Year after year, Attica goes deeper into its exploration of Australian food as seen through the eyes of a New Zealand-born outsider with a growing obsession over native flora and fauna and the technical expertise to make it new. Ben Shewry might have joined the ranks of the chef glitterati – attracting a small army of top-of-their-game waiter acolytes in the process – but the 17-course tasting menu is imbued with a surfeit of humour that dissolves any pretension. The remodelled dining room in its charcoal-muted glory treads a conservative line but the menu is lovable hyper-Australiana, from the Happy Little Vegemite roll to pearl meat grilled in paperbark with quandong. The parameters of Shewry's inquiry are broad, from the luxe (a whole marron, its de-shelled tail steamed in seaweed and anointed with desert lime) to the less-loved (possum sausage in bread). Fine dining is rarely so fun.
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, attica.com.au
It's a decade since Cutler & Co first bounded onto Gertrude Street, yet Andrew McConnell's flagship fine-diner feels as fresh and exuberant as ever. A facelift has reinvigorated the industrial-chic setting, and there's renewed vitality on the menu, too, which artfully blends Japanese and European accents into a palette that feels wholly Melbourne. In the restaurant, the natural sweetness of pan-fried bug meat is amplified by honeydew, cucumber and delicate, salty-sweet koji sauce. Japanese turnips and mustard leaf temper the richness of fall-apart tender suckling pig. In the bar, seafood platters and the celebrated abalone katsu sandwich provide plenty of reasons to linger longer than planned. In either setting, sharp service and an exceptional spread of wines ensure Cutler & Co remains a consummate Melbourne experience.
55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, cutlerandco.com.au
3. Vue de Monde
Vue de Monde is not content to cruise on either its reputation or its sensational view. In fact, executive chef Justin James has brought palpable energy to the place, along with a focus on indigenous Australian ingredients. A carrot might arrive soft and sweet having been cooked in magpie goose stock, topped with a shaved, dehydrated magpie goose breast and dehydrated cured egg. The eggplant dip that accompanies baby vegetables is subtly flavoured with eucalyptus. Duck, roasted and glazed with leatherwood honey, gets support from sour-sweet muntari berries. Theatre is still a part of dining here: fire or glowing embers arrive at the table for toasting marshmallows or finishing crab snags. The wine list is more worldly, with head-spinning vintages of benchmark Old World labels, while multi-accented floor staff bring the monde in the best possible way.
Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne, vuedemonde.com.au
Arrive early for a drink at the bar. Cocktails, like an ethereal Bloody Mary the colour of aged riesling, plus luxurious seating make Dinner's bar essential to the full experience. And it is an experience, with well-groomed staff offering some of the best service in the country. The food, built on a framework of British dishes given the playful, often complex Blumenthal treatment, is always solid, sometimes sublime. Signatures like the mandarin-shaped chicken liver parfaitfilled Meat Fruit and the brioche-like Tipsy Cake served with caramelbasted pineapple are a must for first-timers but there's plenty to go back for. Marron served with prawn tartare and a scintillating mushroom and sherry broth, perhaps, or roasted groper with a green sauce and an exciting jalapeño back beat. Charming sommeliers will guide you through the immense wine list. Altogether, a class act.link text
Crown Towers, Level 3, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, dinnerbyheston.com.au
The only thing more extraordinary than the quality of sushi at Minamishima is that it keeps getting better. The restaurant has raised the bar thanks the addition of two private dining rooms, and a small price increase on the omakase menu that heralds more exotica plucked from local and foreign waters, much of it from Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. There are hot dishes, but the real game here is sushi. Fifteen-odd courses traverse the road less travelled: a creamy triptych of scampi sashimi, accented with scampi caviar, bottarga and fingerlime jelly; black cod and vinegar-cured kelp; puffer fish and ponzu jelly under a foie gras blizzard. The view from the seats along the counter, watching Koichi Minamishima and two offsiders work their precise magic, inspires reverence, while sommelier and maÎtre d' Randolph Cheung ensures the wine (and sake) sings with the angels.
4 Lord St, Richmond, minamishima.com.au
6. Flower Drum
There are Chinese restaurants, and there is Flower Drum. The Australian home of Cantonese perfection is certainly august, but staid it is not. Anthony Lui's produce-led verve can take unexpected directions, whether it's fat slices of heat-licked abalone on mung bean noodles with a dipping sauce based in Maggi soy, or a super-meaty mud crab claw tossed in the pungent house XO with sweet pops of sugar-snap pea. When the weather cools, doubleboiled soup with wallaby tail and loganberry might appear in all its restorative glory, and as for honey chicken, you might swoon over a minimalist version featuring the warming crunch of young ginger. Service takes this grande dame beyond a virtuoso performance thanks to maître d' Jason Lui and A-grade waitstaff, many of whom have trod the plush carpet of the dining room for more than 20 years.
17 Market La, Melbourne, flowerdrum.melbourne
Lûmé has put its provocative adolescent past behind it, maturing into one of Melbourne's most interesting dining experiences. Innovation remains integral to its DNA, starting with cocktails at the superbly tended bar where distilling, dehydration and carbonation come into play. It's there in the flatteringly lit dining room that silky olive oil and mandarin peel ice-cream might be teamed with fennel and absinthe or Jerusalem artichoke bread may arrive with eel butter and fermented corn honey. Melaleuca-smoked duck with apple juice- poached egg yolk and pumpkin affirms the kitchen team's solid skills. Lûmé's relaxed, effective service is a highlight, as are wine pairings that might include an aged Madeira or a minimalintervention Austrian grüner veltliner. Those averse to Radiohead may find the playlist challenging but otherwise it's a joyful ride.
226 Coventry St, South Melbourne, restaurantlume.com
Di Stasio has witnessed almost three decades of food fashion and stood its ground. It remains, delightfully and defiantly, what it has always been: a classically-minded, linen-clothed, low-lit ristorante. Culinary standards are reliably high. Maltagliati is glossily textured, thrown in with tender calamari, radicchio and bright cuts of spring onion. Scallops – roasted, underneath parmesan, lemon, garlic and breadcrumbs – deliver the comforting joy of something simple done well. Proteins are excellent, from autumnal wild boar braised in white wine and braced with the bitterness of radicchio, to perfect saltimbocca. The millefoglie, with its layers of airy pastry, vanilla cream and caramelised apple, constitutes a lightly balanced end to the evening – unless you extend the evening with a Negroni at the adjacent, equally civilised Bar di Stasio.
31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda, distasio.com.au
A meal upstairs at Florentino is more than the sum of its parts. It's an experience that begins with the ceremony of the Champagne trolley and ends with a take-home bag of coffee beans and biscotti. It's the professionalism of the service, honed over a lifetime, and the opulent setting of 85-year-old murals and chandeliers. For the most part, the food is a heightened experience, too. A lusty jumble of cuttlefish and cannellini beans comes draped in curls of salty-sweet lardo. Maltagliati di pane with bug meat and capers gets an umami punch from colatura. For dessert, a shiny sphere cracks to reveal peach foam, roast peach and prosecco jelly. And while the restaurant will leave your wallet lighter, downstairs you can dine on Tuscan-style steaks and pasta in the Grill, or slip in for coffee, wine and cocktails in the Cellar Bar, where the same sense of Italian hospitality prevails.
80 Bourke St, Melbourne, florentino.com.au
10. Cumulus Inc
Ten years ago we wrote of "the magic" we felt upon walking into a restaurant like Cumulus Inc. "Sometimes it even lasts," we said. It has. Andrew McConnell's all-day diner remains the epitome of a particularly Melbourne mode of eating. It's casual, but not mindlessly populist; sophisticated, but never putting artfulness before flavour. Kingfish is typically vibrant, set in a rich buttermilk dressing verdant with spring onion oil and decorated with coriander flowers. Cool, just-blanched calamari takes on the power of 'nduja with the textural contrast of fried bread and curry leaves, and bitterness and herbaceousness from radish and fennel. Pork scotch is crisp finished but still pink, braced with radicchio and mustard seeds. Desserts include a Lune croissant, blitzed and transformed into mind blowing ice-cream. Long may this magic continue.
45 Flinders La, Melbourne, cumulusinc.com.au