The hottest seats (and plates) in Sydney and Melbourne, right now.
Bathers' Pavilion, Sydney
Summer in the harbour city means oysters by the sea, and there's no hotter place for freshly shucked good times than the new-look Bathers' Pavilion. Begin on the first-floor terrace, now open for seafood platters and champagne after its past life as an event space. "We decided those water views from the terrace are too special to keep behind closed doors," says Ian Pagent, now a co-owner of the Pav with veteran chef Serge Dansereau. After 10 weeks of closure and luxe renovations, the icon now has an all-day bistro focused on coastal French classics, and a fine-diner where Dansereau does magical things with bouillabaisse.
Go-to dish: Grilled Clarence River prawns with sauce vierge, $44.
4 The Esplanade, Mosman, batherspavilion.com.au
Cookies and cream soft-serve with caramel sauce at Hazel. Photo: Pete Dillon
Dessous & Hazel, Melbourne
It's the most ambitious opening yet by Melbourne's cafe royalty, the Mulberry Group (Top Paddock, Kettle Black, Higher Ground). And it's not even a cafe. In a double-pronged attack on the city's buzziest eat street, Flinders Lane, they've opened split-level restaurant Hazel, all creamy tones, blond timber and flame-licked dishes, and moody basement bar Dessous, where you might drop in for a drink then decide to get cosy on a forest green leather banquette, ordering border-hopping snacks from Dessous's separate bar menu.
Go-to dish: Hazel's cookies and cream soft-serve with caramel sauce mines a deep vein of nostalgia, $12.
Wagyu beef donburi at Dopa by Devon. Photo: John Puah
Dopa by Devon, Sydney
The feel-good factor runs high at Dopa by Devon, a donburi and dessert concept cafe from those crazy kids who run Devon Cafe in Sydney, Brisbane and Jakarta. Its name comes from dopamine, a chemical released by the brain to reinforce and reward behaviour by making us feel good. And what doesn't feel good about a Japanese donburi rice bowl covered in karaage chicken, tajima wagyu beef tongue or saikyo salmon sashimi? Dopa calls itself a milk bar as well, so there are kakigori shaved ice desserts stained Millennial-pink with strawberries, and the social media darling that is brick toast. Cue waitlists for lunch and dinner. You might want to hold on the cheeseburger-on-rice but everything else feels real good.
Go-to dish: Mayura Station teriyaki wagyu beef bolar blade on rice, with onsen egg, miso soup, salad and pickles, $23.
Shop 5-6, 2 Little Hay Street, Haymarket, darlingsq.com
Share-friendly snacks at Ciccia Bella. Photo: Jason Loucas
Maurice Terzini is a stirrer; a restless creative spirit who brings a kooky twist to everything within his restaurant, bar, hotel and fashion empires. His latest twist is CicciaBella, a punked-up version of an Italian beachside osteria with a moody interior warmed by its wood-fired oven. Former ACME chef, Mitch Orr, plays to a brief of "umami by the sea", showering Sardinian malloreddus pasta and buttery crab juices with wakame dust, and stuffing tiny calzone with mozzarella and mortadella. Wood-fired pizzette come crisp-bottomed, puffy-crusted and tattooed with scorch marks, and a cultishly all-natural wine list from James Hird focuses on Italian varietals. Terzini's most subversive act, however, is the focus on keeping locals, kids and oldies happy, and not just the cool crowd.
Go-to dish: Malloreddus, blue swimmer crab, $26.
75-79 Hall Street, Bondi Beach, cicciabella.com.au
Cacio e pepe at Marameo. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Sarti is dead. Long live Marameo. The Italian hospitality powerhouse of Joe Mammone, Michael Badr and Marco Tenuta have ruled the Melbourne CBD with romantic knee squeezer Il Bacaro and stately Sarti, but times are changing and they weren't going to be left behind. Thanks to fastidious designer Chris Connell, the Russell Place premises is now a refined, futuristic vision of pasta eating and apero appreciation. A gin- and vermouth-stacked bar and that sometimes forgotten rooftop terrace are ready to receive, while fun wagyu-filled cannoli, elegant carrot crackers with bug tails and glistening roe, and a cavatelli flecked with pork sausage and broccoli are ready for the next decade.
Go-to dish: For lunchers, there's a $15 cacio e pepe spaghetti trap.
6 Russel Place, Melbourne, marameo.com.au
Cider-brined pork at Old Palm Liquor. Photo: Eddie Jim
Old Palm Liquor, Melbourne
Over the past two years, there have been moments when chef Almay Jordaan and Simon Denman of Neighbourhood Wine, Melbourne's well-loved wine bar in a former gangster's casino, thought of canning their second project. But Old Palm Liquor has emerged from that incubation as the most detail-oriented good times wine bar the middle-north has seen this decade. It's a festival of tans, caramels and plush maroon bar stools. And backing a fiercely on-it wine agenda, Jordaan's bites: griddled flatbread slicked with lemony-garlic and minty labne; cider-brined pork chops under a knoll of crushed peas; and a one-bite blooming onion, made from a battered shallot, knock Melbourne right out of its repetitive snacking stupor.
Go-to dish: Fried shallot with cashew cream ($7) is the vegan hero Melbourne deserves.
133 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, oldpalmliquor.com