Melbourne's best dishes of 2016

Tulum is guilty of some of the year's menu highlights.
Tulum is guilty of some of the year's menu highlights. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Well, 2016. You gave the world a proper shafting in most respects, but some things were pretty OK. Unless you were a hen. We had more chicken shops open than anyone would have thought possible - and if it wasn't about rotisserie birds, it was chicken skin crackling on everything. In better news, looking back over the year's best dishes, a lot of the heroes were vegetable based. Here's hoping for more in the new year. 

Cilbur and vinegary everything at Tulum​

Go-to dish: Cilbur (egg with smoked yoghurt and chicken crackling).

Everyone talks about the cilbur, and everyone is right. The browned butter meets sharp labne and a soft egg (for running through with chicken skin shards and pita) is a potent opening gambit in any language. But it's the acid that cuts and slashes its way through the menu, often via house-made vinegars, that keeps Tulum on your mind. Hands in the air for the rosewater vinegar and melons all partying with pepitas and pinches of crab.

217 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 03 9525 9127,

Straight-edge tarts at Oter​

Symmetrical tarts served at Oter.

French chef Florent Gerardin brought back the sexy of symmetry with his OCD desserts this year. Here's hoping this is the end for deconstructed desserts in 2017.

Basement, 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne,

Vegan chocolate gelato at Piccolina Gelateria​

Chocolate gelato at Piccolina in Hawthorn

Hawthorn got a new gelateria this year that's a contender for the best in the city. Everything is made from scratch on premises - they even roast and grind their own peanut butter, and work with pure cacao powder and butter to make their chocolate numbers. It's all impressive, pillowy fresh-off-the-churn stuff, but the vegan chocolate is so rich and creamy, it's a big win for those who can't or won't do dairy.

802 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 03 9815 2815,

Most things at French Saloon

the french saloon, ian curley, todd moses, melbourne, good food, gemima cody, kristoffer paulsen, eat out gemima cody, Escabeche of mussels and clams with saffron aioli, French Saloon.

Hell, what didn't French Saloon do well this year? Starting off slowly, the pretty city loft above Kirk's Wine Bar has become a force of European cooking. We loved the burrata, peach, hazelnut and leek salad of last summer; the charcuterie prettily fanned around dollops of mustard, the sweet-sharp escabeche with potato crisps and, obviously, the steaks. And now there are late-night burgers to consider.

380–384 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9600 2142,

Devilled eggs at Fancy Hank's

Devilled eggs are a new addition to the menu.

Sure, the barbecue is excellent, but point us at one of these silken-centred snacks of '70s parties everywhere and we're anyone's.

79 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1300 274 753,

Holy hen at Embla​

Is Embla home to Melbourne's best chicken dish?

Make a list of everything Dave Verheul pulled out of the fire-fueled oven this year and check it off twice. The crisped chicken and smoky jus gras; the gently intensified dry-aged flathead, the salt-baked celeriac ... Even the bread, with the most chewy, crackling crust in town, which is served with whipped butter.

122 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 5923,

Roast rolls for breakfast at Scott Pickett's Deli

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 20: The pork roll served at Scott Pickett's Deli at the Vic Market on October 20, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Pat Scala/Fairfax Media)

Nothing will ever, ever beat the bratwursts of the Queen Victoria Markets, but you'd kick it out of bed at least once for the crusty torpedos stuffed with roast pork, relish and and a sticky gravy.

507 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne,

Salt and pepper vegetables at Bar Liberty

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 1: The salt and pepper vegetables prepared by Bar Liberty chef Casey Wall on September 1, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Robenstone/Fairfax Media)

The salt and pepper vegetables at the renegade wine bar by Banjo Harris Plane, Michael Bascetta and the guys from Rockwell and Sons fragrantly fizzed and crackled their way into the hearts of all drinkers, going neck and neck with the GLT sambo - crisp chicken skin subbing bacon on a BLT.

234 Johnston Street, Fitzroy,

Society potato at Igni​

Society garlic potatoes  at Igni in Geelong.

You could include so many things from Igni, the menu at Aaron Turner's Geelong return to the scene, such as all the opening snacks (special snaps for the vinegared saltbush chips) and the roasted marron with buttery pil pil sauce and a pickle, but it was his veg work that knocked it out of the park. Notably the garlicky al dente potato tagliatelle and a hot roasted slab of beetroot washing in a whey and parmesan soup.

2 Ryan Place, Geelong, 03 5222 2266,