Special occasion? There’s much to celebrate at these restaurants: the meal, the mood, the moment.
Reviews by Larissa Dubecki
It’s Cape Cod by way of Port Phillip – a beach house as it would be imagined by Martha Stewart. Views of the St Kilda shoreline are proven to be 50 per cent better when you’ve settled in at a table at Donovans, gin and tonic in hand. A special-occasion favourite for more than 20 years (a lady doesn’t reveal her true age), this tactile dining room is a place of excessive comfort, thanks to the abundance of scatter cushions, waiters as cohesive as the Scuderia Ferrari pit crew and a menu beloved for its constancy: perfectly chargrilled Queensland leader prawns; creamy tarragon-accented chicken pie, served at the table in its own pastry lid; and beer-battered fish and chips, the epitome of the frying arts. For dessert, the bombe Alaska – all porcupine spikes of toasted meringue – is non-negotiable.
40 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda; (03) 9534 8221
Vue de Monde
The rule of thumb that the better the view, the worse the food doesn’t apply at Vue de Monde. Melbourne’s glittering lights stretch as far as the eye can see when the ground is 236 metres below yet diners might find it a challenge to look away from the theatrical brilliance of the dining room and the food. Shannon Bennett’s fine-diner in the sky thrills and surprises, from the kangaroo-hide seats to the cooking of said marsupial at the table with a quick searing on coals. It’s “Australian” cooking without the clichés: wild barramundi collar is fried and served with lemon-myrtle salt; marron is swiped through tarragon emulsion; and lamington (but not as we know it) might appear for dessert. Bring your overseas visitors here for a high-end taste of Australian terroir.
Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 9691 3888
It pays to think ahead for the perfect celebration dinner, as snaffling a table at Attica – Australia’s highest-ranked eatery on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – necessitates a wait. Use it to work up an appetite because Ben Shewry’s food, as well as being inventive, surprising and swoon-worthily beautiful, is utterly delicious. You’ve probably never eaten wallaby-blood pikelet with jam and pineapple sage flowers or raw salted kangaroo with bunya-bunya nuts. You’ve possibly never been asked to pick a tulip from the courtyard garden, the petals of which will be served with dessert. Lose yourself in the experience and settle in for the long haul (the dégustation takes upwards of four hours). Special night out? More like a night you’ll never forget.￼
74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea; (03) 9530 0111
Reviews by Anthony Huckstep
Dark, sultry and audaciously avant-garde, Sepia has been named restaurant of the year more times than most Down Under – for good reason. With all the swagger of a sophisticated New York brasserie, it’s in one moment breathtakingly elegant, painstakingly precise and joyfully theatric. Chef Martin Benn runs the gauntlet of stunning aestheticism and soul-sating deliciousness with ease. Cured pork cheek and dashi cream caress slivers of blacklip abalone. Sea urchin and bone marrow get a yuzu kosho kiss before the signature dessert, the Pearl, crashes on your plate like an orb flying through space. Don’t delay – Benn and his partner, Vicki Wild, have big plans with a move away from fine dining and will close Sepia in 2018.
201 Sussex Street, Sydney; (02) 9283 1990
￼The Bridge Room
This is what it means to dine at the pointy end in Australia. At The Bridge Room, Ross and Sunny Lusted’s vision of dining is one that combines the worlds of architecture, art and food in a highly visceral, engaging way without all the stuffy, intimidating formalities of fine dining. French parquetry floors, mid-century décor, succulents and felt placemats provide the canvas for exquisite cooking underpinned by selective sourcing and a less-is-more ethos. Celeriac and chestnut add earthiness to the sweetness of spanner crab. Figs and blueberries marry beautifully with ash-grilled duck. Melon gives freshness to dense black-sesame sorbet. It’s an extraordinary restaurant that should be experienced by every Sydney resident and visitor.
44 Bridge Street, Sydney; (02) 9247 7000
The scintillating views of Sydney Harbour might sweep you off your feet but it’s Peter Gilmore’s food that will leave you breathless. With a deep connection to provenance, Gilmore is a chef who masterfully balances harmony, elegance and an experience that will have you trading the scenery for one more mouthful. It’s little wonder that Quay – with its wondrous wine tome and assured service – has been included on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for five out of the past eight years. Smoked eel slides over fermented mushrooms and young walnuts. Mud crab adds luxury to congee. Big-water Murray cod bathes in a fragrant broth. And all bow down to the signature guava and raspberry snow egg.
Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks; (02) 9251 5600
Reviews by Morag Kobez
In the fickle world of fine dining, restaurants come and go. But 20 years on, E’cco Bistro has stood the test of time. There’s no pomp and ceremony here but a sense that everything is just as it should be. Set within a century-old former tea warehouse on the CBD’s fringe, the intimate dining room has hosted many memorable events over the years. Cured ocean trout with oyster emulsion, wild rice, elderflower, cucumber and buttermilk – and a glass of Veuve Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne – is a fitting start. Follow with the excellent free-range suckling pig. Kimchi is the ideal foil for the sinfully succulent pork, served with smoked carrot purée and ’nduja, and the duck with poached quince, compressed radicchio, dukkah and caramelised yoghurt is just as good. The strawberry, rhubarb and rosewater cheesecake with raspberry sorbet is the perfect end to a momentous meal.
100 Boundary Street, Brisbane; (07) 3831 8344
With an unbeatable view of the river and city skyline from its deck over the water, Stokehouse Q is, quite simply, the most gorgeous spot in Brisbane for a celebratory meal. It also ticks all the boxes for food, wine and service. Spanner crab cannelloni with white-onion cream, fennel, sea parsley and cured yolk sets the scene. Or, for the more adventurous, the smoked eel mousse is worth taking a chance on. Go for the fig-leaf ice-cream for dessert, served with whipped buffalo yoghurt, orange meringue and almond biscuit. And because it’s a special occasion, finish with a cheese plate to remember, served with muscatels, honeycomb, fruit-and-nut loaf and lavosh.
Sidon Street, South Bank; (07) 3020 0600
Reviews by Nigel Hopkins
Magill Estate restaurant
In contrast to the heritage winery buildings surrounding it, Magill Estate Restaurant’s pavilion of pleasure seems to float above the vineyards, its windows taking in panoramic views of the city. Chefs Scott Huggins and Emma McCaskill offer a beautifully considered seasonal tasting menu that starts with a series of nine snacks followed by four slightly larger dishes, including thick porcini mushroom soup topped with grilled porcini mushrooms and lavish shavings of truffle, and thinly sliced kangaroo rump seared over shiraz-vine coals with crisp fried leek shreds. The desserts are just as impressive. Faultless service and a matched wine list that includes a glass of Penfolds Grange are further cause for celebration.
78 Penfold Road, Magill; (08) 8301 5551
Jolleys Boathouse exudes a sense of wellbeing and is one of Adelaide’s prettiest restaurants, tucked in the lee of the City Bridge on the River Torrens. It’s also handy to the CBD, Adelaide Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval. By day, passing ducks and joggers entertain you while you dine in elegant conservatory-style surroundings; at night the riverbank is illuminated. The cooking has achieved a high level of consistency under owner-chef Tony Carroll, whose Asian- and Moroccan-influenced menu may include tea-smoked duck with caramelised blood plum and tamarind sauce, and chermoula-coated pan-fried flathead with harissa-spiced eggplant salad. The service is exemplary and the mood is relaxed and friendly.￼
1 Jolleys Lane, Adelaide; (08) 8223 2891
Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen
There’s a reason the waiting list for a Saturday-night table at Restaurant Amusé is measured in weeks: few Perth restaurants say special-occasion dining as eloquently as Hadleigh and Carolynne Troy’s suburban fine-diner. From the room’s sparse fit-out to the unfailingly professional staff, the entire experience is calibrated to “big night out” thrills. The cooking, not surprisingly, is no exception. Tasting menus combine bright seasonal flavours with well-drilled technique. The summer menu may include tartare of briefly charred Dorper lamb leg accompanied by capsicum salsa, and tender butter-poached marron contrasted with sunflower seeds and amaranth grain. The wine list covers some intriguing ground and the breadth and versatility of the wine-pairing option is hard to resist, much like the restaurant itself.
64 Bronte Street, East Perth; (08) 9325 4900
Yes, Cape Lodge is a three-hour drive south of Perth. Yes, staying in Margaret River’s fanciest bed for the night comes at a cost. And yes, the experience is worth every cent. Recent renovations have modernised the dining room without sacrificing any of the elegance and grandeur you’d expect from a regional showpiece property. Michael Elfwing’s carte is at once classic (juicy duck breast lifted with duck jus and kale, for instance) and modern, as evinced by an imaginative dessert that teams wispy shards of crunchy apple and lush cinnamon ice-cream with a parsnip crème anglaise. Service is appropriately genteel: the staff even have the good grace not to bring up the extent of your wine consumption at breakfast the following morning.
3341 Caves Road, Yallingup; (08) 9755 6311
Reviews by Jo Cook
Ethos Eat Drink
Ethos Eat Drink has some serious history. Its entrance is a 193-year-old carriageway that served The Old Hobart Hotel. Later, the building was home to a chemist (the old glass bottles have been salvaged and repurposed as chandeliers). But there’s nothing old-fashioned about dining here. Enjoy a glass of 2003 Kreglinger Brut de Blancs in the cocktail lounge before moving to the dining room for a six-course menu that changes daily. Owner-chef Iain Todd is committed to the Slow Food approach and sources ethical ingredients. He has great relationships with local suppliers, from Provenance Growers to neighbourhood gardeners. Begin with a taster of pickled duck egg with leek ash and pangritata, followed by a starter of brussels sprouts, pork stock, walnuts and guanciale. Pork loin, medlar paste and chickweed is matched with 2015 Small Island Pinot Noir (crowdfunded and made by local winemaker James Broinowski). Can’t choose between the brûléed figs with a caramelised whey reduction and pineapple sage or the crème brûlée with lemongrass jelly? Have both. It’s a special occasion, after all.￼
100 Elizabeth Street, Hobart; (03) 6231 1165
Reviews by Lucy Barbour
Sometimes special occasions call for quiet, private surroundings and the VIP treatment. It’s all part of the program at Lanterne Rooms, where the polite, knowledgeable staff never miss a beat. Dark wooden shutters, high ceilings and ruby-red walls lend a mellow oriental vibe, offset by relaxing low lighting and Chinese artworks. The menu is packed with authentic Nyonya Malay flavours, such as crisp battered prawns drizzled with rich tom yum sauce and served on a silky bed of sweet apple slaw and rockmelon. Delicious, tender strips of fried squid come with a sticky sambal and a splash of fresh lime, while the intense fragrance of the slow-cooked kampung Wagyu beef curry is ideal when paired with a robust Canberra shiraz.
Shop 3, Blamey Place, Campbell; (02) 6249 6889
Where else can you start with a XXXX beer and follow up with an expensive bottle of French natural wine? Eightysix throws caution to the wind and woos Canberra’s foodies with honesty and playfulness. Straight-talking waitstaff weave their way among tables across the L-shaped polished-concrete floor, extolling the virtues of duck buns with hot sauce and pickled cucumber paired with an Italian sour. Light, coriander-laden snapper ceviche is half-cured in Mexican tequila while juicy chicken Maryland is basted in a Southern-style spicy marinade with a side of buttermilk coleslaw and capers. The caramel popcorn sundae with peanut brittle and a waffle cone is legendary – the perfect finale for any celebration. ￼
Mode 3, corner of Elouera and Lonsdale streets, Braddon; (02) 6161 8686
Top image: Vue de Monde