From multimillion-dollar fitouts to small-town diners, from celebrity-chef openings to passion projects, these are the hottest openings of the year around Australia.
Yes, of course, Bennelong makes the list, because it fills the aching void in the Sydney Opera House, and yes, Heston Blumenthal is there, if only for creating a satellite planet of a restaurant that has its own trajectory, seemingly unaffected by market trends.
But who knew Darwin would make the list with a Korean barbecue and martini bar, or that one of the country's great bar menus would pop up inside a Victorian cottage in South Melbourne, or that a Brisbane eatery that opened with no phone and no internet would become the little diva of the local arts scene?
Melbourne has had a strong year, as has Hobart. Brisbane may have softened off a bit, but Perth is awash with new eateries from its myriad restorations and redevelopments, and Adelaide is rife with small bars and food trucks. In Sydney and NSW, some solid, gilt-edged eateries by proven players have added character, heft and a more neighbourly vibe to the usual hipster-or-bust dining scene. It's been a very good year.
Bennelong, Sydney, NSW
Why hot? Great Australian chef takes over great Australian restaurant.
Peter Gilmore and the team from Quay have overseen a remarkable $3 million makeover at Bennelong that includes a dream kitchen and multi levels of charcuterie and cocktail bars. Australia's finest produce is presented as a three-course menu, running from line-caught squid noodles with smoked pork jowl to slow-roasted Holmbrae duck with black miso and freekeh.
Hot plate The Opera House pavlova
Fat Duck/Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Melbourne, Victoria
Why hot? Because it's our new food fantasyland.
One hot opening morphed into another as Blumenthal's hugely hyped Fat Duck restaurant residency ran its course and segued into Dinner, a refined riff on historic British dishes courtesy of his London-based head chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts. It's more enjoyable, less of a circus and more of a high-priced steakhouse-brasserie with lively, accomplished cooking and polished service.
Hot plate Meat fruit – chicken-liver parfait encased in mandarin gel.
Automata, Sydney, NSW
Why hot? Ex-Momofuku sous-chef gets his own gig in Sydney's newest dining precinct.
Surrounded by the steely monochromatic concrete, iron and vintage timber aesthetic of Loh Lik Peng's Old Clare Hotel, Clayton Wells sends out a darkly glamorous five-course degustation, from hapuka fillet cloaked in a funereal sheet of laver seaweed to Rangers Valley skirt steak with morel and shiitake mushrooms.
Hot dish Storm clam, rosemary dashi, fried fish skin.
Fleet, Brunswick Heads, NSW
Why hot? Savvy, edgy, downtown dining comes to Brunswick Heads.
Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis, former manager and sous chef of Loam, on the Bellarine Peninsula, have made a big impact on NSW's North Coast with their tiny 20-seater locavore bar-restaurant. The intimate, up-close dining experience is like eating in a chic friend's kitchen, with a tight but right wine list.
Hot plate Deep-fried prawn legs with sweetcorn custard.
2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, (02) 6685 1363
Long Chim, Perth, Western Australia
Why hot? David Thompson returns to Australia after 14 years.
The Australian-born chef of Bangkok's Nahm restaurant literally wrote the book on Thai street food. After launching Long Chim in Singapore, he's now bringing it home, installing an incendiary green chicken curry and a fermented pork and rice sausage under the elegantly restored State Buildings in Cathedral Square.
Hot plate Pad Thai of prawns, peanuts and bean sprouts.
Firedoor, Sydney, NSW
Why hot? Our own ex-Asador Etxebarri chef opens a restaurant with real firepower.
It's all about the wood at Firedoor, from the recycled wooden communal tables to the massive wood-burning double oven that creates the charcoal for the adjustable grills. Lennox Hastie treats wood more like an ingredient than a fuel, grilling aged beef over vine shoots, marron over applewood, and mushrooms over mallee root.
Hot plate Grilled 150-day-old, grass-fed rib-eye.
The Paddington, Sydney, NSW
Why hot? Former Momofuku Seiobo head chef launches a major Merivale restaurant.
Merivale's Justin Hemmes revamped the old Paddington Arms, installing head chef Ben Greeno and three gleaming French rotisseries in the theatrical open kitchen. From day one, it's been drawing the loud and the local for its beautifully cooked everyday food, from crab on toast to spit-roast Goulburn River trout.
Hot plate Rotisserie chicken, of course.
Lume, Melbourne, Victoria
Why hot? Love it or hate it, it's next-level dining.
Gifted chefs Shaun Quade and John-Paul Fiechtner threw Melbourne diners into a tizz with a 15-course menu of "eccentric ambition" that challenges at every turn, from ribbons of cow udder to camembert made of cauliflower. Too much? We loved the playful Front Room menu and its brilliant smoked eel pate with eel honey and crumpets.
Hot plate Duck liver, pickled quince.
Marion, Melbourne, Victoria
Why hot? More McConnell magic, by the glass.
Andrew McConnell says the latest addition to his serious yet casual stable of eateries is intended "as a place to pause, for a moment or for the entire evening". Snuggling up next to the glamorous Cutler & Co, this wine bar with food offers charcuterie and dry-aged porterhouse sourced from the McConnell butchery, Meatsmith.
Hot plate Mussels and 'nduja.
Aloft, Hobart, Tasmania
Why hot? Killer harbour views and a proudly local Tassie menu.
In a dramatic, timber-lined, Nordic-inspired dining room, chefs Christian Ryan (Property of Pilgrim) and Glenn Byrnes (Garagistes) serve platters of Asian inspiration and Tasmanian provenance. Think oyster, spanner crab and chilli, crispy quail with lime and pepper berry.
Hot plate Masterstock pig's ear with prickly ash.
Silvereye, Sydney, NSW
Why hot? Because it's new-age Nordic, right here in Australia.
The blonde-on-blonde refit of the Old Clare is home to the ambitious 11 and 17-course degustation menus of Yorkshire-born chef Sam Miller, who has cooked at Faviken in Sweden and Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Expect crisp and creamy cannoli made of parsnip, or red spot whiting, its skeletal form deep-fried until crisp.
Hot plate North Queensland cobia with fennel and cured lardo.
Gauge, Brisbane, Queensland
Why hot? It's What Jerome Did Next.
Is it a restaurant, a cafe or a bistro? "It's an eatery," Jerome Batten says of the follow-up to his much-loved Sourced Grocer in Teneriffe. Gauge is the star of Brisbane's new cultural precinct with its sleek, blonde fitout, breakfast-lunch-dinner flexibility, and agile, produce-driven menu by chef Bill Marchant.
Hot plate sourdough waffle with almond, artichoke custard and bee pollen.
77 Grey Street, South Brisbane
Paper Daisy, Cabarita, NSW
Why hot? Former Queensland Young Chef of the Year hits the beach.
Ben Devlin has sea-changed his way from Brisbane's Esquire to the northern NSW coast, landing at Cabarita's Halcyon House beachside hotel. His forever-summer menu zones in on local plants and seafood, and even the $40 breakfast requires reservations.
Hot plate Paperbark-grilled fish with seaweed and pippies.
Anchovy, Melbourne, Victoria
Why hot? Because it's "modern Asian, modern Australian, and a little bit in between."
Owner-chef Thi Le's cooking draws on her Vietnamese background, and time spent with Sydney's Christine Manfield and Melbourne's Andrew McConnell, to make the exotic taste familiar in dishes such as rice cakes with fried egg, green papaya and chilli soy.
Hot plate Vietnamese blood pudding with pickled ginger and cosberg lettuce.
2KW Bar and Restaurant, Adelaide, South Australia
Why hot? Because it's a rooftop pleasure zone.
Eight floors up from Jamie's Italian, the Palmer Hospitality Group has built a gastrodome of five different indoor and outdoor entertaining zones. Executive chef Nick Finn and head chef Dan Lawrence keep it fresh, casual and Mediterranean, from local charcuterie to a no-expense-spared crayfish indulgence.
Hot plate Slow-cooked grilled octopus, confit kipflers, chorizo and romesco.
Little Miss Korea, Darwin, Northern Territory
Why hot? Because it's Korean, it's in a laneway, and there are martinis.
Chef Chung Jae Lee has left Seoul Food to open an edgy, graffitied DIY Korean barbecue glowing with coals and dangling with vacuum exhausts. At lunch, chow down on bibimbap or chicken rice. At night, hit the barbecue and order a lemonball martini.
Hot plate Black angus porterhouse, pork belly, soju chicken, bulgogi and six side dishes.
Austin Lane, Darwin, (08) 8981 7092
The Shorehouse, Perth, Western Australia
Why hot? Because we do like to be beside the seaside.
Swanbourne is Perth's new beach of choice now that popular local restaurateur Scott Taylor has launched this waterside hot spot overlooking the Indian Ocean. Chef Ollie Gould, formerly of Melbourne's Stokehouse, keeps things fresh and easy, from yellowfin tuna crudo with foie gras to a massive one-kilogram Harvey rib-eye.
Hot plate Charcoal-roasted tiger prawns.
Osteria Oggi, Adelaide, South Australia
Why hot? It's the modern Italian Adelaide didn't know it was missing.
Serial restaurateur Simon Kardachi (Press Food and Wine, Melt, Proof) has done it again with this communal city Italian that's all share tables and wood-fired ovens. Executive chef Andrew Davies and head chef Mimi Rivers give the classics a cheeky twist, with lardo soldiers, and tagliatelle with blue swimmer crab and blackened corn.
Hot plate Veal tongue with anchovy and tuna mayo.
The Farmhouse, Pialligo Estate, Pialligo, ACT
Why hot? Because it's garden to table and grapevine to glass.
Pialligo Estate is home to an award-winning smokehouse, vineyard, two-hectare market garden, orchard and olive grove, and now to a beautifully restored restaurant of stone cladding and recycled timber, where chef Brendan Walsh (London's Pied a Terre, Vue de Monde) keeps things hyper-local.
Hot plate Fennel, jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut, wild sorrel and Pialligo Smokehouse duck.
Lilotang, Barton, ACT
Why hot? The Chairman & Yip Group strikes again.
Josiah Li's dynamic restaurant group (Malamay, Lanterne Rooms, the Chairman & Yip) is turning Japanese, filling this light, artfully animated modern space with delicate, seasonal dishes by former Nobu Melbourne sous-chef Shunsuke Ota.
Hot plate Robata-grilled chicken thigh skewers with inherited yakitori sauce.
Five Melbourne newbies on the slate for 2016
Paul Wilson's new gaff, Melbourne Can he do for himself what he has done so well for others? The former Melbourne Pub Group's Mr Fixit opens his own, as-yet-unnamed, Melbourne restaurant in March in the Prahran Market precinct.
Igni, Geelong Aaron Turner vows to "get back to what cooking is all about" early in the new year by following Geelong's popular Hot Chicken Project with a new 50-seater, Loam-ish restaurant in nearby Ryan Street.
French Saloon, Melbourne Con Christopoulos and Ian Curley head upstairs above Kirk's Wine Bar to go all French and chic, with a French-made zinc counter, raw bar and menu of French bistro classics.
Agostino Wine Bar & Cellar, Carlton Carlton's long-serving King & Godfree grocer launches a 60-seater wine bar with a delicatessen and espresso bar next door early in 2016.
Stokehouse, St Kilda After being destroyed by fire in January 2014, St Kilda's much-loved beachside diner is scheduled to rise again in September after a $12 million rebuild.
Five Sydney newbies on the slate for 2016
Noma Australia, Barangaroo Rene Redzepi and the full Noma team open at Sydney's Barangaroo on Australia Day, with intense interest as to how he will interpret our uniquely Australian ingredients in the Noma style.
Fred's, Paddington Another Merivale moves into Oxford Street moment is scheduled for February, as Danielle Alvarez works with a wood-fired hearth and oven to parlay her Chez Panisse experience on to the plate.
Mercado, Sydney Former Nomad chef Nathan Sasi joins forces with the team behind China Doll and China Lane to open a Moorish-influenced 100-seater in Angel Place in February.
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney Former 10 William Street chef Dan Pepperell has linked with the Swillhouse group (Shady Pines, Baxter Inn) to showcase his gutsy yet finessed food in Bligh Street early in 2016.
Kensington Street Social, Chippendale British chef Jason Atherton opens his eighth global restaurant at the Old Clare in Chippendale early in 2016, with a contemporary European focus.
Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack are the directors of Australia's Top Restaurants; australiastoprestaurants.com