81 Most successful restaurant reboot
When John and Lisa van Haandel decided to close Circa, the Prince for renovations in the middle of last year, few would have anticipated just how thorough the overhaul would be. The former dining room became function rooms, the bar was opened out into a languid, elegant series of invitingly spacious rooms, and the airy courtyard was glassed over to become Circa's main dining space. But the best change of all came with Matt Wilkinson's food. Freed from the restrictions of what had been, Wilkinson has assembled a menu of user-friendly food - nettle and crab ravioli, toasted grains, labne and herb salad, pickled and raw vegetables with smoked yoghurt, slow-braised goat, roast chicken for two - that combines a rustic sensibility with skilful and exact cooking. What had become slightly faded has been given new and exciting life. Circa, the Prince, 2 Acland St, St Kilda, Vic, (03) 9536 1122
82 Silliest name, yet most impressive
This one has to go to d'Arenberg's 2007 Cenosilicaphobic Cat Sagrantino Cinsault. The wine itself is so brilliantly innovative - and tastes so damned good - it deserves a berth in this list for quality drinking alone. It's a blend of 91 per cent young-vine sagrantino, a tongue-hugging red grape originally from Umbria, and nine per cent old-vine cinsault, a robust southern French grape that's deeply savoury and superbly satisfying. The fact that it's been named after a sozzled winery moggie ("cenosilicaphobia" is the fear of an empty glass, apparently) only makes it all the more delicious.
83 Least traumatic indian train ride
If you think you know Indian trains, think again. There's a vast gulf between the standard of Indian Railways' 800 locomotives and the standard of the new Maharajas' Express: its lavish carriages are the last word in subcontinental train travel. Themed itineraries, such as Princely India and Celestial India, crisscross the country via fabled cities that might include Varanasi or Khajuraho, with butlers and bearers on hand to grant every wish. There are 14 carriages in all, including one devoted entirely to the $6500-a-night Presidential Suite, two restaurants (black-tie dinners, naturally), a bar and an observation lounge. Guest speakers include Sir Mark Tully, former BBC correspondent, and The Cinnamon Club's executive chef Vivek Singh.
84 Most ingenious use of vacant space
Ryan Gregory and Carla Arevalo, the husband-and-wife team behind Perth hot spot Andaluz, have transformed a block of vacant offices into the CBD's number one post-work, pre-dinner destination. Whether it's Brenton Pyke's bangin' tapas or a grown-up drinks list served by dapper bar staff, the Andaluz blueprint is one that more bar owners should follow. Andaluz Bar & Tapas, 21 Howard St, Perth, WA, (08) 9481 0092
85 Best reason to step into a dark alley
It's taken a while, but Brisbane finally has its own back-alley bar - and it's a doozy. The clever space, poised metres above the newly christened Spencer Lane, is the wild-child offspring of last year's multimillion-dollar revamp of fine-dining restaurant Urbane. The Laneway bar lacks grunge but pays tribute to its gritty location with a black-and-off-white palette, complete with a striking wall-sized metal-cut screen emblazoned with road sign references. The snacks, from Urbane chef Kym Machin, are suitably luscious and judiciously salty, ranging from a wagyu burger with shoestring fries to in-house cured and smoked ocean trout with confit lemon. The Laneway, Spencer La, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3229 2271
86 Toughest way to get back to nature
Call it Hard Tourism (as in "hard labour"), but a week-long stint at Ecotraining Australia's Swim Creek camp, sleeping among mozzies and snakes and crocs and sweating buckets in the Northern Territory, is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. The camp is an offshoot of the high-end hoteliers Wild Bush Luxury, so you're guaranteed gourmet meals and plenty of good times, but the underlying emphasis is on the environment. The facilities might be basic but the experience is anything but. Seven-day stays from $1990.
87 Most fetishised beverage
Seven Seeds, St Ali, Brother Baba Budan, Toby's Estate, Sensory Lab, Proud Mary, Dukes, Auction Rooms, Outpost - the list of specialty coffee houses/roasters in Melbourne keeps growing at a super-caffeinated pace. With the expansion comes an increasingly complex conversation about vacuum, siphon and pour-over filter methods, single-estate beans, seasonality and the fine art of blending. The latest to throw its hat in the ring is Fleur Studd's Market Lane. Studd (daughter of GT cheese guru Will) says Market Lane's focus is on quality, seasonality and provenance, with a particular emphasis on beans sourced from individual farms. "People are finally realising that coffee is an agricultural product subject to location, soil and weather," she says. "It matters where it's from." Market Lane, Shop 13, Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9804 7434
88 Most death-defying restaurant meal
Chef Kenji Ito's self-titled eatery, Kenji Modern Japanese, is the only restaurant in Australia to offer fugu, the potentially poisonous Japanese pufferfish, on its menu. The fish are farmed in Japan and then imported to Australia by Oceanic Food in Melbourne. Ito gets his fish without the heads, gills or guts. He uses about 10 fugu a week, preparing them in dishes such as air-dried fugu fin in sake, and fugu skin in ponzu sauce, though his most successful enticement for diners is a triple taste on an $18.50 entrée plate, which includes a small piece of fried fillet. Kenji Modern Japanese, 5/242 Hutt St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8232 0944
89 Finest gastropub for sunday lunch
From humble beginnings in the '70s, the Drunken Duck Inn at Barngates in Cumbria has spread its wings to become Britain's leading gastropub, according to GT contributor and Time Out restaurant critic Guy Dimond. The Lakes District landmark blends the best of the old - a superb slate bar from the local quarry, oak floors, and boutique beers from the award-winning Barngates Brewery - with New English cuisine and hospitality. A long lunch might include ham hock terrine with boiled egg, toast and chutney, followed by braised lamb shoulder with fondant potato.
90 Putting a really good face on it
Call it "face bacon" if you must, but guanciale, a bacon-like cured meat made from the entire side of the face of the pig (not, as commonly reported, simply the cheek or jowl) has an intensity of flavour that chefs and diners alike can't resist. Cooked rather than served as salumi, it's an essential ingredient in many Roman dishes - spaghetti carbonara made the traditional way with guanciale is a revelation. Melbourne's Donati's and Sydney's Quattro Stelle, AC Butchery and Pino's Meats all make fine examples.
91 Tastiest hotel makeover
One of Melbourne's finer hotels, the Grand Hyatt Melbourne has emerged from a $45-million makeover bolder, swankier and tastier than ever. The hotel has its own restaurant, Collins Kitchen (the brunches are legendary), and the Ru-Co bar, but it is Greg Malouf's restaurant MoMo and the adjoining bar, Spice Market, that are really wowing hungry crowds. Malouf encourages family-style eating with sharing platters that might feature crunchy zucchini blossoms stuffed with homemade haloumi, and brik pastry parcels of garfish and chermoula. If you prefer dance music with your mezze, head to Spice Market where Malouf's bar snacks fortify well-heeled partygoers in this Middle-meets-Far-East club lounge. Rooms from $270. Grand Hyatt, 123 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9657 1234.
92 Skin is the new fat, so get cracking
Whether it's chicken skin grilled at a yakitori bar or wrapped around fish at Melbourne's forthcoming Maze restaurant, crisps of fish skin garnishing marinated ocean trout at Sydney's Foveaux, pork skin enriching morcilla or cotechino sausage, or just a great piece of crackling, chefs are embracing tasty ways to make the most of the whole beast.
93 Most exhilarating art gallery
It hasn't got the crowds of the Louvre or the cachet of a Guggenheim but the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain, is sure to give art-lovers a blast. Dalí's eccentric take on the world will be familiar to many from last year's Liquid Desire retrospective of the late artist's creations at the National Gallery of Victoria. But to witness his works in the fantastical building that Dalí once called home is to immerse yourself in another world entirely - a world defined by paintings, sculpture, fashion, jewellery and photography that challenges our notions of normal.
94 Most outré serving vessel
Beyond the drinks, one of the chief pleasures of new Sydney bar Eau de Vie is the quality of the vintage wares in which they're prepared and served. Owner Sven Almenning is a noted collector of cocktail antiques and one of his favourite pieces is a glass shaker cast in the shape of a lady's lower leg, made by the West Virginia Specialty Glass Co in the '30s, replete with chrome high-heeled slipper. It's reserved, Almenning says, exclusively for groups of female customers at the bar. "I'd been looking for one of these cocktail shakers for years before I finally managed to purchase one from a fellow collector in the States." The Lady's Leg Cosmopolitan, the shaker's very own signature drink, sees Ketel One Citroen vodka played off against homemade cranberry sorbet. Eau de Vie, 229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst, NSW
95 Gnarliest wave in the world
Monster swells like Maverick's in Hawaii and California's Ghost Tree are almost predictable in comparison to the pororoca in Brazil. An enormous tidal surge that rises out of Brazil's Rio Araguari in February and March, the "Great Roar" (as the local Tupi Indians call it) reaches comparatively tame heights of five metres but unfurls itself for half an hour or more. As a bonus, this barrelling water wall is said to sweep up trees, alligators and piranhas as it surges towards the Amazon Basin. Strictly for the insane. (Get a taste for it by searching for "pororoca" on YouTube.)
96 Smartest face lift
When it first opened as a restaurant four years ago, Sydney's Bentley Restaurant & Bar looked pretty slick, but its recent renovation at the hands of Melbourne interior architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb (best known for her work at Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc) has raised the bar. The new look, unveiled in February, gives Nick Hildebrandt's wine and Brent Savage's food a setting that is both more comfortable and more fittingly luxe without losing the edge that has become the pair's signature. Bentley Restaurant & Bar, 320 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9332 2344
97 Best gallery café
The bucolic, peaceful bushland location helps, but even without the smell of eucalypts and the twittering birdlife (and the smart Chris Connell-designed metal and glass dining room), Café Vue at Heide Museum of Modern Art would stand out from the often average gallery café crowd. Flexibility is part of the attraction - sandwiches and quality coffee for the between-exhibition snackers, a weekly changing menu based on produce from Heide's famed kitchen garden and, three nights a week, dinner that amps things up again in a snail spring roll/skate wing salad kind of fashion. With nary a bain-marie or heat lamp in sight, Shannon Bennett's foray into the gallery world is a smart and artful success. Café Vue at Heide, 7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen, Vic, (03) 9852 2346
98 New winery that makes a statement
In California's Napa Valley and Spain's La Rioja, it's almost de rigueur for vineyards to have an impressive architect-designed building announcing their winery/cellar door/restaurant, but on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula things have been more low-key. Now, however, Port Phillip Estate in Red Hill South has changed that with a strikingly austere, curved and undulating rammed-earth building that raises the "we've arrived" flag. Designed by Wood Marsh, the multimillion-dollar structure provides one of the Australian wine industry's great moments of architectural theatre when a discreet wooden door in a fortress-like wall swings open to reveal the restaurant and tasting room sitting before a vast curved wall of glass with spectacular views of vines, farm and sea. California, here we come. Port Phillip Estate, 263 Red Hill Rd, Red Hill South, (03) 5989 4444
99 Best excuse for a house party
A restored 1848 sandstone priory has become Tasmania's hip new spot for weekend gatherings of groups seeking the good life. Ex-investment banker Greg Peacock oversees proceedings at his country seat at The Priory Country Lodge, an hour from Hobart, where the wine, food and conversation flow freely. Group activities include fly-fishing on highland lakes (Alexandra Keating's a big fan, apparently), golfing at the rustic Ratho Links, Australia's oldest golf course, whiskey tasting at the bijou Nant Distillery or lingering over a long lunch at Bothwell's rather good Elm Corner Café and Wine Bar. The Priory's not only for groups of course - couples are welcome too. Rooms, including breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, from $400. 2 Wentworth St, Bothwell, Tas, (03) 6259 4012
100 Taking the sting out of nettles
His goat ragù with pappardelle became a must-have dish at his previous berth, Bar Alto, and now Saragossan-born Pablo Tordesillas is converting Brisbane diners to the culinary benefits of nettles at the city's coolest new dining addition, Ortiga. The stinging leaves (ortiga in Spanish) make an appearance in an intriguing oysters and trotters dish, the trotters wrapped around an oyster and topped with a wafer of pork crackling, the plate dressed with an intensely green-flavoured nettle picada. Ortiga, 446 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, (07) 3852 1155
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