Good Food Victoria's 100 Good Things 1-20: Melbourne CBD, seafood platters, Park Wines

Martin Benn and Vicki Wild on the terrace of their upcoming restaurant Society.
Martin Benn and Vicki Wild on the terrace of their upcoming restaurant Society. Photo: Simon Schluter

Instead of the Good Food Guide, this year we bring 100 Good Things to the table: a collection of people, places, moments and mementos that best represent 2020.

1. High society

Australia's most anticipated opening is finally happening. SOCIETY, the new big-ticket restaurant helmed by chef Martin Benn, partner Vicki Wild and Chin Chin's Chris Lucas, is due to launch in March at the 80 Collins development. It's been more than three years since Benn announced he was closing three-hatted fine-dining star Sepia in Sydney – then at the top of its game – and setting up shop in Melbourne. Benn, famous for his groundbreaking, Japanese-influenced gastronomy, is broadening his repertoire with this project by offering different dining choices and options not seen before in big-city restaurants. During lockdown, he honed more than 200 recipes for the restaurant, along with 6000 sub-recipes such as sauces and dressings. According to Wild, he has also designed "every millimetre" of the kitchen himself, and finally achieved his dream of cooking on a custom-built Bonnet Maestro stove (known as a "suite"), which had to be craned into place, closing traffic on Collins Street. Benn promises the 100-seat SOCIETY will rival any blockbuster restaurant in London, New York or Tokyo. Bring it on. MH 

2. Floral display

Vue de Monde executive chef Hugh Allen is one of a small number of people who connect the Venn diagrams of being from Wangaratta and being an alumnus of influential Copenhagen restaurant Noma.

In this stunning new bottlebrush dessert, he pulls inspiration from both sides, paying tribute to the Australian countryside with a confection of cherry, pistachio, and white chocolate in a gravity-defying feat of precision technique. PN​

3. New scoops

Gelato brand Pidapipo is creating an "integrated hospitality precinct" in a long vacant former bank in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Opening in the first half of 2021, the precinct will include a gelato lab, where gelato and gelato-cake production will be visible from the street; a cioccolateria, where Pidapipo will collaborate with chocolate-makers Hunted + Gathered, and a 20-seat Roman-style pizzeria with a centrepiece wood-fired oven. The gelato lab will be all about limited production using unique ingredients and experimental combinations.

Meanwhile, Luther's Scoops is mounting a strong counter argument for ice-cream. The new Brunswick icecreamery comes courtesy of Christian Williams, a Lune pastry chef who has done time in the kitchen at The Fat Duck and The Clove Club in London. Seasonal Victorian produce is his muse, and flavours such as raspberry and rose, feijoa and apricot, and honey sorbet are his music. MH & PN; 


4. Greenhouse effect

File this under: "So crazy it just might work". Eco-warrior Joost Bakker is rejoining chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett (ex-Oakridge) for the fifth iteration of Greenhouse by Joost. This time Bakker has built a Big Brother-meets-Band in a Bubble working home in Federation Square, where Stone and Barrett will live from early in the new year until the end of May. The self-sustaining two-bedroom home will hold dinner parties for up to 16 people four nights a week, serving the likes of yabbies and barramundi farmed in tanks on site. The house is an eco-friendly game-changer with solar power, a rooftop garden, a chicken coop and water collection system. It's a bold new template for urban living – and eating – into the future. MH 

5. Serve it, smash it

Swarming food precincts will not be a feature of this summer's Australian Open, which means the AO Chef Series at the Glasshouse takes on a special shine. Local chefs will showcase different parts of Victoria: Mark Briggs (Sardine) brings Gippsland to the city, Michael Ryan (Provenance) carries the High Country down the Hume and Phil Wood (Laura at Pt Leo Estate) showcases the Mornington Peninsula, among others. Each chef will be in the space for two nights. Also on site, Charlie Carrington reels in Atlas Dining's global jaunting to launch his first "Australia" menu, focusing on native and local ingredients. DV 

Australian seafood platter at Stokehouse, St Kilda, Melbourne. Friday, March 20, 2020. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Australian seafood platter at Stokehouse, St Kilda. Photo: Daniel Pockett

6. Summer of the seafood platter

With the restaurant industry rebuilding and exports still stuttering, Melbourne suddenly has more pristine crustacea at its disposal than you can poke a pincer at. Fitzroy's Poodle Bistro and Bar has dedicated its summer service and huge internal courtyard to towers of crab and cured kingfish, while Stokehouse, under the steerage of chef Jason Staudt, is giving you the option of eating dressed crab, scarlet prawns and lobster seated at tables with a view of St Kilda's most sunburnt inhabitants. Just want to dial a lobster to your door? You can do that too, via Clamms Seafood. GC;;

Jullian Hills has joined the Hop Nations team to open Zymurgy in West Footscray

Jullian Hills is on beer snack duty at Zymurgy. Photo: Ed Sloane Photography

7. Beer gods

Friends of ferments, this is your summer. West Footscray has taken delivery of Zymurgy (zimmergee) where, in a 250-square-metre courtyard, Hop Nation's brews unite with Navi chef Julian Hills' fine dining take on beer food. What's that? Grilled tongue reubens, vegetable shawarma and wagyu-fat-brushed pretzels with whipped cod roe – plus charcuterie and cheeses.

In Moonee Ponds there is The Mighty, a triple-level venue with an ex-Dinner by Heston Blumenthal chef, a terrace and every craft brew they could get their hands on from around the country. GC​; 

8. How to score a kitchen Tan

After a hiatus of some years, chef and Asian food historian Tony Tan is back with his Tony Tan Cooking School in Trentham, 90 minutes north of Melbourne, in a gleaming space with a top-spec kitchen kit and a double serving of his signature sass. Dumplings, seafood and the food of Hong Kong and Sichuan form the focus of his first classes, which start in the new year. Dial in to Tan's Instagram feed for updates. PN

9. Click for Vic this Christmas

Necessity is the mother of getting things done, and 2020 has proved it for tiny regional businesses. Hundreds of Victorian producers have finally been set up for online sales via the Victorian Country Market, which means you can stack your trolley with anzuboshi (Japanese-style preserved apricots) from Kaokao Miso, eggs from Forge Creek and a six-pack of Bright Brewery beers, and pay with one transaction. A team collects goods from across the state and delivers them for free if you're a Victorian, or for a $10 flat fee interstate. Make it your care-free, community-driven Christmas shopping hack. GC 

Chef Ben Shewry at his new venue, Attica Summer Camp in Seville. 13 November 2020. The Age News. Photo: Eddie Jim.

Chef Ben Shewry is headed for the hills. Photo: Eddie Jim

10. Pack your bags for Attica Summer Camp

Attica takes the gong for most agile restaurant of 2020. Owner Ben Shewry, partner Kylie Staddon and the team threw gigs, baked, ran a soup kitchen, opened a ceramics studio and turned a fine diner into a kingdom of covetable tea towels. As for returning to "normal", this week the crew finishes up its exclusive, experiential series for groups of 10 at the Ripponlea restaurant, and heads to Seville in the Yarra Valley for a five-month residency of Attica Summer Camp. Shewry will take over Lillydale Estate winery, setting up in a pavilion, with campfires and a ripper soundtrack. According to scout leader Shewry, it's "the antidote to a long, hard winter." GC 

11. The CBD is back with a bang

CBD was considered a dull void back in the '90s before laneway culture took off. It has no intention of losing the international cred it has built since then. The City of Melbourne came out swinging with its recovery plan. Southbank is lined with elaborate Spacecube set-ups, so diners can go al fresco from Princes Bridge right down to Queen Street. Throughout the CBD, key laneways such as Crossley Street are now closed so inhabitants (Gingerboy, Becco and cocktail bar Romeo Lane) have the full run of the strip, just like Degraves. Chinatown, the precinct hit earliest by the pandemic, is now largely foot-traffic-only at weekends, making al fresco yum cha a thing, while the top of Bourke Street, from Grossi Florentino right up and around the corner to the European hospitality stable, is expanding far out onto pavements and footpaths. Add to this a busking program putting singers and bands on every street corner and a long-term art project that will see light installations and jazz in laneways, and you have one major excitement magnet. GC  

12. Dark Emu beer from Sailors Grave

Any beer from Gippsland's Sailors Grave Brewing is worth getting hold of, both for the custom artwork and the creativity of the collaborations (see 50/50 beer and apple juice mashup with Gurney Cidery). But do not miss its joint effort with Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe, a dark lager incorporating roasted indigenous grass seeds from the Wallagaraugh River (pictured right). Scarce grains mean small batches. GC​  

13. A two-day New Year's feast

New Year's Eve is often ruined by not enough food and too many people attempting to party all at once. So City of Melbourne has joined forces with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to scrap the focus-pulling fireworks and spread the energy across a two-day, citywide feast starring the best in the game.

From Spring Street through Flinders Lane down to Docklands, 11 laneways are being turned over to tables. Party-friendly feasts include Pellegrini's lasagne and tiramisu for your kids, Japanese hotdogs and beers from Hihou and a Supernormal suckling pig situation. GC

14. Fine line

Good news for those waiting in the queue stretching around the corner outside Monforte Viennoiserie each Friday and Saturday morning: the boutique Carlton North patisserie is now open on Sundays, with Thursdays to come. Owner Giorgia McAllister Forte has been floored by the demand for her perfectly formed croissants, twists, scrolls and tarts embellished with seasonal produce – just 500 pastries sell out in hours from a tiny window on a residential street. Like Lune for the next generation, it feels like the start of something big – ask anyone in the queue. MH

15. Bag that picnic swag

Given 90 per cent of summer is likely to be spent on grass, it's time to upgrade your rug game. The pure wool beauties from Norwegian company Indigofera, from Fitzroy store Pickings and Parry, are the top of the food chain.

And for more local threads, Preston store Pinky's sells a range from the Geelong Weaving Mill. GC;

Chef Matt Wilkinson at Montalto Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.

Matt Wilkinson has found the perfect summer nesting spot at Montalto. Photo: Annika Kafcaloudis

16. Leaving the 'hood for the trees

Desperate to escape the city? Chefs are too, which has dovetailed nicely with the plans of regional operators to attract summer trade. British chef Matt Wilkinson is doing a summer residency at Montalto Winery on the Mornington Peninsula, plundering the kitchen garden for his roasted-and-dukkah dusted zucchini and onion bhajis with smoked yoghurt. Sutton Grange Winery in Bendigo has enlisted Anchovy's Thi Le, who is serving her modern Vietnamese menu at the cellar door through December. Peter Roddy and Ebony Vagg are enjoying the best of both worlds: keeping their Richmond restaurant Noir humming while shifting to Portarlington seeking sand, sea and copious mussel supplies for their new all-day operation, Pier Street. GC;;  

Le Conservatoire, Entrecote's new outdoor space in Domain Road, South Yarra.
For 100 Good Things, Dec 8, 2020.

Le Conservatoire, Entrecote's new outdoor space on Domain Road in South Yarra. Photo: Supplied

17. Best of the 'burbs

Melbourne's wide-hipped, park-plush, beachfronted and industrial-edged suburbs have won the outdoor dining lottery and aren't wasting their assets. The strip of Kings Domain is stuffed with marquees fit for the Portsea Polo by Entrecote and Bacash. Park Street Pasta and Wine has given South Melbourne's back streets some vim. At Gerald's Bar in Carlton North, where spilling into the street felt inevitable, it is now legal and classy, thanks to copper and timber barriers and complimentary parasols. Take the punt to Williamstown and cruise down to seafood-focused Sebastian Bar and Grill, whose decks are hosting a calendar of live music, residencies by Il Melograno gelateria and toastie sessions with Maker & Monger. Lygon Street's King and Godfree and Brunetti exploded outwards last month, and the council is coming to the party, shutting Faraday Street off as an entertainment precinct. GC;;;;;; 

18. Caterina's Italian brandade

Is this the year salt cod finally finds its rightful place in kitchens around Melbourne? Definitely, if Caterina Borsato, of legendary CBD basement restaurant Caterina's, has anything to say about it. Think of her baccala mantecato as Italian-style brandade – salt cod whipped with olive oil, jarred and ready to be served at your leisure with toast points. MR 

19. Professional park wines

"Park wines. Delivered to your picnic rug in an hour!" proclaimed the posters that popped up around Melbourne's inner-north in late spring. They're the work of Diggin' in the Cellars, a collection of bottle shops and wine bars that do same-day drop-offs of, say, Patrick Sullivan chardonnay and Cobaw Ridge pinot to sites such as Carlton Gardens and Edinburgh Gardens. They join a number of vendors that take the product straight to the customer, wherever that is, even if delivery directions run to "halfway between the fountain and the really big tree, next to the guys playing quoits". PN 

20. Shok to the system

French-born, Melbourne-based baker Quentin Berthonneau inspired an Insta-wave of katsu sandos using slices of his fluffy white Japanese bread known as shokupan. His version of the cult sandwich bread uses naturally fermented sourdough instead of yeast for lift, adding extra flavour and texture without preservatives.

The brightly branded loaves have been a home-delivery smash, and Berthonneau is now also selling pork katsu kits in collaboration with Supernormal, ready-to-eat sandwiches with chef Romu at the Alphington Farmers' Market every Sunday, and working on a panettone with To Be Frank Bakery. MH​

Words: Gemima Cody, Michael Harry, Pat Nourse, Myffy Rigby, Dani Valent