We’re calling it: these are the best new restaurants of the year. Join the in-crowd while the menus are still hot off the press.￼
Reviews by Lucy Barbour
Canberrans can’t get enough of XO and its modern spin on South-East Asian fare. It’s a cheerful, energetic space with blond wood, cane chairs and a long, lazy bar. Staff woo customers with plates of sweet, sticky, succulent lamb ribs, “Asian bolognese” on udon noodles and fried squid with delicate flecks of salt and chilli. The “mouth-watering chicken” in Sichuan chilli oil doesn’t disappoint. Nor does a trip to the bathroom, where theme songs from old TV shows such as The X-Files and The Brady Bunch play to everyone’s amusement. The fun continues with dessert. If you don’t have time to try the sticky black-rice pudding with coconut ice-cream, order a chrysanthemum tea soft serve to go.
16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah; (02) 6925 9696
Canberra’s wine and cocktail scene has stepped up a gear, thanks to the opening of Bar Rochford earlier this year. Hidden upstairs in the Melbourne Building, it hums every night when the after-work crowd flocks here to decompress over Piedmont nebbiolo, Yarra Valley pinot gris and whisky mixed with lemon, mint and grapefruit bitters. And what’s not to like about the share plates laden with grilled carrots, dressed with nutty tahini and sprinkled with puffed wild rice and walnuts? Or king prawns steeped in Pernod butter and Thai basil? They’re the perfect accompaniment to creamy burrata drizzled with grassy olive oil and meltingly tender sirloin topped with punchy chimichurri. Drop in for a quick bite or linger longer and indulge in French Comté and a dark chocolate tart to finish.
First floor, 65 London Circuit, Canberra; (02) 6230 6222
Reviews by Larissa Dubecki
Ricky & Pinky
Five words guaranteed to make Melbourne sit up and take notice? “Andrew McConnell opens new restaurant.” For his latest trick, the chef – who gave the city Cumulus Inc., Cutler & Co. and a bunch of other firmly entrenched favourites – goes Chinese. And the gods are pleased. Housed in the Builders Arms Hotel, Ricky & Pinky is a whole heap of fun with a retro-tastic take on 1970s Aussie-Cantonese restaurants complete with lazy Susans and gaudy skylights. Early favourites: tight-fleshed cold-cut Wagyu beef shin in a velvet puddle of sesame oil, textured with daikon and cloud ear fungus; textbook Sichuan pork dumplings sloshed with chilli oil; and spice-dusted fried quail that argues the case for fast-food franchising.
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; (03) 9417 7700
Melburnians have developed certain expectations of Con Christopoulos, the heavy hitter behind some of the city’s most beloved names: European, Siglo, Supper Club and City Wine Shop, for starters. So it was a bit of a surprise when he broke out of his normal Italian-ish paradigm and went French-ish at this transformative loft featuring distressed white wood and a zinc bar, capped by a red tongue-and-groove ceiling festooned with lazily twirling fans. The mise en scène is perfect – but the food, you ask? Recognisable French-slash-European flavour marriages get punched up a notch to satisfy the interest quota. There’s hot smoked trout rillettes with salmon pearls; a housemade charcuterie plate; and boudin noir (blood sausage) with celeriac rémoulade and a fried egg. It’s all served with easygoing pizzazz and there’s a sunny terrace just begging for a summertime Aperol spritz. ￼frenchsaloon.com
Level 1, 380-384 Little Bourke Street (enter via Hardware Lane), Melbourne; (03) 9600 2142
One of the year’s best openings is also its least likely. A nondescript laneway location in Geelong. No menu to speak of. Food that defies pigeonholing. In an age of me-too-ism, Igni is its own wonderful creature. Aaron Turner is the chef behind it all, with a couple of partners who make the floor hum like a Prius. The fit-out is comfortable but muted, drawing attention to the coal-burning asado from which Turner manages to coax dishes of amazing nuance, such as lightly cooked marron in crustacean sauce with fermented cucumbers; a grilled oyster with seaweed emulsion; and raw calamari noodles napped in stock from grilled marron shells and chicken broth. All the diner has to do is choose from five or eight courses. Easy.
Ryan Place, Geelong; (03) 5222 2266
Reviews by Jo Cook
Fat Pig Farm￼
If you’re a fan of Matthew Evans from the SBS television show Gourmet Farmer, get down to his Fat Pig Farm. Located about an hour’s drive south-west of Hobart, it’s now open every Friday for a long lunch made with produce grown on the premises or nearby. The menu changes every week but you may well find yourself in the company of a flaky, buttery bacon-and-leek tart or homemade pastrami, corned beef, just-sliced Wessex saddleback ham off the bone, lightly pickled Japanese turnips and freshly baked baguettes. Enjoy it all with a pour of riesling from next door’s Elsewhere Vineyard or a Lighthouse Ale from Nick Haddow’s new Bruny Island Beer Co. While you’re at it, attend a cooking demo at the on-site school.
Dillons Hill Road, Glaziers Bay; 0415 168 285
Timbre Kitchen at Velo Wines
Chef and goat farmer Matt Adams (former head chef at Josef Chromy Wines) has taken over the kitchen at Velo Wines in West Tamar, north-west of Launceston, where he gives Tasmanian produce an Asian accent. There’s tonkatsu (breaded pork) and pickled cabbage, plus steamed whitefish with ponzu, cos, sesame and nori, while the cheese – grilled in the wood oven – is alone worth the trip. Overseeing the drinks list are winemaker Michael Wilson (former Olympic cyclist, hence the name “Velo”) and wife Mary. So enjoy a glass of red made on the estate, which boasts the oldest cabernet sauvignon vines still in production in Tassie. ￼
755 West Tamar Highway, Legana; (03) 6330 3677
Reviews by Anthony Huckstep
After 27 years of operation, the dégustation-only Rockpool Est. 1989 closed its doors, opening three weeks later as Eleven Bridge with a relaxed à la carte menu. It’s a change of name and direction but Neil Perry’s flagship has lost none of its importance. With an extraordinary wine list, impeccable staff and food that’s as pleasing as it is technically profound, the dark and sultry Eleven Bridge is a serious dining proposition that’s among the nation’s best. Handmade strozzapreti and Moreton Bay bug are bathed in crustacean butter; duck-egg mayonnaise lifts handpicked mud crab to new heights; and a glistening jus brings together partridge steamed in bread and turnips. The date tart (circa 1984) is proof that the classics never die.
11 Bridge Street, Sydney; (02) 9252 1888
Housed on the banks of Barangaroo in the structure that Noma called home for its epic 10-week pop-up, Cirrus is a contemporary seafood eatery by the team behind Bentley Restaurant & Bar. The food is cliché free, supported by selective sourcing and impeccable technique. Add to that one of the most eclectic yet accessible wine lists from Nick Hildebrandt and you have a restaurant that is, quite frankly, an immediate leader. Brent Savage shows restraint on the plate and respect for the denizens of our deep blue. Fennel pollen and pickled onions add an exclamation to smoked ocean trout parfait; coal-roasted Murray cod wades in aromatic broth; housemade XO sauce adds an umami oomph to Moreton Bay bugs; and yuzu gives a citrus spark to delicate kingfish. Bravo.
23 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney; (02) 9220 0111
Ooh là là, Hubert, you sexy thing. This bistro harks back to the beauty of the great French saloons of generations past. An unassuming red door and spiral staircase lead into a subterranean den reminiscent of a boisterous bistro and bar in postwar France. The vibe is raucous and the delightful dining room is full of period details (baby grand piano, slow-spinning ceiling fans, wood panelling). And yet the real show is on the plate. Toasted sourdough hosts monster Nardin anchovies and cultured butter; Normande sauce lathers freshly popped clams; Bordelaise butter melts over a blushing-pink flank steak; and maple-syrup jelly adds a cheeky edge to velvety duck liver parfait. Hubert, more than any restaurant in Australia, captures the very heartbeat of hospitality.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney; (02) 9232 0881
Reviews by Morag Kobez
Otto promises to “capture the essence of occasion and place” and delivers in spades. It occupies a plum spot in the fourth-floor atrium of the new Dexus office tower, with huge windows and uninterrupted views of the Story Bridge, Brisbane River and Customs House. The service is flawless, setting the standard for the entire dining experience, while head chef Will Cowper takes inspiration from southern Italy, putting local produce to excellent use. The snapper with asparagus, peas, broad beans, spring onion and preserved lemon is fresh, light and as pretty as a picture. Shiro Kin Fullblood Wagyu rump comes with pickled peppers and salsa verde. This is no cookie-cutter copy of the Sydney favourite but fear not: the Harbour City’s famous sucking pig is also available in Brisbane with a day’s notice.
Level 4, 480 Queen Street, Brisbane; (07) 3835 2888
This Wolfe is the antithesis of the villainous Brothers Grimm character – delightfully cosy and charming as can be. The historic shopfront, the former home of Egg Bistro, has been smartened up with a classic black, white and grey theme but the grand timber-panelled comptoir remains. Owner-chef Paul McGivern is turning out the same kind of honest, unpretentious fare for which he was known at Manx and Rapide. The menu is refreshingly straightforward: just five entrées and five mains with nary a share plate in sight. Start with quail and burnt apple with pickled strawberry and pepperberry, followed by ocean trout with broad beans and green rice and silky burnt butter hollandaise to bring it all together. There’s a small dessert menu; the sheep’s milk sorbet with pickled muntries and nashi is a sweet end to the fairytale.
989 Stanley Street, East Brisbane; (07) 3891 7772
Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen
God bless David Coomer. In a town overrun with loud and brash “Asian street food” restaurants, Fuyu – the fine-dining journeyman’s latest venture – is a sight for sore eyes (and even sorer ears). Modern without being soulless, lively without sounding like a house party, the restaurant is a picture of smart-casual fun. The cooking, as you’d expect, is a cut above. Provenance meets polished technique in pan-Asian winners such as succulent local quail lacquered with black vinegar and buzzy Sichuan pepper and a juicy one-bite tower of spicy duck neck, scallop and pineapple. While the menu references the East, the drinking (save for the saké) is all about celebrating the West. Western Australian beers and wines make great accompaniments to the cooking, while the banquet option leaves all the tough decisions to the experts in the kitchen.
26 Stirling Highway, Nedlands; (08) 9389 5517
Fried chicken – specifically the spicy, cayenne- spiked birds of Nashville, Tennessee – is at the heart of Meat Candy but to label this Northbridge eatery as merely a fried-chicken joint would be terribly unfair. How many fried-chicken joints offer corned beef tongue with sauerkraut and beer-spiked mustard? Equally rare is the chicken shack that serves barbecue pork croquettes, let alone paired with a tartare sauce laced with pickled apple. Then there’s Meat Candy’s strong DIY ethos, from the house-baked bread to fun house sodas. Now package it all up in a warm, inviting space inspired by the neighbourhood milk bars of the 1960s – little wonder Perth has fallen hard for this relaxed newcomer.
465 William Street, Northbridge; 0412 632 758
Reviews by Sam McCue
PM Eat & Drink
Darwin has a new answer to the important question of where to eat fresh local seafood. Given the city’s location, pickings were surprisingly slim until the opening of PM Eat & Drink. It’s small with no pretensions – just one big table, a bar and banquette seating adjoining the open kitchen – and the menu keeps it simple, too. Expect share plates such as local calamari or prawns quickly grilled with generous quantities of olive oil and lemon juice. Vegetables receive similar treatment: brussels sprouts are caramelised to perfection and fried zucchini gets a blast of salty kefalograviera cheese. If you plan to linger – and that’s a good plan, indeed – book the 8.30pm sitting.
56 Smith Street, Darwin; (08) 8941 3925
Reviews by Nigel Hopkins
Its acclaimed sibling is upstairs but this is no “little Orana”. Blackwood has its own style and personality. The atmosphere is busy and casual, dominated by the large central bar, big tables and wide-open street access. Although, like Orana, most dishes feature native ingredients, here they are much more accessible. Steak tartare is given a flavour boost with mountain pepper; scallops seared over coals get a fresh citrus bite with ice plant and beach succulents; and grilled ling fish is brushed with Geraldton wax and served with burnt leeks and smoked potato mash. There’s nothing faddish – it’s just great food. And the wine list is equally original and adventurous.
285 Rundle Street, Adelaide; (08) 8227 0344
Serial restaurateur Simon Kardachi’s latest and smartest creation opens with a 20-metre concrete bar that leads to an internal piazza with long communal tables and banquettes to the side. It looks a treat, as does the modern Italian food. The menu is heavy on housemade pasta and gnocchi but there is also a substantial list of smaller plates for sharing and, for the very hungry, roasts and braises. Standout smaller dishes include the classic beef carpaccio with fresh herbs and aïoli and the cotechino sausage with lentils and salsa verde. Be sure to order a pasta – the tagliatelle with blue swimmer crab, kernels of blackened corn and black garlic purée is one of the most popular items on the menu. osteriaoggi.com.au
76 Pirie Street, Adelaide; (08) 8359 2525