Brisbane Times Good Food Guide 2016: award winners

Line-caught squid, roast gem lettuce, fried wakame, sea parsley and basil at Gauge.
Line-caught squid, roast gem lettuce, fried wakame, sea parsley and basil at Gauge. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year

For the restaurant that consistently sets a benchmark for others to follow.

Esquire, Brisbane

Consistency, passion and a hardline commitment to quality are what earmark Ryan Squires' riverside exemplar of contemporary fine dining. Sure, Esquire's menu pushes some boundaries, but witnessing the delight on diners' faces as their beautifully plated meal reveals surprise after surprise proves that fine dining doesn't need to be stuffy. A menu that changes daily because the chefs prefer to allow seasonality and availability to dictate to them rather than the other way around guarantees it's certainly never boring. Added to the unique food, a chic Scandinavian decor, sweeping river views, and a well-pitched wine list ensure Esquire continues to shine as a beacon in Brisbane's restaurant scene.

Citi Chef of the Year

To acknowledge those with the craft and ability to make a real difference to the way we dine now and in the future.

Josue Lopez, GOMA Restaurant, South Bank

Brisbane Times Good Food Guide 2016.
Brisbane Times Good Food Guide 2016. 

Over the past few years, Josue Lopez has developed from a young chef drawing influence from luminaries such as Rene Redzepi and other world masters of cuisine to someone who's confident forging his own way. Lopez heads up not just GOMA's flagship restaurant, but all of its food outlets – not bad going for a chef of his tender years. With an insatiable desire to learn, razor-sharp focus and an instinctive grasp of technique, he's producing some of the most imaginative food in the state, always with a strong connection to place. Whether catering for Ferran Adria, the G20 world leaders or modern art lovers, Lopez tackles the job with the same level of dedication and attention to detail.

Young Chef of the Year

To acknowledge our best and brightest young rising stars in the kitchen.

Ollie Hansford, Gauge, Brisbane

With so much up-and-coming talent in Queensland restaurant kitchens it can be hard to separate them, but our judges agreed this young English-born chef has something extra special. "Confident, competent and charismatic" is how they described Ollie Hansford. While they appreciated his pedigree – a traditional training gained in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe – they were equally impressed by the way he weaves these classically learned techniques into his utterly contemporary dishes. Hansford is just 27, is in his first head chef position and was a finalist in last year's competition. The judges noted how much he had evolved over the past year and have earmarked  him as a chef to watch.

Best New Restaurant

For the most exciting addition to Brisbane's dining in the past 12 months.

The Catbird Seat Bistro, East Brisbane

It's been just one among many openings in Brisbane over the past year, but where others have lacked in one aspect or another, this modest bistro provides the best of everything on our wish list; from food to flattering lighting; wine list to playlist. Most importantly, it does it with admirable consistency. Owner- operated, both the personable service and attention to detail from the kitchen are also top-shelf. James Guldberg's smart casual European fare, often with a strong house-made element, is reimagined and plated to contemporary mores, but always underpinned by a strong grasp of classic technique. Catbird Seat proves it's not size but what you do with it that counts.

Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year

For the best dining experience beyond Brisbane – in the bush or at the beach.

Wasabi Restaurant & Bar, Noosa

It's hard to imagine there could possibly be room for improvement, but Wasabi has refused to rest on its laurels since first winning this award in 2012. This beautifully situated riverside restaurant continues to strive for excellence, with cleverly conceived, precision-plated food that melds traditional and not so traditional Japanese cuisine, featuring rare vegetables, herbs and shoots from owner Danielle Gjestland's

farm. The entire dining experience is seamless, from order taking to being farewelled at the door. Since its first humble beginnings at Sunshine Beach, Wasabi has grown into a force majeure not just in Queensland, but on the Australian dining scene.

Wine List of the Year

For a wine list that not only fits with a restaurant's food but offers an excellent adventure at any level, large or small.

Aria, Brisbane

Aria also won this category in 2013 and has continued to garner accolades for an intelligent list that not only wins points for its expression of Australian wine but also increasingly has taken on  its own Brisbane-specific personality. Granted, head sommelier Ian Trinkle's impressive wine list is hefty, but while it has something for every taste, it is constructed with direction and purpose. Back vintage gems, much-loved classics and hard-to-get cult wines  that are a little more obscure are features, in addition to a strong and interesting selection of by-the-glass choices, including some old and rare drops available in 30, 75 and 150ml pours. A generous, imaginative list worthy of serious contemplation.

Champagne Pol Roger Sommelier of the Year

Recognises an individual wine waiter who brings knowledge, experience, expertise and enthusiasm to the table.

Shawn Gomes, Il Centro

This is the second time Gomes has won this award. Presiding over one of the city's busiest and most successful restaurants with practised ease, Gomes has put together an impressive and interesting wine list and also brings to the table all the qualities you could possibly ask for in a sommelier. In addition to his prodigious and ever-expanding vinous knowledge, he has the rare knack of engaging with customers on every level, whether nervous newcomers to wine or serious collectors. This he does with grace, humour and a total lack of condescension – qualities much appreciated by Il Centro's drop-ins and regulars alike.

Citi Service Excellence

To honour an individual's outstanding level of service.

Francois Le Saveant

Le Saveant brings to mind the restaurateurs of yore; welcoming, eagle-eyed hosts who seemed to make it their personal mission to ensure that every single diner left their establishment happy. He cut his teeth in luxury hotels such as the Warwick Champs Elysees and the Connaught and Claridges in London where he gained broad experience as a general manager, food and beverage director, maître d' and hospitality educator. Migrating to Australia in 2003, Le Saveant worked as a general manager at Jellyfish before going into partnership with chef Javier Codina at Moda in 2010. His broad wine knowledge, consummate charm and obvious love of what he does are commendable. Setting the bar high, Le Saveant has created a service standard that others should aspire to.

Best Cheap Eat

Recognises a venue that provides great quality food at wallet-friendly prices.

Bird's Nest Yakitori, South Brisbane

Don't be fooled by the casual atmosphere – behind the scenes we suspect this outfit is run with Swiss-like precision and attention to detail. From the minute diners set foot in the door and receive the traditional shouted Japanese 'Irrashaimase!' greeting, the experience is a joy. As the number of off-duty hospitality workers perched at the bar eating yakitori skewers grilled over binchotan charcoal testify, the food, albeit simple, is excellent quality and great value. Add an attractive contemporary decor, neat sake list, Japanese beer and convivial late-night hours and it's easy to see why Brisbane holds Bird's Nest close to its collective hearts.

Best Bar with Food

In celebration of Brisbane's bar revolution, we honour a bar with great food.

Gerard's Bar, Fortitude Valley

When the owners of Gerard's Bistro announced they were opening a bar, everyone was expecting good things. And Gerard's delivered in spades. Tucked behind its older brother, Gerard's Bar announces itself to passers-by with an impressive display of charcuterie in the window, including premium Spanish jamon, wild boar salami, 'nduja, sobrasada and more. Here, too, is arguably the best burger in town, as well as a range of cheese and Spanish preserves, pates and terrines. Then there's an appealing, sophisticated snack menu that draws from the Gerard's menu – squid ink and cauliflower "Oreos" anyone? Drinking food just doesn't get any better than this.

Drinks List of the Year

For a cleverly crafted, intelligent and venue-appropriate drinks list.

Black Bird Bar & Grill, Brisbane

There are few better places in Brisbane to have a drink than the wide terrace overlooking the river, especially when there's such  a clever and comprehensive drinks list to choose from. This is the second consecutive year this award has gone to Black Bird, and bar manager Aaron Clark and his gun bar crew should be commended for putting together a list that is a truly global experience with something to please every palate, wallet and occasion. There are creative cocktails based on recipes from the 1920s, aperitifs and digestives, hard-to-find premium spirits and an impressive collection of single malt whiskies. If you can't find what you want here, you're not really thirsty.

Vittoria Coffee Legend

For an individual's outstanding long-term contribution to the industry.

Philip Johnson, E'cco Bistro

A Brisbane hospitality original, Johnson has been a major player on the scene for more than 20 years, setting the bar for other restaurants when he opened E'cco in 1995. Since then, he's weathered major economic events that would have seen many others choosing to hang up their aprons for good. Johnson has an unequivocal commitment to good food rather than as a blind follower of fashion, an ethos he's passed on to many of the chefs he's mentored. He has written cookbooks and hundreds of centimetres of column inches and generously donated his time  to many charities. As a chef and a man, Johnson is truly worthy  of the title Legend.

Food for Good

Mark Rotolone and Vanessa Diana, Vine Restaurant, New Farm

In 2014 Mark Rotolone and Vanessa Diana lost their four-year-old son Ari to mitochondrial disease, a progressive chronic illness without a cure that causes debilitating physical, developmental and cognitive disabilities. After Ari's death, the couple set about fundraising the best way they knew how – with food. With help from fellow restaurateurs, they set up and ran "Ari's Safari", a progressive dinner that quickly sold out and raised $21,000 for the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. Ari's Safari is now in its second year, and the couple have again put aside their own grief in the desire to help others, donating their own time and resources to organise this annual event to support the aims of this worthy charity.

People's Choice award

Indulge Cafe, Bundaberg

There's something very special about this little cafe in Bundaberg and it's not just loyal locals who think so. Open for breakfast and lunch, it's always packed with happy diners. Indulge's impressive and highly seasonal menu is city slick in execution but perfectly expresses sense of place, with each dish delivering an eloquent story of the local farms, produce and the people who grow it. There are "Bill's Amaroso tomatoes", "Brucie's passionfruit", "Rick's bacon" and "Emilia's spaghettini" – small-batch produce grown or made with love and treated with equal care. If it's not produced or grown locally, it's made in-house, from butters to brioche, spiced salt to sugo. Anyone who's been lucky enough to eat  here can't fail to walk away impressed by the boundless energy, genuine passion and immense talent of owner/chef Amanda Hinds, husband Larry and their team.

Pick up your copy of The Brisbane Times Good Food Guide 2016 from Tuesday, June 30 for $7.99 from participating newsagents or online at brisbanetimes.com.au/goodfoodguide for $9.99 including delivery.