore the Outback town of Alice Springs, and eat a Greek lunch underground with the opal miners of Coober Pedy. The remote township, known as “The Opal Capital of the World,” has a strong Greek cultural influence, thanks to Greek miners who came to strike it rich in the 1950s and ’60s, digging out underground houses to avoid the desert sun. Whichever route travelers choose, they are guaranteed a physical tour of Australia’s remote Outback—and a culinary tour of its native flavors, thanks to The Queen Adelaide.
More than a journey through the contemporary landscape, the Ghan is also a window into an often-overlooked history. When European-Australian colonists first encountered the South Australian Outback, they found a seemingly impenetrable wilderness, whose dry climate forbid exploration by horseback. Their solution? They imported camels. Camel handlers came with them: Several thousand skilled cameleers, mostly from modern-day North India and Afghanistan, whose knowledge of both desert terrain and their dromedary charges were fundamental to the colonization of Southern Australia.
While traveling on the Ghan Express, the train line named for these early sojourners, is nothing like those rough early days, the route offers a rare opportunity to explore the same remote Australian terrain. The Queen Adelaide’s focus on indigenous ingredients, from bush tomatoes (a native nightshade species related to tomato and eggplant) to kangaroo steaks, points to the animals and plants encountered by these early travelers, and to the culinary traditions of Aboriginal people who have been sustaining themselves in the Outback for centuries.
The chefs of the Queen Adelaide Restaurant don’t face the same challenges as early Afghan cameleers cooking in the bush, but making 500 canapes on a bumpy train is no joke. The rotating daily menu reflects each stage of the train journey: buffalo curry in the north, in an homage to the 19th-century introduction of the animal to the region; apricots in honor of Afghan cameleers; Kangaroo Island lamb in the South. It’s a fitting tribute to the diverse natural landscapes and flavors that most travelers to Australia may otherwise choose to fly over.