Hot plates: where we're eating over the holidays
Whether you're heading home for Christmas, staying put or going somewhere new to flee the family, our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this Christmas have your festive eating and drinking sorted. Happy days.
The Bentley boys' new venture (pictured, left) has been talked about as a wine bar, but the guys can't help themselves. Wine there is (and how), but chef Brent Savage's menu is as suited to making meals of substance as it is to snacking. Whichever way you play it, the baby corn grilled in the husk is essential (possibly with a Beenak sem-sauv blanc), as are the house-cured beef brisket (a Pinchgut Pilzner, perhaps) and the grilled mussels with sea bananas, chorizo and fennel juice (a Gramenon viognier, or a Lammershoek "roulette blanc"?) are essential. Has Nick Hildebrandt outdone himself with the intense brilliance of the wine list? It's thirsty work finding out. Monopole, 71a Macleay St, Potts Point, NSW, (02) 9360 4410. Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Good Mexican in Sydney? For real? El Topo might be the closest thing yet. The setting, atop a big Bondi Junction pub attached to a mall, isn't ideal, but we salute the efforts of both the kitchen and bar teams. On the plate it's all about the layered flavours of Mexico combined with the less-locally-seen likes of blood sausage, clams and octopus. In the glass it's a staggering (and possibly stagger-inducing) range of tequilas, mescal-fuelled cocktails, and a punchy, mostly local beer list. Add crickets as bar snacks, and you've got a party. El Topo, Level 3, The Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford St, Bondi Junction, (02) 8383 5959. Closed Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Eve and Day.
Honourable mentions have to go to the very impressive and newish likes of Vasco, Tapavino and The Hazy Rose, and we're pretty excited about the December 20 opening of Bulletin Place, the new home of world-beating bartender Tim Philips. But for boozy good times this Christmas, it's gotta be all about Frankie's. This latest opening from the Shady Pines/Baxter Inn team, with its basement location, seems an unlikely pick for summer fun, but the mixture of rocking tunes, decent pizza and a stonking drinks selection give it a magnetism that's hard to deny. Oh, and it opens until four in the AM. Yeah, the nips are getting bigger. Frankie's, 50 Hunter St, Sydney. Closed Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Eve and Day. PAT NOURSE
Café Di Stasio
Nobody should need an excuse to book a table at this Melbourne institution but, if one was necessary, the recent opening of the adjoining Bar Di Stasio is as seamless a justification as you'll find. With its elegantly austere lines, white marble-topped bar, white-jacketed barmen and expertly curated list of drinks, it's the perfect pre-dinner pit stop. But it also has its own food menu that runs from crumbed eggplant and sweet-and-sour prawn fritters to pigeon and spiced cherry pie and trad lasagne, so be prepared to feel truly torn between staying propped at the bar or being charmed and pampered in the dining room. Café Di Stasio, 31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda, Vic, (03) 9525 3999. Open throughout the holiday season except for Christmas Day.
Gertrude Street Enoteca
New? Well, sort of. Besides being home to one of the city's finest Negronis, a definitive vitello tonnato and an excellent collection of pampered cheese, this Gertrude Street pioneer (with GT contributor Brigitte Hafner at the pass) has just installed a wood-fired oven in the leafy back courtyard for the specific purpose of producing porchetta. Best time for pork fans is on weekends when the oven is centre of attention and crusty bread, coleslaw, and a whole heap of heat- and pork-loving wines are thrown into the mix. Gertrude Street Enoteca, 229 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, (03) 9415 4748. Open throughout the holiday season but closed public holidays.
The downstairs level of this white Victorian terrace is home to Epocha, a pan-Euro dining room with a good line in well-cooked comfort food and pampered cheese. Upstairs is the lovely Hannah's Bar with its wide ironwork balcony overlooking the Carlton Gardens and two rooms with lofty ceilings and tables that double as backgammon boards. There are backgammon sets behind the bar alongside an excellent range of spirits, a wide-ranging wine list and some impressive cocktail-making skills. The lighting is flattering, the service charming and the setting ideal for hot summer nights. Hannah's Bar, Upstairs, 49 Rathdowne St, Carlton, Vic (03) 9036 4949. Closed Christmas and Boxing Day, open New Year's Eve and closed 1-8 January. MICHAEL HARDEN
It's a cheeky import from Melbourne, but the vibe at this sunny riverside spot is all Queensland, complete with muddy-toed mangroves out front. Head to the breezy Stoke Bar if you want to keep things strictly casual with oysters and charcuterie platters and simple mains such as gnocchi or battered flathead and hand-cut chips. In contrast, nabbing a berth in the dining room is an invitation to revive the lost art of languid lunching, complete with a raft of clever Med-influenced dishes. New Year's Day sees the venue morphing into one extended lounge, complete with DJs, for a seven-hour "Welcome to 2013" shindig kicking off at 1pm. Stokehouse Q, Sidon Street, South Bank, Qld, (07) 3020 0600. Closed Christmas Day.
Looking for a late-night holiday get-together spot? Luke Nguyen's recently christened venture in the heritage Treasury Casino building stays buzzing until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays and until midnight the rest of the week - a feat as rare as snowflakes in Queensland's capital. Communal tables are handy for groups; ditto the pan-Asian sharing menu offering Vietnamese classics such as Nguyen's beef-rich Fat Pho and a nicely seasoned pickled cabbage salad alongside the likes of pad Thai, Hainanese chicken and juicy pork-neck skewers. With dishes all under $20, it's a soothing selection for wallets lightened by prior holiday commitments. Fat Noodle, Top of Queen St Mall, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3306 8888. No bookings.
Riverbar & Kitchen
Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan's bouncing Riverbar & Kitchen is the freshest arrival on Brisbane's hyperactive bar scene. The vast interior is nautically knick-knacked to the max - check out the singing fish behind the bar. With jugs of Pimm's and rum punch on offer to oil the wheels of festive gatherings, it's almost worth submitting to the queue to place an order at the shiny 20-metre bar. Something to nibble while taking in those river views? Bag a bucket of prawns, a plate of decent chilli salt squid with coriander and lime, or a well-priced sirloin and chips with chimichurri. Riverbar & Kitchen, Riparian Plaza, Promenade Level, 71 Eagle Street, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3211 9020. Closed Christmas and Boxing days. FIONA DONNELLY
At 40 kilometres from Hobart, the Stackings is in the "worth a journey" category, including the journey to Tasmania, not just the short drive south. Chef David Moyle largely flies under the radar but his food is up there with Australia's best. The lunchtime only dining room seats only 35 and the only options are a three- or five-course set menu. This constrained formula gives Moyle plenty to play with and each meal is a nicely balanced sequence of dishes, exquisitely plated in a free-flowing style, with liberal but effective use of intensely flavoured herbs, flowers and leaves. Joyful stuff. Lunch Fri-Mon. Closed Christmas Day only. The Stackings, 3435 Channel Hwy, Woodbridge, Tas, (03) 6267 4088.
In most cities the hottest dining address in town requires a long-planned reservation. Not so Hobart's Garagistes. Its no reservations policy means everyone, even the least-organised visitor, can join the nightly throng. Early in the evening, a seat at the bar is the go for something casual. There are natural wines by the glass and the smaller dishes near the top of the menu suit the apéritif hour. In another guise, it's serious dining territory, a rollercoaster ride of extraordinary flavours and textures delivered in a sequence of shared plates. To do that, you may have to wait for a table but, that's what Sidecar, its sibling bar just around the corner, is for. Dinner Wed-Thur from 6pm, Fri-Sat from 5pm. No holiday closures apart from public holidays. 103 Murray St, Hobart, Tas, (03) 6231 0558.
The Taste Festival
Hobart's waterfront comes alive during the holiday season and its heart is the Taste Festival. It's a huge party which runs day and night over seven days. The food ranges from downright mediocre to excellent, so it's essential to study the guide before choosing (look for Mount Gnomon Farm pulled pork tacos and Sweet Envy's Big Bessie ice-cream truck this year). There's no shortage of booze, and the drinking is all about Tasmania, with local wines, beers, ciders, and sprits all available. On a sunny day at an outside table, watching the Sydney-Hobart yacht race boats arriving, it's hard to beat. 11am-11pm (with exceptions), 28 December 2012 to 3 January, 2013. SUE DYSON AND ROGER McSHANE
Mocan & Green Grout
Okay, it's a café (if you're looking for straight-up fancy, that'd be Aubergine, which closes on 23 December and reopens on 3 January). But it's a fancy café. And they make their own bicycles. And, on weeknights, their new dinner menus (Mondays to Wednesdays) offer some of the most interesting food the capital has seen in some time. It could be Ortiz anchovies with jamón, Manchego and brik pastry, tomato, pomegranate and labne, grilled pork with lemon and pork salt, or other such breezily tasty stuff. Mocan & Green Grout, 19 Marcus Clarke St, Acton, no phone. Closed December 24-January 3, with dinners recommencing on Monday 7 January.
Rotisserie! Chicken wings with romesco! Bone marrow on toast! Wine in carafes! It's a grab-bag of newish trends at Kingston's latest entry into the smart-casual end of the market, here in the groovy East Hotel. Not a bad wine list that, either. Ox Eatery, cnr Canberra Ave and Giles St, Kingston, (02) 6295 6925. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. PAT NOURSE & GARETH MEYER
Rockpool Bar & Grill
We'd love to have recommended you visit one of the many impressive new venues at The Print Hall, but the buggers have inexplicably decided to close the complex from the end of the 23rd till January 7. Still, Rockpool Bar & Grill is hardly a booby prize. It shares plenty in common with its Melbourne and Sydney counterparts, but Neil Perry's western outpost also has plenty to commend it in its own right. Despite the shared DNA, we implore out-of-towners and home-comers to order beyond their favourites: WA exclusives such as charcoal oven-roasted lobster and an excellent Tex Mex-style pork pie duly reward leaps of faith. Sweeten the deal with a recommendation from charismatic sommelier Richard Healy and you'll understand why Perth turns to team Rockpool for big-night-out thrills. Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth, Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood, (08) 6252 1900. Closed Christmas Day.
Lalla Rookh Wine Shop
Vino might be its calling card, but this cheery enoteca is just as suited to gustatory pleasure as it is to liquid nourishment. Our advice, it goes without saying, is to do a little of both. If you're visiting with loved ones, the small-plate selections provide options galore for a memorable family get-together. The juicy pork meatballs and crunchy veal tongue fritters, in particular, are the stuff Italian bar snack dreams are made of. Otherwise, outstanding meals for one, including a glorious smoked eel and tagliolini pasta, ensure solo diners don't miss out on any of the fun. Lalla Rookh Wine Shop, Lower Ground, 77 St Georges Tce, Perth, (08) 9325 7077. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, reopening for lunch on January 3.
The Mexican revolution is alive and well out west and El Público is its tequila-fuelled engine room. A self-confessed tequila nerd, bar manager James Connolly is quick on the draw with advice on the bar's imposing mescal and tequila stocks. Whether your order comes as a 30ml, 100ml or 250ml pour, however, depends entirely on the size of your party. Not that a working knowledge of agave tequilana is a prerequisite to entry. From house-carbonated fruit sodas to smart cocktails at all price points, Connolly and his agave-loving fellows pay every aspect of drink the utmost respect. El Público, 511 Beaufort St, Highgate, 0418 187 708. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day through January 4, 2013. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Scool Eatery & Bar
Scool Eatery & Bar is providing the shot of life that Adelaide's shorefront desperately needs. Specialising in seafood with a Mediterranean touch and a relaxed atmosphere, you can stop by for a drink and snack while reclining in lounges on the beachfront patio (Scool has exclusive SA access to Moët Ice Imperial, available by the glass) or dine at tables with waterfront views. Chef Chris Jarmer is serving everything from SA-caught kingfish to Kangaroo Island black mussels and blue swimmer crab linguine to daily seafood soups. The menu also features some fun food options: prawn sliders and king prawn pops (skewered prawn in salt-and-pepper batter dressed with guacamole) are two of our favourites. Meat lover? They make a good steak and slice prosciutto on the Berkel. Scool Eatery & Bar, Ground Floor, Oaks Plaza Pier Hotel, 18 Holdfast Pde, Glenelg, 0403 254 998. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, Saturday and Sunday for lunch, and for breakfast on Sunday. Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Udaberri Pintxos y Vino
Udaberri Pintxos y Vino captures the true flavour of northern Spain in both its drinks list and moreish bar snacks. The wine list focuses on Mediterranean varieties - both imported and from Australian boutique producers - with a diverse list of beers, ciders and spirits to make sprightly cocktails. Pintxos include tasty bocadillos, sardines, croquettes and anchovy fillets. The vibe is cool and relaxed, and the DJs tastefully set a sublime mood. I defy you to stay for just one drink. Udaberri Pintxos y Vino, 11 Leigh St, Adelaide, (08) 8410 5733. DAVID SLY
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF MONOPOLE
This article was published in December 2012.