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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.

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.

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.

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.

Grant Achatz interview

One of the leaders of progressive cooking in the US, Grant Achatz is heading our way. Pat Nourse talks to the chef of Chicago's Alinea ahead of his first visit to Australia.

Grant Achatz doesn't like taking the easy road. Whether it's the way he runs Alinea, his internationally acclaimed three-star fine-diner, or Next, the restaurant he opened in 2011, which reboots not only its menu, but its entire theme every few months, switching from Belle Époque Parisian cooking to Thai, or from the food of Sicily to Kyoto. If there's a path that's going to be more demanding, whether creatively or professionally, that'll be where you'll find him. And just to make sure he never has a moment of spare time, his suite of Chicago venues also includes a bar, Aviary, where modernist chef-like thinking is applied to cocktails.

This month Achatz (it rhymes with "packets") will join his mentor, the French Laundry's Thomas Keller, along with Heston Blumenthal, The Ledbury's Brett Graham, Nahm's David Thompson and Attica chef Ben Shewry cooking with Neil Perry for the Ultimate Dinner fundraiser in aid of the Starlight Children's Foundation at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney and Perth. We caught him ahead of his visit to talk shop.

What's the first thing you try to teach your staff?
Respect for the process and passion for what we do.

When are you at your most creative?
By its nature creativity is very spontaneous and unpredictable. You always have to be observant of what's around you.

Eight years on from opening Alinea, do you find yourself changing the menu more or less often?
More. With the opening of Next and its related travel, me and the team feel more inspired and there's crossover from that inspiration at all three places.

The more we change our menus, the easier it is to stay current and relevant in the global culinary scene.

At Next, how have you refined the process of working from one concept to, well, the next?
In the beginning it was difficult, but now we've streamlined the process of training the front and back of house, and have locked into a rhythm. Chef [Dave] Beran and I start working on the next menu about a month after we have launched the previous one, so we have two months for refinement and training.

Has there been an idea that you've had trouble translating from concept to plate?
The idea of making food float has been a challenge. Seven-and-a-half years later, though… apple balloon.

Do you think restaurant cooking has the potential to produce trickle-down benefits for the wider world?
Absolutely. I've done some consulting for large food companies and a couple of supermarkets, and they all say that they look to chefs and restaurants for ideas. The result isn't instantaneous, though; there's usually at least a five-year lag between what you see in a restaurant and what you see on a shelf.

Can you share a few of the Next themes people have proposed that you wouldn't consider?
Australian cuisine. No, in all seriousness, every menu we've done so far has posed interesting problems to solve, and they have all proved solvable.

Speaking of Australia, you're in Sydney this month to cook for the Ultimate Dinner. What are you hoping to see in your time off?
I really want to explore the gastronomy scene, from high-end restaurants to local haunts. Visiting markets and seeing food on an everyday level is also something I like to do wherever I travel.

Australian restaurants - tell us everything you know.
Quite honestly, not much. That was one of the deciding factors to do the event, I have never been to Australia, but like I said, travel and observation often lead to inspiration for me.

Ultimate Dinner Sydney is on 28 September at Rockpool Bar & Grill, (02) 8078 1900, and on 1 October at Perth's Rockpool Bar & Grill (with David Thompson cooking in place of Heston Blumenthal), (08) 6252 1900. Tickets are $10,000 for tables of 10, starlight.org.au

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