Head beyond the CBD and discover why these neighbourhood eateries are the cool kids on the block.
As the sibling of both Smolt restaurant in Salamanca and Frank on Hobart’s waterfront, Smolt Kitchen has some serious pedigree. Featuring a Memphis-style interior with bold colours and shapes, it’s a haven for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Come early and try the mushroom brioche with crisp bacon and smoked tomato relish or house-made rye toast with seasonal jam. Dropping in for lunch or dinner? The lamb and currant meatballs are served with yoghurt, harissa, fig and pomegranate seeds. The house wines are good, too: the Smolt Crisp Tasmanian White and Smolt Tasmanian Dry Red are crafted by award-winning winemaker Nick Glaetzer.
107-109 Hill Street, West Hobart; (03) 6231 0828
Opened last year by Isabella Lubiana (daughter of renowned winemaker Stefano Lubiana) and her partner, Joel Edwards, this friendly neighbourhood pizza joint is just north of MONA. And, yes, there is art in a good pizza. The crust is thin, the pizzas are wood-fired and the choices include White Guy (fine slices of zucchini, garlic, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and parsley) and the Sting (free-range salami, honey, Taleggio, mozzarella and chilli flakes). You can grab a bottle of Stefano’s biodynamic reserve merlot or sauvignon blanc but they do serve other Tassie wines. And if there are no seats to be had, get a takeaway pizza and head to the MONA rooftop.
￼52 Maroni Road, Berriedale; (03) 6249 3573
￼Blending heritage sandstone with contemporary design, this popular diner in Bellerive village has seating inside and out and views across to the marina. Start with a Beautiful Isle riesling from the Tamar Valley and guacamole with flatbread while you ponder the menu. Locals come for the burgers so try the classic cheeseburger or the fried chicken burger with kimchi mayo and pickled veg. Add a side of sweet potato with fetta and chimichurri, charred corn or cauliflower nuggets. There are quesadillas, too – of the juicy, slow-roasted pork, pink onions and chipotle mayonnaise variety.
12 Cambridge Road, Bellerive; (03) 6244 7529
Little Black Pig & Sons
The all-Italian-produce party known as cucina rustica makes its home in Heidelberg, in Melbourne’s north-east, thanks to Little Black Pig & Sons’ menu that changes weekly, often daily, in the spirit of working with the seasons. From the antipasto of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with herbs and cheeses to the primi of pitch-perfect pasta (go for the ravioli fatti a mano, luscious with burnt butter), it’s a kitchen simpatico with the brief. The secondi (rolled pork belly with toffee-crisp crackling is the must-order) and dolci (hello tiramisu) are no slouches either. The shopfront on Heidelberg’s main drag enforces the message that this place is a step up for the ’hood, while inside it’s a slick vision of contemporary dining with a high-low mix of exposed brick walls and linen-clad tables.
48 Burgundy Street, Heidelberg; (03) 9459 9114
What restaurant doesn’t have a website these days? Shira Nui, for starters. This Glen Waverley stalwart, dishing up impeccably crafted Japanese dishes since 2003, has no time for such newfangled distractions. And who can blame them when the humbly decorated eatery is reliably full of diners crossing chopsticks over gyoza and karaage chicken and dipping into chawanmushi? The main action is at the horseshoe-shaped omakase counter, where you get a ringside seat to witness the owner, sushi master Hiro Nishikura, create nigiri sushi of miso-grilled ocean trout, flame-licked oyster and cured kingfish belly. The multi-course menu is deservedly popular so make sure you book. Use the phone – they have one of those.
247 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley; (03) 9886 7755 ￼
￼Dining in the Dandenongs got a much-needed shot of adrenaline when The Independent opened a few years ago. A renovated mechanic’s garage that attracts locals and families piling off the Puffing Billy steam train, it defies pigeonholing and lets diners choose their speed. Owner-chef Mauro Callegari’s Argentinian heritage is a thematic guide rather than strict rulebook. Beef empanadas and wickedly sizzling provolone slathered with chimichurri make good table mates for fried chicken jazzed up with spicy-smoky eggplant purée, corn kernels, palm heart and green chilli or lozenges of pork belly with apple and toasted sunflower seeds. The kickers? The all-day menu and kid-friendly beer garden.
79 Main Street, Gembrook; (03) 5968 1110
The Black Toro
On a busy weekend night when slow-moving cars search for that elusive parking space, you could be forgiven for thinking Glen Waverley has declared itself a separate state to Melbourne’s CBD. And the likes of the Mexican-leaning Black Toro are a good reason to eschew the city. At his bustling bistro deep in the heart of the Glen, chef Garen Maskal, a former Teage Ezard protégé, spins a neat line in new-wave Latino, splicing its street-food soul with restaurant values. The ubiquitous grilled corn on the cob is haunted by the smoky opiate of chipotle mayo, and the pulled pork taco saddles up with cabbage, sour cream and lime. Flavour horizons are pushed with an East-West spanner crab tostado with yuzu, avocado and tobiko (flying fish roe) and the barbecued baby chicken in a luscious tamarind caramel glaze. Beware only of sticky fingers.
79 Kingsway, Glen Waverley; (03) 9561 9696
Three brothers with a passion for food and wine open a restaurant in their ’hood and become critical darlings. That’s the short version of the story behind O.My, a singular little eatery in Melbourne’s south-east where the Bertoncello brothers – two in the kitchen and one on the floor doubling as maître d’ and sommelier – wow all those who enter the former butcher shop. The siblings are keen gardeners and foragers and the dégustation menu sticks faithfully to the seasons, whether it’s the autumnal pine mushrooms with kingfish in a gelatinous broth with lemon gel and fresh finger lime; the whole-veg approach of cauliflower (slow-baked florets, velouté and fried leaves, with grapes and red wine gel); or the braised lamb shoulder with garlic purée.
23 Woods Street, Beaconsfield; (03) 9769 9000
Australian Capital Territory
Otis Dining Hall
With a chef’s hat and Chef of the Year award under his belt just a year after opening his first solo venture, Damian Brabender has put the less fashionable part of Kingston back on the culinary map. This elegantly proportioned, European-style space rocks baronial wood panels and gleaming brass, with service as polished as the cutlery. The menu is a constantly changing thing of beauty but succulent pepper steak is a staple that never disappoints. No distracting frippery here, just chips and gravy – actually, silkwood brandy jus, the intensity of which is the perfect match for the tender Blue Mountains-raised Wagyu beef. Finish with the crème caramel – a triumph with lingering flavours of whisky and smoky sea salt.
29 Jardine Street, Kingston; (02) 6260 6066
Devotees of this dynamic neighbourhood bistro breathed a sigh of relief when new owner Gus Armstrong (of Eightysix in Braddon) reopened it after giving it a stylish face lift and a sensational menu of modern European dishes. Lucky locals can stroll here but easy parking makes it a doddle for other Canberrans seeking an unpretentious yet sophisticated repast. For weekend brunch, relax outdoors with a reviving Bloody Mary, followed by a tender bagel with smoked salmon and feather-light horseradish ricotta shot through with tiny capers. At dinner, head indoors to the open-plan dining area and watch the hectic kitchen prepare dishes such as sumptuous beef sirloin and flawless frites with imagination and flair. ￼
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie; (02) 6257 4334
Weston Creek isn’t a typical destination for travellers but Baitong’s Lao sausage stuffed with pork, galangal and herbs is calling. This no-frills Laotian/Thai restaurant is tucked behind a shopping centre and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Locals in the know go back time and again for their fix of sticky rice and authentic Laotian dishes such as larb (minced meat) flavoured with roasted rice powder, chilli and lemongrass or marinated and grilled strips of pork neck served with sweet, tangy tamarind sauce. A king prawn salad with kaffir lime and homemade chilli paste packs some serious punch and taro with steamed sticky rice and coconut cream is a sweet way to finish.
Shop 13, Cooleman Court, Brierly Street, Weston Creek; (02) 6287 7735
Pho Phu Quoc
When you walk through the door at Pho Phu Quoc, chances are you’ll be greeted with a cheerful, “Hello, darling!” Sue Le rarely forgets a face and loves nothing more than welcoming new ones to her humble family Vietnamese restaurant. Le runs the show at these new Dickson premises, which are large, loud and colourful (check out the sea-themed terrariums). Hungry Canberrans travel across town just to get a fix of the spring rolls and steaming hot bowls of pho bo – soup packed with soft rice-noodle ribbons, rare beef and mint. Be sure to order the pepper fish and the sautéed water spinach. Wash it down with a cold beer.
5 Badham Street, Dickson; (02) 6249 6662
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Rogue Bistro￼ ￼
If it wasn’t for the cheery strip of bright-green artificial grass, the café umbrellas and the obligatory neighbourhood pups tethered out front, this bistro in the backblocks of Newstead might easily be overlooked. Like the simple, understated lines of its contemporary, chic interior, the menu is refreshingly devoid of pomposity. Start with the squid served with miso caramel and Kewpie mayo and a scattering of succulents. For mains, it’s a choice between “cow”, “pig”, “game”, “vegetable”, “bird” and “fish”, which includes hearty treats like twice-cooked duck leg with beetroot, roast cauliflower and chèvre, and pork belly with brûléed apple, Brussels sprouts, speck and honey-parsnip purée. Go for the whole “ark” (three animals and three sides to share) if you dare. When it comes to dessert, you’ll need to ensure the Gaytime vanilla crème profiteroles are on your side of the table.
14 Austin Street, Newstead; (07) 3257 0227
Martha Street Kitchen
Camp Hill locals are sitting pretty with a sweet dining precinct that’s sprung up in recent years along Martha Street – and Italian-influenced Martha Street Kitchen is a firm favourite. They’d probably like to keep the perfect pasta dishes to themselves, especially the duck ragù pappardelle with olives and peppered mascarpone, the gnocchi with cauliflower and gremolata and the classic orecchiette with broccoli and chilli. The pizzas have lovely rustic, charred bases and while the toppings stray a little from the traditional – there’s (gasp) Hawaiian – just try finding a better margherita or salami pizza on this side of town. And if those pesky locals have nabbed all the tables at dinnertime, sneak in early for a breakfast pizza with bacon and fried eggs and a well-brewed cup from Sunshine Coast roaster Sunday’s Coffee Co.
Shop 1/4 Martha Street, Camp Hill; 0431 295 102
Deer Duck Bistro
The décor looks like that of any other suburban bistro – in 19th-century Paris, that is. A series of interconnected dining rooms house a delightful collection of antique tables, mismatched velvet chairs, old silver cutlery, crystal whisky decanters and gilt-framed hunting scenes. But there’s nothing old-fashioned about the food. Creative chefs’ tasting menus may include thin slices of raw black kingfish with house-made buttermilk, potato crisp, pickled onion and locally foraged sorrel. In contrast to the delicate fish comes a woozily tender cube of suckling pig with Granny Smith apple, mussels, smoked paprika aïoli and various incarnations of celeriac for texture. As good as these are, the best is yet to come in a dessert of caramelised milk ice-cream with a buttery almond biscotto and rhubarb.
396 Milton Road, Auchenflower; (07) 3870 8482
It’s not exactly a dream location, wedged between a bus shelter and a pathology lab on a busy main drag, but Cinco Bistro has had a loyal following for more than a decade. So owner-chef Peter Stubbs clearly knows what he’s doing. Menus are a beautiful balance of classic European and seasonal mod-Oz. Mushroom and foie gras tartlet with porcini velouté and port wine syrup has been on the menu for years – with good reason. It’s earthy, hearty comfort food at its classiest. A salad of watermelon, haloumi, pomegranate, radicchio and mint is light, fresh and pretty. The same goes for almond mousse with peach and plum soup, mango sorbet and shards of mango “glass”. Interiors are every bit as welcoming and stylish as those of its city counterparts. ￼
589 Old Cleveland Road, Camp Hill; (07) 3843 6666
Did you hear the one about the lively small bar in East Fremantle that took its food as seriously as its drinks? No? Good. That’s how locals like it, lest they’re forced to share this treasure of a neighbourhood hangout with too many out-of-towners. Business and life partners Melissa Palinkas and Susan Whelan are all about showing folks a good time, whether it’s feeding their guests ace housemade charcuterie (truffled mortadella, say, or cacciatore sausage made out of mutton) and wood-roasted octopus or keeping the mood buoyant with fun cocktails and smart wines. Those big flavours boom through to the finish, with deep-fried white-chocolate ice-cream evoking the ghosts of suburban Chinese restaurants past.
48 George Street, East Fremantle; (08) 6424 9500
Sarawak Hawker Cuisine￼
Leach Highway and its surrounding suburbs have long offered rich pickings. While Perth’s south-eastern corridor boasts plenty of benchmark dishes – loh bak at Fook Kee in Thornlie, say, or Bateman Chinese Malaysian Cuisine’s fish-head mee hoon – this packed hawker centre delivers across the board. The chicken rice, all fragrant and giving in texture, is one of the state’s finer specimens, while the popularity of its kolo mee (a hillock of house-made noodles topped with pork, prawns and fishballs) isn’t just limited to Sarawakian expats. A winning combo of bright tamarind and rich coconut milk, the Sarawak-style laksa is a thrilling version of this oft-maligned food-court standard.
Shop 3/41 Burrendah Boulevard, Willetton; (08) 9313 5457
￼Few things fill the heart (and stomach) with joy like a great neighbourhood pizzeria. The good people of Perth have plenty of great locals where they can get their pizza fix: Monsterella in Wembley and Neighbourhood Pizza in Mount Hawthorn, for example. The club’s newest member is Rossonero, a casual and cosy pizza joint in a former garage. You bring the booze and owners Natalie Atkins and Fil Pakioufakis will take care of the rest. The greeting is sincere, the olives are on the house and the pizzas, made with slow-fermented dough, are some of the city’s most elegant. Names hint at Rossonero’s strong sense of fun. The Dr McCreamy combines speck and rosemary on a cream base, while the So Broccolicious (broccolini, fetta, chilli) is one of several vegetarian options.
18 Lyric Lane, Maylands; 0411 492 295
Trang’s Café & Noodle House￼
As you’d expect from Perth’s Vietnamese heartlands, Girrawheen and neighbouring Marangaroo continue to serve the west’s truest tastes of Indochina. Start your crash course in Vietnamese Cuisine 101 at Newpark Shopping Centre. While sandwich fanciers delight in ranking the bánh mì sold by delis such as Nhu Loan, Vung Tau and BMT, public opinion puts Trang’s at the top of the pho leaderboard. Much of its popularity can be attributed to the broth – deep, comforting and a study in both savour and spice. Just add thick rice noodles and beefy all-sorts. Daily specials like the French-leaning bo kho (beef stew) are worth hitting the road for, as are the lemon sodas and avocado milkshakes.￼
11/70 Marangaroo Drive, Girrawheen; (08) 9247 3880
New South Wales
One Penny Red
Housed in the stunning heritage-listed former Summer Hill post office (circa 1900), One Penny Red brings the sophistication and joy of finer dining to the suburbs – minus the pomp and ceremony. Step inside the dining room and be greeted by warm timber floorboards, classic furnishings and a bar that’s great for solo diners. Co-owner David Murphy’s wine list is as accessible as it is adventurous, while chef RJ Lines crafts a considered play on contemporary cuisine that champions produce as much as it lets deliciousness reign. Crisp rye bread hosts beautifully grilled sardine fillets with tomato, parsley and garlic cream. Finger lime adds an exclamation to textural grass-fed beef tartare, while roast chicken lands on a ladle of bread sauce with duck-fat-roasted Brussels sprouts for a finger-licking good time.
2 Moonbie Street, Summer Hill; (02) 9797 8118
Every suburb needs a great Italian but surely Via Alta takes “local” to a new level. Risotto savant Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio) and head chef Alex Keene are paying homage to the Italian trattoria – and drawing crowds from all over Sydney. A decorative palette of trad bistro furniture, bright-green walls and a giant chalkboard menu set the scene for the big, bold flavours of Italy’s north to shine. The dishes may be classics but they’ve been given a refined touch without losing their punch. Start with a nonna-style eggplant parmigiana or delicate pickled sardines with pine nuts. Blue swimmer crab and peas bring lightness to gnocchi, while Taleggio raises the risotto roof. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re in northern Italy, not Sydney’s North Shore.
197 High Street, Willoughby; (02) 9958 1110
The Rice Den
St Leonards hasn’t historically screamed “food destination” but The Rice Den, with its lively atmosphere, sharp service and some of the best Cantonese food in Sydney, makes a great case for altering our culinary perceptions. Textured wooden tables and chairs, and floral wallpaper give the room a smart-casual vibe, while Cantonese-inspired cocktails get the crowd humming. Owner-chef Roy Chan delivers a lighter, modern interpretation of Cantonese food that hasn’t forgotten the building blocks of this exciting cuisine. Start with prawn har gow dumplings, stir-fried duck san choi bao and steamed Hervey Bay scallops with XO sauce. Then move on to the more substantial honey-glazed pork neck, five-spice fried calamari with pickled ginger mayonnaise and steamed barramundi with ginger and shallots. Bring a group and order big.
30-32 Chandos Street, St Leonards; (02) 9438 3612
The vision of chef Ibrahim Kasif, this two-storey spice temple – arguably the best Turkish restaurant Down Under – is inspired by a traditional Turkish tavern but delivered with an Australian aesthetic. Enter via the original (and kitsch) 1950s purple and pink Marie-Louise hair salon façade and grab a seat at the marble-top bar or follow the sounds of groups upstairs taking the magic-carpet ride of Kasif-style Turkish. Mussels are stuffed with fragrant rice and the grilled mackerel sandwich with lettuce and pickled turnips is a must-order. A salad of walnuts, tomatoes, and chilli with pomegranate vinaigrette is followed by grilled sheep’s-milk cheese with a spicy fermented Turkish sausage, while fried eggplant provides a foundation for paprika- and garlic-coated chicken cooked over charcoal. Stanbuli is all about great food and generous portions – what more do you need?
135 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 8624 3132
Pazar Food Collective
We’ve seen a lot of kooky culinary mash-ups (with most adding “con” to “fusion”) but Pazar Food Collective is an anomaly. Restaurateur Attila Yilmaz has found balance and harmony through the sultan’s smoke beneath a spicy sombrero. And this modern-industrial glimpse into real Australia is an astonishing find. Embodying all the energy of a house party, Pazar sees punters swig sangria served from the quirky bar and communal tables groaning with a finger-licking feast. Sugar-maple labne is gently smoked and crowned with a salsa of chiltepil, sesame and pepita. Harissa-rubbed chicken is wood-roasted then nestled on a bed of hummus, while tostadas help lift a scallop aguachile ceviche. It’s some of the most exciting food in Sydney right now.
325 Canterbury Road, Canterbury; (02) 8964 9334
The Crafers Hotel￼
Take a historic but slightly shabby suburban hotel in the Adelaide Hills, give it a total makeover and add a highly accomplished chef and access to an enormous wine cellar. That explains why The Crafers is filled most nights, mainly by locals but increasingly by customers from around the hills and across the city. Chef Anna Kittel’s French-influenced menu ranges from a classic steak frites or seafood bouillabaisse to the house pie and charcoal-oven-cooked lamb rack with kipfler potatoes. You can spend a little on the usual pub grub of burgers and schnitzels (accompanied by an Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc) or blow more than $1000 on a Burgundy. Choose your own adventure.￼
4 Main Street, Crafers; (08) 8339 2050
The Pot by Emma McCaskill
For the past 19 years, The Pot has seen itself as an authentic neighbourhood restaurant where growers, winemakers, family and customers are all part of a community that enjoys its intimate environment. Now, under new chef Emma McCaskill, who brings a flexible daily menu that draws on her experience in a number of top kitchens, its reputation has surged. A selection of smaller dishes ranges from a chuck steak cheeseburger to a sophisticated steamed and deep-fried Chinese bun filled with aged taleggio and raclette. The season’s style shines through in the fresh asparagus with labne and a sprinkle of burnt leek ash and the whole wood-oven-roasted yellowfin whiting. Summer never tasted so good.
160 King William Road, Hyde Park; ￼ (08) 8373 2044
It’s not easy to stand out in a neighbourhood where restaurants are plentiful but Stone’s Throw succeeds, mostly because of head chef Quentin Whittle’s eclectic menu that borrows from many food cultures with rare confidence and ease. While the conservatory-style surroundings are spartan white, each dish is a blaze of colour. Thickly cut Port Lincoln kingfish sashimi sits next to grilled local octopus with a thick charred-tomato vinaigrette; fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fontina and porcini are at home with an elaborate, towering green mango salad. This is confident cooking, each dish coherent and authentic though vastly different from its neighbour. And there’s a great bar at the front for pre- and post-prandial drinks.
￼127 The Parade, Norwood; (08) 8333 1007
Memories of India
From suburban Millner to Melbourne; such was the success of this Darwin restaurant that last year the owner opened a Victorian branch. But, thankfully for Darwin, the original remains reliably good. Although there’s a slight nod to India in the décor, the food is truly the focus – which probably explains why so many Indian families are among its regulars. It’s the kind of place where old hands rattle off the order without referring to the menu: tandoori chicken tikka, goat masala (on the bone, of course), palak paneer, Goan fish curry, stuffed naan. Oh, and an ice bucket and four glasses, please. The dine-in service is quick but there’s often a queue for takeaway so plan ahead if possible.
￼ 5/2 Sabine Road, Millner; (08) 8948 0800
It’s not the cheapest night out but it sure is fun. Set your cynicism aside and give in to the corny jokes and childish pleasure of catching a bowl of rice tossed from a metre away. The dinner-plus-slapstick routine at Oka Teppanyaki may sound gimmicky but even tofu develops personality when it’s fried on the teppanyaki grill until it’s golden and crusty on the outside, creamy in the middle then doused with miso sauce. And is there a better way to cook fat scallops? Perfectly seared, mere seconds from appearing on the plate. Prawns, chicken, fish and steak (upgrade to Wagyu if you please) get similar treatment. There’s also a decent à la carte menu and what may be Darwin’s best range of saké. ￼
11/34 Parap Road, Parap; (08) 8941 5453
Top image: O.My