The winners round-up: Brisbane Times Good Food Guide awards 2017

Gauge, the casual airy South Brisbane eatery from Brisbane food dynamo Jerome Batten, has taken out Queensland's Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year at this year's Brisbane Times Good Food Guide awards presented by Vittoria and Citi.

The pocket-sized place has evolved from its early days as a fledgling cafe into "the most exciting place to eat in Brisbane", according to Queensland Guide editor Callan Boys.

"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," Boys said.

"Yes, you can also drop in for coffee and breakfast but to call it anything other than a restaurant is a disservice. Gauge was one of the few places that Rene Redzepi [from Noma restaurant] visited when he came to Brisbane."

Gauge also represents a trend towards venues defying pigeon holing, and morphing more into whatever-the-customer-wants models.

"It's been a challenge for me to try and define these venues and to know what category to put them in. You can be a restaurant, a cafe and a bar at the same time, and let people create their own experience. You're not being dictated to by the owners. "

House-made silken almond tofu at Gauge.

House-made silken almond tofu at Gauge. Photo: Supplied

That's not to say there's no longer space at the pointy end of the market. It's the first year that two Brisbane restaurants have received a coveted three hat rating, with Urbane rising to join fellow Brisbane CBD restaurant Esquire at the top level. E'cco Bistro, also in the city, and Fortitude Valley's Gerard's Bistro, both jumped from one to two hats, taking the number of two hat restaurants from four to six. The city's Restaurant II regained their lost hat, and newcomers Nickel Kitchen and Bar (Fortitude Valley), The Wolfe (East Brisbane) and Otto Ristorante (city) also earned a crisp white one. 

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"Brisbane is the most interesting city in Australia to be eating in right now," Boys said.

"There's opportunity here, there's a buzz in the air, and chefs are putting more emphasis on Queensland produce, not just to sound trendy on a menu, but because it's delicious and the best in the country."

As well as rising to three hats, Urbane's sharp-suited manager and group partner Andy Buchanan won the Citi Service Excellence award after steering the restaurant with calm and charisma for 15 years.

"Urbane has really come into it's own - Andy Buchanan has led an amazing team, and Alejando Cancino's cooking is tight, refined, elegant and very, very delicious."

Urbane restaurant manager, Andy Buchanan

Urbane restaurant manager, Andy Buchanan Photo: Glenn Hunt

Newcomer - and Best New Restaurant - Otto Ristorante is indicative of how strong Brisbane is becoming, and that other states have sat up to take notice, he adds. It's the first restaurant outside of New South Wales for the Fink Group, whose impressive profile includes the three-hattted Quay restaurant and two-hattted Bennelong, both in Sydney.

"When you have operators like the Fink Group come to town it's a sign of how exciting things are in Brisbane."

Rangers Valley bistecchina with roasted tomatoes and rocket at Otto Ristorante.

Rangers Valley bistecchina with roasted tomatoes and rocket at Otto Ristorante. Photo: Nikki To

The awards also paid homage to some of Brisbane's best operators, including Ian Trinkle from Aria Brisbane, who won Sommelier of the Year for his "encyclopedic wine list", Angus Baker, from Esquire, who took out Young Chef of the Year for his professionalism and technical ability.

Dine at Tartufo in Fortitude Valley, and you'll experience the true sense of Italian hospitality, which is why owner and executive chef Tony Percuoco was a shoo-in for the Vittoria Coffee Legend award.  

"The quality and authenticity of Italian food in Australia would not be where it is today without the dedication of this legend," Boys said.

Founding and executive chef of Gerard's Bistro, Ben Williamson has steered the Middle Eastern inspired bistro from one to two stars this year, upped the food offerings of Gerard's Bar and has now taken the reins of The Apo, up the road. All very good reasons for him to be named Citi Chef of the Year.

"Ben serves very focused food; every dish is exciting, it has it's own character and personality, and he makes the kind of things you could imagine eating on holidays in Morocco. We can't wait to see where he takes the new Apo menu," Boys said.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21:  Gerard's Bistro head chef Ben Williamson photographed at the Fortitude Valley restaurant on James Street on Friday April 21, 2016 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Michelle Smith/Fairfax Media)

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

On the bar front, consistent high achiever The Gresham won Bar of the Year, for its equal appeal to the every-man and top of the town. 

"It's a great bar in the city to sit and drink a tin of XXXX or an expertly-made Manhattan - the team punches out the best classic cocktails in Brisbane," Boys said.

Fortitude Valley restaurant Anise's move to de-scale from degustation to cracking casual eats paid off, earning them Best Bar Food, with Boys particularly taken by its Tasmanian truffle topped pecorino gnocchi.

Still on booze, Black Bird Bar and Grill's wine list, written by the delightful Penny Grant, was awarded best in the state for it's mash up of unfiltered funksters, big ticket Grand Crus and local Granite Belt greats.

"If you can't find something to drink on Black Bird's wine list," Boys said, "It might be time to face facts that you don't like wine."

Indulge Cafe

Indulge Cafe Photo: Paul Beutel

Need proof that Queenslanders care more about consistency and quality than faffy trend? Local produce driven Indulge Cafe in Bundaberg has won the People's Choice award for a second year in a row.

Woollongabba's Pearl Cafe won Cafe of the Year for its timeless appeal and irresistible cakes and Taro's Ramen, with stores in Ascot and the city, was awarded Cheap Eat of the Year for setting a national bar in ramen standards (Boys also reckons it's the only ramen joint in Oz with Riedel wine glasses).

Ask someone who has never been to Australia what one of our top restaurants looks like and they'd probably rattle off this checklist: ocean views, palm trees, loads of lovely seafood with native accents, and cheery staff moving through a stylist white-and-bright dining room. Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year Nu Nu, in Palm Cove, fits the bill nicely.

"Chef Nick Holloway makes food that can only exist in Far North Queensland, that speaks to the region and the place. Where else can you get local prawns covered in honey from the nearby rainforest or red emperor smoked in melaleuca bark?"

Nu Nu restaurant in Palm Cove.

Nu Nu restaurant in Palm Cove. Photo: Supplied

Overall, regional dining took a hit in the hats stakes, mostly in part to service problems, Boys said. Burleigh Heads' The Fish House, Montville's The Long Apron, Maryvale's The Peak, and Wasabi, in Noosa Heads, all retained their two hat status, but the Tamarind in Maleny dropped to one hat. Coast (Hervey Bay), A Touch of Salt (Townsville), Sails (Noosa Heads), Seaduction (Surfers Paradise) and Veraison (Toowoomba) all lost hats.

"I'd love to see more investment into better service, not just regionally but in Brisbane too," Boys said.

"There is amazing food in Queensland and it would be brilliant if the service was on a national level as well."

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.