Restaurant Awards

The finalists in the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards 2020

The countdown is on for the restaurant industry night of nights on Wednesday 21 August...

Fleet, Brunswick Heads
Awards season is upon us. Our annual stocktake of the people and places that are new, hot and pushing boundaries in Australian dining will be revealed at our 2020 Restaurant Awards.
Here we present the finalists across categories including New Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, Wine List of the year, Best New talent, Regional Restaurant of the year, Maitre d' of the Year, Sommelier of the Year, plus our new Sustainability & Innovation award, as nominated by our team of anonymous reviewers who visit restaurants across the country unannounced and pay their own way.
Tune in for all the winners – including Restaurant of the Year - from Wednesday 21 August, 6pm as we announce them on Gourmet Traveller's Instagram, live from the event at Sydney's Bennelong. And pick up a copy of the September issue of Gourmet Traveller, on sale 22 August, for a complete run-down on the freshly crowned winners.
And the nominees are...
Words: Fiona Donnelly, Michael Harden, David Matthews, David Sly & Max Veenhuyzen


Totti's Photo: Nikki To
In a year dominated by casual Italian-ish openings, Totti's is the definitive model. Old olive tree in the courtyard, pretty wood oven in the wide open dining room, blistered bread doused in olive oil and served with an array of snacks, killer pasta, and Negronis by the litre. Merivale's knack for giving people what they want before they know they want it continues. And with chefs as sharp as Mike Eggert and Khan Danis on execution, and a wine list this strong, the appeal is only getting stronger.
In short: Right on trend.
283 Bondi Rd, Bondi NSW 2026, Australia, (02) 9114 7371,
Tiny Joy is a bumblebee of a restaurant. Logically, it shouldn't be able to fly. But this minimalist 10-seater – down a laneway and with just two employees (first-time owner-chefs Sarah and Tim Scott) – builds a powerful buzz regardless. The Scotts live above the shop they both helped design and build, and do everything, from creating the layered tasting menus, to wrangling drinks and washing up. Redefining fuss-free fine dining, one beautifully detailed dish at a time.
In short: Big ideas in a tiny package.
Bakery Lane, 690 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, Qld, 0412 425 626,
Lygon Street isn't the first place you'd think to look for a clean-lined, beautifully serviced French-Japanese fine diner but an incongruous address is just part of Kazuki's charm. Relocating their seven-year-old restaurant from Daylesford to the city, Kazuki and Saori Tsuya elevate it to another level entirely, succeeding admirably via a minimalist dining room, precise cooking, thrilling flavours and comprehensive attention to detail, from linen to wine list.
In short: Excelling in new territory.
121 Lygon St, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9349 2223,
Few understand the theatre of dining as instinctively as Rinaldo Di Stasio. His new city outpost is proof of that. It's an expression of his passions in three dimensions – art, food, design, architecture, wine, family, beauty, Italy – in an idiosyncratically beautiful space that's part temple, part stage, part party. The result? Dining that's fun, that makes you want to dress for dinner, drink another Martini, order a second dessert. Dining that reminds you that life is good.
In short: A spectacular spectacle.
45 Spring St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9070 1177,
Technically, this neighbourhood hangout in boho South Freo is more bar than restaurant, but the food coming out of the tiny kitchen at eight-month-old Madalena's puts many full-fledged outfits to shame. Andrew McConnell alum Adam Rees takes pristine Western Australian fish – bycatch and lesser-seen fish species such as nannygai and herring are specialties – and casts these ingredients as stars of his contemporary, accessible seafood menu. Factor in the beachside setting and focus on new-wave wines and you've got a deeply likeable newcomer.
In short: Seaside dining done right.
406 South Terrace, South Fremantle, WA,
In Pilot, Canberra has a restaurant set on advancing the cause of hospitality in the capital with dining that's fun, relaxed, clear-cut and precise all at once. The vision is bolstered by the presence of owners Dash Rumble and Ross McQuinn on the floor, pouring fresh, trend-driven wines and bringing considerable experience to bear on their own project. Malcolm Hanslow, meanwhile, oversees a menu consistently understates and overdelivers. Small-town feel, big-town ambition, and right on the pulse.
In short: Canberra's new darling.
Shop 5/6 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, ACT, (02) 6257 4334,
A project restaurant if ever there was one. Handmade and hand-crafted from the ground up, fiercely sustainable, community-focused and fuelled almost entirely by fire. Ben Devlin is in deep, drawing on his strong connections in the Northern Rivers to bring his own particular vision of his very own restaurant to life, filled with staff who have bought into the dream and no small amount of talent. A lesson that big ideas can flourish in the smallest of places.
In short: From little things, big things grow.
Shop 4/8 Coronation Ave, Pottsville, NSW, 0490 380 117,
Brisbane's revamped Howard Smith Wharves quarter is recharging the city's dining scene. And the venue supplying maximum spark? That's Arc. Confident, great looking, and with Best New Talent nominee Alanna Sapwell in its kitchen. The restaurant's stylish, glass-walled dining room, colourfully kitted out by designer Anna Spiro, scores primo vistas of city, Story Bridge and river. The perfect backdrop for Sapwell's artfully innovative dishes.
In short: Bold, beautiful and brilliant.
5 Boundary St, Brisbane City, Qld, (07) 3505 3980,
Daniel Pepperell makes a thrilling return to Italian at Alberto's, and he's up to his old tricks, spicing his trippa alla Romana with garam masala and churning mango and sticky rice into gelato, while still keeping one eye on tradition. It's no small trick from the team who brought us Restaurant Hubert, and it's a darn good time, all buzz and bustle, plush carpet and wood panelling, vintage movie posters and a winelist that marries Italian back vintages with things new and natural.
In short: A stunner of a follow-up, and plenty fun, too.
17-19 Alberta St, Sydney, NSW,
After so much (excellent) trash food at Mary's and spinoffs comes the Underground, where Jake Smyth, Kenny Graham and co bring their experience to bear on fine dining and give it a jolt with live jazz on stage every night. They go large with supper club-style crowd-pleasers (raw seafood! Rôtisserie duck! Lobster Australienne!) and a team who know their product but won't get preachy about it. It's a case of know the rules, break the rules, and have a good time doing it.
In short: Breathing new life into the CBD.
7 Macquarie Place Sydney 2000,


Lucinda, Hobart, Tas
Is it possible that a tiny bar tucked down a service alley in central Sydney that has no seats, next to no food and serves only mezcal (well, almost) could be the year's most exciting opening? You bet. Cantina OK! is a breath of fresh air: a standing room-only pocket of good times launched by the team from Tio's that's dedicated to the Mexican spirit in all its glory. The staff know their agave, too, talking regions and profiles as deftly as they shave ice for Margaritas or shake together Sours, and they revel in pouring rare and storied expressions of the spirit from their adventures in Mexico. Small, and perfectly formed.
In short: A wild ride in just a few square metres.
Council Pl, Sydney, NSW,
Is there a more exciting place to drink wine in Australia? In less than a year, this cosy bar and bottle shop styled on the P Francos and Septime Caves of the world has established itself as ground zero for Perth's natural-wine scene. It's not hard to see why. The vibe is casual and inclusive, the selection (and pricing) is world class, plus the by-the-glass pours change through the day. Owner Sam Winfield's unfussy cooking is another draw, whether it's a comforting pasta for one, or superb house sourdough and charcuterie (and another bottle) with pals.
In short: World-class wining in the west.
458 William St Perth WA 6000, (08) 9328 3332,
This wine bar, brought to you by the natural wine and idiosyncratic dining aficionados from Dier Makr, gathers together all the things that make eating and drinking in Hobart great – adventurous spirit, atmospheric venue, good humour and a real belief in eating seasonally. Then there's a drinks list with a global focus and a fondness for minimal intervention, aided by wine-friendly food with everything from radishes with a fried-egg sauce to a roast chicken sandwich with oyster mushrooms. It's a winning combination that's eccentric but never pretentious and quickly gets its hooks into you – come once and you'll be back for more.
In short: Spirited, seasonal, natural and addictive.
123 Collins St, Hobart, Tas,


The Summertown Aristologist, Adelaide Hills, SA Photo: Mark Roper
Sommelier Caitlyn Rees nails her colours to the first page of this superb, mouth-watering list by stating that all the wines on offer are farmed organically and fermented using native yeasts. Staying true to her mission, she has compiled a brilliant range of wines, from grower Champagnes to "Jurassic" whites, from obscure Italian ramato to Grand Cru Burgundy. Most of the prices are surprisingly reasonable: two-dozen excellent by-the-glass options start at $12 (almost unheard-of in Sydney venues of this calibre) and there's plenty to drink well under $100. Seriously on-trend but also seriously accessible.
In short: Making waves for the right reasons.
7 Macquarie Place, Sydney, NSW,
You'd be surprised if the wine offering at a new Merivale venue was anything less than impressive (think Bert's, Fred's, Mr Wong, etc.), but there's something particularly bold and energetic about the list at Totti's that makes it stand out from the crowd. It's a lively, clearly presented, comprehensive selection of good things to imbibe: everyday party drinks (jugs of Negroni; pet-nats and proseccos; fresh wines on tap; chilled light reds) plus a "wine bible" for the grape geeks covering everything from natural-wine unicorns to classic old clarets. Loads of fun.
In short: A list for all times and all comers.
283 Bondi Rd, Bondi, NSW (02) 9114 7371,
Who would have thought that one of the world's best collections of natural wines would be found in a restaurant and bar in a sleepy town in the Adelaide Hills? After a couple of years, the already good list here is better than ever. It's a single-minded, uncompromising offering of organically farmed, minimal-intervention wines from both very near (such as the Lucy Margaux range made by co-owner Anton van Klopper) and very far (hundreds of bottles from natural stars in France, Italy, Georgia, Spain), all presented in a clear and concise way.
In short: All-natural and loving it.
1097 Greenhill Rd, Summertown, SA, 0477 410 105,


BEST NEW TALENT: Malcom Hanslow (left), Alanna Sapwell, Daniel Murphy. Photo: Lean Timms (Malcolm Hanslow), Pandora Photography (Alanna Sapwell), John Montesi (Daniel Murphy)
This isn't Hanslow's first rodeo. He was chef at Eightysix back when it was first making its mark in the capital, but after a stint in Sydney honing his skills at Ester, Automata and Oscillate Wildly, it feels like he's finally arrived at Pilot. The influences of the big-city restaurants are there on his menu, sure, but Pilot is his own, a place where invention and sound technique come together in dishes that spin on classic ideas in exciting new ways, while still managing to be downright tasty. Throw in an eye for sound recruitment and it's a package deal.
In short: In the zone.
Shop 5/6 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, ACT, (02) 6257 4334,
A stint as head chef at Sydney's Saint Peter netted Alanna Sapwell a taste of national acclaim. And since the Queenslander catapulted home to pilot riverside destination Arc, the praise has been getting louder. But she's no overnight success. Sapwell has crammed in plenty to get to this point, notching up spells in Japan and Italy as well as senior roles in Brisbane at Urbane and GOMA. Now, her preference for sustainable produce is boosting great local farmers, and a burgeoning kitchen garden continues to add colour. This is great news for diners hooked on the clever dishes she's delivering at Arc.
In short: One hell of a homecoming.
5 Boundary Street, Brisbane City, Qld, (07) 3505 3980,
Daniel Murphy has grasped his first opportunity as an executive chef with zeal. Even more commendable is that his bold initial menus have given a new lease of life to the Appellation dining experience. Murphy came to the job with fine credentials and deep knowledge of local produce, having previously been sous-chef at St Hugo in the Barossa. Now he's taken a giant step forward, backing his judgement with some striking ingredient pairings and robust flavour marriages, and inspiring a young kitchen and service team with his enthusiasm.
In short: Raising the bar.
375 Seppeltsfield Rd, Marananga, SA, (08) 8562 3133,


Laura, Mornington Peninsula, VIC
With 1.2 hectares of vegetables and orchards, plus chickens, bees, award-winning accommodation and one of the best restaurants in the country to maintain, you might sometimes feel like telling Dan Hunter to relax a little. But the Australian dining scene is richer for his drive. Every year, Hunter moves his restaurant closer to self-sufficiency and this is reflected on the plate, with clever, intricate combinations that sketch the surrounding countryside. That sourdough you're eating? Made from wheat that Hunter grew and milled. More, please.
In short: Everything in its place.
4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, VIC, (03) 5236 2226,
As the snacks begin to rain down at the start of a meal at Igni – from crisped, vinegared saltbush to tiny wattleseed and parmesan tarts – there's the sense that, right here, right now, all is right with the world. Charming and informed service helps, as does the two-page wine list of textural, food-friendly labels and the sight of chef Aaron Turner in the kitchen, working around the wood grill with calm purpose, sending out an array of dishes with no two tables eating the same menu. Special.
In short: Clear, present and extra nimble.
Ryan Pl, Geelong, VIC, Australia, (03) 5222 2266,
Phil Wood's way with a potato is exemplary. Mixed with (local) goat's cheese and steamed into cloud-like dumplings, these potatoes are a perfect illustration of the relaxed luxury and regional focus of Laura. The room, with views over Pt Leo's sculpture park, is so calming you feel cosseted just walking into it. Wood's inventive, sometimes surprising food never forgets to be delicious, and some of the best in the business run the floor, calmly ensuring everything goes to plan.
In short: Dining with tight focus.
3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, VIC, (03) 5989 9011,


MAÎTRE D' OF THE YEAR: Astrid McCormack (left), Beverley Woods, Joanna Smith Photo: Avalon Lane (Astrid McCormack), Julian Kingma (Joanna Smith)
Service is vital most anywhere, but at Fleet, a tiny 14-seater, it shapes the entire experience. It's the touchpoint to carry diners through, guide them, and send them off smiling and content. For such a small restaurant the interaction between diner and front of house is crucial, and Astrid McCormack's warmth, wedded to a genuine affection for her craft and the food and drink she's serving, have been constants since day one. Instilling an ethic that means it can run just as smoothly when she's not around is all the more impressive. With McCormack now splitting time between La Casita across town and raising a baby, she's built a team to carry the load in her absence. In Olivia Evans, she's found a worthy acolyte, and moulded her in her own image to strengthen the offer.
In short: Building a dream culture in a dream location.
Shop 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, NSW, (02) 6685 1363,
Beverley Woods calls herself a waiter. She's not concerned with titles, or status, or pretence, just good old-fashioned hospitality. The kind who knows how to say "let us look after you". The kind who knows the ins and outs of the food on the plate as well as how to read the diner, who seems to know your expectations better than you know them yourself. Seeing Woods work the floor with such ease and generosity, day in, day out, is a reminder that hospitality, true hospitality, is a life-long profession and that the very best imbue it with care and attention at every turn.
In short: Ever-present, ever-excellent.
270 Campbell Parade, North Bondi, NSW, (02) 9365 4924,
Some people just get hospitality, innately understanding that making people feel better about themselves is a noble calling. Joanna Smith, co-owner and wine guru at Igni, is a hospitality natural, the kind of calm presence that immediately signals you're in safe hands. She makes the work appear effortless, whether she's explaining the backstory of a small local winemaker or deftly placing and narrating the multi-course snack attack that's the drumroll for an Igni dégustation. Best of all Smith appears to be enjoying herself with an enthusiasm for the food and wine she's serving that, if not genuine, deserves some kind of acting award.
In short: Bright spark.


SOMMELIER OF THE YEAR: Leanne Altmann (left), Andy Tyson, Alan Hunter Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen (Leanne Altmann), Daniel Boud (Andy Tyson), Nikki To (Alan Hunter)
With the risk of boring people into a coma an ever-present possibility, talking about wine in an interesting way is a rare skill. Leanne Altmann has it, with the added psychic-level ability to gauge how much (or how little) you know about wine, what you like to drink and when to just pour. Altmann's official title is "beverage director" for all of Andrew McConnell's restaurants, so much of what's on the admirable lists bears her influence, too, from custom-made gin to grower Champagne.
In short: Top of her game.
There's a quiet confidence that comes with experience exemplified by Alan Hunter's charmingly understated wine service at Brisbane's Otto. His approach is assured yet unshowy, perfectly in tune with this savvy ristorante's take on delivering la dolce vita. Hunter's list is smartly angled to complement chef Will Cowper's cooking. It's also sufficiently balanced and wide-ranging to include by-the-glass choices ranging from tasty local Queensland offerings to Radikon and Paolo Bea's distinctive natural wines.
In short: Perfectly pitched.
Level 4, 480 Queen Street, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3835 2888,
Andy Tyson has clearly enjoyed playing with the wide brief at Hubert since the first day the French(ish) bistro swung open its doors, exploring the classic, the interesting and the up-to-the-minute both from and inspired by France. Taking on Alberto's now means he can explore Italy, and he's having just as much fun, with a focus on Barolo and the natural stuff the country does so well. At both venues Tyson walks through the offers with a sense of enjoyment, backed by good taste and know-how to match.
In short: Double trouble.
Basement, 15 Bligh Street, Sydney, (02) 9232 0881,


Drone shot of Fervor, WA Photo: LVF Visuals
Opening your own restaurant is no cakewalk. Doing it while tiling the walls yourself, grinding tuna bones to ash to glaze the plates, working with local produce and to a hyper-seasonal schedule, refusing to use hoofed animals for the damage they cause to the land, and taking seafood sustainability about as seriously as you can take it? Well, that's about as tough as it gets. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. On day one, and every day after.
In short: Actions over words.
8 Coronation Ave, Pottsville, NSW, 0490 380 117,
Respecting the strict seasonality of Australia's Indigenous ingredients, the Orana kitchen brines, ferments, roasts in a fire pit and combines these foods in extraordinary new dishes. The nimble menu keeps changing as availability allows, and the database being compiled by Jock Zonfrillo leads the way for Australian cuisine.
In short: Pioneering.
1/285 Rundle St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8232 3444,
When Ben Shewry talks sustainability, he's referring to his people as much as produce. He's a leader on the latter, but lately Shewry has been actively addressing the idea of the health – both mental and physical – of his staff through mandating four-day weeks and time outdoors in Attica's gardens. Healthier, happier staff will stick around in kitchens longer – good for the industry and those who love it.
In short: Leading the way.
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Vic, (03) 9530 0111,
A sunset G&T overlooking the Karijini gorges. Dinner under the stars in Kakadu. There are pop-ups and then there's Fervor, a unique – and vital – First Nations food story in the form of a roving pop-up that travels Australia to connect with traditional land owners and host intimate dinners with locally sourced produce in spectacular locations. Fervor connects past and present in beautiful, delicious ways.
In short: Storytelling at its finest.
Chefs Oliver Edwards and Brianna Smith grow and pick the vegetables, fruits and plants from their Adelaide Hills farm. They makes only Fair Fish selections, mills grains and corn, and craft their own cheese and smallgoods. It's hands-on food production at its most elemental, designed for a minimal environmental footprint.
In short: Self-assured and striking.
1097 Greenhill Rd, Summertown, SA, 0477 410 105,
Using every part of the fish is sustainable. Using those parts in ways no one else considered is innovative. Dry-ageing fish for five, 10, 20 days or more? Groundbreaking. Understanding that sustainability of people is just as important as sustainability of product? Visionary. Josh Niland keeps rewriting the rules, then rewriting them again.
In short: Always on the front foot.
Saint Peter, 362 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW, (02) 8937 2530,


Inside the dining room at Africola. Photo: Ellen Morgan
Visitors to Adelaide often say Africola's mix of vivid décor and audacious art belongs in New York or London, confirming that the vision conjured by chef Duncan Welgemoed and graphic artist James Brown hits the mark. In a compact layout, the open kitchen and monumental bar are stages on which staff perform. Part house party, part serious food den, and like no place else.
In short: Rumble in the jungle.
4 East Terrace, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8223 3885,
There's nothing else like Di Stasio Città. The Hassell-designed, Melbourne-meets-Milan mix of bespoke terrazzo floor, concrete and polished-plaster walls, red leather chairs and high marble bar brings with it a sense of occasion, even if you're just stepping in for an espresso and a pastry. Then there's the art: looping video work by Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell that splash the space with moving colour, adding a jittery edge of excitement and making the space both gallery and dining room.
In short: Food meets art.
45 Spring St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9070 1177,
One of the triumphs at Kazuki's is the way it instantly transports diners from the gingham-tablecloth cacophony of Lygon Street to a peaceful place of minimalist calm. DesignOffice (Congress, Higher Ground) is responsible for the look, a mix of grey-blue walls, paper lanterns and mustard carpet that adds colour, drama and soundproofing to the room. It's screened from the street, too, further enhancing the serene otherworldliness.
In short: Clean and serene.
121 Lygon St, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9349 2223,
On the first floor of the Richard & Spence-designed Calile Hotel, Hellenika is a Greek restaurant devised to smash preconceptions, not plates. Poolside cabanas feel like Palm Springs as much as Paros, and interiors mix sharp angles and luxe textures – marble, terrazzo, blonde timber – in an elegant, airy space with windows framed by off-white brick arches. A stylish terrace completes the retro modern fantasy.
In short: Fantastic fantasy.
Level 1/48 James St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, (07) 3252 2060,