February hot seats: the tables to book in Sydney and Melbourne this month

Alpha Pop's moussaka of eggplant, scallops and taramasalata.
Alpha Pop's moussaka of eggplant, scallops and taramasalata. Photo: Yasmin Mund

The hottest seats (and plates) in Sydney and Melbourne, right now.

Alpha Pop, Sydney

Sad news. Alpha has had to close its Castlereagh Street Hellenic Club digs for four months while it undergoes refurbishment. Better news. It has now popped up as Alpha Pop at the restored and relaunched Campbell's Stores historic warehouses in The Rocks.

Peter Conistis' inspired take on Greek cooking now comes with sea breezes and harbourside views of the bridge (and the Opera House if there's no cruise liner in port).

He has even reprised the crazy-rich modern Greek "moussaka" of eggplant, scallops and taramasalata that first made his name back in the 1990s. – Terry Durack

Campbell's Stores, The Rocks, 02 9098 11 11, 238castlereagh.com.au

Matt Wilkinson chef at Crofter in Melbourne.

Chef Matt Wilkinson at Crofter in Melbourne. Photo: Annika Kafcaloudis

Crofter, Melbourne

The Brunswick East venue where Hellenic Republic ruled for a decade has been transformed into chef Matt Wilkinson's decade-long dream in the making.

It's the Circa and Pope Joan chef's Brit background, salad leanings and increasing sustainability bent realised in an inn-style setting where drinks at the bar lead to pumpkin doughnuts with anchovy sauce and veg-focused mains with meats (good ham especially) as sides.

A grill, singeing strawberries for an Eton mess pav, does as much talking as the city's well-loved mouthy chef. – Gemima Cody


434 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 03 8419 8822, crofter.com.au

Bar Totti's in Sydney.

Bar Totti's in Sydney. Photo: Nikki To

Bar Totti's, Sydney

Bar Totti's, we're there already. For your summery spritzes, for your tick-the-box menu of 22 dead-simple antipasti and your "snacks alla griglia", and especially for that puffed-up whoopee cushion of wood-fired flatbread that we fell for at Totti's in Bondi.

Those clever minxes at Merivale have installed chefs Mike Eggert and Jake Ahrens in a whitewashed, walk-in city diner and darker party-time bar (with DJ!) that's open all day from noon 'til late. It's the place to be when you can't be in Bondi. – Jill Dupleix

​4/330 George Street, Sydney, merivale.com.au

The Age, Epicure.Review. Faye restaurant and Wine Bar.  Pic Simon Schluter 16 January 2020.

Faye restaurant in Brunswick East. Photo: Simon Schluter

Faye, Melbourne

Nose-to-tail eating has been in vogue ever since English chef Fergus Henderson started buttering toast with blanched brains, but we've rarely seen it done with as much casual panache as at this chic Lygon Street wine bar.

Chefs Marcus Dimabuyo and Daniel Naylor have relocated from Canberra's two-hatted Aubergine to open Faye and gift Brunswick East a menu boasting milk-poached calf's liver teamed with burnt nectarine, chicken heart skewers threaded with fresh cherries, and a tangle of tripe and octopus stirred through knobby spindles of passatelli.

Less offally choices are still plentiful (smoked buckwheat and cauliflower ravioli, say), and Rhen Dodd, who makes minimal-intervention wine under the Ephemera label, is on board to pour independent beers next to local and Old World wines. – Anna Webster

Shop 1, 22-30 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 03 9943 3050, fayebr.com

Mimi's restaurant at the Coogee Pavilion owned by Justin Hemmes.

Mimi's is the luxe new addition to Coogee Pavilion's middle floor. Photo: Steven Woodburn

Mimi's, Sydney

A fine-dining Disneyland to celebrate all that's great about summer in Sydney. This is Merivale's makeover of Coogee Pavilon's middle floor, five years in the making with a multimillion-dollar price tag. Mimi's restaurant is Coogee Pav's flagship, helmed by chef Jordan Toft (Bert's, Bar Topa) and channelling coastal Mediterranean vibes via luxe marble, live crabs and caviar to kick off a long lunch.

Refreshing crudo and grilled scarlet prawns star at the adjoining tapas bar Una Mas, where you can lose a few hours over natural wine and views to Wedding Cake Island, while cocktail lounge Will's is on hand for classic European aperitifs until 3am. Don't walk, sprint, but make sure you use the new Beach Street entrance. – Callan Boys

Coogee Pavilion, 130a Beach Street, Coogee, merivale.com

Mary's Melbourne.

Mary's has come to Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

Mary's, Melbourne

Burger joints are to Melbourne what buffets are to cruise ships, but there's always room for one more, and Sydney's most-loved grill flippers have now set up shop on Franklin Street. Mary's co-owners, Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham, opened their first Melbourne venue in late January and the cavernous space is rocking the same O'Connor grass-fed beef burgers, fried chook and extensive selection of Australian natural wines that made the Newtown original a bonafide hit.

There's no shortage of thrash metal to accompany your Mary's session either, plus a rib-sticking mash-and-gravy that quickly becomes a magnet for chips. Possibly the only restaurant in town with a chandelier woven from 24,000 dead roses. – Anna Webster

167 Franklin Street, Melbourne, getfat.com.au