From not-so-humble pub grub to hot-ticket fine-diners, cult cocktails and fancy sweets – these are the trends, experiences and openings to get across now.
A feast for the eyes
Art has always been a major consideration in restaurants, from the famous Mural Room at Grossi Florentino in Melbourne to the d’Arenberg Cube in South Australia’s McLaren Vale (which boasts the largest collection of Salvador Dalí sculptures in the Southern Hemisphere) and the vast gallery of John Glover masterpieces at Landscape inside Hobart’s Henry Jones Art Hotel. But right now the décor stakes seem higher than ever. Sydney’s Petermen has gone retro Australiana with an array of summerfun Ken Done paintings. Step into the bathrooms at Apollo Inn in Melbourne and you’ll find quietly contemplative still lifes from emerging artist Leanne Xiu Williams. And at Palette in Western Australia’s Fremantle, the food is equal partner to the venue’s rotating gallery, which showcases and supports emerging artists.
Vivid gets voracious
Remember when Vivid Sydney was just a festival of twinkling lights? Then it expanded to talks and bands, until suddenly it was the biggest event on the harbour city’s winter calendar. In 2023, the three week party muscled its way in on Sydney’s favourite pastime – eating – with the introduction of Vivid Food, where top chefs from around the world lined up to bang spoons and clash pans. Our favourites included the collab between Bar Morris in the CBD and Cape Town chef Mmabatho Molefe, Kiln’s Mitch Orr working with Jeremy Fox from Los Angeles and the Vivid Sydney Dinner in the Ivy Ballroom helmed by roaming chef Danielle Alvarez and Hotel Centennial’s Ben Greeno. Keep an eye out for what’s cooking in 2024.
Foc (noun): the only way to order focaccia if you want to sound cool.
We’ve heard the Italian bubble-pitted bread ordered this way a few times. Just make sure you’re not in formal company because it’s easy to mishear. Where to find the best foc in the country:
- Livemore Deli, Lennox Head, NSW
- Goodwood Bakeshop, Marrickville, NSW
- Hope St Radio, Collingwood, Victoria
- Bottega Bandito, Prospect, South Australia
- Ramona, Coorparoo, Queensland
If you’ve ever thought that blue cocktails belonged to 1970s Hawaiian honeymoons or re-runs of The Love Boat and that such an unholy colour is probably barely fit for human consumption, think again. It’s time to dust off that old bottle of curaçao because azure cocktails are having a big, boss-energy moment and (for the most part) they’re leaning tasteful, not tacky. Poodle Bar & Bistro in Melbourne has invented a suave Blue Martini, garnished with a sunshine-yellow lemon twist, while Ante Bar in Sydney’s Newtown mixes a demure concoction called a Bondi Skinny Dip made with melon liqueur, Nigori Sake and Marionette Blue Curaçao that’s enlivened with a sprig of mint. But perhaps the best of the blues in Sydney can be found at louche and likeable steakhouse Clam Bar. Though its Blue Daiquiri does verge on kitsch (at least its maraschino cherry garnish isn’t neon red), the drink’s pretty hue comes from spirulina rather than food colouring, making it a far more elegant offering than its retro forebears. Maybe you can’t chase your blues away but you can try drinking them.
Desserts should be all razzle-dazzle – Sugar! Syrup! Sprinkles! – but recently the last course seems to have upgraded from wonderful to work of art. In Sydney, the titan of the genre is the shiny, spherical core apple at Oncore by Clare Smyth but others are following suit: the oblong chocolate bar at Armorica in Surry Hills hides a treasure-trove of chocolate mousse and caramel; and Bottega Coco in Barangaroo has developed a dish topped with lamington mousse that pays homage to the Sydney Opera House. In Melbourne’s South Yarra, Yūgen Dining’s chocolate delice collapses when hot caramel sauce is poured into its centre, while the ABC ice kacang bingsu at Pandan Dessert Bar in the CBD is a hyper-coloured sugar rainbow.
Fungi & games
There’s one ’shroom that’s long eluded Aussie diners: the maitake, also known as “hen of the woods”. Native to Asia and North America, this expressive and delicately flavoured fungus has recently been cultivated for the first time in Australia by Yarra Valley producer Unearthed Co Mushrooms and you can now find it in dishes at Quay in Sydney, Navi, Omnia and Kisumé in Melbourne and at Adelaide’s Restaurant Botanic. “It goes really well with citrus, light soy and delicate Japanese flavours, and especially with seafood like calamari,” says Unearthed Co Mushrooms founder John Ford. If you’re interested in trying it at home, visit Damian Pike (“the mushroom man”) at Melbourne’s Prahran Market.
Top chef takeovers
Does anyone even cook in their own kitchen any more? Recently, the concept of the roving chef – pop-ups, guest appearances, collaborations – has become the norm (we can’t help but wonder how much time is spent asking where the colanders are kept). Some of our favourites in 2023 – so far – include Gordon Ramsay at Sydney’s Aria and L’Enclume at Bathers’ Pavilion in Mosman; David Thompson springing up at Adelaide’s Arkhé; Rosheen Kaul from Etta in Melbourne appearing at Casa in Perth; and Roman chef Sarah Cicolini making the rounds at Paski Vineria Popolare in Sydney, Barrio in Byron Bay, Biànca in Brisbane and Osteria Ilaria in Melbourne.
Image credits: Gareth Sobey (Yūgen Dining’s chocolate delice), Jason Lucas (Blue Daiquiri), Kristoffer Paulsen (Rosheen Kaul)