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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.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

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.

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.

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.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Hot Plates: Vaquero Dining, Albion

Coal fired octopus, sobrasada oscura, spiced tomato chutney

Coal fired octopus, sobrasada oscura, spiced tomato chutney

No cowboys are to be found at Albion's newest smart-casual spot. Instead there's plenty of charcuterie, batched cocktails and a slick fit-out.

There isn't usually much call for queue-control measures outside restaurants in inner-city Albion, but the latest offering from Nick Pinn and Laurie Rogencamp, operators of Newstead's Malt Pier, Brisbane's Malt Dining and boutique bottle shop Malt Traders, is a bona fide attention grabber with a doorway cordoned off with a red silk rope.

Yarra valley trout with tiger prawns, white onion, currents and pine nuts.

Vaquero packs pleasing swagger. Access to the casual but smart restaurant and bar is through a tiny butchery nook out front, which retails dry-aged beef and charcuterie, much of which is made in house. The smoky, meaty tang of smallgoods raise expectations nicely. The store is separated from the restaurant by a glazed charcuterie and dry-ageing cabinet and the long, slender space beyond is open plan, but neatly divided into sections.

At its core, there's an eye-catching brass-topped bar and a variety of seating, ranging from a large communal-style table in a covered, cobbled courtyard at the rear to curved banquettes, and a variety of bar and table dining. A line-up of batched cocktails adorns a backlit bar to bolster the drinks they make to order, plus there's a commendable line-up of interesting wines by the glass and a decent beer selection.

Corned beef cheek with pickled cucumber and celeriac cream.

Just as the flattering fit-out and well-balanced drinks list pack in texture, so too does the lightly Spanish-influenced sharing menu.

Rounds of briny-sweet scallop boudin sausage are offset by pickled fennel, vibrant dots of parsley oil and an airy scallop mousse topped with deep-fried cauliflower.

Char-grilled octopus tentacles share a plate with a chilli-laden, ink-black sobrasada oscura and a dollop of forthright tomato pickle, while savoury Manchego custard and a toasty hazelnut dukkah prove happy sidekicks for a mix of coal-grilled carrots.

It's not the sort of sustenance you'd envisage a stereotypical Latin cowboy vaquero fuelling up on - we're thinking here of the dry-aged rump cap that's cooked sous-vide before hitting the Josper oven (why?). But Vaquero is assuredly a spot worth roping in a crowd for.

Vaquero Dining, 344 Sandgate Rd, Albion, Qld, (07) 3862 3606, vaquerodining.com.au

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