We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.
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Cutler & Co's ginger granita
Looking like a handful of snow in a glass Petri dish, this gorgeous dessert is full of surprises - lychee pieces, tapioca pearls, coconut sorbet, shreds of aloe vera and a hint of ras el hanout spice. Textures bound all over the place too, making this way more fun than your average snowball.
Michael Ryan takes full advantage of Beechworth's mushroom-growing prowess in a dish in which preserved and fresh fried wild mushrooms, are mixed with crushed hazelnuts and crumbled blue cheese (both local) and served on soft stoneground polenta.
Hu Tong Dumpling Bar's xiao long bao
Eating these beautifully constructed little parcels of minced pork and ginger filled with the most brilliant sparkling broth is an art in itself. Bite its head off, suck its guts out and then dip in vinegar and consume. Bliss.
(03) 9650 8128, 14 Market La, Melbourne, Vic
Butcher Shop's grape-must sausage
You can eat this dark rich sausage cold and be perfectly happy, but to really appreciate its grapy tang, nutty goodness and rich meatiness, get the chefs at this great Athens restaurant to grill it and then get the waiters to bring you a beer.
+30 210 341 3440, Persefonis19, Gazi, Athens, Greece
La Llavor dels Origens' beans and peas with tender garlic
This restaurant, with four outlets in Barcelona, is all about organic Catalan food and this dish demonstrates why that's such an excellent thing: sweet fresh peas cooked with garlic, onion and fatty bacon finished with mint, muscatels and tiny pieces of black butifarra sausage.
Sho Noodle Bar's shrimp and glass noodle salad
The pretty, chilled simplicity of this dish is a perfect antidote to Sho's pinging and blipping gaming floor location. Whole prawns and slippery clear noodles are tossed with tomato, lettuce, onion, cucumber and chilli and then dressed with a lightly tangy, just fishy sauce.
(03) 9292 6885, main gaming floor, Crown Casino, Melbourne, Vic
Izakaya Den's Mayura Station wagyu porterhouse
These six skilfully grilled mouth-sized bites of excellent-quality wagyu from Mount Gambier, served with okra pickled with mustard and sake and a ponzu dressing, really underline the (oft-missed in Australia) point that wagyu is about quality, never quantity.
Cavallero's spiced cauliflower fritters
This lunch of style and substance starts with two perfectly poached free-range eggs, sets them beside a couple of aromatically spiced, slightly chilli-warm, pan-fried cauliflower fritters, then adds some sautéed greens and a small pool of saffron yoghurt. Tasty and aesthetically pleasing.
Gigibaba's Iskander prawns
Ish Tosun takes two of the plumpest, freshest prawns around, wraps them in a thin blanket of eggplant, steams them, and then tops them with yoghurt and a fantastically rich red capsicum butter. It's a good idea to order a second round as soon the first ones arrive.
(03) 9486 0345, 102 Smith St, Collingwood, Vic
Demitri's Feast's braised lamb with white wine and rosemary
There's braised lamb, and then there's braised lamb. The one at Demitri's Feast comes from a recipe from Demitri's mum and sees the lamb slow-cooked into sticky, gooey, rich submission. A dish to blow the winter blues out of the water.
Max Veenhuyzen, WA editor
Pata Negra's doughnuts with PX and raisin ice-cream
The doughnuts at señor David "Star Anise" Coomer's tapas joint might enjoy headliner status on the menu, but it's the vanilla and Pedro Ximénez support act that makes this dessert. Churned daily in-house, the ice-cream adds a lighter accent to an end-of-meal treat so often paired with a heart-stopping dose of cocoa solids.
Opus' pecan-smoked salmon with maple syrup jelly
So, Todd Cheavins wants to emulate his native Canadian cooking, eh? Joke all you want, but this is dead-set proper, the salmon's velvet texture just as vital to the dish's appeal as the one-two punch of Canuck flavours. Blame Canada when you wolf this down with Ben Johnson-like speed.
The Bathhouse Restaurant's blue cod
The simplicity of pan-fried native fish dusted in spices indigenous to New Zealand; the satisfying comfort of sweet, buttery leeks and puréed broccoflower; and the sigh-out-loud serenity of the sunroom's panoramic view of Lake Wakatipu. Together, they create a dish and a dining experience that show off all facets of Otago's god-given bounty.
Satsuki's deep-fried sushi roll
Scraps of tuna salvaged from the whole fish, broken down in-house, are marinated in miso, hand-rolled into petite nori cigars and deep-fried in the lightest of batters. Perish any thought of gimmickry or Jap-hazard cooking, this is without doubt culinary resourcefulness at its best.
Sandalford's seared Abrolhos scallop
It's the kind of impression you wish all first dishes would make. Like the rest of Stefan Link's menu, this entrée of plump, translucent-in-the-middle scallops embodies a commitment to produce, technique and presentation that, while being stop-and-stare impressive, errs on the right side of being too clever.
Knee Deep's risotto of cauliflower and Taleggio
The cooking of former Huka Lodge chef Brad Hornby, coupled with the breezy yet professional front-of-house demeanour of partner Liz Buttimore, is fast making Knee Deep the jewel in Margaret River's dining crown. Settling on just one standout dish is a tough ask, but when I cast my mind back to our spring visit, it's the memory of a rich cauliflower and Taleggio risotto that bursts hardest from the gates.
Divido's wood-roasted duck
Jason Jujnovich's time at London's River Café gave him his knack for seasonal Italian brilliance; his customers' taste for game leaves him no choice but to make his succulent wood-roasted duck a permanent menu fixture. Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?
Restaurant Amusé's rabbit, cep and thyme
Every diehard diner in Perth has a favourite Restaurant Amusé dish; mine is this very posh lasagne, a production typical of Hadleigh Troy's flair and mastery of technique. Starring (from top to bottom), a thyme emulsion, discs of house-made pasta, cep duxelle and obscenely juicy and flavoursome confit rabbit. It'll make you wish it was autumn all the time.
Jus Burgers' wagyu burger
Justin Bell might not have been the first person in Perth to flip a gourmet burger, but the last word is undoubtedly his. Don't be sucked in by the menu's periphery; head straight for the wagyu burger, where pink-centred beef and zingy wasabi mayo prove that produce quality and sound technique are the two most vital tools in any chef's arsenal.
Cape Lodge's trio of seafood
A single Ceduna oyster is artfully dabbed at with apple rémoulade, the Hiramasa sashimi is blindingly fresh while the chilli-smooched nugget of tempura Exmouth bug tail is luxurious and comforting at once: it's a three-part exposé on why Tony Howell's restraint and respect for produce have locals regularly arm wrestling in-house guests for a seat in Cape Lodge's swish dining room.
David Sly, SA editor
Pipers of Penola's crisp brown-sugar pork
After sourcing outstanding pork, chef Simon Bowen gets the best out of it by cleverly crisping a brown sugar coating on succulent pork roulade, ringing it with perfect crackling and accompanying it with slices of roasted pork fillet on truffled pearl barley and corn purée.
Magill Estate's rare yellowfin tuna with sourdough skin
Taking the plunge with gutsy flavours that work in striking counterpoint, chef Luke Stepsys leads the formerly polite Magill Estate menu in a bold new direction, offsetting rich, rare tuna with braised oxtail, jellied beetroot ravioli and horseradish.
The Grange's maestro's vegetarian dégustation
Signing off after 14 years in his iconic restaurant, Cheong Liew left me dazzled by this inspired vegetarian degustation, by presenting sublime marriages of texture and flavour: eggplant custard with fava bean puree, tomato and green lentil sambal; a delicate pile of smoked soy beans with enoki mushrooms; and leek fondue terrine with broccoli mousse and almond cream. Sensational.
The Wine Underground's roast scallops with confit chicken wing
The core elements of this dish may seem ubiquitous, but chef Adam Liston (who has now gone to Melbourne's Cutler & Co) gave it enough of a tweak to make it unique. He used chicken wing meat to get a richer, smokier flavour, perfectly offsetting the creamy scallop texture, with Champagne sabayon, celeriac purée and puffed wild rice that presents like serious popcorn.
The Manse's white chocolate mousse
Chef Ayhan Erkoc (who also recently left the Adelaide dining scene) likes to tread a daring line between European classics and molecular gastronomy trickery. His unusual take on cannelloni made for a most intriguing dessert: white chocolate mousse wrapped in strawberry "leather", then sprinkled with crushed pistachios and translucent slices of radish.
Bridgewater Mill's baked coffee cheesecake
Renowned for his intricate and delicate Asian flavour marriages, chef Le Tu Thai makes desserts that are a joyous fairground of sweet indulgence. This towering cone of baked coffee cheesecake with hazelnut semifreddo, fresh honeycomb, wispy vanilla foam and chunks of hazelnut praline is the big dipper.
Dom Bistro's lamb's brains
Chef Andrew Davies doesn't toy with French bistro classics: the brains are firm but with a sexy molten texture, served with potato brunoise, cornichons and speck. These were just perfect with a glass of gutsy Rhône roussanne.
D'Arry's Verandah's goat's curd dumplings
Asian inspiration meets rustic farmhouse flavours in this deliciously light and tangy entrée of a quenelle encased in the lightest tempura batter, drizzled with truffled honey and topped with a crunchy strand of crisp black-olive grissini. Gentle poaching softens the goat's curd's tart edge and enhances its creaminess.
Panacea's beetroot tarte Tatin
This delicate starter was an unexpected treat off the specials board on a cold winter's night, a savoury tarte Tatin of warm beetroot topped with a finely shredded zucchini, mint and ruby grapefruit salad providing a nice sharp tang against the rustic beetroot power.
Aquacaf's fish pasty
Keeping things casual but classy at his waterside café, chef Jordan Theodoros made this superior pasty with plump chunks of local mulloway, cooked leeks, cheddar and fresh herbs (including a good hit of dill - the perfect fish-friendly herb) in a flaky envelope of unusually light crème fraîche pastry.
Sue Dyson & Roger McShane, Tasmania editors
Likhit Kai Yaang's charcoal-grilled chicken
These small grilled birds belong in the pantheon of great chicken dishes. In Bangkok, where food governs everyone's life, you know you've found gold when even your taxi driver approves.
+66 2 281 1094, 74/1 Thanon Ratchadamnoen Klang, Bangkok, Thailand
Cumulus Inc's black pudding
Cumulus's black pudding stands apart because it's so damn sexy, but everything here is delicious, especially the roast lamb shoulder for two. Our new favourite Melbourne eating house - at any time of day.
The Agrarian Kitchen's Jerusalem artichoke, Pyengana cheddar, and truffle custard
If Pat Nourse can include a dish from The Agrarian Kitchen, so can we. It's a hard call to pick the best from a mid-winter truffle lunch but we've settled on a velvety Japanese-inspired custard (think chawan mushi) with Jerusalem artichokes, Pyengana cheddar and a generous slice of truffle. Steamed in an eggshell and served in hay, it was adorably pretty too.
Le Petit Nice's fish and shellfish "tartare"
We should be listing the bouillabaisse, the feature dish in a near-perfect Marseille lunch. But, good as it was, we've had others to rival it. Instead, for its briny uniqueness, the dish that had us whispering expletives was a simple tartare-like plate of raw fish and shellfish. Its sidekicks - a little bowl of artichoke and chive soup and some pieces of light-as-air battered fried fish - were impressive too.
The Bentley Restaurant and Bar's foie gras parfait
We doubt that at that moment anyone, anywhere, was enjoying a better combination than Brent Savage's foie gras parfait, puffed wheat and raisins with a glass of Philippe Pacalet's 2007 Nuits-Saint-Georges. Yum.
Fook Seng Goldenhill Chicken Rice's Hainanese chicken
We've eaten some great Hainanese chicken in our time - it's been a bit of an obsession - but we've stopped searching. Nothing will beat the silky version we tried at this suburban Singapore eating house.
Tricycle Café and Bar's braised lamb with sherry
Tiny Hobart café Tricycle punched above its weight yet again with an immensely satisfying braised lamb dish - inspired by MoVida and Moro recipes. We're waiting impatiently for more cool weather so it returns to the menu.
(03) 6223 7228, Salamanca Art Gallery, 77 Salamanca Pl, Hobart, Tas.
Spice Temple's steamed eggplant
An unassuming sounding dish, steamed eggplant with three flavours (garlic, coriander and sweet pork) delivered superior comfort food in spades and demonstrated, yet again, what a stunning canvas perfectly cooked eggplant is for rich, strong flavours.
Le Coquillage's wood-roasted clams
Former top Michelin-ranked chefs who've eschewed their stars for a simpler life are usually a good bet, especially when, like Olivier Roellinger, they cook with fire. A pan of briny clams, garlic, parsley and the magic of smoke made for a lay-down winner.
Quay's braised Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, Pedro Ximénez noble sour vinegar, prunes and cauliflower cream with prune kernel oil
A faultless dish - great ingredients, complementary flavours, impeccable seasoning, and the lightest of touches. Fine dining is alive and well.
Fiona Donnelly, Queensland editor
Siggi's heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad
A kaleidoscope of slim circles cut from perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, all scarlets, cherry-reds, lemons and purple-browns, dotted with tiny multi-coloured basil leaves and dressed with properly peppery green virgin oil. And did I mention the cream-filled Vannella burrata topknot that's centre-plate? Seasonal purity doesn't have to assault the palate to leave a big impression.
1889 Enoteca's porchetta arrosto
Fat, rough-hewn and tender slices of crisp-skinned roast suckling pig, some salty green olives and an earthy serve of spinach. Put a glass of '06 Poggiopiano Chianti Classico alongside it and yes, Dorothy, the 'Gabba can kick goals even for the non-sporting inclined.
Buffalo Club's foie - cello, tamari, almond
It could arrive on a rustic wooden board, on a clean white plate, or artistically composed on a shiny space-age shallow bowl, depending on the chef's whim. The foie may present as a rectangle of perfectly seared liver, or a sliver of intense mousse, but the accompaniments - dabs of highly concentrated limoncello "jam", turrets of toasted marshmallow, mellow almond "snow" and salty but clean tasting tamari - lift this French classic into another league.
Aria's confit ocean trout with caviar, crème fraîche, chopped egg and celery salad
A creamy, powdery line of egg and a tiny flourish of tender, pale celery act as counterpoints to the deeply pink tranche of ocean trout with its crème fraîche and salty caviar spheres. The deal is sealed with the cunning treatment of the trout skin - crisp and redolent of the sea like a super-tasty sheet of sea-fresh nori.
Berardo's dragon fruit consommé, local berries, yoghurt sorbet
Dragon fruit always look impressively dramatic but the flavour can be a let-down. Here a pool of rich, almost red-violet liquor tastes positively theatrical pitched against a lightly tart sorbet and studded with local berries, the whole delivering a dessert that is as memorable as it is flavoursome.
Montrachet's boudin blanc with pear sauce
Okay, so it's not the most attractive of sausages, lacking the bronze lustre of showier specimens; but Montrachet's boudin blanc shows its elegance through a remarkable depth of flavour. The light-textured mix of chicken and duck foie gras is lifted and enhanced by a buttery and sweetly tart pear sauce.
Confit's calf liver and champ
It could be my Irish upbringing but the memory of Confit's lightly sautéed calf's liver, the inside all soft and yielding, a knot of melting red-wine onions on top and creamy champ to the side, has me dreaming of the colder weather - despite the 35C temperatures outside. Simple pleasure.
Urbane's Barambah organic quark, complimentary flavours
Chef Kym Machin describes this dish from Urbane's vegetarian dégustation menu as "a simple garden salad" but that's a bit of an understatement. Presented on an undulating, rectangular white plate, the quark is paired with a riot of textures and tastes - baby carrots and asparagus spears, confit baby beetroot, small chunks of dehydrated seven-second beetroot sponge, onion purée and tiny tempura onion rings. Scattered over are crunchy toasted olive sourdough crumbs, baby cress and tiny heart's ease flowers. A ravioli of asparagus purée provides yet more flavour and textural contrast, ditto a single sweet garden pea in a miniature click of ginger and mint oil. It's enough to make you turn vego.
Muse's crisp-skinned quail with gorgonzola, creamy polenta and balsamic pears
Open for less than a year, Muse fell victim to the high rents of Noosa's Hasting Street but left plenty of memories in its wake. This dish was my favourite autumn plate -smooth golden polenta subtly enriched by gorgonzola, the quail sitting on top all crunchy-skinned and salty-savoury. A trio of poached balsamic pear slices added sweet bite and balance.
Au Cirque's barley salad
Baby spinach and rocket is a tried-and-tested combination that marries well with roast pumpkin and feta, but something unexpected and beautiful happens when you add these four to a base of chewy, nutty pearl barley and throw in some finely sliced Spanish onion, roasted pepitas and a good whack of dill. Makes me feel healthy just writing about it.
(07) 3254 0479, 618 Brunswick St, Brisbane, Qld
This web exclusive article was posted in December 2009.
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