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Say hello to the faces of the moment. The people and places you see here are shortlisted for Australia’s highest culinary accolades. The ultimate winners among them will be named later this month at the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards, the most sought-after invitation on the hospitality calendar, but regardless of who gets the gongs, these chefs, sommeliers, maîtres d’ and restaurants are a snapshot of the most exciting talent around the country right now. The ceremony does double-duty, launching the new edition of the GT Australian Restaurant Guide, the country’s biggest-selling and most-read guide. And finally, it’s also the moment when we announce the Australian Restaurant of the Year for 2010. We’re keeping the nominees for that particular award (and for our Outstanding Contribution to the Industry prize) under wraps for the moment, but stay tuned.
NEW RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Cutler & Co, Melbourne, Vic
Andrew McConnell’s Fitzroy outpost blends clever, innovative and artful-looking food with a sexy/edgy dining room, crack service staff and a truly interesting wine list.
MoMo, Melbourne, Vic
Ready access to Greg Malouf’s brilliant Middle Eastern food again is cause for celebration. MoMo 2.0 positions Malouf firmly in fine dining territory, creating a lavish backdrop to his celebrated flavours.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney, NSW
The grandest restaurant Sydney (if not the nation) has ever seen, the northerly iteration of Neil Perry’s lavish steakhouse concept sees a no-expense-spared approach tempered by superb Deco architecture and an unfussy approach to high-end dining.
SOMMELIER OF THE YEAR
Kjell-Ove Almeland, Jackson’s, Perth, WA
He came, he saw, he had a nice glass of grüner veltliner. A fruity Norwegian with a deeply engaging persona, Almeland has indelibly upped the vinous ante at Jackson’s, where the carefully revamped wine list incorporates eclectica from around the wine-drinking universe, along with aged wines sourced from climate-controlled private collections. File under deilig.
Nick Hildebrandt, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney, NSW
Bentley’s list is coveted not only by serious wine drinkers but by serious winemakers who respect sommelier, manager and co-owner Nick Hildebrandt’s uncompromising, borderline bloody-minded approach as much as they do his fine palate (and woe betide any wine rep who doesn’t watch out for both).
Sally Humble, Cutler & Co, Melbourne, Vic
She may only be in her early twenties but Sally Humble has already proven her wine chops with gigs at Fifteen, St Jude’s Cellars and now Cutler & Co. Her easily accessible, jargon-free wine advice plus a sharp eye for the boutique and the quirky puts Humble and her wine lists among Melbourne’s best.
WINE LIST OF THE YEAR
Appellation, Barossa Valley, SA
The layout of this rich and inspiring list perfectly reflects both the restaurant’s location and the Slow Food sensibility of executive chef Mark McNamara: the extensive selection of both big-name wines and really kooky artisan producers are presented first from the “local community” (Seppeltsfield, Marananga, Greenock), then from the wider Barossa, then Australia, then the rest of the world.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney, NSW
This time, you can believe the hype. This list is awe-inspiring: over 3000 bottles, covering most of the great names from most of the great vintages of the last century (and, indeed, the century before if you’re partial to 180-year-old Madeira). The clincher, though, is the prices: many of the bottles here are cheaper, if anything, than they are on the Melbourne Rockpool Bar & Grill list.
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Vic
The Royal Mail’s extraordinary wine list made this remote hotel a must-visit destination for gourmet travellers long before chef Dan Hunter stepped into the kitchen. Today, the list is still as extensive as ever, but it includes more quirky surprises and – crucially – still offers some of the best-value drinking in the country.
MAITRE D’ OF THE YEAR
Maurizio Di Ciano, Maurizio, Perth, WA
No one in the West does the meet ’n’ greet tarantella better than Maurizio Di Ciano, who has been showing the young and the zestless how to do the maître d’ thing for longer than we care to remember. The man’s sense of showmanship, a beautiful thing to behold, is mitigated only by an ongoing commitment to ensuring patrons have a really, really great time.
Tom Sykes, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney, NSW
The unflappable nature and good grace of Tom Sykes had long been one of the original Rockpool’s grounding elements. Now, at the new Bar & Grill, he is both front-of-house and field marshal, attending to the personal peccadilloes of instant regulars just as he coordinates coverage of one of the city’s most formidable dining rooms.
Chris Young, Jacques Reymond, Melbourne, Vic
Urbane and witty, Chris Young perfectly matches Jacques Reymond’s modern fine dining moves. His pinpoint ability to read when a table does or doesn’t need him helps create one of the smoothest and most relaxing dining experiences in town.
BEST NEW TALENT
Jonathan Barthelmess, Coast, Sydney, NSW
We might be testing the definition of new here, because Jonathan Barthelmess has been impressing keen-eyed Sydney diners for some time with his elegant and precise cooking. But it’s also this young chef’s unpretentious quiet-achiever approach that makes him such a compelling role-model for those who follow in his wake.
Nicolas Poelaert, Embrasse,
Nicolas Poelaert’s modern French diner Embrasse highlights his twin loves of cooking and gardening. His unique artful food combines deft classic technique, rare and heirloom produce and a thoroughly modern sensibility in ways that can surprise and delight. “Gardening chic”: who knew?
Ryan Squires, The Buffalo Club, Brisbane, Qld
The French Laundry, Per Se, El Bulli – a small footnote on The Buffalo Club’s menu pays tribute to chef Ryan Squires’ culinary idols, but this home-grown talent has recently come into his own. His dégustation menu may push the envelope (an envelope which, here, could contain Campari sherbet and arrive with a frothy pink watermelon tonic to dip it in), but after the spectacle fades, Squires’ finesse persists.
REGIONAL RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Appellation, Barossa Valley, SA
The owners of this newish Barossa destination diner view it as an international attraction, not just a wine region restaurant, and that mindset makes a significant difference, especially when it’s backed by investment in talent. Chef Mark McNamara has immense knowledge of the Barossa’s foodways, and the talented brigade backing him front and back of house sees high standards achieved throughout the meal.
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Vic
The Royal Mail has quickly become one of the few genuine sites of culinary pilgrimage in the country. It’s a restaurant that, for most Australians, requires a more than passing commitment of time and money to visit, yet Dan Hunter’s fresh, innovative food and the extraordinary cellar keep them coming back for more.
Wasabi, Noosa, Qld
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place for this Japanese favourite last May with a move to glamorous new riverside quarters at Noosa. Chef Shinichi Maeda continues to dazzle in the kitchen, showcasing the best of local seafood and produce as well as his impressive battery of kitchen skills.
BAR OF THE YEAR
Gerald’s Bar, Melbourne, Vic
Incongruity is a large part of the Tao of Gerald’s. Little would you expect to find a decent bar on this stretch of Carlton’s Rathdowne Street, let alone one where exotic curiosities and local heroes crowd both the shelves and the barstools.
1907, Perth, WA
Homemade liqueurs and a selection of the world’s rarest and oldest whiskies are only part of the reason for logging time in this sleek and sexy New York-style basement bar, hidden down a secluded alleyway.
Sky Room, Brisbane, Qld
Fly me to the moon and fuel me up at Sky Room. This second venture for the Bowery owners embraces Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate and channels all that’s good about the ’50s. The vibe is cool summer holiday combining the best of modern mixology, top-shelf spirits, just-pressed juices and cool twists in damn near perfect proportions.
See the September 2009 issue of Gourmet Traveller for all the winners, Australia’s Restaurant of the Year, and our 2010 Australian Restaurant Guide.
PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN LAURIE
This article appeared in the August 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.
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