Terry Durack asks Australia's top chefs from every state and territory across the land where they eat when they hit Victoria and NSW. Expect gross accounts of over-eating, lots of bro' love, and (parental guidelines) some swearing.
Dentists don't go on holidays and end up drilling other people's teeth. Teachers don't spend their time off in classes across the country. But chefs? Give them a weekend off and they'll squeeze in seven restaurants and five bars without even thinking about it.
It's not just a natural curiosity about what others are doing, it's solidarity; an unspoken bond that unites all hospitality professionals in a silent agreement that they're all in this together.
Peter and Jo Reschke of d'Arry's Verandah Restaurant in McLaren Vale commit to at least two 'culinary odysseys' every year, both interstate and overseas. "We attack it as a dastardly duo" says Peter. "It keeps us fresh and inspired."
Other chefs find that with the daily pressures of running a restaurant, it's hard to get away at all. "My love of overseas travel has had to be put on hold", explains Nicholas Hooper of Tasmania's Novaro's. "But Australia has a vast array of splendid and spectacular dining experiences that it will keep us busy for a lifetime."
To celebrate the Australia's Top Restaurants awards – the first national restaurant awards to be voted for by the chefs themselves – we asked a busload of chefs from across the land where they loved to eat when in Victoria and New South Wales. There's enough inspiration here to make us all want to hit the road with nothing but an Instagram handle and the ability to eat our body weight in pulled pork, buttermilk and pea sprouts.
"Great fun," says chef Gus Armstrong of Canberra's eightysix restaurant in Braddon, no stranger to fun itself, of Sydney's lively Italian/Asian, bar/restaurant mash-up. "The radishes in nori butter. That baloney sandwich."
60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay 02 8068 0932 weareacme.com.au
Tathra Oysters Backyard Shop, Tathra
When Ross and Sunny Lusted of The Bridge Room in Sydney get a chance to leave the restaurant behind, they head south, to the "little shop behind the house" of their oyster suppliers. "It's the 'cellar door' of oyster farms, owned by Jo-Anne and Gary Rodely" says Ross Lusted.
1 Reservoir Street, Tathra, NSW 02 6494 1453 tathraoysters.com.au
Bentley Restaurant & Bar
"We love Brent Savage's cooking," say Peter and Jo Reschke of d'Arry's in McLaren Vale of the elegant and innovative two-hatted Bentley in the business end of the city. "He manages elegance and power together, and his food is always beautifully balanced."
27 O'Connell Street, Sydney 02 8214 0505 thebentley.com.au
Bourke Street Bakery
It's just a humble little bakery, but it has the power to draw one of Brisbane's top chefs like a bee to nectar. "It's the one place I will always visit in Sydney," says Ryan Squires of Brisbane's Esquire. "Consistency is key in this business, and Bourke Street Bakery has it."
633 Bourke Street, Surry Hills 02 9699 1011 bourkestreetbakery.com.au
The Bridge Room
"I can't go past The Bridge Room" says Tony Carroll of Adelaide's much-loved Jolley's Boathouse. "Ross Lusted has a truly individual food style; unique without being overly fussy/handled/clever. He's a very smart man."
44 Bridge Street, Sydney 02 9247 7000 thebridgeroom.com.au
Eaton Chinese Restaurant
For some chefs, it's about the occasion and the camaraderie rather than the food. Well, make that 'as well as' the food. "After cooking with a bunch of chef mates at Sixpenny last year, we had had a great meal here," says Ben Shewry of Melbourne's three-hatted Attica. "The giant steamed oyster with vermicelli and XO sauce was outrageously good."
313 Liverpool Road, Ashfield 02 9798 2332
If you've come all the way from Darwin, you don't want your big night out to be a fizzer. But Paul Joyes of the NT's Peewees at The Point was blown away by the produce, the textures, the styling and the balance of flavours at Quay. "Absolutely awesome," he says.
Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks 02 9251 5600 quay.com.au
"Love everything at Sixpenny" says Gus Armstrong of Canberra's eightysix. "F---, those guys can cook."
83 Percival Road, Stanmore, 02 9572 6666 sixpenny.com.au
"His wizardry with food is without question" says Nicholas Hooper of Novaro's in Launceston of acclaimed chef Tetsuya Wakuda. "And the polished theatre that his staff deliver is the envy of many a restaurateur."
529 Kent Street, Sydney 02 9267 2900 tetsuyas.com
"Attica just gets better and better every time I go," says Dan Hong, currently spellbound by the intensity of Ben Shewry's 'snow crab and begonia' dish. "In my opinion, it is the best fine dining in Australia."
74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea 03 9530 0111 attica.com.au
Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
"Morgan McGlone's extra f---ing hot wings is exactly what I want to eat on my day off," says Adelaide's Duncan Welgemoed of Adelaide's Africola.
150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 03 9077 0788 belleshotchicken.com
"Owner Thierry Cornevin has tucked a small piece of the French countryside away in Hawksburn" says Scott Webster of Newcastle's Carrington Place. "The classic onion soup, escargots and steak frites all remind me when food was just that – classic."
511 Malvern Road, Hawksburn 03 9824 0888 bistrothierry.com.au
"Melbourne has a real BBQ food scene happening, with Fancy Hanks and Le Bon Ton" says Grant Kells of Canberra's American BBQ joint, Smoque. "But Chris Terlikar's brisket at Bluebonnet BBQ is the best in Melbourne."
187 Johnston Street, Collingwood 03 9972 1815 bluebonnetbbq.com.au
"It delivers on every front" says David Swain of Willunga's Fino, in South Australia. "Such innovative cuisine, delivered with real integrity in an understated way. I think it is setting a new benchmark for Australian regional restaurants."
4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra 03 5236 2226 braerestaurant.com
The Builder's Arms
"The Builders is something I really wish Sydney had" says Mitch Orr of ACME. "Amazing wine list and vibe. You can go and sit all day in the courtyard or on the street, duck in for a glass of something before heading to dinner, or head back to for a negroni after a meal."
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 03 9417 7700 buildersarmshotel.com.au
The Flower Drum
"The Drum has the best service in Australia," says Dan Hong of Mr Wong. "And the food is always exquisite." Like the regulars, he never looks at the menu but leaves it to the long-term staff to suggest dishes such as simply wok-fried pearl meat with garlic chives - "one of the best dishes you can ever eat."
17 Market Lane, Melbourne 03 9662 3655 flower-drum.com
Lee Ho Fook
"The food Victor Leong is putting out is so damn good, interesting, fun, and full of flavour," says Mitch Orr of ACME in Sydney. "It's exactly the way I like to eat."
92 Smith Street, Collingwood 03 9077 6261 leehofook.com.au
"It's a great concept, produce-driven and always evolving" says Leeuwin Estate's Dany Angove of Brunny East's garden-inspired café. "And Matt Wilkinson (chef and co-owner) is always up for a laugh."
75-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East 03 9388 8858 popejoan.com.au
"Pared-back interior, thoughtful and well executed menu, interesting drinks list, and well-drilled but suitably approachable staff," says Tim Montgomery of Berardo's in Noosa, enjoying the creative, produce-driven vibe at Collingwood hotspot Saint Crispin.
300 Smith Street, Collingwood 03 9419 2202 saintcrispin.com.au
The Australian Financial Review Australia's Top Restaurants, presented by Qantas and Vittoria Coffee, will be announced on May 18 australiastoprestaurants.com