How do you distil the essence of a city and serve it on a plate? These restaurants have it nailed.
It’s hard to believe this cool combination of polished concrete, animal hides and potted greenery was once a car showroom. These days, customers drive away with no more to pay beyond compliments to the chef (and the bill!). With a seasonal menu that changes daily and a love of native ingredients – Analiese Gregory has a cult following for her saltbush and squid dumplings – offerings may include blue-eye trevalla, albacore tuna or arrow squid and unique vegetables, fruits and herbs, including garlic flower buds, black salsify and lovage. Try the whipped ricotta with woodfired zucchini, satsivi (walnut sauce) and cherry vinegar; chargrilled garfish with mustard and oyster butter; or wild blacklip abalone and guanciale skewers with a sauce made from braised mekabu (an introduced wakame seaweed) and abalone liver served in the shell.
30 Argyle Street, Hobart; (03) 6234 3375
Colourful, noisy, fast and fun, Africola has found a happy home in Adelaide and is part shebeen, part eating house and home away from home for radical winemakers. South African-born owner-chef Duncan Welgemoed is a driving force in this festival city. He’s taken local ingredients, given them a big shake and come up with dishes such as his signature peri-peri chicken with “Mpumalanga fire” chilli sauce. But it’s his vegetable dishes that push the boundaries. After snacking on a tea sandwich with crisp chicken skin and hot dripping, move on to shards of fried eggplant with chilli and shallot jam dusted with finely grated dried ricotta. Follow this with steamed cauliflower that’s been wood-roasted with clarified butter and topped with tahini sauce or roasted cabbage heart dusted with salted plum and vinegar powder.
4 East Terrace, Adelaide; (08) 8223 3885
If Adelaide could be put on a pizza, Sunny’s is where you’d find it. Tucked in a back alley, this semi-industrial space tells you where the city’s fast-evolving food scene is going. A ’70s retro makeover offers booths and bench seating overlooking a wood-panelled bar, pizza oven and kitchen. And while Sunny’s claims to be just a bar that sells pizza, it’s so much more than that. The pizzas are possibly the best in town – with toppings such as pepperoni with squid ink cacciatore, onion confit and San Marzano tomato – but the “non pizza” dishes can’t be missed. Try fried squid with ’nduja, romesco and burnt lemon or burnt cauliflower with pickled garlic and walnuts. It goes late, the music is ’80s pop and there are wines you’ve never heard of.
17 Solomon Street, Adelaide; 0404 280 522
Cauliflower designed to look like melting camembert. Aged emu ham. Eel butter. Yes, Lûmé is a step away from the everyday, revelling in improbable flavour combinations and outré textures that set Shaun Quade apart from the cheffing pack. Full creative rein allows him to go hard – and judging by the number of restaurant-industry faces who frequent these digs, his food has struck a chord in a city that wears edible innovation as a badge of pride. Settle in for a multi-course tasting menu where the only expectation is surprise, whether it’s a taco with a corn-impersonating crab custard or the Pearl on the Ocean Floor replicating the briny wash of the sea with blue scampi roe, sea succulents and salty foam coddling a single perfect oyster.
226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne;￼ (03) 9690 0185
Host Dining ￼
It’s not simply that Host calls Melbourne’s hippest ’hood home, although it certainly helps that it graces a Brunswick backstreet with the design smarts born of its graphic-designer owners. But Host carries through on its promise of location and look, delivering a Melbourne Now menu with pinpoint accuracy, backed by a drinks list that will please the biggest low-intervention nerd. The cranking open kitchen makes a virtue of the veg: kipfler potatoes with black garlic and smoked tomato or charred zucchini with heirloom tomatoes, crisp onion, fetta and walnuts. On the other side of the ledger, snapper dressed to impress with chard, corn shoots and basil oil shows why this neighbourhood restaurant punches above its status.
4 Saxon Street, Brunswick; (03) 9023 5317
It’s all about the flame at this skinny Chapel Street shopfront, where the charcoal grill in the open kitchen is the blazing raison d’être for the small team of tattooed chefs led by young-gun co-owner Nick Stanton. There’s no formality here, just an air of innovation grounded in the fundamental principles of char and smoke. Calamari noodles flashed in smoked bone marrow and served on a fiery leaf of kimchi is the must-order but where you go from there is your journey alone, whether it’s left-of-centre with firm spanner crab noodles cooked in master stock throwing an umami party with bottarga or the universally acknowledged delights of a fried Moreton Bay bug sandwich with iceberg and tartare sauce in a soft milk bun.
363 Chapel Street, South Yarra; (03) 9827 0949
At Otto there’s no mistaking you’re in the river city: it’s all clean lines and timber finishes, with floor-to-ceiling glass giving due prominence to killer views of the water and Story Bridge. Fine dining, Brisbane-style, means assured yet laid-back service and a vibrant menu with plenty of seafood. The light, zingy risotto features some of Moreton Bay’s finest along with capsicum and lemon. The blue swimmer crab and mascarpone ravioli is spectacular but its earthy-hued black garlic crema means it tastes better than it looks. Head chef Will Cowper jokingly calls it his “don’t judge a book by its cover” dish because we don’t take ourselves too seriously here in the Sunshine State.
Level 4, 480 Queen Street, Brisbane; (07) 3835 2888
The dining room at Stokehouse Q boasts what is arguably Brisbane’s best-positioned deck, perched right on the river with views of the city skyline. The menu captures the stylish yet relaxed nature of the city, featuring local produce in dishes such as pancetta-wrapped chicken with charred pineapple, fermented macadamia and basil. A section of the menu is dedicated to raw treats, including oysters with cucumber mignonette and Hiramasa kingfish with horseradish, white soy and lime. And because nothing says Queensland like it, finish with the desert lime semifreddo with pineapple, eucalyptus caramel, macadamia and lemon myrtle.
Sidon Street, South Bank; (07) 3020 0600
Life in Perth is best experienced outdoors, ideally by the beach. Spend enough time perched by a window at this breezy pizzeria – an offshoot of popular Italian restaurant Il Lido up the road – and you’ll see the full range of West Coast beachgoers, from the fit and fashionable to families on an outing. There’s a similar diversity to Canteen’s menu, too. Beyond the charry, Naples-style pizza headliner, wood-roasted local whole fish is another win for casual and coastal. Need something heftier? Consider the roasted porchetta, portioned in serves for one, two or four. The flavours are designed to comfort, the atmosphere is relaxed and the drinks list, championing boutique local and Italian wines, is an open invitation to linger.
110 Marine Parade, Cottesloe; (08) 6555 7766
Bread in Common
This bustling former warehouse in Fremantle’s West End means different things to different people at various times of the day. Weekends, for instance, see the brunch crowd swarm the restaurant’s communal, mess-hall-style tables. In their sights: luxe café staples in the vein of fruit granola plus avocado and peas on Bread in Common’s famed house-baked sourdough. During the week, locals duck in and out for coffee, lunchtime steak sandwiches and takeaway pies, cured meats and pastries from the attached deli. Meanwhile, dinner is all about chef Scott Brannigan’s vibrant, seasonal small plates: an ode to the Western Australian growers who supply his kitchen with ingredients and inspiration. Add service that’s as spirited as the eatery is versatile and it’s not hard to see why locals have embraced this restaurant and bakery.
43 Pakenham Street, Fremantle; (08) 9336 1032
￼ As an instigator of Sydney’s smart-casual revolution, Porteño provided swinging service and a rockin’ feed that set the city alight. Nearly eight years later and at a new site, the eatery has raised the stakes on what it means to share great food and wine and good times in this city. You can dine at the bar, in groups on round tables with a lazy Susan or in a private room facing a glass-walled wine cellar holding one of the country’s largest malbec collections. Known as a woodfired meat den, the new Porteño has all that, plus a more nuanced glimpse into the lighter side of Argentinian cuisine. A salad of beetroot and plum enjoys a fresh curd, mint and pistachio dressing; tuna tartare gets a kick from tahini; roasted peppers and chimichurri add spark to rich Wagyu skirt; and pineapple and habañero spice up wood-roasted pork.
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills; (02) 8399 1440
With a menu kissed by the flames of a woodfired oven, service with a wine-bar sentiment and a rowdy crowd humming as they sate their hunger, there are few better examples of what it means to dine in Sin City. Relying on unique Australian ingredients and leaning on the techniques of our Asian neighbours, Ester demolishes the double-white tablecloth perceptions of fine dining with a considered casual cachet. The must- order sausage sanga sees blood sausage served on a white bread square with the texture of a mantou bun. Trout roe and kefir cream partner dense fermented potato bread, while finger lime and sea succulents freshen up lightly cured bonito. King prawns get a lathering of fermented shrimp butter. Leave room for the burnt pav given a smoky edge in the oven.
46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale; (02) 8068 8279
Sydneysiders like to eat well and they don’t mind drinking something decent either. Hubert may be a renaissance of the postwar French restaurant but it is quintessentially Sydney. Two floors below street level, revellers bend a sophisticated arm at the bar or dine to the dulcet tones of the evening’s live act. With booths for two, candlelit tables and slow ceiling fans, this is a yesteryear romantic notion of dining backed up by a modern play on French classics served with youthful swagger. Start with raw kingfish with oyster cream then slide into snails in XO sauce. Marinated prunes partner delicate duck and pork terrine, bread sauce underpins whole chicken fricassée, while pan-roasted John Dory comes with a velvety beurre blanc. The food and drink is topnotch and Hubert reminds us that dining is fun.
Basement, 15 Bligh Street, Sydney; (02) 9232 0881
Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Imagine a huge outdoor restaurant where scores of cooks serve the authentic foods of their homelands. Okay, it’s not technically a restaurant and it doesn’t open every night but Mindil Beach Sunset Market is BYO and offers breathtaking views of the sun setting into the sea. The 60-plus food stalls allow diners to pick and mix – perhaps a crocodile or buffalo burger or green papaya salad and laksa, reflecting the city’s South-East Asian influences. Dessert could be Greek honey puffs or locally made sorbet. For $15 a head, book a private spot with an ice-filled drinks cooler and citronella candles or go early and stake out a patch of lawn free of charge. Either way, relax – this is pure Darwin.
Maria Liveris Drive, The Gardens, Darwin; (08) 8981 3454
Capitol Bar and Grill
Have the feeling you’re being watched? Nowhere is this more apparent in Canberra than at Capitol, where a wall of politicians’ faces rendered as neon silhouettes or mirrors gaze across the bar area. With its “dress to impress” request and edgy décor, Capitol sets high expectations and doesn’t disappoint. Apparatchiks and gourmands flock here to enjoy old-school food with a modern twist, along with a magnificent wine list that can match any expense account. Homesick officials take comfort in Pollies Pie (dry-aged beef braised in Barolo wine amid a pea-and-mint-mash floater) matched with Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz. At the heart of the glitzy setting is the flame grill, which turns out Black Angus rib eye with tarragon Béarnaise sauce or an “I only have a minute” version for those racing to meet lobby groups or journos.
QT Hotel, 1 London Circuit, Canberra;￼ (02) 6247 1488
Bar Rochford is tucked away up narrow stairs and behind a nondescript entrance in the historic Melbourne Building but Canberra’s cognoscenti know exactly where and how to unwind away from the city’s usual hot air. Start by slurping down juicy Moonlight Flat oysters with Italian Umberto Luigi prosecco or scoff a bowl of piquant harissa almonds with a Belgian Rodenbach sour red ale. Offbeat Mediterranean décor and cool music set the mood for banter over share plates that may include grilled haloumi and faintly caramelised peaches scattered with tiny white elderflowers or smoked tomato and white anchovy toast. Continue the conversation while savouring blue-eye trevalla with mango and fig leaf oil and sipping a grenache blanc from Languedoc or deepen the discussion over French fromage and a Spanish tempranillo. Bar Rochford speaks everyone’s language. ￼
First floor, 65 London Circuit, Canberra; (02) 6230 6222
Top image: Host Dining ￼