Green ants on trifle, crazy water fish and a cheeky durian ice-cream… 2023’s best restaurant dishes weren’t shy.
Image credit: Nikki To
Snowflake mushroom on wasabi leaf at Kiln, NSW1/11
Kiln opened at Ace Hotel Sydney in late 2022 with bombast and bang. Yet its most enduring dish is perhaps its most low-key. A coral tooth, or snowflake, mushroom from Mother Fungus on the Mid North Coast is marinated in what chef Mitch Orr calls “the usual suspects” of soy, mirin, sake and ginger then grilled over the wood fire and placed at the centre of a Tasmanian wasabi leaf. “There’s not much to it,” adds Orr, though the look of delight on the faces of diners suggests there’s some kind of magic involved.
Image credit: Pixie Food & Wine, NSW
Barbecued diavola chook at Pixie Food & Wine, NSW2/11
This recipe is relatively simple, according to Matteo Tine, executive chef of Italian-ish restaurant Pixie in Byron Bay. “But it’s also a showstopper thanks to the punch of flavour,” he says of the chicken dish sizzled up with fermented chilli and salmoriglio. The kick comes from the chilli, of course, but it also gets a flavour hit from a two-day marination and charring process. If you’re lucky, Tine will have a secret stash of Trinidad scorpion and habañero sauce on offer behind the pass but be warned, adding this will spike spice levels to truly devilish heights.
Image credit: Dylan Evans Photography
Gondwana trifle at The Paddock, Qld3/11
“We’re on the edge of the Lamington National Park and there’s remnants in there of the ancient Gondwana forests,” says Simon Furley, executive chef at The Paddock at Beechmont Estate. “Because I’m British, I thought ‘trifle’ and put the two together.” The result is a dreamy layered dessert of bush lemon-infused jelly, Victoria sponge, local citrus and lemon myrtle custard with a sprinkle of anise myrtle and green ants on top. The fruits change seasonally. “People come up here for the hikes and beautiful waterfalls,” says Furley. “They love to sit down to a dessert that tells the story of where they’ve been that day.”
The caviar service at Institut Polaire, Tas4/11
Everyone seems to be doing some sort of fancy caviar service these days and at Hobart’s Institut Polaire, co-owner and creative director Louise Radman has pulled out all the stops. Choose between a sexy bump of sustainable Italian oscietra served alongside Süd Polaire vodka or indulge in the full condiment can-can with butter toasted brioche, chive crème fraîche and 65-degree cured egg yolk.
Cheese and bacon burger at Clam Bar, NSW5/11
Who goes to a fancy restaurant and orders a burger? You do – or you should – at kitschy-cool New York steakhouse riff Clam Bar in Sydney’s CBD. The folks here know a burger; it’s the same team that created the crowd-favourite cheeseburger at Potts Point’s Bistrot 916. This spin distills all your beefy, cheesy dreams into one double-handed package, juices things up with raw and caramelised onion cooked in smoked bacon fat, adds special sauce and stabs a knife through the centre for drama. By all means order a prawn cocktail or a Barnsley chop to round things out but this burger should be your north star.
Durian “Golden Gaytime” at Serai, Vic6/11
Chef Ross Magnaye has served a Filipino version of the classic Aussie ice-cream since Serai opened in central Melbourne in mid 2022. He regularly mixes up the flavouring but the durian version, with its layers of caramel and peanut and citrusy drizzle of calamansi, proved to be one of the biggest hits. Future flavours knocking around in Magnaye’s imagination? Milo is one; salted pumpkin and coconut another. Stay tuned.
New York-style chicken sando at Africola Canteen, SA7/11
Chicken sandwiches are worshipped across chef Duncan Welgemoed’s two Adelaide venues, the city’s Africola Soundsystem and Africola Canteen in Norwood. Virtually every table orders the crisp chicken with chicken skin and peri peri on white bread at Soundsystem, while between 200 and 300 of the poached chicken, mayo and kosher pickle version are snaffled up at Canteen per week. Welgemoed says he’s tried to take the Soundsystem sando off the menu for six years but fears the riots that would follow. The Canteen incarnation prompts similar passions from patrons. “We have people come in every day to eat it,” he says. “From office workers to ultra-hungover hospo staff needing something delicious, fresh and a little dirty to help them through their day.”
Image credit: Cassie Abraham
Acqua pazza fish at Such and Such, ACT8/11
There are quite a few bangers on the menu at Pilot’s colourful baby sibling in Canberra, including popcorn school prawns and the teeny, tiny one-bite kiwi dessert. But it’s the fish in acqua pazza, or crazy water, that’s the instant classic. It’s seafood – a little cod, a few mussels – in a gentle broth with some vegetables and a hint of chilli. Once you taste it, it’s clear that head chef Nick Peterson’s dish isn’t the slightest bit crazy.
Pad kra pao at BKK, Vic9/11
A good pad kra pao, or holy basil stir-fry, is one of Thailand’s greatest culinary gifts. When head chef Sungeun Mo of Melbourne’s BKK added a version to her menu midway through this year, the kitchen could barely keep up with demand. “We had to hire another wok chef,” she says with a laugh. “And buy more woks.”
Image credit: Yiamas
Pastourmadopitakia at Yiamas, WA10/11
The pastourmadopitakia, or Greek hand pie, at this popular Subiaco spot consists of a thin thatch of filo over the top of a savoury cheese and pastrami filling with a cool mint sauce on the side. It’s got a big name, packs big flavour and should be enjoyed as part of a massive Greek feast.
Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto