TTICA, Melbourne: It all started with the babysitter from across the road. She was only 14, so we ducked down the street to the closest restaurant, Attica in Melbourne’s Ripponlea. Back in two hours, we said. How serendipitous. This chic little restaurant 8km out of the city centre was not just a fantastic way to start the year: in August a rival newspaper named it the city’s best restaurant, beating some big-name establishments.
And the dish we highlighted in our February review — a stunning signature entree of smoked trout broth with pork crackling and sorrel oil — won dish of the year. No wonder. The presentation is theatrical to the point of magical. A stemless glass goblet is placed over the soup bowl and an electric bong is used to manoeuvre the cedar smoke inside.
It arrives at the table like a fortune teller’s globe, before the glass is whisked away, allowing the smoke to waft into the nostrils. It’s a true treat, the cubes of trout soft and smoky. Executive chef Ben Shewry has travelled extensively and his menu has Japanese and Middle Eastern influences.
If you want a sophisticated night’s dining away from the usual suspects in the city and Southbank district, an evening at Attica is a no-brainer. www.attica.com.au. Stephen Lunn Pendolino, Sydney: The second floor of a city-centre shopping arcade is not the most salubrious location for a hot new Sydney restaurant. But step into moodily lit Pendolino and you are transported to a world far from dress shops and jewellery outlets. Word quickly spread about this excellent Italian restaurant, cafe and olive oil shop after it opened at the George Street end of the Strand Arcade, and these days it’s hard to get a table because of the number of in-the-know diners booking return visits.
That’s mainly because of the terrific homemade pastas: the organic hand-cut pappardelle with braised white rocks veal sauce, a delectable piece of crumbed bone marrow perched on top, is my favourite.
Meanwhile, the likes of slow-roasted fennel and rosemary-scented pork belly with white bean and potato puree, fennel and blood orange salad or steamed ocean trout with escarole, radicchio and mustard fruit salad with tarragon salsa and salmon caviar are worthy alternatives for those who don’t fancy pasta.
Pendolino is something of a cavernous space and in less capable hands the number of tables could easily result in lengthy service delays. But waiters here are swift and professional, offering carefully considered advice on choices and delivering meals in a timely manner. Top Sydney dining is not all about water views and Pendolino is the perfect case in point. (See Travel & Indulgence next month for a full Tables review of Pendolino.) www.pendolino.com.au. Michelle Rowe Isis Brasserie, Brisbane: In Brisbane’s edgy innersuburban Fortitude Valley, Isis Brasserie is a sophisticated space of soft, warm tones and dark accents, starting with the black outline of the eye of the goddess on the glass front door.
A combination of expertise and inspired food is the restaurant’s signature. The soothing atmosphere envel-
Home fires: Guests enjoy a meal in one of three cosy dining areas at Monty’s on Montpelier at historic Battery Point, Hobart ops diners and fosters respect for an imaginative and well-executed menu. Floor staff are knowledgeable and on my end-of-winter visit, beside the comprehensive menu, a long specials list aired dishes being considered for the coming season.
Chef Jason Peppler’s menus are full of surprises. Outof-the-ordinary vegetables, herbs and leaves accompany special-event main ingredients. Spring lamb, Grimaud duck, roasted Kobe 708 and white rabbit are among the bases of dishes featuring cavalo nero, sorrel, mustard leaf, celeriac, leek greens, witlof, artichoke, asparagus, roasted garlic and walnuts. Palate teasers include chamomile jelly, crushed peas (luscious with lamb), wakame broth, white grapes and dressings scented with jasmine and toasted almond.
Desserts range from light and
(possets, puddings, souffles) to intense (pine-needle honey semifreddo with rhubarb cream and blood orange tart with Campari caramel and chocolate sorbet). www.isisbrasserie.com.au. Judith Elen Onred, Canberra: The view through large plate-glass windows from Red Hill’s Onred restaurant is a sight to behold. Even better, the appealing menu of rising young chef Jodie Johnson offers interesting eating, with many adventurous flourishes; expect the likes of calf’s liver with mash, beans, macerated sultanas and onion cream, or confit duck leg with beetroot and jelly terrine, parsnip puree, goat’s cheese cream and orange syrup. Even that plainest of mod-Oz staples — crispy-skinned Atlantic salmon — has an interesting twist, served with blue cheese cream, a warm shallot and rocket salad and pork crackling. And while it may sometimes seem there is too much going on here — a pan-seared whitefish dish, for instance, comes with a chilli cherry tomato, white bean and spicy sausage stew, and wakame battered prawns and ewe’s milk yoghurt. Johnson scores points for trying things that would make a lesser chef blanch.
She also gains plaudits for employing quality local ingredients, such as aged sirloin from nearby Bugendore and freshly shucked oysters from Merimbula to the south. All this, combined with Onred’s lovely setting inside a so-daggy-it’s-cool 1960s heritage building, make it an enjoyable and sophisticated dining choice that considerably enriches the ACT’s culinary credentials. www.onred.com.au. Elizabeth Meryment Monty’s on Montpelier, Hobart: Arriving at Monty’s in Battery Point is like pitching up at a friend’s house for a dinner party. Hostess and co-owner Nat Starkey will have gleaned your name from your booking and, in a nice personal touch, will likely use it throughout the night. There’s time for drinks in the lounge (firewarmed in winter) before moving through to one of the cosy dining areas set in three separate rooms of this old home.
Head chef (and Nat’s husband) Matt Starkey is in charge of the Mediterranean-influenced menu, which features the finest Tasmanian, mainland and international ingredients. The dishes are intelligently constructed but not overly fussy. Why not begin with slowbraised pork belly and marinated local scallops with sweet corn puree and a port and pinot reduction, and follow with paella of Rivendale milk-fed capretto with prawns, mussels and house-made chorizo finished with garden herbs and lemon.
The wine list features a number of lesser-known mainland wineries and Matt’s former life with a WAbased distributor of cheese ensures about 30 choices on a separate menu, including fine Tasmanian fromages de chevre. The combination of personalised service, creative and quality cuisine and the mother of all cheeseboards makes Monty’s the standout find in Tasmania for 2008. www.montys.com.au. Matt Denholm Halo, Perth: The pleasure of dining at Halo begins with a brisk five-minute walk from the CBD’s sunless canyons towards the Swan River, where the restaurant’s light and airy boathouse-style interior opens up to views across blue-green water to South Perth. Immaculate linen tablecloths and stylish plates and cutlery hint at a gimmick-free approach to dining. Halo’s waiters are attentive, yet restrained enough to let you enjoy your meal at a pace as leisurely as the passing river traffic.
Head chef Shane Keighley reliably turns out aesthetically pleasing but not overworked dishes: crispskinned salmon on lemon confit leeks is a study in colour contrasts, as is tea-smoked Manjimup marron on a vivid green bed of mizuna and apple celery salad.
High marks go to his degustation plate of four servings of salmon: a circle of finely chopped tartare topped with citrus creme fraiche, cider-cured salmon with lime salsa, and two mini-steaks, one lightly smoked and served with a zigzag of sweet mustard and dill dressing, the other seared and served with cucumber lightly pickled in vinegar.
Keighley is a regular competitor in the World Culinary Olympics and was named last year’s West Australian Chef of the Year. And Halo’s fixed business lunch menu is possibly unrivalled in Perth for value and prompt delivery. www.halocafe.com.au. Victoria Laurie The Kitchen Door, McLaren Vale, South Australia: McLaren Vale is home to more than its fair share of good restaurants, none better than The Kitchen Door, tucked away in a large tin shed at Penny’s Hill wines. In this bucolic setting, complete with black-faced sheep, fat chooks scratching beneath the gum trees and tidy paddocks fringed by vines, chef Ben Sommariva oversees an innovative farm-to-plate seasonal menu based largely on what’s available locally, be it Coorong Angus Beef or Fleurieu Peninsula seafood.
The nearby Saturday morning Willunga Farmers Market is another important produce source and each menu is thoroughly workshopped with winemaker Ben Riggs to provide a careful balance between food and the Galvanized Wine Group’s stable of wines.
The restaurant’s mood is rather more stylish than its tin exterior implies, with lovely rural views. The menu may be small but choosing is never easy as every dish is so good, from grilled Kangaroo Island abalone to slow-cooked oxtail. Local Normanville lamb neck is braised and served with organic Brussels sprouts ; lobster liver mayonnaise accompanies scallop carpaccio. A well-priced tasting menu with matched wines is a good choice but if you’re pressed for time, tapas style plates are available from the cellar door. www.pennyshill.com.au. Christine McCabe Killcare Bells, central coast, NSW: Ninety minutes north of central Sydney, perched above Killcare surf beach on a landscaped estate, this superlative hide-out is now the domain of Stefano Manfredi, late of the city’s Restaurant Manfredi and Belmondo. The feel is of a country-house spread, with flourishing fig and olive trees, the distinct possibility of boules on the lawn, and little cottages and two-storey villas in which to lie down after a robust bout with Manfredi’s menu. Screeching rainbow lorikeets whirl overhead and brush turkeys watch proceedings with murderous looks from beyond a wire barricade. The homestead has a wide canefurnished veranda and further seating is in a big dining room with a polished floor and beachy colour scheme of blue, sand and stone. Young waiters glide about in long, white aprons and the atmosphere is a blend of beachcasual and brasserie-chic.
Cameron Cansdell, formerly of the De Bortoli winery restaurant in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, shares the kitchen with Manfredi and their seasonal menus make good use of seafood from the parish. Fresh-shucked Hawkesbury River oysters are served on a bed of scattered shells; a divine risotto is made with crayfish from the waters off nearby Wagstaffe Point. A bread-based salsa dragoncello (a Manfredi specialty), fragrant with tarragon leaves torn from the stem, ample garlic and sloshes of red wine vinegar, accompanies selected meat dishes.
There’s a fabulous wine list, too; highly recommended is a satiny Montepulciano red from the old country. www.killcarebells.com.au. Susan Kurosawa