Australia's top 12 hot and new restaurants for 2018

Coming in hot: XO noodles and spicy chicken skin at Sunda in Melbourne.
Coming in hot: XO noodles and spicy chicken skin at Sunda in Melbourne. Photo: Justin McManus

It's been a year of bold, lavish, fun and elegant dining in Australia. And our five best new restaurant finalists for the 2019 Good Food Guide (launching Monday, October 8) prove it.

Two nominees point to a revival in luxurious dining, while breaking us out of the degustation loop. Both at Sydney's new waterside baby, Bert's Bar and Brasserie, and Scott Pickett's swaggery Matilda 159 Domain, in Melbourne's South Yarra, caviar service and whole crabs can be ordered for big tables in extravagant surrounds.

No surrounds however, are quite as spectacular as those embracing Laura, the calm, compelling Mornington Peninsula fine diner at the heart of the Gandel family's world class sculpture park.

The Good Food Guide 2019.
The Good Food Guide 2019. Photo: Supplied

But moneyed extravagance was only part of the picture. Yarri, our West Australian finalist, reflects on the six seasons recognised in Nyungar country. And there's Poly, the new bar-restaurant with all the innovative excellence you expect from the team behind Sydney's Ester, and almost no need to pick up cutlery.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's strong new talent from coast to coast. Here are the Good Food Guide reviewers' 12 hottest discoveries.

A1 Canteen

Is Clayton Wells' muffaletta-style pressed sandwich Sydney's most Instagrammed dish of 2018? It's in the running. But the good times go well beyond lavish layered sandwich action at the buzzy, high-ceilinged space, rolling from local LP's sausages for breakfast to pre-batched negronis and whole flounders at night.

2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale, NSW, 02 9280 3285, a1canteen.com.au

Bert's Bar & Brasserie

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALIST

In a year where the apocalypse has felt especially nigh, Bert's has emerged as the lavish last-days-of-Rome hero we need to face the end with reckless grace. It's Pittwater's bold new beauty where Siberian caviar meets fat lists of grower Champagnes, $125 mud crabs, and plates of pasta just casually rolling deep with an entire lobster. No big deal.

Advertisement

2 Kalinya Street, Newport, NSW, 02 9114 7350, merivale.com/venues/berts

Bistro Blackwood

It's third time lucky for Jock Zonfillo's understudy to his fine diner Orana. After a second renovation, a fire-pit now drives an agenda that's in its own way as captivating as the offering upstairs. Veg, squid and beasts are expertly charred and matched with a brilliantly fun bracket of small producer wines and a floor team led by the brilliant Greta Wohlstadt.

285 Rundle Street, Adelaide, SA, 08 8227 0344, bistroblackwood.com.au

Iki Jime

It's the fish, the whole fish and almost nothing but at Shannon Bennett's replacement for Bistro Vue in the city. Here, against a room of squid ink darkness, line-caught, humanely-killed fish emerge as buttery tarts filled with finger lime and just-set bug meat, and miso-enhanced, crisp-fried barramundi head for finger-picking fun. It's all backed with the impressive cellar and service you expect of the Vue Group.

430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne,VIC, 03 9691 3838, ikijime.com.au

Laura

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALIST

Combine $50 million worth of landmark Australian sculpture, a slick winery restaurant with panoramic ocean views and some of the country's hottest talent, and you have a destination to be reckoned with. That's Point Leo Estate, which at its heart has lovely Laura, a gentle taupe terrarium where ex-Rockpool chef Phil Wood is applying classic techniques to the Peninsula's best produce while service gun Ainslie Lubbock calmly steers the ship.

Pt. Leo Estate, 3649 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks, VIC, 03 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au/laura

Lesa

Embla's upstairs restaurant has finally opened its doors with plenty of fans, and delicious fare. The decor is all moody light and dark timbers – central casting for Renaissance nudes – while the menu is a celebration of chef Dave Verheul's more technique-driven days at the Town Mouse with lessons from Embla's wood-fire. Large format wines meet big groups and fun times. Embrace it.

1/122 Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC, 03 9935 9838, lesarestaurant.com.au

Matilda 159 Domain

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALIST

Chef-restaurateur Scott Pickett hit the jackpot formula with his new fire-fuelled South Yarra restaurant. A powerful room in the dusty, rusty tones of Australia plays backdrop to a gently smoked and charred dinner suited to big groups with its whole crabs, burnished ducks and wines of both the interesting and lifetime investment variety.

159 Domain Road, South Yarra, VIC, 03 9089 6668, matilda159.com

Poly

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALIST

Is it a natural wine bar, a casual restaurant or a barstaurant? Er yes, probably. Chef Mat Lindsay's punk kitchen glows with grills (all coals, no gas) and the bold flavours are carried by buttery sauces, ferments and duck fat. Garlic bread is warm, puffy and stuffed with a green mulch of young garlic. Blood pie, heir apparent to Ester's renowned blood sausage sanga, is a tennis ball of earthy black pudding wrapped in dark, malty pastry – ridiculously good. Poly is whatever you like, really, as often as you like.

74-76 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, polysurryhills.com.au

Quay

Quay is back, and it's definitely a brand new invention. The cool $4 million renovation has turned Peter Gilmore's flagship into what looks like first class on an actual ship. And that's just the beginning of a super-luxe dining experience starring rockpools of sealife benefiting from Gilmore's magic touch, truffle-buttered crumpets from custom-made toasters and an adventurous drinks match that genuinely deserves to be called a journey.

Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW, 02 9251 5600, quay.com.au

Shelter

Embrace the breeze and almost excessive beauty of this stunning dual purpose cafe/restaurant in Lennox Head. Its polished woods, native flowers and sharp, clean dishes are well suited to the beachy surrounds. Be as one with the beautiful people, drinking natural wines, eating raw fish and cultured cream or beautifully bolstered brussels sprouts.

41 Pacific Parade, Lennox Head, NSW, 02 6687 7757, shelterlennox.com.au

Sunda

Captained by young gun chef Khanh Nguyen, Sunda is winning hearts and minds with smart, sharp plays on Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese flavours. It's a brutalist industrial space using scaffolding to strangely beautiful effect, where service is sleek and dishes are elegant, but moreover fun, from rendang buns to XO noodles tossed with chicken crackling.

18 Punch Lane, Melbourne, VIC, 03 9654 8190, sunda.com.au

Yarri

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALIST

Margaret River's loss is Dunsborough's gain. Chef Aaron Carr has ditched the tweezers of Vasse Felix in favour of simpler but no less compelling dishes at this Dunsborough resto-bar, which takes cues from the six seasons recognised in Nyungar country but also fire cooking and the international flavours Carr loves. Hence, cured emu with muntries meets wood-grilled prawns in miso butter and beachside good times.

6/16 Cyrillean Way, Dunsborough, WA, 08 9786 5030, yarri.com.au

The Good Food Guide is in its second year as a national book, with hats awarded across Australia. The Good Food Guide 2019 will be launched on October 8 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi, and will be on sale from October 9 in newsagencies and bookstores or pre-order now via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99. 

Pick up the special Good Food Guide edition of Good Food in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.