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Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

Secret Tuscany

A far cry from Tuscany’s familiar gently rolling hills, Monte Argentario’s appealing mix of mountain, ocean, island and lagoon makes it one of Italy’s hidden treasures, writes Emiko Davies.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

Moon Park to open Paper Bird in Potts Point

No, it’s not a pop-up. The team behind Sydney’s Moon Park is back with an all-day east-Asian eatery.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Discovering Macedonia

Like its oft-disputed name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia defies simple definition but its rich diversity extends from the dinner table to the welcoming locals, writes Richard Cooke.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Maitre d’ of the year 2008: Mallory Wall, Café Di Stasio, St Kilda, Vic

Cast your mind back to 1990 and a young Ronnie Di Stasio is several years into his first solo venture as a restaurateur, the eponymous Café Di Stasio, in what was a part of Melbourne better known for its sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll than its food. With Valerio Nucci cooking, Di Stasio working the floor in his unique manner and diners enjoying the brooding charm of architect Allan Powell’s interiors, this fish-out-of-water restaurant is starting to take off. But Di Stasio needs help.

Walking down the street one sunny afternoon comes 21-year-old Mallory Wall, fresh from her first trip overseas, unemployed, and not wanting to go back to hotels again (she’d been working at Melbourne’s Menzies at Rialto with chefs such as Ian Curley and Gary Jones prior to hitting London) or a music degree she’d started but now seemed unlikely to finish.

"Hey, bella," says the guy in the doorway of the quirky little Fitzroy Street restaurant. Ronnie had met Wall before; it was the start of something alright.

Now staring down the barrel of a 20th birthday, Café Di Stasio is a rare thing in Australian restaurant circles: a place that is justifiably considered as urbane and relevant now as it was when it opened, a success story. And a lot of that has to do with the evergreen approach of maître d’ and manager Mallory Wall, whose passion for – and knowledge of – the gastronomy and culture of Italy, her respect for restaurant tradition and appreciation of contemporary directions, informs much of what happens on a day-to-day basis at the restaurant. As it has for 17 years now, surely one of the longer stints by a front-of-house person at any Australian restaurant.

Wall is just one of those people in the right job, her understanding of service tempered by the quirky, almost club-like atmosphere of the restaurant and the people who favour it, many of whom have become friends. They include artists, designers, architects and many of Melbourne society’s more colourful characters for whom pigeonholes present a way-too-confining characterisation. For not only does Wall front one of the great Melbourne restaurants, as familiar with the kitchen’s oeuvre as she is with a special Brunello di Montalcino, but she also conducts an orchestra of male waiters whose style, manner and – hopefully – charm you just know is the result of many, many hours spent studying the form in the great and humble restaurants of Italy over the past 17 years. Like the passion of an expatriate for an adopted country, so it is that one of the great Italian restaurants of Australia would be less were it not for an Irish Catholic girl from Mentone whose love of Italy infuses every nook and cranny of her adopted home, Café Di Stasio.

31a Fitzroy St, St Kilda, Vic, (03) 9528 3999.

WORDS JOHN LETHLEAN PORTRAIT DEREK SWALWELL

  • Destination:
  • VIC
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