Snazzy sandwiches, high-end wine slushies and caviar bumps are just some of the latest crazes in food and drink.
When Attic a owner and chef Ben Shewry finds a new way to trick up the humble spud at his Yarra Valley pop-up, Attica Summer Camp, the food world scrambles to take notes . In this case, he’s reimagined the hasselback potato by scoring it on all sides – rather than the usua l thatch of grooves on top – and cooking it on a rotisserie over charcoal. Suddenly, this retro dinner-party staple is everywhere. On the right day, Ester in Chippendale, Sydney, does a version that’s crisped with smoked beef fat. And you could tr y the t aties at Bangalay Dining on the NSW South Coast, where they’re ser ved with labne a nd chives. We’re especially excite d to see if any chef dares venture into full 1980s hors d’oeuvre territory by reviving the sour cream and salmon roe garnish.
Chefs rely on the spoils of Mother Nature to feed us. Here’s how they’re repaying the favour.
Sydney’s new Re cocktail spot – a passion project for drinks maestro Matt Whiley and Icebergs’ Maurice Terzini in the revived industrial zone of South Eveleigh – claims to be the world’s first zerowaste bar. The toasties and flatbreads are made with sustainable ingredients and often overlooked offcuts and even the décor is fashioned from pineapple-leaf fibres and recycled bottles.
Focus on Lesser Fish
Josh Niland from Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, in Sydney’s Paddington, understands if you’re the type who always orders the salmon or the snapper. But he’d much prefer it if you branched out and tried a less-loved species that hasn’t been overfished– such as the smoky chargrilled Tommy Ruff (or Australian herring) served on a bed of fresh corn and chive sauce at his acclaimed fine-diner.
Farm to Kitchen and Back Again
At Port Cygnet Cannery in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, the produce tended by the team at its Gardners Bay Farm nearby makes two truck trips: one to the restaurant’s kitchens for preparation and the other when the waste scraps are returned to the farm to help fertilise the next round of crops. At Flock Eatery, in Brisbane’s Redcliffe, leftovers are fed to worms to power the Loop Growers organic market garden north-west of the city.
Eat the Weird Bits
Consuming all of the animal – even the bits that seem strange to the untrained palate – isn’t necessarily new but is one of the most effective ways to minimise food waste. It’s the approach that Melissa Palinkas from Ethos Deli + Dining in Fremantle takes when creating her exceptional charcuterie, cementing her position as one of Western Australia’s most resourceful and innovative chefs. Meanwhile, the crew behind Porcine, in Sydney’s Paddington, has made it clear that no part of a pig will escape the plate at the French-style bistro – served as terrines, charcuterie and creton.
Eat Retired Cows
Former milking cows that would ordinarily end their days as low-grade meat are getting a second chance at usefulness on the menus of some of Australia’s top-end restaurants, including Poodle in Melbourne’s Fitzroy and Rockpool in the city’s CBD. Dry aged, the beef is tender and succulent.
Banish any thoughts of those sad school lunches. Championed by top chefs and produce fetishists, the neo-sandwich is more like a proper restaurant meal between two slices of artisan bread. Anything but ordinary (sorry, cheese and Vegemite), the upmarket sanga crosses cultures with fillings such as fried oysters, meatballs and Japanese-style pork belly.
In Melbourne, chef Steph Britton serves showstopping sandwiches from CBD hole-in-the-wall King William, while Le Bajo Milkbar (8-14 Howard Street, North Melbourne; 0402 189 088) is all about shokupan – the fluffy, thick-sliced Japanese milk bread – which is baked on-site and turned into fried prawn, chicken or octopus sandos.
Sydney has embraced Small’s Deli in Potts Point, where former Dear Sainte Eloise chef Ben Shemesh delivers a croque monsieur for breakfast before segueing into lunchtime panini and sourdough sandwiches stuffed with ingredients such as finocchiona (Tuscan fennel and pepper salami), walnut paste and creamed pecorino cheese.
When in Perth, beeline for the Italian brio of Si Paradiso in Highgate, where poached local crayfish rests between crust-free shokupan that’s then toasted in crayfish butter. Just add salmon caviar. Think Brisbane, think classic. Reuben’s Deli & Bar in Paddington will transport you to the United States with its pastrami and Swiss cheese on rye or the South Philly cheesesteak in a hoagie roll.
Adelaide is in thrall to the sourdough focaccia at recently opened Bottega Bandito in Prospect. With combos like sopressa and fior di latte or mortadella and tapenade, the sangos are best chased with a kimchi-spiked Bloody Mary.
It’s the dining commandment of 2021: t hou shalt eat outside. A certain pandemic may have curt ailed indoor feasting but it unleashed a wave of creativity as rooftops, car parks and laneways were colonised for the greater good. The year-round delights of outdoor dining are being embraced in Melbourne at Frédéric’s, where a rooftop space in Cremorne has city-skyline views, while Gin Palace in the CBD is slinging cock tails in a nearby car park.
In Sydney’s CBD, head to Ash Street where leading Italian light Restaurant Leo has added seating in the laneway to its Angel Place patch .
At his Attica Summer Camp, the World’s Best Restaurants recidivist Ben Shewry is serving an – in his own words – “unbelievably delicious” friesling (that’s frozen riesling) to happy campers. Think of it as childhood nostalgia meets the more grown-up pleasures of an icy alcoholic drink. In Sydney’s Potts Point, Ms. G’s honours its Asian influence with signature yuzu slushies of vodka, orange bitters and lemon, while The Peach Pit in Scarborough, Perth, marries beach views with a strawberry and watermelon gin slushie that’s pretty in pink.
Cooking over coals
Grilling with gas is so 2019. The thrill of watching chefs toil over wood flame and glowing coals has become a much sought-after part of dining out. From proteins to vegies and beyond, this cooking style goes deep into the appeal of char and smoke. Firedoor in Sydney’s Surry Hills makes a hero of its woodfired bread with smoked butter and others are following. Try veal-tongue skewers with caper sauce at Crown Sydney’s Woodcut, sizzling lamb cutlets with tahini sauce at Tedesca Osteria on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and octopus with seawater-poached tomatoes at Tasmania’s Van Bone, where old grapevines keep the wood oven burning.
Remember when no menu was complete without beef cheeks? Times change and now there’s another humble cut captivating Australian chefs. Among th e many eateries extolling the rediscovered vir tues of ox tongue is Bistrot 916 in Sydney’s Potts Point, where a grilled crosssection of the braised organ is served with a dot of freshly grated wasabi and a small bowl of four-spiced salt . In the Melbourne CBD, cult trattoria Tip o 00 lays seare d shavings over a splash of reduced balsamic, while salsa verde and horseradish accompany the skewer-pierced version at central Adelaide’s Leigh Street Wine Room.
Japanese convenience-store food
The reputation of snacks offered in convenience stores in the West is chequered to say the least but in Japan the genre has been elevated to an art. Now the delights of the humble konbini are being recreated around the world. Konbi in Los Angeles, made its name with spins on potato salad and crustless sandwiches that are staples in Lawson and 7-Eleven branches from Kyushu to Hokkaido. While other bites are having their moment outside Japan – West Melbourne café 279 offers more than a dozen varieties of onigiri rice balls – it’s the konbini sandwiches gaining the most ground. The two best examples here are the egg salad sando and katsu sando; the former lavished with kombu butter at Sandoitchi in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, the latter taking pride of place on the bar menu at Supernormal in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane.
Your time is up, oysters – the latest luxe amuse-bouche is a caviar “bump”. While it might seem the very definition of conspicuous consumption, there’s a solid reason sturgeon aficionados spoon caviar onto the back of their hand between the forefinger and thumb. With a significant fat content, the fish eggs become more flavoursome when warmed – and the most effective way to do that is with body heat (a minute or two should do the trick). Here’s where to give it a go.
If you have $20 to spare. Glamorous bayside restaurant Stokehouse in Melbourne’s St Kilda offers an oscietra caviar bump for a mere $20 – the water views are free.
If you want to spend $100. At the fancy CBD digs of Adelaide newbie Fishbank, indulge in a 10-gram tin of premiumgrade Royal Oscietra caviar ($95), which is farmed in the waters of an Italian UNESCO reserve.
Last year’s craving for comfort food may have seen us abandon jeans for tracksuit pants but it has also inspired some of the country’s leading restaurateurs to lean into baked goods. In Brisbane, the woodfired Agnes Bakery pop-up proved so popular it will soon open a permanent home in Fortitude Valley. Sydney has two new bakehouses with high-profile DNA – Surry Hills’ Humble Bakery (50 Holt Street), from the team behind Porteño, and Darlinghurst’s AP Bakery, which boasts Ester’s Mat Lindsay as co-owner. In Melbourne, the Capitano crew and baker Christine Tran’s Falco became a celebrated Smith Street, Collingwood, graband- go during last year’s long lockdown.
It’s said that the Gilda was named for the title character in a 1946 Rita Hayworth film. That means this “trend”, which started life as a pintxo (the Basque answer to a tapa), is celebrating its 75th birthday. The Gilda is easy to eat with one hand and has a salt-acid-spice kick that pairs very well with cold white wine, sherry, dry cider or a beer. At its simplest, the single bite is a pickled green pepper (guindillas in Spain), a manzanilla olive and an anchovy skewered on a toothpick. Karen Martini puts them front and centre, with white romesco sauce, at her new Hero restaurant in Melbourne’s Federation Square. They’re such a feature at the Continental Deli in Sydney’s Newtown that it sells Gilda T-shirts. Poly chefs Mat Lindsay and Isabelle Caulfield slip a soft-yolked smoked quail’s egg into the mix at the inner-Sydney eatery, while Tom Sarafian has brought his feta-enriched rendition to Little Andorra in Melbourne’s Carlton North. Heaven on a stick.
Bug + prawn rolls
2021 is the year of bug and tiger prawn rolls. Like their New England forebears, these Aussie variants are at once refined and proletarian – chilled Moreton Bay bug meat or local prawns slathered in mayo and spooned into soft bread. At Mr Percival’s in the Brisbane CBD, a battered bug tail sits in a white roll with lettuce and chilli mayo, central Sydney’s Monopole serves a yuzu mayo-dressed tiger prawn sandwich and Rick Shores in Queensland’s Burleigh Heads dresses beer-battered bug meat with bug mayo before packing it into a brioche bun.
This isn’t your mother’s cheesecake – unless she’s Basque. It has no crust of biscuit or otherwise. Not formed in th e fridge, this one is baked ver y hot. And where the sur face of a typical cheesecake is an even, snowy cream,
the Basque cheesecake is identifiable by its cracks, crags and dark, almost blackened top. That scorched exterior gives way to a custardy heart, the culmination of eggs, cream , sugar, a small amount of flour and a whole lotta cream cheese. While it came into the world well before last year – its origins can be traced to a San Sébastian eatery called La Viña – the cake came into its own when restaurant s pivoted to takeaway, as a sweet course that travelled well and was just fancy enough to be interesting. Pre-2020, dessert at Sixpenny, in Sydney’s Stanmore, involved mead vinegar and raspberry snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen. And at Attica in Ripponlea, Melbourne, dinner ended with caramels made with crocodile fat. But last year it was this humble Spanish-inflected cheesecake that became the crowning glor y of these fine-diners. While they’ve now swung back to regular programming, examples of the cake live on at All Are Welcome, Morning Market and Calēre in Melbourne and at Sydney’s 15 Centimeters.
Image credit: Richard Clark, Christopher Pearce, Derek Swalwell, Earl Carter, Ulrich Leffner, Caroline McCredie, Premyuda Yospim, Vanessa Haines, Nikki To.