Ms G's, El Loco, Mr. Wong and Papi Chulo, Sydney
One of the most recognisable names in the Sydney food scene, Hong's repertoire spans dim sum and refined Shanghai cuisine at Mr Wong, to innovative pan-Asian street food at Ms G's and a casual, bright interpretation of the flavours of Mexico (plus a good splash of tequila) at El Loco. His ability to adapt his skills to push the boundaries of flavour and technique across several cuisines has set a new standard for casual dining in Sydney, and Australia.
Lennox Hastie has abandoned stainless steel ovens and gas stoves at Sydney's Firedoor, choosing instead to harness the power and flavour of fire, smoke and coals. Everything on Hastie's menu is cooked over specifically chosen woods, from ironbark to apple wood, depending on the ingredients being used. Whether you opt for Murray cod or milk-fed lamb, Hastie's wielding of flame is precise, primal and utterly effective.
The first Sydney-based restaurant of note to abruptly swerve and adopt an entirely meat-free menu, Brent Savage's bold culinary move at Potts Point's Yellow has captured the attention of vegetarian and carnivorous diners alike. The result? It's hard to pine for animal protein when the vegetables on your plate are so damn good; the new menu shows Savage at his most inventive. There's certainly plenty of textural variety; peas become mousse, pumpkin turns into crisps seasoned with toasted coriander, while chips are made from wild mushrooms and sesame. "Young celery and almond crunch" is all but audible on the printed page.
Known for challenging traditional dining practises and pushing the boat out on all fronts, Quade's fare can get a little trippy at Lûmé. The baby corn cradled in a taco and perched on a corn husk-lined coconut shell is actually grilled camel hump. The honey served with a burnt barley crumpet turns out to be eel-flavoured. Quade places as much focus on the restaurant's booking system, lighting, scent and temperature as the food itself. This multisensory experience is designed to make dining at his restaurant as enjoyable as possible, with Quade employing a team of psychologists to ensure this is achieved effortlessly.
Momofuku Seiōbo, Sydney
Executive chef at Sydney's Momofuku Seiōbo, GT's 2017 Restaurant of the Year, Paul Carmichael looked to the flavours of his homeland, Barbados, for new direction - flavours formerly mostly unknown in Australia. This new and fresh vision has seen pineapples invade the fridges, and jerk spice used without fear. We're accustomed to the idea that we should expect the unexpected at Momofuku, but even so, none of us guessed that it would be the flavours of the Caribbean that would supply such a thrill. Finding it in Pyrmont is a revelation.
After working as sous-chef at Sydney fine-diner Momofuku Seiōbo and clocking time at Tetsuya's and Quay, Clayton Wells launched into his own stratosphere at Chippendale's Automata, inside The Old Clare Hotel, only months ago. The emphasis is firmly on the smart over the casual at Automata, from dollops of butter infused with chicken and anchovy and sprinkled with sunflower seeds to go with your house-made bread, to cream-heavy burrata injected with fluorescent shellfish oil that spills out when pierced with a fork. Wells builds flavour with the likes of mushrooms, seaweed stocks and fermented juices, and turns to native coastal herbs and blistered fruit for sweetness and tang, keeping it all under $100 for a tasting menu too. See recipes from Automata here.
One of Australia's most renowned and well-respected chefs, Ben Shewry has been able to connect with his diners through his ability to evoke real emotion through what's on their plates.Drawing on his own memories as inspiration, and after spending almost a decade in the restaurant business, Shewry continues to push boundaries and experiment with local produce. This passion alone was able to transform a struggling Thai restaurant in Melbourne's outer suburbs into what is now the world's number 33 restaurant. Attica now enjoys a permanent waiting list.
Thi Le, an alumna of Andrew McConnell's kitchens, quietly explodes any preconceptions about what Vietnamese cuisine can look like in a contemporary context. A lettuce leaf and buddle of herbs cradles not the classic spring roll, but blood sausage and slivers of raw ginger. She swaps beef pho for beautifully steamed clams in a spicy chicken and kaffir lime soup. It's not foam and tricks that win the day here, but good taste and real skill.
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