Why a 20 favourites list this year and not a straight up top 20 as previously? The best restaurants of the year are named in the Canberra section of the Good Food Guide each September. Many of the restaurants in the Guide overlap with our 20 favourite restaurants - and if you look through this list you'll probably find at least a few restaurants that have captured your heart too. But we made our list this year a "favourites" list to account for affairs of the heart - to allow us to include some of the restaurants that perhaps don't always make the Good Food Guide or a top 10 list but still turn out food that warms us, that makes us happy, and that adds to the rich fabric of Canberra's dining scene. We think there's room for both and we're going to celebrate it.
Our Restaurant of the Year is Monster. Sean McConnell has been setting a cracking standard for himself since opening in the avant garde Hotel Hotel last year, gaining a hat this year in the Good Food Guide. Like its Restaurant of the Year predecessor, Temporada, it serves brilliantly relaxed yet high end food. A beef tartare with gel-like egg yolk, scooped from the plate on puffed inky black rice, is welcoming and filled with umami flavour. The katsuobushi with smoky eggplant and tart goat's curd is another staple dish and rightly so. This is food that stays mostly simple and is executed to a consistently high standard. It's the way we like to eat and - we hope - the way of the future.
25 Edinburgh Avenue, New Acton, 6287 6287, hotel-hotel.com.au
A.Baker is laid-back and cool in its New Acton home. There's the bakery section, with racks of fresh loaves, croissants and pies behind the counter, or the cafe where weekend brunches include baharat-spiced eggs with grilled sourdough. Or go down to the hidden basement bar where there are board games to pass the time with a glass of wine, or simple hearty specials once a week. Jarrod Deaton and chef Bernd Brademann have also started up street food style markets that will run regularly in the lovely open courtyard, so perfect for summer.
15 Edinburgh Avenue, NewActon, 6287 6150, abaker.com.au
Aubergine has long been atop Canberra's restaurant scene with its two Good Food Guide chefs hats. This is a restaurant that's probably now an institution - the cream-and-white interior, the plush seats and the floor to ceiling wood panelled windows that offer a view of suburban and leafy Griffith. It's all very special occasion but in a gentle and welcoming way, rather than the aggressive glitz you might get at a more brash fine diner. Service is a standout - pleasant, unpretentious and calm. Still a favourite for a special night out.
8 Barker Street, Griffith, 6260 8666, aubergine.com.au
Akiba burst onto Bunda Street last summer in a shower of neon and pop-Asian bravado - a contrast to its quiet fine diner sibling Sage. This is busy, crazy and packed, a place to see and be seen. The food is a fun "greatest hits" list of modern Asian - steamed buns, hip dumplings, kewpie and chicken karaage. Grab a cocktail or an Asahi, hop up on a bar stool by the big windows and get into a variety of small sharing plates.
40 Bunda Street, Civic, 6162 0602, akiba.com.au
Glamorously dark and noisy, Eightysix a place to see and be seen. Sit at the bar and watch the action behind the pass with a drink or take one of the tables outside on the corner for long summer dinners. Black chicken remains a standout dish - supremely tender, spicy, sweet and smoky all at once, matched with a crisply dressed slaw and a spritz of lemon. Service has refined greatly since the brash early days and is cheerful and energetic without being overwhelming.
Corner of Elouera and Lonsdale streets, Braddon, 6161 8686, eightysix.com.au
Italian and Sons
Italian and Sons was among the first restaurants to open in what is now a packed Braddon retail and dining strip. Since then it's not just survived but has retained plenty of cachet and a sense of cool that many other Braddon eateries would kill for. Diners come for Italian dishes with a combination of strong flavours and an unadorned sense of self. Out the back, there's Bacaro, a cool accessed via a laneway. It's one of Braddon's best kept secrets, and is perfect for aperitivo hour.
7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, 6162 4888, italianandsons.com.au
Kusina's all about getting up close and personal with your food - from the chicken wings with banana ketchup to the sizzling sisig, a dish of thrice cooked pork on a hotplate with an egg scrambled into the meat at the table. his is possibly Canberra's only Filipino eatery and it's delightfully homey, in a corner of the Cooleman Court shopping centre in Weston. Kusina is a sign that Canberra's ready to embrace different and perhaps less familiar cuisines and that's something we can only encourage.
Cooleman Court, Weston Creek, 6288 8461, kusina.com.au
This is the kind of French bistro you love to frequent. The best advice we can offer is to order from the shared menu, a brief list but the focus of all the energy here and to our mind, much of the excitement. Chef and owner Clement Chauvin has a fine-dining background but eschews much of the fancy stuff in favour of simple, excellent handled classics. Les Bistronomes has become a regular haunt, and we count it among the top handful of Canberra restaurants.
Corner of Mort and Elouera Streets, Braddon, 6248 8119, lesbistronomes.net
In a resurgent dining scene where shiny new eateries open every week, and the Kingston Foreshore and Braddon are filled to bursting, Lanterne Rooms is still a bit of an old favourite. Hearty Malaysian dishes are executed beautifully, village-style with a gentle contemporary twist. There's light, crisp tofu and smoked eggplant with a sesame sauce, or a plate of flat rice noodles sticky with soy sauce and sprinkled with tender seafood. There's change afoot in the Chairman Group but Lanterne Rooms remains a calm, gentle sanctuary.
3 Blamey Place, Campbell, 6249 6889, chairmangroup.com.au
This modern eatery in one wing of a hotel foyer in Barton is the next venue for Josiah Li and his Chairman Group team. Li has brought in a robata grill and a former Nobu chef, Shunsuke Ota, who knows how to wield it. There's a touch of that high end, super clean charry flavour from the robata all across the modern Japanese menu. Sake is where Lilotang also shines. The sake list is comprehensive and intriguing - a journey through an increasingly polished series of drinks, with unfiltered and fortified sakes and shochu into the bargain. It's more exciting than wine and a welcome expansion of our drinks scene.
1 Burbury Close, Barton, 6273 1424, lilotang.com.au
Canberra's finest Italian fine-diner, Mezzalira is pitched more formally than Italian and Sons, but you'll find a similar approach here, especially in the focus on the joys a woodfired oven can bring to hunks of meat. The style is firmly Italian, so there's roast lamb shoulder with Italian stewed vegetables, roasted suckling pig with mustard fruits, duck with radicchio and vincotto. Pasta is a strong point and we can never resist the pasta dishes with ragu. There are no compromises in the food at Mezzalira, everything made onsite, and the wine list shows equal care as one of the best in town.
55 London Circuit, Canberra, 6230 0025, mezzalira.com.au
Don't mistake Mork's on the Kingston Foreshore for another generic Asian restaurant. Chef and owner Mork Ratanakosol and his family are shaping modern Thai food in Canberra with updated takes on their home cuisine. What we like about this sleek eatery is the fact that we've got Thai dishes given a modern spin by someone who's actually Thai. A bowl of squid is savoury with chilli jam and a 65 degree egg while curried crab on a square of roti is filled with the sort of flavours that keep you coming back.
18/19 Eastlake Parade, Kingston, 6295 0112, morks.com.au
As we pointed out in our review just a few weeks ago, Muse fills a number of roles - a brunch cafe, a wine bar and a literary salon. That's why it's become one of our favourites for the year. Where else could you go for a bottle of wine, some dinner and a conversation with Michelle Grattan? It's the mix of literary and conversational, light and laid-back, that's made it a favourite in such a short space of time.
69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston, 6178 0024, musecanberra.com.au
Pulp Kitchen is the place you go for good Euro bistro food in super relaxed surrounds. Somehow, it manages to be the place you can shuffle up to in your home gear for Friday night tea and also a place where you can glam up a little bit and head for a celebratory dinner. Pulp is so relaxed it doesn't trouble you with a formal menu, but combines entrees and mains into one list that you can order as small or large dishes, at very good prices. For us, the simple, gutsy dishes with only a few elements are always best here - a pile of salty little whitebait with aioli, polenta with mushrooms and parmesan, even beef tenderloins with fries and bearnaise of you're in the mood for Friday night steak and chips.
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, 6257 4334, pulp-kitchen.com.au
Who would ever have thought an Italian restaurant in Canberra would be as OTT as this? Provini is cheekily kitsch - from the loudly floral patterned carpet to the lace curtains at the windows. Head chef Wayne Alger's menu is pizzas, pastas and Italian classics, all done "Nonna style" with hearty helpings and a Sunday-night-family gathering atmosphere. Pizzas are stripey and blistered from the wood fired oven and are kept wonderfully simple. Desserts are classic without being cliche - the tiramisu laced with the herbal liqueur strega is luscious without descending into creamy mush.
50 Bunda Street, Canberra, 6154 9720, cocu.com.au/provini
Everything about Pialligo Farmhouse is picture perfect - that view of the mountains across the gardens, the cosy fireplaces, the luxurious furnishings. Walking in to the restaurant, tucked into the far end of Pialligo, and opening those gleaming double doors, takes you far away from the hubbub of Canberra. There's a laudable commitment to locality in the food, so much of it sourced from the estate's vegetable gardens and orchards, and of course using the smallgoods that have become a byword in the capital. The recent opening of the Garden Pavilions - a separate semi-outdoor eatery run by the estate's culinary director Jan Gundlach - is another reason to look forward to summer this year.
18 Kallaroo Road, Pialligo, 6247 6060, thepialligoestate.com.au
A tiny wood-fired pizza joint in Braddon you say? Why yes. It's our favourite restaurants this year, and we get to choose places that we really love, even though they might not strictly make a list of hatted restaurants. Pizza Gusto has been turning out light, crispy, blistered wood fired pizzas since before it was cool. They make a perfect little treat on a weeknight when you've got no food in the house and just spent far too much of your day at work. You can sit at the tables scattered outside but it's much easier to race in and grab a truffle funghi pizza, covered in dark mushrooms and scattered with truffle salt on a garlic infused crisp base. If only all fast food was this good.
23 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, 6257 7508, pizzagusto.com.au
Temporada's Civic location on Moore Street might be a tad isolated but it's still worth the walk around the corner from Northbourne Avenue. Try the rolls stuffed with tender pig and laced with kewpie mayo, fillets of fish cheek grilled over wood smoke, beautifully crisp and charred, excellent slices of kingfish freshened and uplifted with yuzu and avocado. The wine list is short, sweet, and always interesting, allowing you to explore some truly quirky vintages by the glassful. Temporada is in keeping with the high-casual trend that's swept Australia's dining scene - a place that works just as well if you're on a date night or if you're dropping by with friends. This is still one of our favourite restaurants in Canberra by a mile.
15 Moore Street, Civic, 6249 6683, temporada.com.au
Start the day with a fresh Bloody Mary and a piperade omelette at Silo and the rest will fall into place. Silo bakery has been a trailblazer for European-style cafe eating in Canberra for over a decade. And week in week out they keep the sensational food and the fresh ideas coming. The duo that drive this place, Graham Hudson and Leanne Gray, are truly the king and queen of casual Canberra eating, long may they reign.
36 Giles Street, Kingston, 6260 6060, silobakery.com.au
There's no denying the magic of that lakefront position at Water's Edge - sunset over the water, the warm balmy evening light, and the endless parade of people walking, jogging and Segwaying past. It's always a pretty spot to take someone new to Canberra, or to celebrate a special occasion at a romantic table for two in front of the floor to ceiling windows. Restaurants in a scenic spot can sometimes sit back on their laurels and let the view, rather than the food, do all the hard work for them. But not at Waters Edge. Beetroot cured salmon is a highlight, as is the lamb with fondant potatoes and a silky smooth peach and custard tart on the desserts, artfully scattered with blueberries.
40 Parkes Place, 6273 5066, watersedgecanberra.com.au