Warm the Cockles at Australia’s Cosiest Restaurants

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For a meal to warm the cockles this winter, ensconce yourself in a restaurant offering a feel-good feed, cosy ambience and perhaps even a crackling fire.

Victoria

Reviews by Larissa Dubecki

Neighbourhood Wine

Once a clandestine gambling salon run by the infamous Carlton Crew – now in more law-abiding hands – Neighbourhood Wine steps back in time with its brocade wallpaper, moss-green trimmings, full-size pool table and all-round parlour cosiness aided and abetted by an open fire. It’s beloved by locals for its punchy wine list and impressive vinyl collection (hello, Steely Dan), as well as the French-inspired food of co-owner Almay Jordaan, a chef blessed with an intuitive gift for simple and satisfying fare. There are salads (baked fig and goat’s cheese with hazelnuts, grilled pickled onion and pomegranate) and soup (spiced lentil and cauliflower with labne and dill) or go the whole hog with braised pork shoulder, winter greens and quince aïoli.

1 Reid Street, Fitzroy North; (03) 9486 8306

Embla

The winter ideal of an open fire becomes redundant when you’ve got Embla’s mighty wood grill with open coals and wood-fired cast-iron oven forming the backbone of this city wine bar’s menu. Pull up a ringside pew to watch chef Dave Verheul scorch rainbow trout into caramelised beauty (it’s then topped with horseradish and purslane) and conjure the world’s finest roast chicken (cooked with a shedload of garlic and finished with a deeply flavoured chicken-bone jus). In his hands, even a simple head of broccoli, licked by the flame and drenched in creamy sunflower-seed miso, becomes a headline act. The food is smart – as befitting the crew who brought a grateful Melbourne The Town Mouse – while the drinks list, from the natural but non-pretentious school, is equally arresting. 

122 Russell Street, Melbourne; (03) 9654 5923

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Lazerpig

As is to be expected of a venue called “Lazerpig”, this pub-slash-pizzeria-slash-disco sets the dial to fun. Housed in backstreet Collingwood’s former Star Hotel, it matches its traditional red-brick front bar with a dining room clad in red gingham tablecloths (irony alert!) and a wood oven that churns out minimalist Roman-style, pun-happy pizzas with names such as The Fun Guy (mushrooms, Taleggio and thyme) and The Cauli Meldrum (roasted cauliflower, blue cheese and walnuts). Add a few extras – a mighty double-patty Wagyu cheeseburger with bacon and hot sauce, for example, and a Salty Perro cocktail of tequila and fresh grapefruit juice with coriander and lime – plus two working fireplaces and DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, and you have one hot place.

9-11 Peel Street, Collingwood; (03) 9417 1177

NSW 

Reviews by Anthony Huckstep

Four in Hand by Guillaume

Yep, rockstar chef Colin Fassnidge has left the building but a chef just as influential – Guillaume Brahimi – has picked up the tongs. For the most part, the much-adored “Four” looks the same, except the tablecloths have been removed and there’s a relaxed bistro buzz. It’s quaint, cosy and possibly the best pub-bistro dining room in Sydney. The food plays a clever balance between traditional French and modern Australian; produce of the moment is treated to stunning French technique yet the combinations remain simple. Confit quail legs and roast breast star in a salad of quail egg, frisée and pancetta. Crisp-skin snapper wades with mussels in a parsley sauce. The clean acidity of milk gelato cuts through a rich chocolate cookie. If this is pub food circa 2016, we truly are the lucky country.

105 Sutherland Street, Paddington; (02) 9326 2254

Indu

Nothing warms the soul like an Indian feast and newbie Indu is putting the fire in the belly of the city, with considered spins -on classic Indian and Sri Lankan dishes. The subterranean space features turquoise-and-gold banquettes, copper lights and – giving it a chic industrial atmosphere – rust-washed walls. But at its heart, Indu is a celebration of village culture in a contemporary context – much like the food. Coconut vinegar and green chilli reel in a cured sea bass. Eggplant and bitter melon ride a garam masala wave.And 48-hour slow-roasted lamb gets a kiss from fresh mint yogurt. Smart, sophisticated and very satisfying.

350 George Street (entry via Angel Place), Sydney; (02) 9223 0158

Warm the Cockles at Australia’s Cosiest Restaurants This Winter

Buzo

One of the original trattorias to raise the bar on what it means to dine cucina Italiana Down Under is back after a two-year hiatus – and it’s better than ever. Downstairs there’s a small bar, high-top tables and dining by candlelight. Upstairs is the dining room proper, with white walls, crisp linen and classic bistro furnishings. It’s charming and the food dances in the realm of the classics, albeit with a light touch. Pickled white anchovy and celery salad gets zing from lemon. A crisp crespella (crêpe) encases pumpkin, goat’s cheese, sage and burnt butter. Lasagne balances rich luxury and homey hug with porcini and prosciutto, plus a good shaving of truffle. Simple and honest, Buzo is the conduit of happiness.

3 Jersey Road, Woollahra; (02) 9328 1600

Queensland 

Reviews by Morag Kobez

The Long Apron

Queensland doesn’t really do winter but neither is it all just endless sunshine. Head to Montville for crisp mountain air and exceptional European-inspired fare within the plush, private surrounds of Spicers Clovelly Estate. During the day, you’ll want to lunch on the terrace overlooking the green hills beyond. After dark, the muted tones of the genteel dining room are in stark contrast to the creative, colourful fare emerging from the kitchen. Tasting menus transform local produce into edible art; begin with a miniature Zen garden of caraway grissini branches and parmesan-filled stones. Sweet Mooloolaba prawns come with velvety roasted prawn crème, rose and gin, with crunchy spikes of sea greens peeping out from among the rose petals. Green rhubarb sorbet with goat’s milk pudding, freeze-dried apple, thyme and coriander is a sweet surprise, as is a glass of Calvados by the fire after dinner.

68 Balmoral Road, Montville; 1300 252 380

The Catbird Seat Bistro

Squint and pretend you’re in Paris as you settle in at this snug, bustling bistro with the requisite low lighting, bentwood chairs and blackboard announcing the day’s specials. While classic European techniques and ingredients prevail, the menu reveals a clever contemporary slant by owner-chef James Guldberg. Start with foie gras and plum-cream profiteroles then perhaps move on to the Glass House Mountain snails, which come with mushroom pâté and an olive crumb, along with garlic and parsley. Moreton Bay bugs are perfectly paired with sweet-corn vichyssoise, while wattleseed is a welcome addition to the venison. Naturally, there’s a decent selection of Australian and European cheese over which to linger. If the name of the place seems a tad peculiar, it’s from an old saying that means “being in an enviable position” or “sitting pretty”. And by the end of an evening here, you’ll understand why.

2/888 Stanley Street East, East Brisbane; (07) 3392 2645

WA

Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen

Galileo Buona Cucina

Don’t come to Galileo Buona Cucina looking for the cutting-edge; diners swarm to this suburban favourite for the reassuring comfort of the familiar. Gutsy Italian is the game and Sicilian chef Vincenzo Soresi wants to ensure all his guests are winners. Galileo loyalists will tell you the polpettine jotta are unmissable and they’d be right. What’s not to like about juicy veal meatballs served in a white-wine sauce? The menu shuffles with the seasons’ ebb and flow but asking about the night’s beast in the wood-fired oven is never a bad idea, especially during winter. Otherwise, satisfying homemade pasta – rigatoni paired with ’nduja (a spicy pork sausage) and broccoli, perhaps – is another go-to. A formidable cellar filled with local and Italian bottlings has the potential to turn any meal into an event.

199 Onslow Road, Shenton Park; (08) 9382 3343

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Liberté

Albany, as anyone who’s been will attest, gets mighty chilly in the winter. One of the surest ways to combat the cold is to make camp at Liberté, an intimate Parisian-themed wine bar in one of the state’s first licensed premises. You’ll feel the warmth the moment you step inside, from the unfailingly social staff behind the bar to the robust liquor cabinet and cocktail list. And, most importantly, the French-Vietnamese cooking of owner Amy Hamilton, who isn’t afraid to wield the chilli. Take, for example, the potent hot and sour mussels that live up to their billing and an addictive Indochine steak tartare, heaped on a circle of grilled rice paper and adorned with no small amount of pickled chilli. Prefer your comfort more West than East? Choice charcuterie and steak frites are your salve.

162 Stirling Terrace, Albany; (08) 9847 4797

ACT

Reviews by Lucy Barbour

Black Fire

What better way to warm the soul during a long, cold winter than by feasting on meltingly tender suckling pig, roasted for eight hours over an open fire? Mediterranean-style meat dishes are Black Fire’s specialty and Canberrans can’t get enough of them. Locals descend on the place for their fix of wood-fired lamb, chicken or Angus beef (all organic and local), cooked with sides of taroz (Italian mashed potato topped with green beans and sautéed onions) and white beans simmered in rich, chilli-chorizo soffritto. There’s fresh fish daily for those wanting something lighter but meat is the main event here. Make yourself comfy under mellow lighting thrown out by medieval black chandeliers and let the sangria flow.

45/38 Mort Street, Braddon; (02) 6230 5921

MoČan & Green Grout

Reclaimed timber décor, fresh-cut proteas and rustic earthenware make Močan & Green Grout homey and welcoming. Hipsters love it here, as do hungry locals after an energising lap of Lake Burley Griffin. Relax with a fair-trade coffee as chefs prepare breakfasts laden with locally sourced ingredients. Baked eggs come with silky charred eggplant and spicy harissa, while creamy elderflower labne gives golden granola a wholesome touch. After dark, perch on cushioned stools or tuck yourself away at a table in the corner, grazing on share plates of tender lamb shoulder with smoked yoghurt and pomegranate or sweeter offerings like buttermilk panna cotta.

1/19 Marcus Clarke Street, NewActon South; (02) 6162 2909 

Warm the Cockles at Australia’s Cosiest Restaurants This Winter

Tasmania

Reviews by Jo Cook

Robbie Brown’s

Huddle around the fire in the room behind the bar or watch the moon rise over Kingston Beach (15 minutes south of Hobart) from a seat in the front bar. Wherever you sit, Robbie Brown’s is an intimate venue where you can trust bartender Niall Maurici to deliver food and drinks to suit your mood. Warm your belly with a stirred-down classic winter cocktail such as The Bijou (made with Shene Estate Distillery’s award-winning Poltergeist Unfiltered Gin) and snack on some sweet potato arancini with aïoli. Or you might prefer a Little Rivers European Dark Lager from Scottsdale, poured from the copper beer taps, alongside a lamb kofta with minted yoghurt. Maurici is a big fan of sheep-whey vodka from Hartshorn Distillery; head distiller Ryan Hartshorn’s family also run Grandvewe Cheeses so their products also appear on the menu. And be sure to ask about the burger of the day. You’re in luck if it’s the blue-eye fish burger or the Tasmanian Angus eye fillet.

32 Osborne Esplanade, Kingston Beach; (03) 6229 4891

SA

Reviews by Nigel Hopkins

Ballaboosta

From the outside, it looks like an oversized garage, with customers spilling onto the street when the weather’s fine. But when winter closes in, so do the foldaway doors and inside is one of the cosiest dining spaces in town, sitting almost on top of the huge wood oven that fires much of the menu. “Ballaboosta” is a Yiddish term for a perfect mother and homemaker – and that’s the warmth that infuses this restaurant. Start with classic Lebanese meze and move on to hearty soups such as lentil with rice and spinach. Then try a main course like samak harra – literally “spicy fish” – that’s oven-baked and served under a tahini and chilli sauce. To top it all off, the wine list features highly individual local winemakers. 

289 Halifax Street, Adelaide; (08) 8232 1853

Warm the Cockles at Australia’s Cosiest Restaurants This Winter

Apothecary 1878

Apothecary 1878 has just the medicine for winter chills. A range of warmly furnished dining spaces are spread over several floors, from a rustic brick-lined cellar to a snug mezzanine and the top-floor “Dispensary” (open on Fridays and Saturdays). Chef Frank Hero has lifted what was already a very good dining experience to a new level via dishes such as seared scallops with smoked parsnip foam and beetroot, lightly smoked eye-fillet carpaccio with mustard-infused truffle oil, and a richly braised alpaca roulade with juniper berries and shimeji mushrooms. Even more warming is the range of wines on offer – go for the small tastes with each course.

118 Hindley Street, Adelaide; (08) 8212 9099

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NT 

Reviews by Sam McCue

The Pearl

Striped wallpaper, heavy ornate mirrors, a less-is-more menu and service from people who know their stuff. Yes, this is evocative of Paris but, no, you’re in Darwin. And The Pearl is a lovely little spot to spend a cool dry-season night. Maybe start with oysters and Champagne or beef carpaccio with pickled enoki mushrooms and Grana Padano. Then move on to lobster tortellini with scallops on cauliflower purée or lightly battered garfish on baba ghanoush. If you want something light, the fig and goat’s cheese salad is justly popular. Co-owner/chef Elle Burgan aims for Australian food with a French twist – available à la carte or in a dégustation menu – and she rarely disappoints. Okay, so Darwin doesn’t actually get a winter but this bijou hangout is a gem all the same. 

Shop 9, The Vic complex, 27 Smith Street, Darwin; 0435 821 648

SEE ALSO: The 49 Australian Food Experiences You Can’t Miss

 

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