Restaurant News

The best new restaurant openings of 2020

A Mornington Peninsula trattoria, Malaysian done luxe, hot coals and good times in Brisbane, Western Australian barbecue, and a taste of wine country in Adelaide. We raise a glass to the venues who opened their doors in the past 12 months, pandemic or no.

Booth seating at Hearth in Perth.
Opening a new restaurant is always challenging. Opening a new restaurant and weathering the storm of 2020 requires Herculean levels of grit, determination and resilience. We toast the best new openings around Australia from the past 12 months.

VICTORIA

Edited by Michael Harden
MAHA BAR
Opened February 2020
Who Shane Delia
Vibe Handsome and romantic modern Middle Eastern bar.
Verdict Is Shane Delia's gorgeous, glamorous Collingwood bar his best work yet? The harissa and turmeric braised beef-stuffed borek bun, arak pickled cucumbers and brilliant hummus served with maple-roasted carrots would say yes. Service is great too, as is the on-theme wine list with its Lebanese wine producers and selection of raki and arak.
86 Smith St, Collingwood, (03) 9417 3531, mahabar.com.au
GIMLET AT CAVENDISH HOUSE
Opened June 2020
Who Andrew McConnell
Vibe New York-style French bar and bistro given a McConnell makeover.
Verdict The 10 minutes it was allowed to open in June gave a tantalising glimpse of chic Gimlet's potential – a big, beautiful Manhattan-referencing room with a central bar, leather booths and a menu that mixes marron with saffron rice, wood-fired flatbread with clams and chilli, house-made gelati and great cocktails – Gimlets, of course, alongside Leanne Altman's superb wine list.
33 Russell St, Melbourne, (03) 9277 9777, gimlet.melbourne
LAGOON DINING
Opened November 2019
Who Chris Lerch, Keat Lee and Ned Trumble (co-owners)
Vibe Smart, tasty Melb-Asian in the heart of Little Italy.
Verdict A crack team of Ezard alumni joined forces at this modern pan-Asian diner to great, super-tasty effect. Whitewashed brick walls, a black granite bar and a focal-point open kitchen play backdrop to a menu of playful, vibrant
dishes including not-to-be-missed hot-and-sour potatoes to Xinjiang-spiced lamb ribs and a vibrant mango pudding. There's great wine too and must-do, theme-appropriate cocktails.
263 Lygon St, Carlton, (03) 9349 1939, lagoondining.com
THE HARDWARE CLUB
Opened November 2019
Who Andrea Ceriani (co-owner) and Nicola Dusi (chef and co-owner)
Vibe Retro cool Melb-Italian.
Verdict It's flavour over dogma at this stylish retro diner that delivers northern Italian trattoria goods through a distinctly Melbourne filter. Chef Nicola Dusi combines big flavours with an impressively deft sense of balance – Brussels sprouts elevated by tonnato sauce; radicchio tossed with honey, walnuts and lentils; ravioli stuffed with toe-curlingly good osso buco – plus solid Italian wine and thoroughly good-natured service.
Upstairs, 43 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, (03) 9670 1110, thehardwareclub.com
TEDESCA OSTERIA
Opened January 2020
Who Brigitte Hafner
Vibe A modern Australian take on a traditional Italian osteria.
Verdict Brigitte Hafner's Mornington Peninsula trattoria is one of the best-looking restaurants in the country and one of the most original. Nailing the illusive "eating in someone's house" vibe, it features a fixed-price menu of local ingredients cooked by Hafner in a kitchen that's not so much "open" as in the room. Immersive and heartfelt, Tedesca should be at the top of every to-do list.
1175 Mornington-Flinders Rd, Red Hill, tedesca.com.au
OMNIA
Opened November 2019
Who Larry Kestelman (owner) and Stephen Nairn (chef)
Vibe Casual high-end bistro for local scenesters.
Verdict Chef Stephen Nairn cooks some of the best, most finessed bistro food in town – pastry cigars filled with smoked ocean trout and lemon crème fraîche, Gruyère custard tart with marinated capsicum, dry-aged pork belly with roasted peach – in a huge, surprisingly well-serviced room kitted out for comfort and South Ya Ya razzle dazzle. A voluminous wine list completes the picture.
625 Chapel St, South Yarra, (03) 8080 8080, omniabistro.com.au
Tedesca Osteria's welcoming dining room. Photo: Supplied

NEW SOUTH WALES

Edited by Karlie Verkerk
MIMI'S & UNA MÁS
Opened January 2020
Who Jordan Toft (executive chef)
Vibe Two opulent seaside eateries with seductive Mediterranean vibes.
Verdict At Mimi's, expect silver service in a breezy beachside setting. The menu is seasonal with dishes centred around an impressive Josper charcoal oven, including whole grilled fish, salt-baked mud crabs, and wagyu rib eye. As for drinks, the wine list could be the most extensive in town. For a more relaxed experience, saunter next door to Una Más and grab a couple of flavour-packed tapas plates – charred octopus with fermented habanero sauce, hot pork terrine – and a bottle of funky minimal-intervention wine for a real good time.
Coogee Pavilion, 130a Beach St, Coogee, (02) 9114 7324, merivale.com
NOMAD
Opened October 2020
Who Jacqui Challinor (executive chef), Rebecca and Al Yazbek (owners)
Vibe Old space, polished new energy.
Verdict If there's one thing Jacqui Challinor has proven over the past 12 months, it's that she can create delicious
food in any space – with or without a woodfired oven. Now, back at the original Foster St digs, a year after fire destroyed the restaurant, Nomad 2.0 breathes new life with refreshed interiors and a larger, open kitchen centered around a woodfired oven, once again. An extended kitchen counter offers the best seat in the house.
16 Foster St, Surry Hills, (02) 9280 3395, nomadwine.com.au
CAFE PACI
Opened November 2019
Who Pasi Petänen (chef and owner)
Vibe A cool, casual taste of Europe in (mostly) snack form.
Verdict Pasi Petänen brings his Finnish heritage to a modern Australian menu of mostly small, shareable plates. Cloud-like pillows of potato come smothered in a rich trout sauce that radiates mellow heat. It's XO but not as you know it. Start with the devilled eggs – buttery, whipped yolk topped with salty bursts of trout roe – and work your way through to sourdough pasta or Clarence River prawns. A natty wine list of predominantly Italian drops comes courtesy of Giorgio de Maria.
131 King St, Newtown, (02) 9550 6196, cafepaci.com.au
RESTAURANT LEO
Opened June 2020
Who Federico Zanellato (chef and co-owner) and Karl Firla (co-owner)
Vibe Clean and minimalist Mediterranean.
Verdict Tucked away in an inner-city laneway, Restaurant Leo is the destination of choice for those looking to indulge in an old-fashioned long lunch. The minimalist decor is mirrored by the menu, which offers a handful of refined, seasonal dishes that hero single ingredients. Ruby red tuna crudo comes bathed in thick golden olive oil, while the koshihikari risotto with cuttlefish is a glossy, black flavour bomb. A truffle-infused tartufo may just be the best new dish in town.
1/2-12 Angel Place, Sydney, (02) 9235 3383, restaurantleo.com.au
THE GIDLEY
Opened November 2019
Who Pip Pratt (head chef), James Bradey and Warren Burns (co-owners)
Vibe An American-style steakhouse in a labyrinthine den.
Verdict Old-school charm meets pure gluttony at The Gidley, a cracking basement steakhouse by the Bistecca crew. There is beef, of course, and boy is it good; the 220gm spinalis the pick of four prime-rib roast cuts. Other highlights include a prawn cocktail complete with a side of fried prawn heads, a meticulously layered potato gratin, and a zingy salad of shaved Brussels sprouts jewelled with peas, corn and hazelnut. Settle into a plush velvet booth and sip big, juicy reds from Piedmont to Burgundy.
161 King St, Sydney, (02) 9169 6898, thegidley.com.au
HO JIAK TOWN HALL
Opened March 2020
Who Junda Khoo (chef and co-owner) and William Xie (co-owner)
Vibe The buzzy, neon-lit sister of a Chinatown stalwart.
Verdict Sydney's third Ho Jiak outpost is big, bustling and offers an impressive menu of punchy Malaysian fare as we've come to expect from its first two. Portions are generous and made to share; wok-kissed char kway teow comes adorned with your seafood of choice, wagyu is slow cooked until butter soft in a fiery rendang curry, while duck and chicken eggs combine in a silky custard known as sam wong dan. Quirky and colourful cocktails are accompanied by a decent wine list.
125 York St, Sydney, (02) 8065 6954, hojiak.com.au
Dishes at Ho Jiak Town Hall. Photo: Supplied

QUEENSLAND

Edited by Fiona Donnelly
AGNES
Opened August 2020
Who Ben Williamson (chef and co-owner), Tyron Simon, Frank Li and Bianca Marchi (co-owners)
Vibe A darkly beautiful venue manned by a team with talent to burn.
Verdict Expect myriad grill thrills and plenty of dry-aged carnivore treats. But Agnes is way more than just a "hot coals, good times" kinda gal. Consider the snacks. Smoky bonito sandwiched between soft rounds of white bread and dialled up with creamy white 'nduja with a tangy white strawberry salsa. Or scarlet prawn doughnuts amped with Vietnamese mint. This moodily lit warehouse conversion, with its hidden al fresco rooftop terrace and well-stocked bar is 2020's surprise package. On fire.
22 Agnes St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3067 9087, agnesrestaurant.com.au
SK STEAK & OYSTER
Opened December 2019
Who Kelvin Andrews (chef and co-owner), Simon Gloftis and Theo Kampolis (co-owners)
Vibe Glamorous dining with grown-up service in a venue tailored to impress.
Verdict Ensconced in the capital's most fashionable hotel, SK Steak & Oyster feels like Brisbane's ultimate virtual getaway. An escape portal to better times, abetted by a tome-like wine list, white-jacketed staff and an evocative fit-out. It's bright and airy by day and flatteringly low-lit by night. Soaring ceilings, plush banquettes and linen-napped tables provide a cosseting backdrop for the lush likes of lobster risotto and oysters finished with frothing Billecart-Salmon. Or perhaps just a $32 wagyu burger and a Martini, or three. A contemporary take on the US grill that's become an instant institution.
The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3252 1857, sk-so.com
SAME, SAME
Opened November 2019
Who Ben Bertei (chef and co-owner), Tyron Simon and Frank Li (co-owners)
Vibe High-octane Thai prettily elevated to suit upscale surrounds.
Verdict Striking digs with pale oak timber detailing, gracious curves and tropical plants make this chic successor to the owner's wildly popular Longtime a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. An on-trend wine list, mainly organic, is compellingly put together. Kick off with a signature G&T and snacks – prawn larb tacos and betel leaf miang perhaps, then segue to smoky grilled prawns daubed with pickled chilli butter, or a signature yellow curry of Bundaberg Bay bug. There's a cracking $65 banquet, too. It's loud and it's fun. But it's definitely not same-same.
Ada Lane, 46 James St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3188 1418, samesamerestaurant.com.au
YOKO DINING
Opened November 2019
Who Jonathan Barthelmess (owner) and Kitak Lee (chef)
Vibe High-energy, tightly focused Japanese fun.
Verdict There's never a dull moment at Yoko, a sleek subtropical interpretation of boisterous Japanese izakaya. Head upstairs to a hidden mezzanine area for late-night party times, or relish Brisbane's climate in a sunny riverfront booth. Inside, skilfully lit double-height interiors provide insight into the original warehouse building. Try a creamy fleshed kingfish collar or get beefy with sesame and onion boosted wagyu intercostals. The Yoko Feast ($80) provides a tasty overview and Yoko's heaped shaved milk iced dessert, enriched with nutty roasted soy kinako, is a suitably chilled-out finish.
Howard Smith Wharves, 2/5 Boundary St, Brisbane, (07) 3236 6582, yokodining.com.au
STANLEY
Opened November 2019
Who Louis Tikaram (executive chef)
Vibe Enduring Chinese classics served with panache in chic waterfront digs.
Verdict Set dramatically on the riverfront beneath the industrial ribs of the Story Bridge, this bustling newcomer brings old-school Hong Kong style to Brisbane. It's a feeling that persists whether you're dining al fresco on the deck or installed at a table in the heritage two-storey venue. Expect (mainly) Cantonese favourites – roast duck with five-spice sauce, say, or a chilli-amped kung pao chicken and sweet and sour pork all skilfully elevated by a kitchen headed by gun chef Louis Tikaram.
Howard Smith Wharves, 5 Boundary St, Brisbane, (07) 3558 9418, stanleyrestaurant.com.au
Bar seating at Same, Same. Photo: Supplied

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Edited by Max Veenhuyzen
HEARTH
Opened November 2019
Who Jed Gerrard (executive chef)
Vibe The West Australian barbecue, reimagined.
Verdict From the polished, high-ceilinged dining room to the bespoke staff uniforms, Hearth looks every part the glam, in-house restaurant you'd expect to find at Perth's Ritz-Carlton. Less expected, however, is the elegant way the kitchen uses fire to showcase and celebrate West Australian ingredients. From the pleasures of cold-smoked snapper carpaccio to a camembert ice-cream with grilled quince and toasted sandalwood nuts, Hearth offers a compelling taste of the west.
The Ritz-Carlton Perth, 1 Barrack St, Perth, (08) 6559 6888, hearthrestaurant.com.au
COOGEE COMMON
Opened March 2020
Who Scott Brannigan (executive chef), Nic Trimboli and Adrian Fini (co-owners)
Vibe A kitchen-garden restaurant with a side of history.
Verdict Post office. Orphanage. Racecourse. The sprawling Coogee Hotel site on Cockburn Road has assumed various identities over the past 120 years, but none quite as ambitious as this vision of mid-century beauty and old Australiana. Thoughtfully renovated dining rooms aside, the sprawling kitchen garden is Coogee Common's other USP with each day's pickings informing the comforting menu that runs from barbecued broccoli and pumpkin agnolotti to elevated counter meals and ploughman's platters.
371 Cockburn Road, Coogee, 0451 830 371, coogeecommon.com.au
The garden at Coogee Common. Photo: Duncan Wright

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Words by David Sly & Amy Diggins
FINO VINO
Opened December 2019
Who David Swain (executive chef and co-owner), Sharon Romeo (co-owner)
Vibe A taste of wine country in the city.
Verdict An open kitchen hums with focused energy to deliver a compact menu that places emphasis on seasonal freshness. The bar is busy, stocked with an intelligent wine collection spanning a broad church of regions, flavours and textures. Informed staff suggest appropriate combinations of dishes best shared, from luscious pork cutlet with celeriac purée and toasted quinoa to a winning bowl of braised king mushrooms with riced potatoes. Spare some room for dessert. With food this consistently good, the temptation is to keep grazing.
82 Flinders St, Adelaide, (08) 8232 7919, finovino.net.au
SHOSHO
Opened July 2020
Who Adam Liston (chef and co-owner), Simon Kardachi (co-owner)
Vibe A fun, flirty snack attack of Japanese flavours.
Verdict The fun-loving little sister to Leigh Street's celebrated Shobosho, ShoSho focuses unapologetically on tempura, while keeping things fresh and light. The menu brings a smile before the dishes arrive; think shallot pancake with Laughing Cow cheese; scallops and crunchy potatoes for snacks; and tempura whiting with a wasabi tartare sauce. A tempura lattice of scallop, prawn and kohlrabi kakiage is a highlight, best eaten immediately after you've poured over hot dashi. A solid wine list sits alongside Japanese liqueurs (umeshu and yuzushu), sake and cocktails.
164 King William Rd, Hyde Park, (08) 8349 0891, shosho.com.au
Tuna tataki, wasabi, ponzu, ginger oil at ShoSho. Photo: Josh Geelen