Yes, it’s nearly impossible to get a table and there’s often a queue out the door but these in-demand restaurants are worth the wait. Promise.
Mamasita, its older sibling in the CBD, is one of the hottest tickets in town. So it follows that this Collingwood cantina has been under siege since opening in October. It also follows that it doesn’t take bookings – it’s a case of trying your luck (or leaving your name with the clipboard-toting attendant at the door) to grab a seat at the former Collingwood Post Office, re-imagined as a Mexico City tostaderia complete with folding chairs, votive candles and lazily twirling fans. It will come as good news, therefore, that Hotel Jesus (pronounced hay-soos) is a place built not for lingering but for smashing down prawn ceviche bright with green chilli and lime; fried-snapper and pickled-cabbage tacos; or grilled corn on the cob with a lip-staining blue-black mayo before continuing on your merry way.
174 Smith Street, Collingwood
The fire that destroyed Stokehouse three years ago seems to have stoked the flames of passion the people of Melbourne have for this St Kilda icon. Rebuilt in a textured modern answer to the beach shack of old, it reopened in December, only to be booked out well into 2017. On the upside, the new iteration has a raw bar that’s open to walk-ins, who can grab a drink and a snack such as just-seared tuna on whipped wasabi mayo or kingfish topped with the citrusy pop of finger lime and verjuice. Persevere with that booking, however, and you’ll be rewarded with the Stokehouse’s classic Med-leaning fare, from pitch-perfect pancetta-wrapped roast chook teamed with peach and native pepper to a gutsy beef tartare resplendent with toasted buckwheat and black garlic emulsion. Welcome back, old friend.
30 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda; (03) 9525 5555
Melbourne’s busiest restaurant recently closed for a nip and tuck, reopening to scenes of even greater crowd chaos. The no-bookings curse strikes again but the best way to tackle the standard two-hour wait for a table at this hipster magnet is to leave your name and head downstairs to the revamped GoGo Bar, where drinks (Asian-themed cocktails) and snacks (chicken-and-shiitake spring rolls; salt-and-pepper school prawns) will see you through to your appointment in the upstairs sanctum of South-East Asian food. New menu items are all killer, no filler. Hit the prawn and bug tail stir-fried with egg noodles, the perfectly pink pork chop chargrilled with an avalanche of mushrooms or the Lao-style duck larb textured with roasted rice.
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; (03) 8663 2000
Abell’s Kopi Tiam￼
It’s a bit like eating in your favourite uncle’s kitchen. Abell’s Kopi Tiam is a perennially packed family-run business that hums with the early movie crowd and, later at night, pollies in search of the consistently good Chinese-Malaysian and South-East Asian-inspired dishes. Enjoy the buzz inside (taking in works by local artists and photographers on the tangerine walls) or spill outside onto the footpath and sip a Kirin Fuji Apple Cider or Hendrick’s Gin before choosing between Bali chicken in tamarind and coconut cream, with eggplant and green beans, and the spicy My Mum’s Laksa. You may feel as though you’re in a traditional Malaysian warung but the wine list delivers the best of the Canberra region. What’s not to love about nasi goreng matched with a Nick O’Leary riesling or Malayan beef rendang with Clonakilla’s shiraz viognier?
7 Furneaux Street, Manuka; (02) 6239 4199
This mecca of modern Asian dining – an interior designer’s dream with polished concrete floors, industrial lighting and pops of neon – has been heaving since it opened more than two years ago. You’ll need to book ahead to experience the frenzy of weekend yum cha. But you should get in without a reservation for the late-night dumpling sessions (after 10.30pm) – best enjoyed with a wasabi martini or Geisha’s Kiss, a blend of plum wine, saké and rosé. Snared a table for dinner? The eight-course Just Feed Me! option is a bargain at $49 a head and features the signature pork belly bun with char siu and Asian slaw. Or team an Asahi beer with supercharged Japanese fried chicken, liberally dusted with chilli then drizzled with mayo, and thank your lucky stars you got in.
40 Bunda Street, Canberra; (02) 6162 0602
The little maestro changed the perception of fine dining Down Under when he moved his humble restaurant from Rozelle to Kent Street in 2000 – and Tetsuya Wakuda has still got it. Arguably Sydney’s most well-known establishment, Tetsuya’s has always led by example with clever Japanese intent, French technique and modern Australian nuances. Nab a table overlooking the garden if you can and if you’re not one for hushed tones, book for Saturday lunch. Have your heart set on dinner? Plan ahead; the restaurant takes reservations a year in advance. Then strap yourself in for a nine-course intensive lesson in the art of food. Yuzu and black radish add spark to subtle spanner crab. Garlic cream provides a base for miso-cured duck. And that signature confit of ocean trout with celery, apple and roe is still singing its song. It’s quite the feast so lock in a nap at stumps.
529 Kent Street, Sydney; (02) 9267 2900
The monolithic Argentine meat den that inspired a new wave of dining has moved to the heart of Surry Hills to rediscover itself. The key to Porteño’s success has always been great food, great booze and good times; its evolution is all that and much more. The new address retains that sense of “party” but adds a bit more polish across every element. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the corner space, giving passers-by a glimpse of the frenetic feasting inside. As for the interiors, think parquetry floors, a black-and-white tiled bar, lazy Susans and a walk-in wine cellar. And the food? Fried school prawns add oomph to pickled veal tongue, plantain tostones support a stellar seafood cocktail and the roast suckling pig is still the star of the show. The new-look Porteño embodies everything that’s great about dining in Sydney but you’ll need to book ahead or arrive late and chance your arm.
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills; (02) 8399 1440
This new bar, bottle shop and bistro is the next chapter for talented operators Carl Windsor and James Kingston, who also run Willing Bros Wine Merchants in North Hobart. Ettie’s is where local chefs eat and drink when they clock off, enjoying Vladimir Panevin’s elegant bistro menu of freshly shucked Blackman Bay oysters, kingfish crudo with fried capers and a lemon emulsion, and chicken-liver parfait with pickles. There are also East Coast mussels with fennel and garlic, and pillowy gnocchi with mushrooms, goat’s curd and chervil. You’ll find new and intriguing wines on the list, too; sommelier Alice Chugg likes Made by Monks Peace Park Riesling, with grapes from the Tamar Valley, and the popular Brian field blend. The desserts are classic – think lemon tart, crème caramel and mille-feuille – and should not be missed.
100 Elizabeth Street, Hobart; (03) 6231 1165
This bustling eatery on the edge of the CBD seats just 20 but, thankfully, offers two sittings every night. Chef Matt Breen changes the modern Italian menu weekly but if you’re lucky, you might find housemade stracciatella cheese with Roman beans, smoked almonds, grilled asparagus, broad beans and fresh peas or maltagliati (cut pasta sheets) with cima di rapa (bitter greens), pangrattato and Parmesan. Finish with a refreshing dessert of rhubarb, white-chocolate mousse and Campari granita. The wine list is concise but considered – go for a local Glaetzer-Dixon Chardonnay. You might have to settle for lunch if you don’t book well in advance.￼
98 Patrick Street, Hobart; (03) 6234 7659
Madame Rouge Bar + Bistro
She’s a good-time girl and the life of the party. She likes her music loud, her cocktails strong and her lighting low. It’s no surprise, then, that this newcomer to the valley has become a fast favourite. Although the venue has the vibe of a yesteryear Parisian cabaret, the food is far from an afterthought, especially given that E’cco’s Philip Johnson designed the menu. It reads like a greatest hits of bistro favourites: marinated goat’s cheese soufflé, duck confit, steak frites with peppercorn sauce and crème brûlée. While this madam is definitely more a lady of the night, if you can’t get a table for dinner, she’s just as much fun at lunch. Red velvet curtains soften the sunshine so you can settle into a cosy booth, order Champagne and enjoy the ambience. madamerougebistro.com.au
100 McLachlan Street, Fortitude Valley; (07) 3252 8881
Bold is the Brisbane restaurant offering only dégustation menus, you say? It takes just a course or two to understand why it works so well. The realisation may strike with the appearance of the tapioca, looking for all the world like tiny glistening pearls cradled in onion wedges resting on a silky sea of beurre blanc. It could also hit with the intense flavour of umami-rich shiitake broth paired with perfectly formed ricotta ravioli. Or even the beautiful presentation, each dish a colourful contemporary work of art in its own right. The service strikes the perfect balance of formality and friendliness. Then there are the carefully matched wines. The only dilemma is whether to choose five or eight courses – both menus also come in “herbivore” versions. Urbane doesn’t usually offer lunch but a group booking may be possible by arrangement.
181 Mary Street, Brisbane; (07) 3229 2271
￼Long Chim in Perth, the first of Thai-food authority David Thompson’s new generation of Australian restaurants, is hot in both the literal and lateral sense. There’s the buzz of the bunker-like dining room. The boom of uncompromising Siamese dishes such as bright and limy tom yum soup, sticky grilled pork skewers and fragrant curries in hues of green, red, orange and more. The fervent demand for tables, even a year after opening. Fortunately, the entire bar area is reserved for walk-in diners – great news for those prone to spontaneous cravings. During the week, give the outdoor “tuckshop” a spin; the concise menu features the same attention to detail as the restaurant but the setting is a little more casual and lunch-hour-friendly.
Basement, State Buildings, corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street, Perth; (08) 6168 7775
Lulu La Delizia
A pasta bar is, by definition, the place where diners can go for a comforting bowl of the Italian staple. But at Lulu La Delizia, the new restaurant of gifted Italian chef Joel Valvasori-Pereza, pasta is only part of the offering. Other standouts on the menu include a delicate housemade lemon ricotta and seasonal vegetables and kingfish briefly marinated in Aperol. Still, it would be unthinkable to visit this Subiaco diner without sampling the house specialità. Classic dishes such as spaghetti vongole and tagliatelle with veal-and-pork ragù have a loyal following, while daily specials – pig’s blood tagliolini in a sauce of prawns, fennel and vermouth, say – ensure there’s always something new for regulars. It’s a small space so bookings are mandatory. Otherwise, go at lunchtime or early in the evening. Just make sure you go.
Shop 5/97 Rokeby Road (Forrest Walk), Subiaco; (08) 9381 2466
If British chef Yotam Ottolenghi were to come to town, this is where he’d go to eat... but he’d have to join the queue. Chefs Jordan Theodoros and Martin Corcoran dispense Ottolenghi’s sort of food: fresh, full-flavoured dishes; strongly Mediterranean but with a healthy dash of Middle Eastern energy and spice. The hottest dishes on the blackboard menu include pan-roasted spatchcock with zucchini, tahini and pancetta; peppery lamb ribs with black vinegar and pickled ginger; and grilled squid with chorizo and broad-bean mash on sourdough. Solo diners can sit at the kitchen bar and in corner nooks; larger groups can head to one of the neighbouring bars to await their summons. peelst.com.au
9 Peel Street, Adelaide; (08) 8231 8887
As the website says, there are two sittings. And if you book the earlier one, don’t stay too long. Such is the demand for Prachaya Skolaree’s cooking. His kingfish sashimi with green chilli nam jim or his duck larb makes a perfect introduction to larger dishes, such as whole barramundi with green mango salad, grilled pork neck red curry and deconstructed pad Thai. If decisions are too difficult, go for the Tuk Tuk tasting menu. When the main dining room is full, options include the Botanic Bar and terrace next door, where a select menu is available. Best seats are at the kitchen bar but you’ll need to book well ahead. ￼golden-boy.com.au
309 North Terrace, Adelaide; (08) 8227 0799