Healthy Eating

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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OzHarvest opens Australia's first free supermarket

"This is about dignity. This is about anyone walking through this door, taking what they need, and only giving back if they can."

Anzac biscuit desserts

These four desserts have one thing in common – Anzac biscuits.

Six sexy panna cottas

We say si to these six takes on the Italian classic. From coffee and caramel to red wine and figs, panna cotta proves to be a versatile dessert to suit all palettes.

Persian red lentil soup with tahini, beetroot and fried mint

Lentil soup may not sound like the sexiest of dishes, but rest assured, it's a heart-warmer. We've added warming spices and served the soup with a dollop of garlicky tahini. Thin slivers of shaved raw beetroot add earthiness and texture - the beetroot is also excellent simply grated and served piled on top. The poached egg is optional, but highly recommended.

Okonomiyaki with sticky soy pork belly

Blue Nile's Ethiopian eggplant dip

"I'd love the recipe for the eggplant dip the wonderful Fatuma Tikuye serves at Blue Nile in Blacktown." - Helena Rosebery, Annandale, NSW REQUEST A RECIPE To request a recipe, email fareexchange@bauer-media.com.au or write to Fare Exchange, Australian Gourmet Traveller, GPO Box 4088, Sydney, NSW 2001. Please include the restaurant's name and address or business card, as well as your name and address.

Eclair recipes

Here are four spins on the classic French eclair, from Flour & Stone's pillowy choux pastry with salted caramel to a colourful take with strawberry-flecked creme fraiche filling and sprinkled pistachios on top.

Fifty-four thoughts at Noma Mexico

"12. I'm now sitting at Noma with no shoes on. I feel like a toddler in a sandpit."

And the winners are


Apparently, there's a recession on. Clearly, no one told Neil Perry, and the diners who pack his two large new Sydney restaurants must've missed the memo too. To imagine that it hasn't been a tough year in the restaurant business, of course, is folly. All businesses, large and small, have been affected, and even those that have had no trouble filling seats have experienced diners opting for the skirt steak over the sirloin, the leatherjacket over the lobster, and leaving with smiles in place of healthy tips.

It's been a great year for diners, though. On the one hand we've seen a fabulous wealth of new restaurants appearing pretty much right around the country, while on the other, many old favourites have had to sharpen their game to stay competitive. Worthwhile lunch and pre-theatre deals, not previously a strong point at high-end Australian restaurants, have become more commonplace.

With consumption of caviar and truffles off many menus either for reasons of fiscal prudence or for the importance of keeping down appearances, both chefs and diners have had reason to cast about for new ways to make dining special. Service staff are valuing their jobs anew in the current climate, which is not only a boon for diners but a balm to the industry's shortage of experience on the floor. The GFC has underscored the phenomenon of "bistronomy", or fine-dining-quality food in a casual setting. Restaurants such as Le Chateaubriand and Le Comptoir in Paris, Bocca di Lupo and Terroirs in London and the Momofuku empire in Manhattan, not to mention the likes of Sydney's Bodega and Melbourne's Cumulus Inc, appear to have weathered the storm better than most, and without battening down the hatches.

Entirely in keeping with the New Old Frugalism there's no trendier possession for a chef than a garden or farm specialising in herbs, leaves and flowers straight out of Hannah Glasse. This is not to say that the fruits of these fields won't be run through the Pacojet or Thermomix the second they reach the kitchen, but the thought of so many grown men (and it is mostly the blokes) fussing over their elderflowers, borage blossoms and native violets with tweezers warms our hearts nonetheless.

Our reviewers report that they're as horrified by truffle oil as ever, and still consider summer truffles as pointless a garnish as anything else with no texture or flavour value. Glass plates inexplicably continue to be used even by good restaurants, and wines by the glass are all too frequently not poured at the table.

Wine service at our best restaurants, though, seems better than ever, and the amount of young blood in the wine world is making it more straightforward and fun by the day. On that note, we're very pleased to be partnered with SIGNÉ, the boutique drinks division of Pernod Ricard Australia, in presenting this year's awards and guide. "This is a great opportunity for SIGNÉ to align our collection of fine wines, Champagne and spirits with the calibre of Australian cuisine represented by the nominated restaurants and bars," says SIGNÉ's head of marketing, Trevor Hannam.

On the plate, we're loving the attention less popular cuts such as beef skirt and flank and lamb belly and breast are receiving. Some diners report instances of sous-vide fatigue (it's interesting to hear that some chefs are stepping away from the immersion circulators already), while spherification appears to be the technique that became a dated fad even before anyone really paid it much mind in the first place. This may be related to the fact that more of today's chefs are paying more mind to the importance of ingredients' texture as well as their flavour.

Hopefully this time next year, with the economic situation brightening, the choice between the marron and the mackerel will be one we'll make solely on the basis of taste. But we have access to so much local talent that it's going to be a tasty ride whichever route you choose. Strap yourself in and let's go.

WORDS PAT NOURSE PHOTOGRAPHY JASON LOUCAS

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