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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.

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.

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.

Hot Plates: Pino’s Vino e Cucina, Sydney

Burrata with asparagus, peas and pea greens

Burrata with asparagus, peas and pea greens

Blessed be the locals. Coming out of a year in Sydney packed with openings from big names in even bigger dining "precincts", there's something deeply pleasurable about pushing through the doors on a place opened by relative unknowns in the 'burbs and finding yourself in a restaurant filled with promise.

Pino's Vino e Cucina in Alexandria might not have a million-dollar fit-out, but money has been spent, time has been taken and taste has been exercised. Down the right-hand side of the dining room runs a richly stocked bar, finished in beautiful timber joinery and gleaming with bottles that say "drink me". Down the left are tables and a banquette kitted out with nicely seasoned leather. Something about the floorboards, heavy beams, bar stools and all that timber gives it a saloon feel, which somehow clicks with the short, smart Italian menu. Call it spaghetti Western.

Tonarelli with mussels and cherry tomatoes. 

The single-sided A4 carte is broken down into eight antipasti, a section for pizzicheria (which means delicatessen, more or less, and here translates to cold cuts and cheese), six piatti forti (the main courses), three sides and two desserts.

Chef Matteo Margiotta's flavours and ingredients skew southern-Italian - the spicy, porky goodness of 'nduja with octopus in one antipasto, swordfish, fennel and radish offered as a main course - but there are also things like risotto balls, panzanella, and a whacking great big grilled T-bone listed as a "Fiorentina" that are more suggestive of the north.

Interior. (Photo by Ben Simpson)

Mostly the menu just leans summery, fun and winningly simple. A fat bulb of burrata with ribbons of asparagus, peas and pea greens: easy. A low little glazed terracotta dish holding a farinata, a chickpea-flour pancake golden from the pan, scattered with rings of pickled red onion and ricotta salata - the scant grating of hard, salty sheep's milk cheese bringing the whole thing to life.

At one point one of the waiters (who appear uniformly friendly and engaged under the management of the superbly Glasgow-accented Diane McDonald) suggests the side of roast potatoes, done with duck fat and truffle oil. This is perhaps the one bum note coming from the kitchen for me. What use the chefs have for an artificial and, to my mind, profoundly unappealing product like truffle oil in an otherwise savvy place like this is hard to fathom. Opt for the panzanella instead and you'll get a bowl of lovely summery tomatoes of various hues and flavours, blissfully free of artificial flavourings.

Spelt trenette with zucchini, lardo and mint.

Back to the good: the house-made pasta. Tonarelli, here thick-cut spaghetti, make a juicy partner to a pile of garlicky mussels and fruit-sweet cherry tomatoes, while zucchini and lardo complement the nuttiness of spelt trenette, with grains of toasted spelt for texture, chives and leaves of mint picking out a bright top-note. (They call it trenette, I should add, but the frilly-edged ribbons, a bit like garters made of pasta for the exacting fetishist, look like mafaldine to me.)

The millefoglie is a gloriously silly over-the-top thing. It's not layers of pastry as the name suggests (millefoglie's French equivalent is the millefeuille), but rather a wide hollow tube piped full of pastry cream and dressed with pistachio, cherry and diced kiwifruit. All that's missing is the doily.

Millefoglie.

Wine and cocktails come from an aesthetic universe that knows no doilies. Italy represents about half the cellar, the remainder split between France and Australia, most of it sold for under $80 a bottle. It's approachable, but quietly subversive. There's sav blanc by the glass, but it's a Chapter from the Yarra Valley, made with a bit of skin-contact. The chardonnay is from Rome, while the vermentino and Montepulciano are made in the Riverland in South Australia.

Bar manager Antonello Arzedi has done a superb job with the cocktail list, which is full of intrigue. Just how does panettone feature in his 25th Bellini alongside rum and moscato? And when can I make time to pull up a stool and try the tequila, amaro and grapefruit number he calls a Piñata? I can say that the Americanello, which introduces pomegranate juice and a herbal house-made soda into the classic mix of Campari and vermouth, is a welcome twist on the Americano. Arzedi's glassware is impeccable, and all his ice is cut by hand, making this very much a place to visit for the drinks in their own right.

Pino's: the likeable local you wish was your own. If this is the direction in which 2017 is headed, things are looking up.

Pino's Vino e Cucina, 199 Lawrence St, Alexandria, NSW, (02) 9550 2789. Dinner and drinks from 5pm-12pm Tue-Sat, 5pm-10pm Sun.

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