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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

Pic­ture: Peter Mathew

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