Canberra's top 20 restaurants for 2018

Squid ink linguine at Italian and Sons.
Squid ink linguine at Italian and Sons. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

To round out the year, the Canberra Good Food team has put together our favourite restaurants of 2018. We've been game enough to put them in order this year. Did we get it right?

1. Italian and Sons

Braddon was a sleepy part of the city before this chic tratt opened a decade ago and jolted Lonsdale Street to life. Date-nighters, birthday revellers and Canberra's social elite still can't get enough of the joint, meaning you'll absolutely need a reservation to experience its classic Italian cooking at the weekend. At the end of an elongated dining room warmed by a wood-fired oven, you can find the marble counter of Bacaro wine bar, before hitting the restaurant proper for housemade pasta – a slippery black tangle of squid ink linguine, say, rich with tomato, spanner crab and chilli.

7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, 02 6162 4888, italianandsons.com.au

Aubergine owner and chef Ben Willis.
Aubergine owner and chef Ben Willis.  Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

2. Aubergine

Dramatic sheer black curtains, Scandi-style furniture and wine service that never misses a beat make this much-loved fine diner the sleekest spot for a big night out in the capital. Wildflowers bring warmth to the room and owner/chef Ben Willis brings comfort to the table with a refined four-course menu that's high on flavour and low on gimmicks. Aubergine is fine dining that works, not stuffy in the feel and highly agile in choice of seasonal, local and lesser-known ingredients. Cracking fodder for a local cool-climate shiraz (check out that vertical selection of Clonakilla). The right place for a special occasion night out.

18 Barker Street, Griffith, 02 6260 8666, aubergine.com.au

3. Les Bistronomes

The charming bistro brought a touch of sophistication to the inner north, serving classic French food with a twist. Over the years Les Bistronomes has relaxed into a neighbourhood restaurant, neither bistro nor fine dining – perhaps somewhere a little bit in between. The crux of the menu has remained much the same; for some this may be a negative but Les Bistronomes' tried and true formula works for its clientele, who return time and again for the relaxed service and upmarket bistro food. The saucisson brioche is distinctly French, but here in Braddon could almost be an upmarket twist on the classic Australian sausage sandwich. Buttery brioche envelops the sausage filling and is served with pickled onions, sweet onion jam and mustard.

Pumpkin tortellini at Mezzalira Ristorante.
Pumpkin tortellini at Mezzalira Ristorante. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

23 Elouera Street, Braddon, 02 6248 8119, lesbistronomes.net

4. Mezzalira

Mezzalira hit on a menu that worked a few years ago and it has stuck with the essence of it, leaving experimentation and more fleeting dishes to the specials board. This place is classic and elegant, like the bones of the Melbourne Building in which it holds a corner spot. Don't get the wrong impression here, it's not elegant in a chandelier and brocade way, weighed and dulled by tradition. It's elegant in a sparkling modern way, with blond wood and leather furniture, classic Italian approaches in the food, and a decidedly upmarket tone. Sardines with pinenuts, currants and vinegar – very simple and beautifully done – is a favourite dish here

15 London Circuit, Canberra, mezzalira.com.au

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5. Temporada

From the team behind fine diner Aubergine, this come-as-you-are bar and restaurant provides dishes than never trade substance for style. A plaid-clad waiter hangs jackets and suggests cocktails, and the central bar is a perfect perch for margaritas and crumbed oysters on a bun with kohlrabi remoulade. Perhaps share a bowl of roast chestnuts with softly cooked barley boosted by black garlic and mushrooms. In a dining space where rough wood walls meet a pressed metal ceiling, Civic workers roll up their sleeves for skewers of wagyu intercostal braised in masterstock and grilled for a sticky crust barely containing fall-apart goodness – brilliant with fresh lime and salsa negra featuring five types of chilli fried in duck fat.

15 Moore Street, Canberra, 02 6249 6683, temporada.com.au

Pilot restaurant review Canberra. Photo supplied.
Pork, honey and carrot.

Pork, honey and carrot at polished newcomer Pilot. Photo: Supplied

Book a table by the arched window at Bar Rochford.
Book a table by the arched window at Bar Rochford. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

6. Pilot

Until now, you didn't find this kind of high-end eating in Canberra. The kind where dishes are precise, lean, obsessed by taste, and take their cue from no one else, at least no one in the vicinity. Pilot has taken over Pulp Kitchen, formerly firmly Euro bistro in the hands of Christian Hauberg, more recently a subdued version of Eightysix in the hands of Gus Armstrong. Now, it's a feat of ambition, an elegant, sparkling, youthful, sophisticated diner where you'll get dishes with names as unilluminating and cheffy as "tomatoes"; "cheese + spinach"; "Barry's bread + smoked fish"; or "cos, nettle + yolk". Pilot took us all by surprise when it opened in September; whether it can stick to this level of precision and obsession, and whether Canberra diners will reward it, time will tell. Welcome back Mal Hanslow.

1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, 02 6257 4334, pilotrestaurant.com

7. Bar Rochford

Chef Louis Couttoupes leads the kitchen with assured cooking that makes Rochford a restaurant as much as a bar – at least until the lights are dimmed after dessert. (Go for the warm rice pudding with quince and pistachios.) Eggplant ($16) is slow-roasted in mushroom dashi for savoury, earthy excellence, bolstered by tahini and gifted a soft, smoked egg. Winter carrots ($16) love their woody bed of spiced almond puree and a squeeze of grilled blood orange zips the plate mates together. Phone ahead and book a table by the beautiful arched window. It's a fine time listening to Tom Waits in the late Canberra sun. Picked up its first hat in the Good Food Guide 2019.

Scallops with wasabi furikake and pickled radish from Vincent.
Scallops with wasabi furikake and pickled radish from Vincent.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

65 London Circuit, Canberra, 02 6230 6222, barrochford.com

8. Vincent

There are some places that are so cool, you feel inherently cool just by stepping inside. Vincent is that place, with its minimalist set up, flowing bar and tables, and just a whole lot of black. Which is funny, because its suburb of Barton isn't exactly the coolest of spots. During the day, the area is a buzz of public servants and coffee trips, but after hours, that part of town turns into a bit of a ghost town. Vincent is the opposite – walking past during the day, you could very easily never know it exists, and despite its complete glass frontage, it's difficult to see in. Even at night, it's not the sort of place that announces itself loudly to the outside world, but a trickle of people in and out of a glass door suggests that there's something going on inside. And what's going on inside is well and truly worth checking out.

48 Macquarie Street, Barton, 02 6273 7773,​ vincentrestaurant.com.au

General manager Marcellus Heleta and chef Hao San from Raku.
General manager Marcellus Heleta and chef Hao San from Raku. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

9. Raku

Raku leaves us both impressed and a little flummoxed. The place is immaculate: the set-up, furniture, tableware and the like, is gorgeous. The staff are swish; the host at the door is polished like a poster, our waiter is opinionated, the person over the bar is conversational. The customers, even, are dressed for a night out, and look poised to land an air kiss. Perhaps we're overstating the feeling at Raku, but swank it is, even slightly corporate, and perhaps the reason we're flummoxed is because for us the beauty of the Japanese approach is its essential spare humility. Try the spicy maguro – South Australian tuna, tenkatsu, chives, takuan and cabbage maki rolls ($15) – crisp rice on the outside, tuna on the inside, loads of heat. They're really good.

148 Bunda Street, 02 6248 6869, rakudining.com.au

10. Lilotang

Bento boxes are big business at this mix of izakaya, kiosk and restaurant in Barton's parliamentary precinct, where cabinet types huddle over lunch specials of chicken katsu, agedashi tofu and Japanese curry. There's a fast-casual vibe thanks to quick service and the biff-bam-pow of manga comic murals, but the kitchen provides surprises and skills that invite a longer stay. The sushi carte is healthy with scampi, sea urchin and saltwater eel while a composed sashimi course of koji-cured kingfish is elevated with the savoury kick of nameko mushrooms. There's a measure of precision at Lilotang that Canberra really doesn't demand or even expect, which makes it rare at best.

Golden ricotta puffs with whipped mascarpone at Ottoman.
Golden ricotta puffs with whipped mascarpone at Ottoman.  Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

1 Burbury Close, 02 6273 1424, hotelrealm.com.au

11. Ottoman

Nestled in amongst the public service offices of Barton and hidden behind a lush garden setting, Ottoman has been dishing up Turkish fare to politicians, public servants and the rest of us for more than 25 years. This Canberra institution has enjoyed leadership stability unheard of in the region, holding on to its chef hat since the Keating era in 1994 – that's seven Prime Ministers ago, for those counting. Ottoman walks the line between traditional and modern with ease; classic but not home style, contemporary but not overly flamboyant. The menu has remained much the same over the years, a testament to the quality of the food and the loyalty of its clientele.

9 Broughton Street, Barton, 02 6273 6111, ottomancuisine.com.au

Baked on Mort's signature 'bragel' hybrid doubles as a burger bun.
Baked on Mort's signature 'bragel' hybrid doubles as a burger bun. Photo: Adam McGrath

12. Baked on Mort

Baked on Mort added dinner to the menu and has proven it's well and truly more than just a bakery. Opened by Clement Chauvin and Abel Bariller, the duo behind French bistro Les Bistronomes, back in October 2017, Baked started as a bakery, patisserie and cafe. The main item on the menu was the bragel, a creation they trademarked which is a hybrid between a bagel and brioche. Now with a liquor licence in hand, they're opening for dinners where dining is casual, but the menu is quite refined – think cured pork rillettes, fried pork belly, salmon tartare or a chicken liver mini eclair. Bragels are on the evening menu in the form of burgers – there are buttermilk fried chicken, lobster and mushroom options.

38 Mort Street, Braddon, 02 6179 8812, bakedonmort.com

13. Lanterne Rooms

No matter what a restaurant is serving up, it's likely you often leave thinking about not what was on the plate, but everything off it. It's the service that makes everything come together, and so often they get it wrong. But then sometimes, they just get it so very right. And sometimes you find said service in the unassuming location of Campbell shops. The restaurant has the feel of a posh Malaysian resort, with dark wooden floors and ceiling fans. White linen tablecloths sit on the tables under gently flickering tealights, and the restaurant is separated into more intimate areas by heavy curtains and wooden shutters. The kingfish ceviche ($19.50) is a good way to start, fresh and full of flavour.

Lime and coconut posset from Lanterne Rooms.
Lime and coconut posset from Lanterne Rooms. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

3 Blamey Crescent, Campbell, 02 6249 6889,​ chairmangroup.com.au

14. Morks

There's a wall of wine at the entrance, a mural up the back and not much else when it comes to interiors at this mod-Thai restaurant. Instead, the food does all the talking at the lively Foreshore eatery. Brothers Mork and Benn Ratanakosol have put their second-generation restaurateur spin on a menu that's to-the-point and doesn't take itself too seriously. Scallop, squid and pork salad is fresh and light, driven by fish sauce and lime. Poached chicken is served like a Buddha bowl but tastes like a laksa. Want to try an unusual wine by the glass? This is the place to do it, with plenty of options and staff who are more than happy to offer suggestions. Picked up its first hat in the Good Food Guide 2019.

18 Eastlake Parade, Kingston, 02 6295 0112, morks.com.au

Cacio e pepe pasta and prosciutto pizza at
Molto Italian.
Cacio e pepe pasta and prosciutto pizza at Molto Italian. Photo: Jamila Toderas

15. Courgette

Chef James Mussillon has sold his second venue to put all his focus and energy into this city fine diner, where it's all about relaxed comfort. Charming young waitstaff know their way around the menu and are eager to please with a wine match. Sink into a plush chair for venison checkered with luscious corn croquettes, mirrored by beetroot carpaccio topped with a fragrant truffle mayonnaise. Death by chocolate for dessert won't kill you, but will end the evening on a suitably sweet note. Picked up a hat in the Good Food Guide 2019.

54 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra, 02 6247 4042,​ courgette.com.au

16. Molto

Carlo Tosolini says Molto is the place he always wanted – a restaurant that hasn't been morphed by its location and customer base into a cafe. There's something comforting being surrounded by familiar faces in the ever changing Canberra landscape and the menu has that feel about it, too. It's coherent, properly themed and hits some very good notes. We really like the arancini, three large balls of rice, with a sharp bolognese flavour, just resting on a smudge of tomato sauce. They're sticky on the inside, crisp on the outside. Dessert has all the luxury and comfort you could desire. Nonna's tiramisu ($17) is still made by Tosolini's mother, who has been making this excellent Italian invention for as long as her sons have been in the business.

Monster Kitchen and Bar at Ovolo Nishi hotel (nee Hotel Hotel).
Monster Kitchen and Bar at Ovolo Nishi hotel (nee Hotel Hotel). Photo: Melissa Adams

43 Eastlake Parade, Kingston, 02 6140 7039, moltoitalian.com

17. Monster Kitchen and Bar

Without question there is no better dining set up in Canberra. Like the super-cool living space of an arts collective, Monster, which doubles as a hotel lobby, is divided into lounge seating, a collection of tables in an inconvenient parallelogram shape, and another room full of vintage furniture. The vibe is mixed up old and new, cheap and luxe, the lighting is a triumph with some very beautiful crazy chandelier lights in green and pink. And there is an entirely homey feel despite all the work that's gone in to make this such an excellent space for a night out, a quick bite or a sit and a drink; it's designed for comfort and flexibility. Chef Sean McConnell left in August to open his new venue (we're still waiting) handing the reins to Dan Flatt with Ian Curley named as the creative culinary partner. Monster is still going strong.

25 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra, 02 6287 6287, monsterkitchen.com.au

Agadashi fried tofu at Akiba.
Agadashi fried tofu at Akiba.  Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

18. Akiba

Electric is the best way to describe this Tokyo/barbecue/flavour-explosion joint. Flashing red neon makes it impossible to miss the hyper hip eatery, that runs an extensive outside area, as well as inside, along Bunda Street. Akiba is loud, let's get that out there. And not just loud in volume, music, loud chat – but loud in style. An outside table is slightly less rowdy, but not much. If you want a meal to linger over, with muted flavours, carefully calibrated timing and discreet 'anticipate your every need' waitstaff – you should go somewhere else. Akiba is an exciting place to eat – great food, served fast, in an almost pre-nightclub atmosphere.

40 Bunda Street, Canberra, 02 6162 0602,​ akiba.com.au

19. Eightysix

Gus Armstrong sold Pulp Kitchen and went back into Eightysix and we're hopeful it will get some of its spark back. But maybe we're just being extremely picky and demanding. A lot has changed in Braddon in the five years since it opened, the restaurant is reassuringly familiar, almost disconcertingly so. The decor is still current and on trend. It's still a fun venue, abuzz with energy and packed to the brim; a place to see and be seen. Service has gotten better – casual, less familiar and a little more polished than before, but still relaxed and informal. We still love the familiar sticky caramel popcorn sundae but we know Armstrong isn't one to sit still for long, so we're excited by where things might head.

Pork belly bao and buttermilk fried chicken bao from Lazy-Su.
Pork belly bao and buttermilk fried chicken bao from Lazy-Su. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

20 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, 02 6161 8686, eightysix.com.au

20. Lazy Su

Lazy Su is informal and does that easy-to-love style of upbeat pan-Asian, garish (in a nice way) with sweetness, saltiness and all round loud flavour. If you mention bao, that's probably enough to give you the picture of the food. David Chang popularised the soft steamed buns filled with simple salty, sweet stuff and now they almost define this kind of youthful Western version of mixed-up Asian eatery. Lazy Su is easy appealing Asian and easy to like. It's also a little unusual – yes, crowd-pleasing, but also distinctive, and it doesn't shy away from sour tastes and chilli. Go ready for plenty of pace and a bit of noise.

1/9 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, lazy-su.com.au

The Good Food Guide 2019 is on sale in newsagencies, bookstores and via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99.