What a difference a year makes. This time last year, we were in the middle of a seemingly endless lockdown, frantically debating whether to go ahead with our annual Restaurant Awards as large swathes of the industry remained shuttered.
This year, as we announce our 2023 finalists, the industry is buzzing. Tourists are back, dining rooms are full, and new openings continue to raise the bar and prove that the Australian dining is some of the most dynamic and creative in the world.
And so, it is our great pleasure to celebrate the industry this month and single out those that are flying high and bringing joy to diners across Australia.
Until then, congratulations to all our finalists!
— Joanna Hunkin, editor, Gourmet Traveller
Words by Fiona Donnelly, Michael Harden, Joanna Hunkin, Tristan Lutze, Tory Shepherd, Katie Spain & Max Veenhuyzen
ARKHÉ | Adelaide, SA
Chef Jake Kellie is fuelled by fire and since his new baby Arkhé opened in November, he’s worked open flame magic in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood. A stellar team keeps the cogs turning (and devoted lunch and dinner regulars returning). From front of house to sommeliers and the bustling kitchen – the camaraderie is palpable. This restaurant exudes energy; best observed from a perch overlooking the kitchen. It is slick, beautifully designed, and edgy but the welcome is always as warm as the wood-burning oven and elevation grills.
In short: So hot right now.
DI STASIO CARLTON | Melbourne, Vic
In short: Guaranteed good times.
FRUI MOMENTO | Margaret River, WA
When word got out that gun Margaret River chef Seth James had left Wills Domain to link up with winemaking phenom Larry Cherubino, expectations were high. In Frui Momento, the duo has delivered on this not-inconsiderable promise with James’s detailed, confident food finding a foil in Cherubino’s expressive wines as well as a cellar studded with international benchmarks. A new breed of cellar door restaurant.
In short: Enjoy the moment.
GRILL AMERICANO | Melbourne, Vic
In short: Beautifully retooled ’80s glam.
LANA | Sydney, NSW
It’s been the year of the dining precinct but none does quite it as well as Circular Quay’s multi-level Hinchcliff House, where fine-diner Lana sits as the sparkling pink diamond in the historic wool store’s crown. She may not have received the same fanfare as other new openings but has proven a dark horse, thanks to her glamorous dining room, playful (yet whip-smart) service and a snack-heavy menu full of bold, unexpected flavours. Bonus points for offering one of the best value fine-dining menus in Sydney.
In short: Flirty and fabulous.
MARGARET | Sydney, NSW
Neil Perry’s decades of supporting and encouraging artisan producers have come home to roost at Margaret. Superb produce – particularly astonishingly good seafood – combines with the skill and respect it deserves on a menu that encapsulates Perry’s cooking lodestars, be that a Thai-style crab salad, simply grilled King George whiting or a perfectly dressed salad. The room, filled by day with light dappled through leaves, is casually, expensively elegant, the perfect backdrop for one of Australia’s living treasures at the peak of his powers.
In short: Just go.
ONZIEME | Canberra, ACT
Onzieme is less a wine bar with food than a food bar with an exceptional wine offering. Chef-owner Louis Couttoupes’s snacky, shareable menu built around local goodies draws inspiration far more broadly than the venue’s Parisian name might suggest, his tenure at Bar Rochford honing his ability to design the kind of food that’s best served with a good drop. And while the wine list helpfully separates “fun” whites and reds from the “classic” drops, everything else about Onzieme is pure fun.
In short: Paris meets Canberra.
PEPPINA | Hobart, Tas
In short: Big is beautiful.
SHELL HOUSE DINING ROOM & TERRACE | Sydney, NSW
It may be shallow to judge a venue by its appearance but you’ll be forgiven for wanting to wallow in the beauty of the Dining Room at Shell House, which easily joins the ranks of the country’s best dressed restaurants. A kitchen driven by gun-duo Joel Bickford and Aaron Ward (who left Aria and Sixpenny respectively to take on the decadent diner) brings substance to the stylish equation, along with an all-star line up of floor staff, including top sommelier Alex Kirkwood.
In short: A thing of beauty.
ARIMIA ESTATE | Wilyabrup, WA
In short: Farmhouse dining, reimagined.
BEACH | Byron Bay
From its sun-kissed position atop the dunes framing Clarkes Beach, this bright, breezy bungalow elevates the classic “seafood by the beach” experience while avoiding the too-often-haughty trappings of seaside dining. Chef Alanna Sapwell builds Beach’s casual but serious menu around superlative local produce, be it a selection of oysters bathing in mandarin juice, or a coil of pappardelle caught in a wave of buttery crab and bottarga. With a zippy list of cocktails and wines and an uninterrupted coastal view, Beach is transportingly true to its name.
In short: Refined dining soundtracked by waves.
BLUME | Boonah
The Scenic Rim is one of Queensland’s most beautiful food bowls. Its rich soils nurture everything from heirloom tomatoes and finger
limes to Jurassic quail. Jack Stuart (ex-head chef Gauge, Brisbane) gambled everything to open Blume and give lucky diners a taste
of this abundance, and at his thoughtful 20-seater you can savour it all. The pride of place is evident in everything from his chewy sourdough slathered with butter made from rich Tommerup’s Dairy cream, to slices of juicy house chorizo and way beyond. It’s country hospitality, delivered with a polished urban edge.
In short: Putting the “ooh ahh” into Boonah.
CHAUNCY | Heathcote, Vic
The current Australian passion for traditional French dining gets one of its best expressions at Chauncy where sommelier Tess Murray and chef Louis Naepels channel the spirit of French provincial cooking in a heritage-listed sandstone building on Heathcote’s main street. Utilising small, local producers – cheesemakers, dairy producers, pig farmers, vegetable growers – in service of a set-course menu that might include gougère, classic pork terrine and crème brûlée, Chauncy beautifully evokes a sense of place, both here and there.
In short: Heathcote en Provence.
MT LOFTY RANGES VINEYARD | Adelaide Hills, SA
In short: Adelaide Hills-meets-Tuscany.
VAN BONE | Marion Bay, Tas
In short: Worth the trip.
ALEX WONG | Lana, NSW
The original pitch pegged Lana as a seafood-focused Italian fine-diner. But given the freedom to explore, head chef Alex Wong turned Lana’s menu into a far more intriguing proposition, peppering Italian staples with a diverse range of flavours. Take for instance, his siu mai-inspired cappelletti, filled with pork and prawn and served in an umami-packed dashi. Wong’s snack game is so strong, it’s spawned its own menu, Lana’s Play List. And like all the best hits, you’ll want to keep these on repeat.
In short: Hit maker.
DENNIS YONG | Parcs, Vic
When Dennis Yong was contemplating a career change while working at Sunda, restaurateur Adi Halim (owner of Sunda, Aru and The Windsor) offered him his own restaurant where he could focus on his dual passions: sustainable dining and fermentation. It was inspired casting with Yong having the talent and imagination to turn a worthy cause into an outstandingly delicious one. Repurposing ingredients that would otherwise be headed for the bin, Yong creates unique flavours and a highly original dining experience.
In short: Tasty waste.
ETHAN FERRIS | Restaurant Labart, Qld
In short: The future looks bright.
ELIZABETH MITCHELL | Alberto’s Lounge, NSW
In short: Connecting past and present.
HELLY RAICHURA | Enter via Laundry, Vic
Helly Raichura’s hospitality voyage is hardly typical. Her passion for cooking, fostered at home in India, was turbo-charged after moving to Australia and encountering the limited scope of Indian food. She opened Enter via Laundry in her house with a waitlist in the thousands, and did things her way, bringing fine dining and Australian native ingredients to traditional Indian dishes. No longer in her house, EVL still has an atypical entrance and Raichura continues to make it unique.
In short: Go your own way.
MUG CHEN & CHIA WU | Muni, SA
When Taiwanese chefs Mug Chen and Chia Wu opened their natural wine bar and restaurant in Willunga in late 2021, it shook things up in the quaint town. Previously, Chen trained in Paris and later honed her skills at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde and McLaren Vale’s The Salopian Inn. Meanwhile, Wu hit the tools at d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant, Fino Vino and The Little Rickshaw. Starting Muni was a bold move. Their beautifully executed Taiwanese-inspired snacks, 11-course set dining menu, and challenging drinks menu is an exciting addition to the wine region.
In short: Inspired risk takers.
ROHAN PARK | Old Young’s Kitchen, WA
During high school, Rohan Park spent a year boarding in the Swan Valley. After cooking his way through the state, he’s back and stationed at Old Young’s Kitchen, an easy-going distillery restaurant making Indigenous flavours accessible to all. From cured kingfish sharpened with finger lime and pepperberry to kangaroo tartare with youlk and a crocodile garum, Park’s cooking prioritises deliciousness and supporting First Nations growers and communities.
In short: Connecting past and present.
RESTAURANT PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
ANDY CLAPPIS | Our Place at Willunga Hill, SA
Smiles don’t get wider, nor greetings more genuine than those delivered by Andy Clappis when visitors arrive at his hilltop McLaren Vale restaurant. Demand for his hearty Sunday Italian lunches (and his charisma) is fierce. Andy’s 89-year-old father Enzo Clappis is always nearby. Hospitality legend Enzo and his late wife Sonia arrived in Australia in 1951 after fleeing Europe as post-war refugees. They went on to pave the way in Italian dining in South Australia. When he’s not helping in the kitchen, Enzo proudly watches his son work the crowd. His whole roast pig and coveted cannoli are served with a side of drama.
In short: From Italy, with love.
ELISE JACOBSEN | Lulu La Delizia, WA
Bucatini. Gramigna. Corzetti: Lulu’s pastas are everywhere on Instagram. But what those little squares can’t capture
is the buzz and superior hospitality of this mighty neighbourhood eatery: take a bow Elise Jacobsen, Lulu’s smiley restaurant manager and service talisman. From the moment you arrive, Jacobsen and her tight-knit crew work non-stop to make guests feel welcome, the floor team’s infectious charm and warm patter as much a draw as the food and drink.
In short: Leading by example.
LAURA STUCKEN | Van Bone, Tas
Given Laura Stucken’s ease and charm on the floor of Van Bone, the isolated east coast Tasmanian restaurant she co-owns and manages, you’d presume a hospitality background. But you’d only be partly right – Stucken is an interior designer who has worked on numerous hospitality venues (including the renowned Pumphouse Point). Now she’s designed a restaurant of her own and the warmth and elegance of the timber-forward design is the perfect backdrop for the relaxed style she brings to serving Van-Bone’s multi-course menu.
In short: Well-designed service.
SHANNON MARTINEZ | Vic
In short: Plant-based revolutionary.
SIMON GLOFTIS | Qld
In short: Committed to excellence.
BAR MERENDA | Daylesford, Vic
At Bar Merenda the person next to you might have made the wine you’re drinking, though they themselves may be drinking something stonkingly good from Europe. With its casual, home-made feel and the extensive knowledge (and cellar) of owners Andy Ainsworth and Clare O’Flynn, Merenda is just the kind of wine bar that a town in one of Australia’s most interesting and forward-thinking wine-growing regions should have. Add some simple but excellent wine bar food and you may find a quick drink turning into a long evening.
In short: Right place, right time.
BAR ROCHFORD | Canberra, ACT
In short: Still got it
CASA | Mount Hawthorn, WA
This mid-century fantasy of stone and wood wouldn’t look out of place in Milan or Rome, but rare is the enoteca that stores all its (lo-fi, organically farmed) wine in seven different temperature-specific fridges. The kitchen’s repertoire of Mexican-y, Japanese-y small plates would likely confuse Italians, ditto the Aussie twang of cheery staff that run the show. But for Perth drinkers seeking both style and substance, Casa feels like home.
In short: Mi casa, su casa.
Good Gilbert | Goodwood, SA
As friendly neighbourhood bars go, Good Gilbert is the epitome of community spirit. Co-owners Wilson and Isabelle Shawyer did the bar’s creative fit-out and art-packed interior themselves. The couple is dedicated to sharing great wine at an accessible price; from great entry-level chardonnay to Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair Nuits St Georges Blanc and everything in between. The wine list changes weekly and head chef Savannah Sexton’s menu is a drawcard of its own. Even pooches are welcome (there’s a wall of polaroids devoted to them).
In short: All heart and soul.
PALOMA | Burleigh Heads, Qld
The fun literally spills onto the pavement at Burleigh Head’s groovy Paloma. Chic, with clean-lined retro-mediterranean interiors, this wine bar is the handiwork of the owners of nearby Labart and it rocks. Expect a Euro-centric wine list studded with stacks of natural and small-batch goodness, matched with smart plates ranging from a hunger-busting steak frites with peppercorn sauce, to boquerones on toast, and shisito peppers with salmorejo. Add in friendly, slick service and sharp cocktails, and Paloma gets a big tick from us.
In short: Rewriting Gold Coast stereotypes.
PASKI VINERIA POPOLARE | Sydney, NSW
In short: Buono bottle-o.