GT 2022 ACT Restaurant of the Year
GT 2022 ACT Restaurant of the Year
The challenges of the past 18 months have no doubt tested Pilot, which was just over a year old when Covid first rained chaos down upon us all. But where others find themselves navigating the new landscape unsteadily, Pilot is soaring; confident, playful and polished. A move to a blind, 10-course dégustation menu has only sharpened the focus of chef Malcolm Hanslow and his team, as they prepare each Goldilocks-sized portion with precision. The kitchen and floor staff work in harmony to deliver a perfectly paced experience that never feels rushed – but will have you promptly out the door in two hours flat, even with relaxed banter between courses. The winter menu starts, unexpectedly, with a cup of tea; preparing both your mind and palate for what's to come, combining oolong with toasted notes of puffed rice and wattleseed. Flavours of Asia – from kimchi to massaman curry – sit alongside European classics, such as taramasalata and beurre blanc, with dishes dancing between sweet and sour as pickles and ferments make welcome cameos on nearly every plate. The balance is always playful and precise, much like the service and natty wine list. In short? Top Gun.
Shop 5/6, 1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, ACT, pilotrestaurant.com
You'll barely have your coat off after stepping into this dim dining room before a leaf-like beetroot wafer slathered with smoked eel mousse, topped with a disc of raspberry and vinegar-coated beetroot hits the table. Both rich and bright, it's a neat introduction to the classic but slick and relevant fare chef Ben Willis has manifested consistently since taking over the Aubergine kitchen 13 years ago. The menu shifts daily, but expect a few intricate snacks and some pescatarian flashiness before the arrival of the weightier proteins – perhaps a blushing wedge of tender beef accompanied by a pair of smoked potato-filled dumplings that, with a light blanket of buttery truffle sauce, neatly demonstrates the kind of flashy-yet-unobtrusive flavour-mastery Willis wields. And while the wine list dedicates pages to each varietal and showcases a cellar of highly prized vintages, the per-glass offering is as sharp, succinct and balanced as what's on the plate.
18 Barker St, Griffith, ACT, aubergine.com.au
What began as a plan to pair a tight, snackable menu with great wines, took on a life of its own when chef Nemanja Babić began testing dishes ahead of opening Corella on Canberra's buzzy Lonsdale Street in April. It didn't take long for all involved to realise Corella needed to be more than just a wine bar. Embracing both native ingredients and nostalgia, Babić's menu offers thoughtful yet approachable share plates, polished without pretension. Bread comes with buttermite (cultured butter blended with Vegemite), while chips are served with a native-spice version of thousand island dressing. Davidson plum enlivens a teriyaki sauce, and sunrise lime (a relative of the finger lime) becomes the citrus in duck à l'orange, paired with the sweet, buttery foil of a bunya nut puree. To finish, you might be treated to a house-made chocolate freckle imbued with native river mint. It's not complicated but it is very, very fun – just like Corella itself.
14 Lonsdale St, Braddon, ACT, corellabar.com.au
Sharing its name with a Japanese hand-shaped ceramics technique, the pages of Raku's lengthy menu espouse a similarly thoughtful philosophy: sit at the counter and watch the chefs dexterously manipulate sleek nigiri into existence, or effortlessly glide knives through pristine bricks of fish while, behind them, flames lick a robata grill stacked with ponzu-glazed New Zealand snapper and Mooloolaba prawns brushed with XO butter. While its position in central Canberra's largest shopping centre tempts an express weekday lunch – perhaps wagyu, truffle oil and white ponzu gyoza, a plate of intricately layered maki rolls and a glass of local wine – Raku's extensive drinks offering, clockwork service and sunny dining room also invite a more leisurely dining experience. Take a seat in one of the intimate screened booths and spend an evening sharing a sake flight and sashimi platter worthy of display in the nearby National Gallery.
148 Bunda St, Civic, ACT, rakudining.com.au
Bite into the rice noodle skin of your pho dumpling, the sweetly spiced ball of minced tenderloin inside flooding with holy basil oil-dotted beef broth, and you'll have the measure of Canberra's XO. It's a punchy pan-Asian party in sunny Scandi-esque surrounds, delivered to a soundtrack of Savage Garden, all landing on the right side of joyful versus gimmicky. The set menu shifts monthly, but expect a procession of Oz-ified dishes inspired by the co-owners' Vietnamese and Malaysian backgrounds, with a few dabs of Japanese colour – like the char siu chicken-spiked Indomie goreng topped with a glistening onsen egg, an umami-bomb that takes the humble packet of instant noodle to saucy new heights. Throw in a few playful cocktails (the Japerol Spritz adds sake to the summer favourite) and a solid wine and sake offering, and you're assured the kind of kiss and hug dining experience the venue's name teases.
16 Iluka St, Narrabundah, ACT, xo-restaurant.com.au