Two newcomers have made it into the top ranks of Canberra's restaurants in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2015. Aubergine is still Canberra's sole two-hat restaurant but this year owner and chef Ben Willis gains a third hat in the form of his latest venture, Temporada.
James Mussillon retains two chef's hats all up – one each for his signature Courgette restaurant in the city and the glass-walled Waters Edge on the lakefront in Parkes. Mussillon's elegant fine dining establishments are still at the top of their game and it will be interesting to see what happens at Waters Edge with the recent departure of head chef Clement Chauvin, who is opening a casual bistro of his own in Braddon.
Temporada isn't even a year old but it's gone straight in with one hat in this year's guide. The other new restaurant on the hatted list is Capitol Bar and Grill, the swanky dining room at the revamped QT Hotel in NewActon, which is just about six months old. The two restaurants are on opposite ends of the style spectrum. Capitol is a glitzy, sleek affair with a speakeasy bar off to one side and decor that nods towards Canberra's vision of itself as a place of glamorous power. Chef Damien Worthington presides over a menu that's extensive with retro touches (prawn cocktails and vol au vents). Temporada meanwhile is tucked away on Moore Street in Civic, slightly off centre from the main restaurant hub. It's a relaxed, casual dining room where you're more than likely to strike up an acquaintance with a fellow diner over tapas dishes at the bar on a Friday night.
Temporada has also won the best small wine list of the year. Fairfax wine writer Jeni Port had nothing but praise for the eatery's refined list of drops which she said saw "the biodynamic winemaker and the iconoclast rub shoulders with up and comers. Bring an open mind to the table and you're in for a treat." Aubergine also took out the gong for Regional Wine List of the Year for a selection that Port described as "smart and daring in execution", a sophisticated world wine list which also represented the Canberra region well.
Eightysix is still brash and noisy but is no longer Braddon's new kid on the block – in just a year, the restaurant strip on Lonsdale Street has become crammed with new eateries. But eightysix continues to win plaudits for a pumping atmosphere, shared plates and pop-art desserts. Just down the street Pasquale Trimboli and his brothers have retained their hat for Italian and Sons, the intimate, unfussy Italian eatery that maintains an equally buzzing atmosphere with less swearing than at eightysix. And in Barton, stalwart Serif Kaya and his Ottoman restaurant continue the tradition of fine dining Turkish-influenced cuisine while Josiah Li and Amy Tran up their scores at Malamay, the modern Asian tucked into the Burbury Hotel.
Canberra's hatted restaurants
Capitol Bar and Grill (new)
Italian and Sons (unchanged)
Water's Edge (same)
Biota, Bowral (unchanged)
Eschalot, Berrima (unchanged)
Cupitts Kitchen, Ulladulla (up)
Zanzibar Cafe, Merimbula (unchanged)
Jeni Port, Melbourne-based wine writer for Fairfax Media, comments on two results from Canberra:
Regional wine list of the year
For the most inviting wine list (fitting a restaurant's food and style) at a restaurant outside Sydney, with a considered showing of regional wines.
Yes, Aubergine looks to its immediate area - Canberra - for inspiration in compiling its wine list. The wines of the ACT take a forward step, led by the region's fabulous rieslings and shirazes. Towards the end of the list there is a particularly mouthwatering selection of aged Clonakilla shiraz viognier and syrah (shiraz).
But importantly, the Aubergine wine list eyes further afield, too. There is a strong Australian and international component within the listing of 650 wines that simply can't fail to impress.
As befits the capital, the 55-seat restaurant in the suburb of Griffith boasts a wine list that would not look out of place in Sydney or Melbourne.
Sommelier Josh Donnelly says his focus is on building a comprehensive wine list. "It offers the benchmark styles of the world with modern and current producers and things that are new and challenging."
Due respect is paid to Burgundy, Italy and Australian chardonnay and pinot noir, but there's some fun to be had, too, with some lively choices from Portugal and Spain, as well as a section devoted to those controversial orange wines. And we love the serious intent behind the bunch of rose´s and gamays, so often given all the consideration of an afterthought on lists.
Best short wine list
For a list of fewer than 100 bins, best-suited to a restaurant's style and context.
How does a wine list remain relevant and intriguing with fewer than 50 wines? The answer - with attention to detail. Temporada, new to the Canberra food and wine scene this year, keeps it small in many ways, searching out the world's boutique artisanal wine producers in just 49 wines.
It's an eclectic, bold, thrilling, enticing and even confronting bunch of wines requiring an open mind and a willing palate to fully explore. With 27 by the glass and glass prices ranging from $10 to $24, the cost encourages some enjoyable research.
A gruner veltliner from Austria, a Tuscan vermentino, a touriga-based red blend from the Barossa and a dry-as-a-desert champagne are just some of the choices set before us.
"The idea with Temporada, very much, was that the list should be diverse, should be something that you are excited to go to and try something different," says well-travelled sommelier Josh Donnelly who also oversees the wine list at sister restaurant Aubergine. "We change the list regularly. We only ever buy two cases of a wine." It's edgy, but so is Temporada's European-inspired food. A perfect match.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2015 is available for $10 with the Sydney Morning Herald on September 6 at participating newsagents and 7-11 stores. The Guide is also available at smhshop.com.au and at bookstores for $24.99 from Tuesday, September 2.