Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week, including Viet Town, 400 Gradi Cicchetti, Chur on Constance, and Steves.
Great as Sydney's Vietnamese dining scene is, there can sometimes be a certain paint-by-numbers sameness to its restaurant menus. Perhaps this is why Viet Town's carte is so engaging. It's packed with off-the-beaten-track stuff like beef ribs braised in young coconut juice with pickled green peppercorns, and chicken cooked with a spicy sauce spiked with fish paste, alongside credible versions of the classics, decent pho, banh xeo, tiny fried spring rolls, sugarcane prawns and chicken wings glazed with fish sauce among them. It's more the diversity that dazzles than the detail so far, but the owners, who hail from Da Nang, are just warming up, and promise more regional specialties are to come. Viet Town, shop G04, 345B-353 Sussex St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9262 7982. PAT NOURSE
400 Gradi Cicchetti
Johnny Di Francesco may have won the best pizza in the World Pizza Championship for the pies he makes at 400 Gradi, and he may be about to open his third pizza outlet on the former Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons site at Crown, but opening his first bar, 400 Gradi Cicchetti, could be one of the best things he's done so far. The design, courtesy of Pascale Gomes-McNabb, certainly helps. It's a dark-hued moody number with leather banquettes, timber, marble and metal detailing, and a beautiful rippled-glass front door. It's intimate and sophisticated with sound and light levels that are comfortable without being boring. There's a similar philosophy at work with the menu of small dishes (cicchetti, as they're known in Venice). Brilliant little sausages are served with wild greens, crisp polenta is teamed with mushrooms, handmade pasta is tossed with crab and chilli or stuffed with pork, lamb and beef, and meat and cheese are cut to order. The wine list is almost exclusively Italian and there are a couple of pages of interesting Italian-accented cocktails, too. Occasional slips like dried-out, over-chilled, preshucked oysters at $4 a pop might be a result of opening-week nerves, but otherwise 400 Gradi's bar has emerged kicking tasty goals. 400 Gradi Cicchetti, 99b Lygon St, Brunswick East, Vic, (03) 9380 2320. MICHAEL HARDEN
Chur on Constance
Just when you thought you couldn't face another burger joint, up pops Chur. The brioche-style, shiny-topped buns, lightly speckled with sesame seeds and slightly charry at the edges, are just the start. Everything is designed to ratchet flavours up a notch: tomato jam and Dijon-laced mayo work magic in a juicy beef, cheese and pickle combo, while mint sauce, aïoli and feta punch up medium-rare lamb. It's a luscious world of pleasure for $10. Set street-side at the Tryp Hotel, Chur's interiors are airy, with walls covered in vibrant graffiti and a mixture of comfy horseshoe-shaped booths and padded milk churn-style stools. You'll have to queue to order and the incessant doof-doof of the stereo makes conversation impossible, but your mouth will be too busy elsewhere to care. A salted-caramel milkshake comes cold and old-style in a steel cup, but there's also the offer of a frosty Moa Methode pilsner. It's all quite chur. Chur on Constance, 20 Constance St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, (07) 3319 7890. FIONA DONNELLY
You (and your credit card) might be familiar with Steves, the high-end bottle shop; now meet Steves, the neighbourhood wine bar. Following 18 months of patient renovations, Nedlands' favourite wine store now offers a drink-in experience on a par with its take-home proposition. Tables. Banquettes. A fetching timber bar. A new bistro menu big on French comfort à la coq au vin and steak tartare with brilliant potato crisps. While all these peripherals make for a great night out, much of the bar's appeal can be attributed to its two sommeliers, Michael Hartley and Jesse Lewis. Between the former's knowledge of France's big guns (many of which you'll find in the store's fabled cellar) and the latter's love of left-field drinking, the duo are well qualified to answer all your wine queries. The only question they might struggle with: why didn't Steves open its wine bar sooner? Steves, 30 The Avenue, Nedlands, WA, (08) 9386 3336. MAX VEENHUYZEN
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