Best dishes of 2016: our critics' picks

Macadamia meringue at Fred's, Sydney (left)

Macadamia meringue at Fred's, Sydney (left)

Our staffers' picks of the best Australian eats of the year. Who's hungry?

Anchovy toast, Embla, Melbourne
That abalone schnitty at Noma Australia was pretty good. The sweetbread schnitty with anchovy sauce at Fleet is still great. The fresh Yamba anchovies at Saint Peter are a revelation. And I've eaten a good bowl of Chongqing noodles roughly once every 72 hours in 2016. But right now I could really go another round of the anchovy toasts at the bar at Embla. Plenty of butter, a good hit of pickled shallot and whatever Paul, Christian or anyone else on the floor thinks is worth drinking at any given moment. Embla, 122 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9654 5923,

Anchovy toast at Embla.

Snacks, Igni, Geelong
Local saltbush leaves fried crisp and then sprinkled with vinegar powder sit companionably with char-grilled zucchini flowers stuffed with pickled mussels. Squares of chicken skin, roasted crisp, are made even more ridiculously delicious spread with pale, punchy cod-roe paste, while slivers of house-cured guanciale and twigs of beef jerky add breadth and texture to proceedings. That the meal following this opening lives up to the promise is a small thing of wonder. Igni, 2 Ryan Pl, Geelong, Vic, (03) 5222 2256,

Snacks at Igni.

Melon en surprise, Restaurant Hubert, Sydney
The word "surprise" creates a certain amount of anticipation on a menu. But when it actually really does (pleasantly) surprise you and then surprises you again and again, you know you've got something special on your hands. In this excellent example, smooth sorbet covers the "surprise" of balls of melon, sorrel jelly and bright bursts of finger lime in a hollowed-out half melon. Texture, freshness and a whole lot of fun. Restaurant Hubert, 15 Bligh Pl, Sydney, NSW,

Melon en surprise at Restaurant Hubert.

Pork skin noodles, Liberté, Albany
Rare is the establishment that warrants back-to-back-to-back-to-back visits; rarer still to find it in regional Western Australia. But that's the magic of Liberté, a plucky Indochine bar where chef-patron Amy Hamilton is as comfortable serving good charcuterie and steak frites as she is upcycling pig offal into lush "noodles" enriched with yabbies, watercress and garlic flowers. Liberté, 162 Stirling Tce, Albany, WA, (08) 9847 4797,

Military snail, escabeche and plantain, Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
Atop a pile of turban shells sits a crisp little cup fashioned from plantain. It's filled with sliced and marinated shellfish meat, tender and citric, from sea snails hand-dived in waters south of Sydney. Course two of 14 at the Restaurant of the Year and I'm already hooked. Momofuku Seiobo, The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont, NSW.

Military snail, escabeche and plantain at Momofuku Seiobo.

Apple strudel, Esquire, Brisbane
A strudel made entirely from apple? Apart from a tasty hay- and thyme-infused cream accompaniment, this one is apple on apple on apple. Traditional? No. Tasty and clever? Absolutely. With crisp wafer-thin folds of deep-fried apple to crunch, who needs dough?Esquire, 145 Eagle St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3220 2123,

Paccheri with WA scampi, tomato, garlic and chilli, Tipo 00, Melbourne
Until I can convince Andreas Papadakis to let me rent a permanent stool at his near-perfect restaurant on Little Bourke Street, I'll continue to fork out for flights to Melbourne to re-live this bowl of pasta. Five simple yet faultless ingredients combine to form the ultimate trifecta: sweetness, richness and spice. Tipo 00, 361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9942 3946,

Paccheri at Tipo 00.

Tea sandwiches, Africola, Adelaide     
If Africola chef Duncan Welgemoed wanted to make a quick fortune, he could simply open a hatch from the Africola kitchen and sell an endless stream of his new tea sandwiches. They're completely addictive - a crisp film of roasted chicken skin doused in hot chicken fat, set on white bread smeared with a chilli-flecked mayonnaise and packed with shredded lettuce. He serves it as a snack. You always want more. Africola, 4 East Tce. Adelaide, SA, (08) 8223 3885,

Macadamia meringue with strawberry and yoghurt sorbet and chamomile, Fred's, Sydney
Danielle Alvarez's focus on the best seasonal ingredients makes a refreshing change from the dehydration, fermentation and tinkering with technique that preoccupies many other kitchens around town. The chewy, nuttiness of the meringue, coolness of the yoghurt and soothing note of chamomile are all winning notes in this dessert, but it's the flavour of strawberries hitting their seasonal high-note that carries the day. Fred's, 380 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW, (02) 9240 3000,

The Gourmet Traveller podcast

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