Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Brae, Two Sticks, Papa Jacks, and Long Summer Table.
Dan Hunter is back. He's also two hours closer to Melbourne than his former digs at Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel, and taking full advantage of the extensive vegetable patches and orchards that came with his purchase of pioneering paddock-to-plate restaurant Sunnybrae. The new streamlined name, Brae, is perfectly in sync with Hunter's reinvention of the place, acknowledging its history but adding a modern, clean-lined context. The dining room, designed by architects Six Degrees, is a calm, elegant space with muted charcoals, soft whites and sage greens providing a great (and mercifully comfortable) backdrop to a menu of 12 or so small, gorgeous, sometimes brilliant courses: brandade of eel wrapped in a sliver of zucchini and topped with grilled sea urchin, say, or peppery wallaby tartare atop an intricate flaxseed "cracker". At dessert, freeze-dried apples share a plate with a tube of sweet, crisp parsnip. It's delightful stuff accompanied by an impressive artisan-leaning wine list, crack service and a heady price tag ($180 a pop). It's great to have him back, and even better that he's only an hour and a half away. Brae, 4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Vic, (03) 5236 2226. MICHAEL HARDEN
On our visits to this sharp-looking new noodle bar in its first weeks, the wok burners still weren't connected properly, so the grills - the pork belly with chilli and garlic, and the eggplant with cumin and ginger among them - weren't on. But its noodle salads and soups had the place packed. Every table had at least one big earthenware bowl of its signature Yunnan-style rice-noodle soup on the go, a feisty mix of very thin slices of beef and chicken (cooked from raw at the table in the broth, like pho), pickles, chilli, coriander and fine threads of beancurd. The "Dai flavour" pork noodle salad is rich in soy, sesame and peanuts, the shredded pork tripe is fairly hot, and the cold poached chicken is spicy and numbing in all the right ways. The crinkle-cut fries? Kinda bizarre under their chilli dusting. There's a certain sameness of seasoning in some of the dishes, but it's a buzzing and likeable sort of place nonetheless. We'll be back to try the Yunnan potato risotto (with sausage and bacon, no less) and the sticky, ricy, brown-sugary desserts. Two Sticks, 694 George St, Sydney, NSW. PAT NOURSE
This bar-eatery might be little larger than a pocket handkerchief, but it packs a lot of New Orleans into its little space. The all-star drinks team, headed by co-owner and bartender Marco Nunes, mixes a thirst-slaking Hurricane, has Sazerac on tap, and there's a quartet of regularly shifting libations chalked above the bar. Food is smart but suitably casual: house-smoked shrimp and sausage gumbo is dark and smoky, while blackened snapper is a cooler summer option, arriving topped with shreds of crab and paired simply with apple-cabbage slaw. And those naughty barbecue Buffalo Trace Bourbon chicken wings? Finger-lickin' good. Papa Jacks, Cnr Connor & McLachlan sts, Fortitude Valley, Qld, (07) 3162 8466. FIONA DONNELLY
Long Summer Table
What do you get when you take a crack team of West Australian chefs and introduce them to equally zealous south-west farmers? Taste of Balingup calls it the Long Summer Table dinner, but I'm dubbing the February 1 event as a deeply compelling reason to hit the road. If last year's inaugural dinner is anything to go by, the 2014 redux is set to be another night for the ages, not least because extra chefs and producers have joined the fray. Exciting partnerships pepper the menu, among them David Coomer's Spanish smallgoods made using Killara pork and local beef, Joel Valvasori-Pereza of Lalla Rookh cooking Emu Park lamb, and reigning GT Best New Talent, Sam Ward, giving Balingup goat the El Público treatment. It's a batting line-up that would turn heads in the big smoke: as an excuse to spend a weekend in Western Australia's Blackwood Valley, it's unmissable. Tickets to the eight-course dinner are $160 and include matched drinks (campsite at Balingup Caravan Park and restorative sausage roll from The Olde Shed Café not included). Balingup Town Hall, Jayes Rd, Balingup, WA; bookings (08) 9764 1344 or via email@example.com. MAX VEENHUYZEN
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