First, the bad news: much of the food for sale on Rottnest Island is terrible, and virtually all of it is expensive compared to mainland prices. But there are places on Rottnest where you can find good food that represents value for money, if you know where to go.
Our family of four travelled from Queensland to spend five days on Rottnest during the 2012 Christmas holidays. We took a family room at the Kingstown Barracks hostel, which gave us access to the hostel kitchen. I knew I would be preparing many of our meals at the hostel, but also allowed in our budget for some lunches out and a couple of 'treat' meals in nicer places.
My first challenge was to decide how to get groceries for the meals that I'd be preparing. My options were to shop in Perth or Fremantle and then take our provisions on the ferry, or to order online from the Rottnest General Store and have them deliver direct to the hostel. After checking out the general store's website – and its claim that prices are government-regulated to keep them fair – I decided to put convenience over economy and order from the general store.
I've stayed on lots of islands in Queensland and expected to pay a premium from the store, but even I was shocked at some of the prices charged on Rottnest. When my box of groceries arrived at the hostel, it looked very small for the $120 I had paid!
I'm sure the online order form told me this, but I hadn't realised when I paid $5 for apples that I'd only get two apples, or just how small some of the meat portions would be. On the other hand, the quality of what I bought was generally good, and the delivery service was fantastic.
Now, what about our takeaway food experiences? Well, the takeaway stores that we tried on Rottnest charged very high prices and the food was generally poor (this includes the local, allegedly 'iconic' Rottnest Bakery, and Quokka Joe's, where they charge $9 for a smoothie!).
Simmo's Ice-Cream was very yummy but also expensive, like most gourmet ice-cream outlets ($7 for two scoops). After a couple of days of bad, over-priced snack food, we started buying much better, over-priced provisions from the store again (e.g. hummus and crackers and the like).
We had much better experiences when dined in at more upmarket establishments. At Geordie Bay, the new Geordie's Cafe gave us a good, if expensive, lunch. Dinner at the formal Riva Restaurant at Rottnest Lodge cost a lot, but the food was generally nice and came with lovely surroundings.
And our favourite meal, at the Rottnest Hotel Bistro, was no more expensive than many mainland pub bistros and provided not just delicious food but stunning views. (Read my separate reviews of Geordie's, Riva and the Rottnest Hotel Bistro for more details.)
One of the disappointments of our Rottnest stay was the difficulty we had finding good local seafood at an affordable price. We had truly disgusting fish and chips at the local Dome (in fact, our entire Dome meal was one of the worst I have ever had, with bland microwaved offerings all round). We had better fish and chips at Geordie's, and the best at the Hotel Rottnest Bistro, where they had local whiting on the menu.
We were tempted to try Aristos Seafood on the waterfront, but were again put off by prohibitive prices and a lack of certainty about whether the seafood was fresh and local. (If anybody's dined at Aristos, I'd love to hear your feedback in the comment below.)
So, what's my advice overall? Well, self-cater as much as you can, and bring your provisions from the mainland if you are able.
If you're out and about and need a snack for morning tea or lunch, I'd stick with Simmo's for ice-creams and the general store for more substantial food. That way, you can save your dollars for the more upmarket establishments that actually offer better food and better value for money. And, out of those, our experience was that the Rottnest Hotel Bistro was the best.
Thanks for this timely update. I just booked to go to Rottnest on Tuesday. I planned to have lunch at the Hotel bistro as I usually do but it's been a while since I was last there and was wondering if new and better options awaited. After reading your article, it looks like I'll be sticking with the hotel. It costs enough just to get to Rotto without being ripped off more once you are there.
I headed to Rotto on Easter Monday for the first time in a couple of years - I couldn't believe it cost almost $200 for two of us and our bikes just to get there and back! Needless to say we packed our lunches...