Bistro Gitan in South Yarra. Photo: Eddie Jim
1. Favourite non-eggy-breakfast
Fresh sardines on toast with spiced bean paste and shaved fennel at Pour Kids, Malvern. The retro-modern fitout is inviting and the menu shows technique and care, too.
2. Best ‘‘please don’t change classic’’
The bread maltagliati with calamari, spring onions and radicchio at Cafe di Stasio, St Kilda. Simple, pure and just about perfect. And . . . the pork hock with chilli caramel at Ezard, city; the snow crab at Attica, Ripponlea.
Apple crumble at A Boy Named Sue. Photo: Gabriella Coslovich
3. Liveliest places to eat on a bar stool
Who’d want to sit at a table when you can watch the chefs in action and make new friends from Casa Ciuccio in Fitzroy’s kitchen table? In the city, Cumulus Inc’s city bar remains a classic, where it’s not uncommon to strike up acquaintance with your neighbours. Huxtable (Fitzroy), The Smith (Prahran) and Coda (city) offer alluring perches, too.
4. Favourite chef on Twitter
Michael Ryan @theprovenance. Fast-fingered and erudite with a wicked sense of humour (he coined the term Vue de Wang), Ryan can encapsulate and entertain in 140 characters. And @benshewry is no slouch either.
5. Most welcoming for solo diners
Bar Lourinha, city. The food and drink offering here is note-perfect and a stool at the bar will make you feel part of the crowd. Attentive staff will leave you alone or chat — up to you. Gerald’s Bar (Carlton North) — mention you have an interest in wine and you’ll have someone to talk to all night. MoVida Next Door (city), because the staff really know how to treat a singleton.
Tempting ... Rhubarb souffle from Sunnybrae Birregurra.
6. Most alluring cheese trolley
With an array of beautifully aged cheeses on marble under glass domes, Merricote’s wooden cheese trolley (above right) is wheeled to the table. A blackboard sign reads ‘‘Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese’’. It’s one of the many slightly eccentric touches that makes this Northcote restaurant such a treasure. At the top of town, Vue de Monde’s bespoke wooden trolleys are irresistible, too.
7. Top upmarket yum cha
Think braised lamb shoulder potstickers, pork sliders and egg tarts; think Spice Temple (pictured above), Crown Complex, Southbank, daily noon to 3pm.
8. Favourite bar snacks
The Aylesbury Rooftop’s pint-sized sky-high bar drinks in the cityscape with a terrace looking down Lonsdale Street. Killer Spanish-leaning bar snacks might jump from quality jamon to classic churros.
And ... for sharp Italian food and a cheeky red, Carlisle Wine Bar, Balaclava. At City Wine Shop, luscious polenta chips will leave you wondering if you need dinner at all.
Top upmarket takeaway ... Sri Lankan restaurant Araliya in Hawthorn. Photo: Eddie Jim
9. Best hangover cure
Fitzrovia’s (St Kilda) dry-cured Istra bacon sandwich with Australian smoked mozzarella and sweet house-made tomato relish. Awesome.
10. Best vego dego
Provenance, Beechworth. Michael Ryan’s menu is so delicious, substantial and creative that even carnivores will lust after it.
11. Top Sunday lunch daytrips
Annie Smithers Bistrot, Kyneton, dishes up lovely local produce, great wine and lots of surprises within the French-inspired menu. Relaxed, not stuffy and the owner is in the kitchen and the dining room — a rare bonus.
San Telmo in Meyers Place, Melbourne. Photo: Bonnie Savage
And ... Loam, Drysdale, a bucolic foodie paradise inside and out; Sunnybrae, Birregurra is the country farm-to-table lunch that makes food-lovers daydream about a tree-change.
12. Best dinner and a sleepover
The Stanley (pictured below), Stanley. A classic French auberge — a beautiful place to stay and a lovely restaurant with the bonus of a country-style front bar with classic bar food. A huge garden makes it family-friendly for dining (in the warmer months), too. In the north-easterly neighbourhood, Villa Gusto, Provenance and Tea Rooms of Yarck are superb alternatives.
13. Right-on relaxed romantic dinner with a Euro accent
Bistro Flor (Carlton North) and Libertine (North Melbourne) both have that intimate feel combined with excellent food and service that makes them date-perfect. Libertine has seen more than a few marriage proposals, too.
14. Most family-friendly
Ladro (Prahran and Fitzroy), especially if you go early. Adults can eat from the usual menu but kids get their own choices if you order before 7.30pm. Ilona Staller, Balaclava, has a $10 kids special and 5pm opening. Also, Mr Wolf (St Kilda) and Firechief, (Camberwell).
15. Best suburban dining adventures
The laid-back retro feel doesn’t prepare you for Merricote. It’s the same at Estelle, but different personality. Does the fact both restaurants are in Northcote mean anything?
16. Best pizzeria
Mr Wolf, St Kilda. Then ... D.O.C Mornington; Ladro Greville, Prahran; Innocent Bystander, Healesville; and The Moor’s Head, Thornbury.
17. Best Melbourne laneway doppelganger in the bush
Graffiti, vinyl and a champagne list as long as your arm in the historic heart of Bendigo, that’s Dispensary Enoteca. And also, Black Bull Tapas Bar and Restaurant, Geelong.
18. Best view
Donovans. An Indian summer, a warm evening, friends, a celebration, outside watching the sunset and
pre-dinner drinks looking across the bay — the reviewer is talking about it still. Also, Chris’s, Apollo Bay; Mt Rael, Healesville; Stokehouse, St Kilda, Vue de Monde, city.
19. Sweetest dessert
Golden Fields’ peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and chocolate.
And also ... the Bombe at Mirka at Tolarno; whatever Pierre Roelofs has in this Thursday night’s tube at Cafe Rosamond (Fitzroy); palm sugar ice-cream sundae with salted honeycomb and lime jelly at Chin Chin, city (dig your spoon to the bottom of the glass for a real treat).
20. Most fun girls’ lunch
The Newmarket, St Kilda. Six hours into lunch, our reviewer’s group were seamlessly moved out to the courtyard so they could reset for dinner, and kept happy with an expert flow and pace of courses to share.
21. Most sublime souffle
Sunnybrae’s (Birregurra) rhubarb souffle has the classic hallmarks — slightly crisped sugary edges, light, foamy-fluffy texture. Then there is a wonderful rhubarb flavour. Also ... tonka bean souffle with smoked cocoa ice-cream, Vue de Monde, city.
22. Best vegie
Caramelised brussels sprouts (pictured above) at Circa, St Kilda; broccoli with salted ricotta at San Telmo, city; broad beans with garlic, vinegar and olive oil, Gigibaba, Collingwood; and chopped broccoli, freekeh salad at Builders Arms, Fitzroy.
23. Best place for a cosy celebration
The Little Press & Cellar private room deliciously hosts a subterranean love-in for family, friends or business associates.
24. Best neighbourhood comfort food
Crumbed schnitzel and apple slaw at Ellery and Co, Hawthorn.
25. Best new neighbourhood bistro
Bistro Gitan, South Yarra. Modern European food, simple elegance, park views, from restaurateur Jacques Reymond’s children.
26. Best outdoor tables on a sunny day in the country
Under the trees, lose yourself in the flow of the Ovens River at Ginger Baker in Bright. Also ... Bank Street Wood Fired Pizza & Garden, Avenel.
27. Best pre-dinner snack
Andrew McConnell’s seaweed and tapioca cracker with smoked eggplant puree at Cutler & Co, Fitzroy.
28. Feel-good highway burger
The 2 Cooks Cafe in Whorouly. Not flash, but tasty.
29. Best reason to pack the Esky on a foodie road trip
Myrtleford Butter Factory’s hand-made cultured butter.
30. Best way to make chicken interesting
Andrew McConnell’s cold chicken, house-made rice noodles, sesame and chilli paste salad at Golden Fields. Followed closely by steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil at Spice Temple, Southbank.
31. Most rockin’ ribs
Huxtable’s Korean barbecue pork ribs with spicy slaw and chilli gherkins (pictured below). Best eaten with a side of their sweetcorn and black beans with lime and chipotle creme fraiche.
32. Best road-trip pit-stop
Plunkett’s cellar door at Avenel is an oasis of F&B excellence on the Hume for north-bound travellers. Benalla Gallery Cafe is another perfect pullover off the Hume, with lake views and art to explore. Heading west? Red Door, Inverleigh. Also worth a detour, Lake House sibling Wombat Hill House, a charm-chocked coffee-breakfast-lunch hideaway in Daylesford’s botanic gardens.
33. Best Twitter temptation
Sunday roast at The Woods of Windsor (@TheWoodsWindsor). If you are a person of flimsy resolve, you should not be be following these guys on Twitter. When the wicked chef posts a picture of some Otway pork loin crisping up and glistening — you’re only human.
34. Best fleeting moment
Fresh curd ice-cream and apple at Attica where Tuesday night’s experimental chefs’ table is always exciting, but dishes sometimes fleeting. In June the dessert was ‘‘fresh curd ice-cream and apple’’. A tingling, zingy egg of the brightest-tasting curd, surrounded by shards of frozen apple that looked like eggshell, as if the ice-cream was just too much to contain it and it cracked out leaving the shattered shell in its wake. Fresh, sparkling, capturing the absolute essence of both flavours.
35. Favourite stayer
Ezard is a quiet achiever, still plating up fab fusion 13 years on, and the benchmark for exemplary service.
36. Most beautiful flatware
Christofle — Jardin d’Eden cutlery at Vue de Monde is expensive, exquisite and engaging. (Expect to pay about $77 for a teaspoon.)
37. Three reasons to leave Victoria to eat
Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney; Garagistes, Hobart; NuNu, Palm Cove.
38. Favourite Sydney import
Sommelier Banjo Harris Plane adds knowledge and grace to Ben Shewry’s exciting food at Attica.
39. Best dumplings
Kazuki’s, Daylesford, does sublime bug dumplings; and a great pork belly, too. Spice Temple’s varied dumplings are not short on admirers, either. But best dumplings mantle was pretty much unanimously owned by Hutong, city. Steamed Shanghai dumplings, xiao long bao, thin, silky yet elastic casings, sides of julienne ginger and black vinegar, chilli kapow ... all had reviewers in raptures.
40. Best steak
Several hundred dollars worth of raw meat is paraded around on a heavy wooden plank by a well-muscled floor dude at mod testosterone-primed beef temple Steer, South Yarra, now an American-influenced steakhouse. Expect the best from premium producers, cooked with reverence, from wagyu to black angus, grain-fed, pasture-fed.
The Newmarket in St Kilda may be better known for killer cocktails and tricked-up tacos, but Paul Wilson’s skill with the grill might deliver prime beef, such as rib fillet, charry on the outside, sliced and layered to reveal flesh so tender chewing becomes optional. Huitlacoche (mexican corn truffle) mustard and salsa negra (black beans, shallot and parsley) vie for spot of best steak condiment of the year. Throw in a side of patatas bravas for one of the best steak’n’chips going.
And also ... An authentic Argentine parrilla or grill delivers flame-kissed beef — often flavour-filled secondary cuts such as hanger or flank steaks — cooked over Mallee root coals and dished up with house-made chimichurri at San Telmo, city.
41. Best mustard
The Builders Arms, Fitzroy, makes its in-house with a horseradish kick, though early batches were classed a failure until the chefs tasted a jar that had been left behind in the fridge for a spell. Please, Mr McConnell, bottle the stuff.
42. Top upmarket take-away
Sophisticated, spice-redolent Sri Lankan from Araliya in Hawthorn; rotisserie Milawa chicken from PM24; the brilliant, intricate Thai dishes of Paladarr in Alphington. And Cafe Vue’s lunch boxes (city, airport).
43. Favourite bread
Baker D. Chirico’s Carlton store has one of the city’s handsomest fit-outs, and wonderful grainy, wholewheat sourdough that pops up in restaurants (and stores) around town. Special mention to: MoVida Bakery, out of the blocks with a bullet; Pei Modern and Attica’s sourdoughs and Anada’s bread, springy with a crusty salted outer shell, perfect with oil and its black salt.
44. Bread’s best friend
Smoked and house-churned butter at Loam, Attica’s smoked, whipped Mt Zero olive oil and house-churned cultured Jersey-milk butter, Royal Mail’s house-churned smoked butter.
45. Favourite Sunday night dinner
Easy Tiger, Collingwood’s ‘‘feed me’’ chef’s menu. Surrender.
46. Bucket list dish
Velvety Dutch Cream potato folded foamily with bone marrow and a hint of coffee and mojama (cured tuna) at Pei Modern, city. The devil’s work.
47. Top taco
Beef ribs, kimchi-perky-like cabbage slaw, and a gorgeous sticky sauce makes for a Korean-inspired taco at Circa, St Kilda, the kind of food a movie studio exec might have his caterer fix. And don’t miss The Smith’s soft-shell crab tortilla with avocado, black bean and jalapeno salad if you’re in Prahran.
48. Best country food crawl
Breakfast on the bank of the Ovens at Ginger Baker in Bright, pick up some Myrtleford butter, stop off for lunch along the Great Alpine Road with a glass of ruby sparkling saperavi at handsome Sam Miranda winery, snack at Brown Brothers, finish at Beechworth dining on Harrietville trout, Milawa duck or local hare, and pick up some local hazelnuts or chestnuts in season to take home.
49. Best sushi
Akachochin (South Wharf) offers reverential treatment of prime seafood in a gleaming dining room. Or Kenzan and Shoya, both in the city. At the former, sit at the sushi bar and ask Koichi to bring it on. Ask if they have kingfish collar on as a special. At Shoya, don’t miss the toro from the bellies of salmon or tuna, and the way they prepare their wasabi is fantastic — you can have the paste freshly grated in front of you on shark skin.
50. Best something-different degustation
Fitzroy’s Moon Under Water offers a pared-back $75 set menu that includes four courses (plus cheese if you want) of not-too-big, not-too-small elegance showcasing Andrew McConnell’s knack for seeming to know what, and how, Melbourne diners want to eat before they do themselves. In the city, Hare & Grace’s degustation is surprising and appealing, too ... perhaps including a turnip dish to die for; turnips picked that day, cooked to silky softness, served with a ham glaze, almost Chinese in flavour — a simple, sublime dish in the middle of much more complex ones.
51. Favourite pub
Post Office Hotel, Coburg. A bar stool at the pass makes for an entertaining evening; the chefs actually love to lay on a bit of banter and the food is terrific, too. Pair a glass of aged riesling with the sesame prawn paddle pops. People talk to each other, seem to know each other, take their kids. They do a Sunday roast.
Also The Terminus, Fitzroy North, for good food and chips that are among the city’s best.
52. Local heroes
Bar Idda in Brunswick East offers consistently good, authentic Sicilian fare in a lovely setting with great service and quirky touches (arancini in the pie warmer behind the bar, an old TV humming away in the corner). The Moor’s Head in Thornbury is a feel-good spot that’s comfortable, relaxed and inexpensive, and the food is generous. The staff, to a man and gal, are genuinely friendly. In the west, Cornershop, Yarraville, combines good-value casual dining with a charming setting and tasty share plates. Sette Bello, in Glen Waverley, is a big, modern Italian where everything clicks. And ... Cicciolina in St Kilda; Mister Bianco, Kew; and Toorak stalwarts Cafe Latte and Bistro Thierry.
Contributors to this story: Douglas Aiton, Janne Apelgren, Gayle Austen, Peter Barrett, Nathan Chisholm, Leanne Clancey, Andrew Cornell, Richard Cornish, Justine Costigan, Donna Coutts, Jill Dupleix, Kelly Eng, Rita Erlich, Claude Forell, Stu Gaunt, Roslyn Grundy, Michael Harden, Barbara Humphries, Jane Ormond, Matt Pirrie, Michelle Potts, Lucinda Schmidt, Gail Thomas, Dani Valent.