Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Il Locale, Mr & Mrs Howell, West Juliett, and Fino.
A version of vitello tonnato where the tuna arrives dotted through a couple of crunchy crumbed potato crocetti may not curry favour with traditionalists, but wow - it's a big-flavoured, nicely textured win for the diner. Ditto the wood-fired pizza, topped with softly picante provolone, a posy of rosemary and potato slices laid out on a properly puffy-edged and pliable base. Tucked behind antique wooden doors at the back of a bustling food precinct, Il Locale is the next step for hospitality stalwarts Mark and Narelle Tognini, and the confidence and know-how they bring to the operation are palpable. Interiors are classic and unfussy, and wines by the glass (carafe and bottle available too) are well priced. If these standards are maintained, this recent arrival looks certain to quickly assume the status of one of those locals that also attracts diners from across town. Il Locale, Rosalie Mews, 21 Nash St, Rosalie, Qld, (07) 3368 2122. FIONA DONNELLY
Mr & Mrs Howell
Named, of course, for the shipwrecked millionaires from Gilligan's Island, Mr & Mrs Howell doesn't venture into retro TV references beyond the moniker, instead borrowing its moves from the hip Brunswick playbook. The smart timber and brick fit-out includes a comfortable bar overhung with the prerequisite bare bulbs. It's the backdrop to a menu of solidly cooked comfort food of various culinary persuasions. Zucchini and chickpea fritters with creamy labne are everything you'd hope them to be, pleasantly golden with a decent crunch, while the paedestrian-sounding salmon kebabs with a citrusy guacamole are surprisingly successful, and tuna tartare served with tom yum-pickled cucumbers and crisp wontons waves the fusion flag. Service is a strong point, it's warm and accommodating - the perfect combo for a local diner in this neck of the woods. Mr & Mrs Howell, 173 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, Vic, (03) 9381 0846. MICHAEL HARDEN
It's totally possible to have an entirely kale-based meal at West Juliett: the kale-rich house salad, amped up with avocado, seeds, nuts and the option of poached egg, tuna or chicken, perhaps, chased with a juice comprising kale, cucumber, parsley, coriander, apple and spinach. (No John or JJ Cale on the playlist so far, alas.) There's nothing dour about those options, but the menu offers plenty down the other end of the spectrum, too: a juicy burger fashioned from grass-fed beef, cheddar and a good, chunky beetroot relish, some handsome chips (hand cut, skin on), bacon and egg rolls with aïoli and chilli, not to mention salted caramel shakes made with Jersey milk. The peanut butter is ground fresh, the fizzy drinks have rhubarb and quince in them, the yoghurt is made in-house, the chocolate-chip bikkies come with a sprinkling of pink salt flakes, and the coffee is good, making this charming, very buzzy caff more than worthy of a detour. West Juliett, 30 Llewellyn St, Marrickville, NSW, (02) 9519 0101. PAT NOURSE
In 2002, Fino chef David Swain answered the call of the late, great Greg Trott, beloved former boss of Wirra Wirra Vineyards at McLaren Vale, to create a true signature dish for the Fleurieu Peninsula. He baked what he believed to be "the ultimate winter dish" using regional hero ingredients: a shiraz and lamb pie. Last month Swain revived the legendary Trott Pie, as it became known, and it's available until 31 August (get it while you can, it won't be back until July 2014) made with Normanville lamb neck, Coriole Vineyards kalamata olives and Wirra Wirra Woodhenge McLaren Vale Shiraz, and served with roast parsnips. Every pie is made to order so expect a wait of around 45 minutes - it'll be worth it. Fino, 8 Hill St, Willunga, SA, (08) 8556 4488. DAVID SLY
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