Brisbane Times 2017 Good Food Guide: the award winners

VITTORIA COFFEE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR

For a restaurant that ticks every box. It does not need to receive three hats but must capture the mood of the city right now and exemplify what it means to be a world class restaurant.

Gauge, South Brisbane

Gauge is the most exciting place to eat in Brisbane. That's a fact. Yes, you can drop in for coffee and a morning feed, and the Scando-chic room sure looks like a cafe, but to call Jerome Batten's South Brisbane venue anything but a restaurant is a disservice. Chefs Cormac Bradfield and Phil Marchant are serving high-voltage dishes that flip a very large bird to the concept of "cafe food" while keeping deliciousness top priority. With a big, juicy wine list full of dirt-under-the-fingernails nectar of the gods, and service a notch up from the standard how's-your- day-been tropes, Gauge is a winner for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

CITI CHEF OF THE YEAR

To acknowledge those with the craft and ability to make a real difference to the way we dine now and in the future.

Ben Williamson, Gerard's Bistro, Fortitude Valley

Gerard's Bistro head chef Ben Williamson.

Gerard's Bistro head chef Ben Williamson. Photo: Michelle Smith

Before Ben Williamson brought his Maghreb-inspired fare to James Street, Brisbane's smart-casual dining scene was happy to ho-hum along on the merits of river views and reasonably priced pasta. Williamson and Gerard's ushered in a new era of no-fuss eating where you drop for a glass of wine and a plate of food on par with most fine dining restaurants in town. The bloke's cooking has never been more focused, and he continues to kick goals with projects like the Food Lab which gives other Gerard's chefs the opportunity to experiment and create. Mr Williamson, we salute you.

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BEST NEW RESTAURANT

For the most exciting opening in the past 12 months that sets the eating agenda and starts conversations.

Otto Ristorante, Brisbane

There's every chance that Queensland's restaurant historians may one day define Brisbane's dining scene as "pre-Otto" and "post-Otto". The Fink Group (also owners of Sydney's threehatted Quay and two-hatted Bennelong) have set new standards in hospitality and attention to detail. The service is as polished as the branded glassware and few expenses have been spared, from Saatchi & Saatchi-designed leather menus to pirouetting Les Danseuses ceiling fans. Most importantly, the modern Italian food is downright excellent. And how's that view? Phwoar. All your sunset drinks begin at Otto's atrium bar.

YOUNG CHEF OF THE YEAR

To acknowledge our best and brightest rising stars of the kitchen.

Angus Baker, Esquire, Brisbane

Twenty-four-year-old Gus Baker cut his teeth at the George and Dragon gastropub in the UK before working the pans at Survey and Co, Gerard's Bistro and now Esquire. "The thing that separates Angus from his peers is his technical ability," said Aria's Ben Russell, head judge of the award. "When the dish he presented arrived at the table we all commented on how beautiful its fragrance was. It was focused, clean, perfectly executed and most importantly, delicious. He showcased local ingredients but, it didn't feel forced – it was an intelligent use of legitimately good produce." The judges were also impressed with the professionalism Baker displayed throughout the competition. He is a chef on the path to great things.

SANTA VITTORIA REGIONAL RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR

For the best outside Brisbane. The winning restaurant provides an experience comparable to anything in the city but still remain uniquely regional.

Nu Nu, Palm Cove

Tiger prawns coated in rainforest honey. Red emperor smoked in melaleuca bark. Innisfail palm heart with young coconut salad, and North Queensland mud crab wok-fried to the colour of a dying sun. Nick Holloway celebrates tropical produce like no other chef in the region and holy line-caught mackerel, as if Nu Nu isn't one of the best dining rooms in Australia to eat it in with high ceilings, fans set to Hemingway speed and ferns lining white-washed walls. You could cast a rod from verandah to beach if there weren't so many palms in the way. Sit back, relax, and take it all in with a cold glass of La Petite Mort marsanne instead. Regional dining experiences don't get much better.

CITI SERVICE EXCELLENCE

To honour an individual's outstanding level of service and contribution to the hospitality industry.

Andy Buchanan, Urbane, Brisbane

Andy Buchanan has been providing high levels of service on the Urbane floor since the restaurant opened 15 years ago. "There are three important things it takes to be a great waitperson," he says. "Enthusiasm, common sense, and the ability to think preemptively." The sharp-suited manager and Urbane Group partner has these traits in spades and serves customers with grace while fostering a talented team. Buchanan is a shining testament that hospitality can be a successful and rewarding career path.

WINE LIST OF THE YEAR 

For a diverse and high-quality by-the-glass selection alongside an accessible bottle list that displays a good range of vintages and complements the restaurant's food and style.

Black Bird Bar & Grill, Brisbane

If you can't find something to drink on Black Bird's wine list, it might be time to face facts that you don't like wine. Sommelier Penny Grant has curated a beauty, full of unfiltered funksters, big ticket Grand Crus, easy-drinking whites and Granite Belt belters. A Queensland wine list with a strong selection of local wines? Yes, it's true, and we would love to see more of it. Full marks to the spirit and liqueur representation too. Cin-cin!

BAR OF THE YEAR

For the best all-round bar that nails service, drinks, vibe and decor.

The Gresham, Brisbane

The Gresh is a place where flanno-wearing grommets can sink XXXX tins next to suits knocking back Pappy Van Winkle whiskey and it's a beautiful, natural thing to behold. Almost as beautiful as the high-ceilinged heritage room and the Brisbane history framed on its walls. Shout outs to general manager Ryan Lane and the gun bar team (Dan Gregory, Brendon Osmers, Kal Moore, Peter Hollands, Ella Rhodes, Ash McGregor and Magnus Moore, phew) for pouring top-notch drinks until 3am. A national treasure.

SOMMELIER OF THE YEAR

To acknowledge the wine professional who demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of their subject, while helping to influence and educate diners. They must be personable, inclusive, curious and driven to constantly deliver the highest level of service. 

Ian Trinkle, Aria, Brisbane

Cool, calm, collected and composed - when Ian Trinkle talks wine he chooses his words as carefully as he does the matches for Aria's food. He demystifies and decodes wine for diners overwhelmed by the jaw-dropping list and manages an expert team that excels at the same. Sourcing, cellaring and pouring an encyclopaedic wine list like Aria's takes the skill of a surgeon and the patience of a saint and Trinkle excels on both fronts.

BEST BAR FOOD

For not just a place to get a drink, but for a venue serving restaurant-quality, booze-friendly food in a bar setting.

Anise, New Farm

When owner Thames Delaforce ditched degustation-style dining at Anise in May, there was a collective grumble of discontent from New Farm's food fans. However, the wine list became more focused and the bar snacks became more delicious and we're all for any joint sporting chilled Chapter malbec, Charles Arnaud comte and Radiohead on the longplayer. The pint-sized kitchen pumps out perfect plonk accompaniments like grilled redclaw yabby pimped up with padron peppers, charred mussels scattered with jamon crumbs, and goat cutlets dotted with curd. And, when truffle season hits, get thee to Brunswick Street pronto for a blast of fresh Tassie Perigord with pecorino gnocchi.

CAFE OF THE YEAR

This new award acknowledges cafes with integrity, dedication and damn good coffee.

Pearl Cafe, Woolloongabba

Less confident cafes seem locked in battle to create the most over-the-top, carb-loaded dishes possible. The kind of Nutella-stuffed Frankenfoods that make bloggers #haemorrhage #hashtags. Pearl Cafe ignores this noise and keeps on keeping on with beautiful cakes showcasing Queensland fruit, cocklewarming porridge, en pointe coffee and gorgeous interiors. Much like Gauge, it blurs the line between cafe and restaurant, opening for dinner five nights a week and serving hyper-seasonal fare like roast Tinder Creek duck with Falls Farm rosella, tarragon and hazelnut. We also love the fluid wine list with young and fleshy drops of Lucy Margaux, Jauma and Smokestack Lightning.

CHEAP EAT OF THE YEAR

An award to celebrate great food that's easy on the wallet.

Taro's Ramen, Ascot and CBD

We can't be certain, but we're pretty darn sure that Taro's is the first joint rocking Riedel to win the Cheap Eat award in Australia. Taro Akimoto isn't just kicking country-wide goals with glassware, he's also setting a national ramen standard with creamy, fresh and (almost) light tonkotsu. You don't want to crawl under the covers and die a slow death after eating a bowl, unlike some of the rib-sticking salt tsunamis found elsewhere. The pork is Bangalow's finest, the Darling Downs' eggs free-range, and the house-made noodles are a Goldilocks level of not too soft, not too firm, just right. The Ascot store descends into quiet chaos when the staff have to deal with takeaway orders, growing queues and crying babies but that's all part of the fun.

VITTORIA COFFEE LEGEND

For an outstanding long-term contribution to the industry, chosen from a short list by Les Schirato of Vittoria Coffee.

Tony Percuoco, Tartufo, Fortitude Valley

There's much to love about Tartufo. Classic Italian cooking, warm service and blistered-crust margheritas certified by world pizza police Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The backbone, the keel, the constant to all this is Tony Percuoco, who, when not in the kitchen making pasta and wonderful ragus (Percuoco knows how to season like a fish knows how to swim), is greeting customers old and new with grace and generosity. The quality and authenticity of Italian food in Australia would not be where it is today without the dedication of this legend.

FOOD FOR GOOD

An award celebrating innovation and charity. The winner goes above and beyond to contribute to the community.

Mu'ooz Eritrean Restaurant & Catering, West End

This West End social enterprise serves terrific north-east African cuisine while providing employment and traineeships for African refugee women who have suffered the traumas of war and poverty. Launched in 2003 by Saba Abraham and the Eritrean Australian Women and Families Support Network, more than 100 women have received training at Mu'ooz, leading to employment elsewhere, not only in hospitality roles. Mu'ooz is about more than kitchen and service skills – it's about empowerment and self-belief.

PEOPLE'S CHOICE

A reader-driven award that allows the public to name their favourite restaurant. Voted by the people, for the people.

Indulge Cafe, Bundaberg

This is the second time Indulge has won the People's Choice award. "We were absolutely ecstatic when we won the award last year and certainly weren't expecting it. We are very grateful to our customers to be acknowledged," says Larry Hinds, who co-owns the local produce-celebrating cafe with his wife, Amanda. To cater to more patrons, there are now tables on a tree-lined traffic island opposite Indulge, and waitstaff ferry coffee and truffled scrambled eggs to happy customers in the centre of Bourbong Street. This humble little cafe has become the beating heart of Bundy.

The Brisbane Times 2017 Good Food Guide presented by Vittoria and Citi will be on sale for $9.99 in newsagents and bookstores from July 19, with all book purchases receiving free access to the new Good Food app.