It takes talent to create an original dining experience outside the city limits, where there are fewer distractions and nowhere to hide. Whether taking a train out of Melbourne to experience a celebration of fire and ferments at Igni in Geelong or committing to the adventure of Pipit, Pottsville, with its no-hoof policy (beef or lamb step aside for sustainable seafood), there's a sense that Australia has embraced really excellent far-away fine dining. In Anglesea, you can take in briny breezes and dip your feet in the sea before a long, seafood-heavy lunch at Captain Moonlite. Summertown Aristologist, in the Adelaide Hills, is an excellent example of closed-loop dining, while Western Australian newcomer Arimia delivers off-grid wining and dining in one of the most picturesque locations the internet will never see. Certainly, eating around the regions of Australia has never been quite the all-encompassing, agenda-setting experience it is in 2019.
These are the Good Food Guide 2020's five finalists for Regional Restaurant of the Year.
Arimia, Wilyabrup, WA
Trigger warning: there's no internet at this biodynamic off-grid restaurant. It's sustainability done right, from its own brilliantly structured chardonnays and zinfandels right through to Evan Hayter's estate-raised, wood-fired lunch party. Taste the serenity of pickled and roasted beets, napped with sweet, mellow cow's milk curd. It's a soothing ride whether fireside or sunning yourself on the deck while twirling tagliatelle.
Captain Moonlite, Anglesea, VIC
With salt air in the nostrils, it's difficult to resist the menu's imaginative seafood focus. Hook into a crumpet topped with garlicky minced prawns and popcorn blitzed to a fine crumb, the signature smoky, charred octopus tentacle artfully curled alongside the shattery battered potato cake of your dreams. The kitchen also uses the charcoal grill to good effect for a thick, barely pink pork cutlet freckled with fennel seeds and served with blistered padron peppers and grill-striped pencil leeks.
Igni, Geelong, VIC
The blank grey facade gives little away. But step inside and you'll find a 30-seat dining room thrumming with quiet energy. A meal begins with a tablecloth of snacks – vivid, punchy bites such as a mind-blowing briny coastal leaf that tastes like oyster, pickled mussels swaddled in radicchio leaves, doll-sized cheese pastries topped with tiny slices of zucchini, and brittle chicken skin chips piped with taramasalata. No two tables get the exact same menu but adept floor staff soothe diner dish-envy.
Pipit, Pottsville, NSW
This is coastal cuisine, with a focus on sustainable seafood and local plants, and no beef or lamb on offer. The star turn is a glazed and grilled bay lobster served with broad, flat, ribbons of potato awash in buttery whey. Corned moon fish is teamed with tamarillo ketchup, chickpea koji and lovely, pudgy, grill-marked corn flatbread, and a simple wedge of sugarloaf cabbage, grilled over coals, is actually a minefield of concealed richness, interleaved with crab and macadamia cream.
Snacks at the Summertown Aristologist. Photo: Nat Rogers
Summertown Aristologist, Summertown, SA
Is it winding through the vine-covered Adelaide Hills? The gentle smoke from the kitchen and open fire when you arrive? The wines exemplifying why natural juice is A Thing? Maybe it's the hand-carved seats, hand-blown glassware or the house-grown, hand-harvested produce being transformed into Summertown's intensely delicious, no-nonsense dishes? All of it makes this one of the most captivating closed-loop restaurants in Australia.
The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, will be launched on September 30 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2020 will be on sale from October 1 in newsagencies and bookstores, and is also available to pre-order at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.