GT’s Restaurant Guide State Winner
Is it possible to improve on alt-bistro perfection? Clearly, yes. Etta has gone from strength to super-strength with the arrival of chef Rosheen Kaul, who has cemented star status at this intimate Brunswick East bar and dining room. Mining her mixed-Asian heritage, the snacky menu specialises in flavour broadsides from left field, whether that’s wood-grilled skewers of abalone and lardo with a fragrant sprinkle of Kampot pepper, say, or the sweet freshness of raw scallops with nectarine, dragon fruit and Thai basil. Regulars, meanwhile, need not fear the signature hits (the crisp rice salad with red-curry pork sausage and mussels; the umami bomb of tempura enoki mushrooms, shiitakes and Savoy cabbage) are going anywhere soon. On the floor, owner Hannah Green continues to steer the ship with a molecular understanding of diner whims, ready as ever to quench thirsts with a quiver of interesting lo-fi wines. Vive la evolution.
It’s the small touches – fried capers on the vitello tonnato, the clarity of a broth bobbing with cockerel-stuffed ravioli and pickled mushrooms, the crisp edges of Alta’s homage to the focaccia of Italy’s north-west – that often nudge chef McKay Wilday’s celebration of Piedmontese cuisine towards the sublime. But the struggle can be real at Alta, especially when you’re forced to decide between, say, tajarin tossed with an impeccable rabbit ragù or a lemon and chestnut gnocchi. There are many such dilemmas, not least with the superb wine list built on a core of Piedmontese wines surrounded by an expertly assembled, frequently changing chorus of Italian, French and Australian labels. Owned and run by a team of crack industry professionals, Alta is an ode to detail. It’s present everywhere – service, lighting, glassware – and underlined by an absolute clarity about what a delightful backstreet trattoria is put on this earth to do.
Some things you might not expect at Attica: lasagne, pikelets, a pie and sauce. Granted, these are Ben Shewry’s takes, so the lasagne (called “Eat the Problem”) features an invasive-pest ragù of buffalo, venison and boar wrapped in green-ant-studded pasta sheets. The pikelets, served with mud crab and bunya-bunya cream, are green with sea lettuce. The pie stars kangaroo tail, eaten watching a vintage AFL game in a pub constructed in Attica’s backyard. Shewry’s level of playfulness is a rarity at this end of the dining spectrum, where chin-stroking is often the default. Delightful, also, is his championing of Australian native ingredients – a gorgeous flower-shaped wafer containing emu-liver parfait is a highlight, as is an unadorned spoonful of rare, magnificent sugarbag honey. What keeps Attica great, along with spot-on service and a drinks list that plays cool sidekick to the food’s inventiveness, is that deliciousness matters as much as the messaging.
Brae’s been in the upper branches of Australia’s restaurant tree for a decade now, an impressive feat made more so by isolation and a philosophy about sourcing and growing everything close to home. Post-lockdowns, it’s better than ever. For starters it’s more relaxed. A newly built cellar has reduced the number of tables in the light-filled dining room, slowing the pace while emphasising a cracking list offering surprisingly great value. Dan Hunter’s 11-ish course menu has many new dishes that add delightful levity – a fabulous crunchy potato gem dabbed with honey and capped with sea urchin; smoky, fatty, completely delicious skewers of smoked eel and pork jowl; a “half-time orange” combining orange granita, crème and marmalade in a hollowed-out orange half. All these sit comfortably with his faculty for old-school technique (superb wood-roasted duck, textbook liver parfait) and superlative farming (a dish comprising 60 different leaves and flowers from the garden). Just exquisite.
Patience. You’ll need it to land one of six seats at chef Jung Eun Chae’s Cockatoo home, where the seasonal, medicinal, ferment-heavy Korean menu unfolds. It’s also the powerful force that underpins the experience – given even more breadth by a recent move from a Brunswick apartment to a mountain house girt by gardens, ferns and giant urns. Chae’s arsenal of traditional, fastidiously made Korean condiments (fruits turned into drinking vinegars; soy to arrestingly vibrant sauce) is revelatory to behold. Behind a timber bench, fire crackling, Chae calmly plates punchy pickles; kingfish sashimi, practically reanimated by that living soy sauce; congee-like pine nut porridge to bring the soothe. Her latest boozy rice brew, makgeolli, fills cups. The deliberately neutral centrepiece – perhaps steamed rice and veg, with a pure mussel and Murray cod broth – allows shrimp-pungent perilla-leaf kimchi and the funk and crunch of anchovies and almonds to shine. Pure and potent, a paean to patience – worth the wait.
Chauncy only opens four lunch services each week but rest assured any planning involved to make one of those work is worth it. For starters, chef Louis Naepels’ locally minded four-course menu du jour – which might feature preserved artichokes teamed with excellent jamón or chou farci in a pool of resonant pork-stock sauce – is almost unbelievably well priced. All the more reason to include some add-ons: a shave of truffle, some respectfully treated cheese, perhaps a classic crème brûlée or a tarte Tatin good enough to bring you to tears. However you play it, the cooking is subtle and skilful in the same breath. Naepels’ partner Tess Murray manages the floor of the light-washed room (once a gold-rush-era surveyor’s office) with a similarly light touch. She’s also behind the wine list, an immaculate collection focusing on New and Old World expressions of French varieties from small makers. Magnifique in all respects.
You have to hand it to Ronnie Di Stasio and Mallory Wall: when they commit, they really commit. In the pursuit of world-class pizza, that means getting his own durum flour milled, sweet-talking Yarra Valley farmers into growing San Marzano tomatoes, and making fior di latte in-house. These efforts haven’t gone unrewarded. The finished Neapolitan-style pizze – long-fermented, puffy-crusted, sugo-powered – are astonishingly good, served in an equally staggering setting: a brutalist, clubby space filled with art that feels as much gallery as restaurant. The tick-box menu starring knockout renditions of Italian classics, however, is a pointed reminder you’re here to dine. Featherweight fingers of fried beef tripe deftly reimagine cucina povera, the clam spaghetti dazzles and a mighty bone-in pork cotoletta proves a worthy main event. As per Di Stasio tradition, service is a blend of cheek and charm while the wine list is yet another study in Australian-Italian excellence. Bravo.
Looking for the roots of Melbourne’s current wine-bar craze? All roads lead to Embla. Not that this essential CBD joint with its open, wood-fired kitchen was the first lo-fi wine bar in town. Instead, Kiwis Dave Verheul (chef) and Christian McCabe (wine guy) have redefined the meaning of “Melbourne wine bar”, particularly when it comes to the food, which takes its cues from whatever’s in the glass rather than the more familiar vice-versa approach. Verheul’s cooking – veg-forward, with a fondness for pickling and fermenting – includes menu stalwarts such as dill-dusted crisp soured cucumbers served with feta and brilliant sourdough bread alongside a changing roster of dishes. Think smoked duck liver parfait with rhubarb and witlof; wood-roasted spatchcock accompanied by Brussels sprouts and salted mandarin, or a highly addictive koji crème caramel with burnt pear. All the while, service is never anything less than outstanding. Drop by to see where it all began.
Surely, by now, you’re across the greatest hits: the splendid assortment of dim sum, those translucent Peking duck pancakes, that choice line-up of live seafood, wok-tossed and hit with ginger and spring onions. But what of the unapologetically rich and creamy crayfish omelette, somewhere between mousse and meringue? The highly refined quiet achiever that is the king prawn and tofu soup? Or the braised lamb brisket claypot – a rarity in Cantonese cuisine – more delicate than you’d imagine such a dish could be? The thing about Flower Drum is there’s always a new pleasure to uncover – even if it has graced the sprawling menu for the last (gasp!) 48 years. Few dining rooms in the country possess such a profound sense of ceremony, and fewer still back it up with such a consistent and consummately professional level of service. It’s a lesson in staying power if there ever was one.
It may only have opened in 2020, but – much like its namesake cocktail – Gimlet is already a classic, a cinematic recreation of the Roaring Twenties that would leave even Cecil B DeMille feeling inspired. Under the astute direction of Andrew McConnell, the art deco dazzle is matched by a menu delivering conspicuous consumption with all the flair you could desire, from caviar to wood-grilled lobster. Yet, there’s a knack for lifting the nominally prosaic to the level of poetry, too. From evergreen bar snacks such as parmesan-filled gnocco fritto topped with bresaola to a roast chicken recalibrating the Sunday roast, it’s all about finding the thrills in familiarity (a sentiment that extends to the supper menu, which might feature crêpes Suzette flamed theatrically tableside). The tiered dining room is a fitting stage for Melbourne’s glitterati, but standout floor staff ensure everyone at Gimlet feels like a star.
So you thought they didn’t make restaurants like this anymore? A splendid vision of terrazzo floors, royal-blue leather upholstery and a sweeping white marble bar twinkling with lamplight, Grill Americano brings retro glamour to its pursuit of produce-driven Italian perfection. There’s a “hang the expense account” feel to it all, with white-jacketed waiters delivering Tuscan bistecca from the wood grill and scampi on saffron risotto. Mere mortals can paddle in the shallow end with the quotidian appeal of Bolognese-stuffed arancini, chilli-dusted octopus carpaccio drenched in fruity olive oil and velvety anchovies with puffy focaccia and green-olive butter. But why not splash out a little? Whether it’s the signature mandarin-scented Americano cocktail, another glass of Barolo from the big-name list or a tiramisù with its surprise centre of glass-thin tempered chocolate, Chris Lucas’s clubby triumph packs in so much brio it seems churlish not to join the party.
It takes chutzpah to anchor a four-level pleasure palace comprising a Japanese music room, Thai street eatery and glamorous rooftop bar. But Her Bar keeps feet on the ground with a swanky fit-out (picture terrazzo floors, rattan ceiling panels and enormous abstract canvases) and a menu delivering greatest hits in the key of France. Gutsy steak tartare with house crisps is a piquant flavour punch, while kingfish crudo with a thicket of fresh herbs and a generous hand on the crème fraîche updates a Melbourne classic. See also the pan-fried Parisian gnocchi with a tangle of mushrooms and tang of sheep’s cheese, for a deft juggling of the familiar and the new. Drinks are just as important in a venue that starts to party as the night goes on, and Her delivers, from quality pre-batched cocktails to a polished wine list set to please discerning Francophiles. They’re reason enough to plant your flag at street level.
Looks like Lygon Street got the memo it was time for a change. Kazuki Tsuya raised eyebrows when he planted his Franco-Japanese flag on the strip six years ago, but his self-described “slow restaurant on a fast street” has led a renaissance. His aesthete’s vision approximates Zen with treacle-coloured carpet and moody grey walls and continues the refinement across five- or seven-course set menus posing for their close-up on bespoke ceramics. The union of French technique and Japanese sensibilities finds the delicacy in ingredients: tamarind, galangal and finger lime. Surprises are delivered with a steady hand – puffed quinoa bringing toasty crunch to a jewel-like tranche of raw tuna with a shiso hit; lotus root layered, Miró-like, on miso-spiked toothfish. It’s a singular experience, grounded in the verities of snowy white linen and scarily delicate stemware, with a standout wine and sake list rounding out a reliably noteworthy meal.
Crisp and refreshing, with a thrillingly sour backbeat, the hot and sour shredded potato at Lagoon Dining should be awarded some kind of medal for services to Australian tastebuds. Many would award similar gongs to the superb, juicy-sweet char siu pork with spring onion relish; the salted fish fried rice tossed with morning glory and scud chilli, or the criminally addictive sticky lamb ribs. There might also be an award for “most surprising location” given this good-looking modern pan-Asian diner with its white-washed walls, black granite bar and mustard yellow curtains is found in the heart of Melbourne’s Little Italy. Still, it feels at home, helped along by a concise drinks list that displays equal care to cocktails (check out the oft-changing house Spritz) and wines from here and there that successfully negotiate the menu’s kuzu, curry powder, doubanjiang and Sichuan pepper seasonings. Right place, right time.
In a world where nearly everything is dubbed “iconic”, few restaurants achieve – and retain – icon status like Alla Wolf-Tasker’s refined slice of country style. On picture-perfect Lake Daylesford, Lake House delivers a masterclass in unpretentious hospitality. The four-course à la carte menu harnesses the best seasonal produce from Tasker’s nearby Dairy Flat Farm with surprise and skill – perhaps a bowl of just-pulled brassicas in Pyengana cheddar custard or beautifully plated veal tartare with rich salsa tonnato and pecorino, perfect to pile on a plank of house spelt sourdough. The saucing is particularly sublime; think luxurious dashi sabayon on a pristine fillet of Blue Reef coral trout, or thick jus gras splashed over a melting Berkshire pork scotch fillet. It’s easy to see why the adjoining hotel and grounds are in demand for weddings – it’s a bucket-list experience full of romance and old-school charm.
“I don’t think we ordered this,” says a first-timer as a bowl of glossy, porridge-like gruel – “Fujian fried rice”, allegedly – appears tableside. Then, as a ladle breaks up its eggy surface, the hidden grains and seafood emerge, forming a lush, smoky mass that’s part fried rice, part congee, all Victor Liong. It’s one of many surprises and contrasts that underpin this urbane modern Chinese restaurant, where a grungy laneway address gives way to an elegant two-floor safe house of soigné service, laser-sharp technique, legendary Aussie wines and Chinese tea pairings. Duck-skin crackers with caviar and ethereal mud crab and trout roe tartlets speak to a strong snack game, although the kitchen is equally adept with the classics. Black fungus sharpened with black vinegar? Crunchy! Pan-fried pork and chive dumplings? Terrific! Precision-roasted duck breast with pear hoisin and quivering, jasmine-scented crème caramel? Essential! Just like Lee Ho Fook itself.
The dining room at Manzé is as charming as its service and its drinks list – a short, sharp collection with a penchant for vin naturel and Mauritian rum. So, when Mauritian-born chef Nagesh Seethiah’s food starts landing against this backdrop of reggae, indoor plants and rattan furniture, it may take a beat before it dawns how beautifully balanced and finessed his cooking is. Maybe the deep-fried taro fritter served with a thrillingly spiced rhubarb hot sauce will alert you, or the purple daikon and feijoa chutney snack. Perhaps it’ll be the deep green and potent pepper and coriander-seed sauce accompanying dreamy, perfectly tender pork neck. Or else the knee-weakeningly good besan greo, a halwa-like chickpea dessert with salted coconut sorbet and blood orange. The Mauritian blend of South Asian and East African flavours and spicing is so well executed here you may want to start applauding. Or, better still, order more food.
The quiet, spot-lit room may look spartan at first, but subtle luxury is writ large at Minamishima. It’s there in the smoothness of the American oak counter; the thin stems of the glassware; the solicitousness of the skinny-tied waitstaff, who top waters up at the slightest of sips. Even in the kitchen door’s near-silent glide and, yes, the treasures that come from behind it: impossibly delicate chawanmushi, say, or buttery kerchiefs of Kagoshima wagyu beef. The 10 or so pieces of sushi are the real draw, though, of a quality that can leave you breathless. A bluefin belly temaki laden with sea grapes makes a strong case for over-the-top indulgence, while torched Spanish mackerel nigiri is a study in delicate complexity, brushed in Japanese olive oil and sprinkled with seaweed salt. The pricey omakase tide may be rising in Melbourne, but this one occupies a level all its own.
It’s hard to fathom that O.My is a decade old, given the level of enthusiasm the Bertoncello brothers (Blayne in the kitchen and on the restaurant’s farm; Chayse on wine and the floor) bring to their dark-hued, city-edge diner. The sense of fun and adventure throughout the 10 to 20 veg-focused courses is infectious; not just because the combinations of flavours are wholly original, but also because they’re unfailingly delicious. It might start with a small ring of fried pastry filled, wreath-like, with edible leaves and flowers. Then skip to pickled and fermented vegetables in tempura-like batter. And on to seared and poached calamari with semi-dried tomatoes in a luscious broth made from the offcuts, wallaby teamed with pickled green tomatoes and a sourdough pudding with quince and strawberry gum. The wine selection is a highlight, favouring well-made, minimal-intervention labels from small growers, all explained with candour and humour. Another 10 years please.
Who doesn’t like a little tableside action? At Omnia – a big, bustling clubhouse for the glam South Yarra crowd – you can order cocktails from a sleek marble-and-timber drinks trolley parked at your table (a Marigold Old Fashioned is a subtly sweet variation on a classic) or superb steak tartare expertly mixed and plated before your very eyes. This old-school, theatrical hospitality is where Omnia shines, whether you’re talking a voluminous wine list fond of Europe or chef Stephen Nairn’s excellent cooking. How about a Scotch egg with pork-and-fennel mince wrapped around a runny-yolked quail egg? Or a sublime barrel-aged anchovy teamed with lemon aïoli? And that’s to say nothing of the three steaks, whole roasted duck for two, expertly handled flounder with beurre noisette and lemon, or the banoffee trifle that steals the show at the finish line. There’s a cheese trolley, too, naturally – another good argument for nostalgic indulgence done right.
Where many modern meat-free restaurants exist to highlight the verisimilitude of their mock meats and faux cheeses, Patsy’s can seem almost radical in its approach. Its raison d’être? To celebrate the beauty of vegetables as they are, many of them purpose-grown on a farm owned and run by co-owner James Langley. In the kitchen, chef Dan Lidgard honours the produce in skilfully cooked Mediterranean style: a sensationally deep-flavoured shallot tarte Tatin or a choux farci with rice, pine nuts and herbs. Snackish bites play nicely with a drinks list that offers noteworthy cocktails (a Martini dirtied with pickled green tomato brine, say) and loves Spanish palomino and Italian barbera as much as Western Australian chenin and South Gippsland pinot noir. The flatteringly lit Spanish Mission-style building adds to the appeal of Patsy’s, a place both charmingly nostalgic and scintillatingly relevant.
Michael Ryan continues his journey of reinvention at his 14-year-old destination diner in gold rush country. The offering is now an exacting kaiseki of 18 compact dishes presented in four waves on individual trays adorned with fine ceramics. This is not a gluttonous dégustation, but an exercise in restraint and exceptional technique. Start with translucent slivers of kingfish sashimi, perhaps, or pungent house-made pickles, or a steaming pillow of mushroom tofu with umami-rich katsuobushi salt. Fried morsels are particularly memorable, including pumpkin tempura encased in a delicate wisp of golden batter; a finger of prawn toast drizzled in tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayo, or a doughnut-like ball of fried coconut-milk custard rolled in miso sugar. Ryan’s own digestivi star on a punchy list of hyper-local wines, exceptional sake and Japanese whisky that warrants extensive exploration – and a one-night stay in one of the comfortable rooms out back.
GT’s Best New Restaurant
With its shared tables, bar seating and stacked shelves of natural wine, Serai feels like instant fun – of the fire-fuelled, Filipino-flavoured kind. Clever cocktails mix Pinoy staples such as calamansi, pandan, coconut and ube into all kinds of thrilling new combos. A Ponso Sour, for example, shakes gin, toasted coconut, chardonnay, lime and egg white into a shiny pandan-green treat. A kinilaw of kingfish and calamansi is a winner, as are fried noodles topped with spanner crab and pineapple. Drawing on his heritage, chef Ross Magnaye’s take on lechon is a platter of pork belly – crisp on the outside, fatty within – covered in funky, sweet-sour smoky palapa sauce. His ode to halo-halo, meanwhile, arrives as a Paddle Pop mined with coconut, jackfruit, cornflakes, jelly and purple yam. Expats and in-the-know locals have quickly formed a strong fan base, but when the good times and sense of adventure are this contagious, there’s no doubt newbies will quickly catch on.
Tedesca makes an art form of the decision-free zone. Even Type A personalities will crumble at owner-chef Brigitte Hafner’s vision. The handwritten menu details the day’s lazy set lunch, taking cues from the blazing hearth and opulent displays of estate-grown biodynamic produce as well as the handiwork of local artisans. What ensues are freeform, European-accented riffs on seasonality, flavoured by the kiss of flames and the scent of smoke. Scene-setting snacks might include velvety swatches of jamón with persimmon and honey before a soul-soothing pasta course – cheese tortellini, perhaps, with radicchio, candied green figs and hazelnuts. There’s more, of course, including the kind of baked fruit desserts German grandmothers are famous for. Even the wine list – a mix of regional benchmarks and Old World pearlers – makes choices easy thanks to the help of the crack service team. Relaxed regional dining at its very finest.
Perhaps it’s the glowy backlighting, moody as all get-out. Or maybe it’s the genuine sense of hospitality, instantly evident in the bright-eyed welcome. But what strikes you almost immediately is Tulum’s rare sense of warmth, which percolates through the entire dining experience that follows. In his quest to “rethink the Anatolian kitchen”, chef-owner Coskun Uysal has forged a startlingly original vision of Turkish cuisine. Take the içli köfte – or lamb kibbeh – reimagined as a slender pie slice, given crunch and complexity from walnuts, currants, cumin and buttermilk garlic sauce. Or dolma-style sardines dressed with tart sumac tea, wrapped around cinnamon-fragrant lemon rice. Supple, marble-sized manti soaked in brown butter and garlic yoghurt, meanwhile, are a win for the purists, while the shredded chicken and milk pudding known as tavuk göğsü, teamed with lemon thyme ice-cream, upends tradition in just the right way. There’s nothing else quite like it.