Our restaurant critics' picks of the best eats around the country this year, the number one restaurants in each state and territory included in our 2015 Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, featuring Rockpool, Attica, Esquire, Aubergine, Garagistes, Restaurant Amuse, Penfolds Magill Estate and Evoo.
Was it the ma po made with tofu set at the table and topped with sea urchin roe that did it, or that chicken, bathed in konbu butter like god's gift to wings? Maybe it's the new room, buzzing with industry by day, humming with intrigue by night. Or the wine list, which brings the best of Australia and the world into single, manageable, deeply drinkable volume. Whatever it is, Rockpool rebooted takes the restaurant Sydney knows and loves, the restaurant central to Neil Perry's increasingly wide-reaching brand, the restaurant that has held the modern-Australian dining torch aloft higher and longer than any other, and made it bigger, bolder and more accessible all at once. It's quite a feat - and quite a ride. Rockpool, 11 Bridge St, Sydney, NSW (02) 9252 1888. PAT NOURSE.
The rise and rise of Attica has been well documented, and never more so than when the successes are scored on the international stage. But the results of all that cheering and trumpeting - the forward planning, the anticipation, the bragging rights surrounding securing a table in the former suburban bank building turned fine-diner - can sometimes obscure just how much fun a meal at Attica can be. The dramatic room retains a refreshing modesty. The service, personable and informed, never appears contrived and the wine list ticks the varied and on-trend boxes while also maintaining interest and balance. It's exciting to eat here but also relaxed, a perfect backdrop for Ben Shewry's cooking. His dishes are increasingly studded with Australian ingredients - wallaby, quandong, bunya nuts - and are poetically named (142 Days on Earth, The Industrious Beet). They're also full of wonderful flashes of unexpected flavour or texture, moments of humour and emotion, and, best of all, satisfying comfort. Eating here both defies and transcends the hype. But it also justifies it. Attica, 74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Vic, (03) 9530 0111. MICHAEL HARDEN
Slivers of wild boar lomo, buffalo crisps and lamb tongue pastrami threaded onto fragrant lemon twigs - embarking on a dégustation at this stylishly austere riverside destination is a trip in itself. Dishes emerging from the calm open kitchen confidently negotiate a tasty balance between ambition and whimsy, delivering diners meticulously sourced produce, intricately presented in memorable ways. Yes, it's not for everyone; tasting menus polarise. But this is an inspired (and inspiring) team skilfully snubbing the drift towards casual in order to create remarkable dining experiences. News this week that chef Ryan Squires and co-owner Cameron Murchison plan to dissolve their business partnership means that, though Squires says the restaurant will trade as normal for the time being, it's probably not a bad idea to get in while the getting's good just the same. Forget preconceptions about Queensland restaurants and hop aboard Brisbane's best. The ride will be unforgettable. Esquire, 145 Eagle St, Brisbane, Qld (07) 3220 2123. FIONA DONNELLY
You might've dubbed 2014 the year that Canberra dining got its groove back, but none of us are certain it really had this kind of groove before. What we can say is that its overnight success owes a lot to the years of work put in by talents such as Ben Willis. Though his new smart-casual eatery, Temporada, has grabbed local headlines this year, it's his flagship in Griffith that underpins the whole enterprise. At Aubergine, an elegant room, savvy wine list and great produce conspire with just the right amount of playfulness and edge in the kitchen to keep things the right side of fresh. Braised seaweed and celtuce are the foil for a fillet of mulloway at one end of the menu, while at the other, lemonade fruit and a Thai pepper cream make the surprise complement to buttermilk sorbet. Plumb the list for great stuff from all over the world along the way, or make the most of what the Canberra region itself has to offer. Aubergine, 18 Barker St, Griffith, ACT, (02) 6260 8666. PAT NOURSE
Although there have been changes along the way (from no reservations to reservation only and from à la carte small plates to a five-course dégustation), the things that make Garagistes a great restaurant now are much the same as they were when it opened in 2010. It starts with produce, chosen for flavour and integrity (sustainability is important here), but in the end it's about Luke Burgess and William Gleave's imaginative cooking. Their restless search for the exact seasoning, the perfect type of crunch or creaminess, the right combination of flavours is what allows them to transform those ingredients into memorable dishes. Recent examples have been a custard infused with Pyengana cheese with onions soured in whey, caramelised pork jowl with lovage root cream and Tasmanian konbu preserve, braised Cape Grim beef cheek with smoked potato and truffle, and an amazing carrot ice-cream with chamomile granita. Combined with excellent house-made charcuterie, an exhilarating list of wines, the option of a sake matching, and knowledgeable staff on the floor and it's easy to explain why they've been number one in Tasmania since they opened. Garagistes, 103 Murray St, Hobart, Tas, (03) 6231 0558. SUE DYSON & ROGER McSHANE
Yes, Amuse remains a dégustation-only prospect. Yes, scoring a table on a Friday or Saturday night can take considerable forward planning. But, yes, it's entirely worth it. No other chef does more for intelligent, progressive cooking out west than Hadleigh Troy. From obscenely juicy hunks of pork jowl grilled over charcoal to carrot juice painstakingly reduced for days, Troy's cuisine is a reflection of both his uncompromising food standards and restless creativity (that many local cooking and ingredient trends are traceable to the Amuse kitchen, by the by, is no coincidence). But as daring as dinner might get, polished service ensures the focus remains squarely on the diner while deftly chosen drinks keep the mood fun rather than formal. An essential dining experience for locals and visitors alike. Restaurant Amuse, 64 Bronte St, East Perth, WA (08) 9325 4900. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Penfolds Magill Estate
Adelaide's culinary star is back on the ascendant. Leading the charge, we've got the new team at the lavishly refurbished Magill Estate Restaurant. Chefs Scott Huggins and Emma McCaskill present rarefied excellence throughout an outstanding seven-course dégustation. Each dish is constructed with intricate precision and refined technique, striving for harmony and balance rather than dazzling spectacle. The application of subtly Japanese approaches to the handling of outstanding produce serves as an ideal complement to the full range - and museum stock - of Penfolds wines. Try seared venison with hay-smoked beetroot teamed with a glass of Grange, or charcoal-grilled quail with apples pickled in ginger beer as smart examples of this impressive union. All this in a Pascale Gomes-McNabb-designed room in a Glenn Murcutt building overlooking some of the most storied winemaking ground in the country? It's a mighty package. Magill Estate Restaurant, 78 Penfold Rd, Magill, SA, (08) 8301 5551. DAVID SLY
A menu makeover by new Skycity executive chef Anston Fivaz has cemented Evoo's position as Darwin's go-to fine-dining venue. With more local awards than you can poke a breadstick at, and a physical freshen-up a couple of years back, Evoo could well have rested on its laurels. But the new pared-back à la carte and dégustation menus are slick and tantalising. Gone are the overblown descriptions ("panache of vegetables" - huh?), replaced by the likes of Port Lincoln lobster with lemongrass, coconut and enoki mushrooms, and Arafura Sea red emperor with brandade, fennel, almond, lemon and seashore herbs. Fine work, Evoo. Evoo, Skycity Darwin, Gilruth Ave, Mindil Beach, NT, (08) 8943 8940. SAM McCUE
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