Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country including Ombra, Senyai, Urbane, and Ruby Red Flamingo.
The latest addition to the Grossi food empire, located next to the Florentino mothership in the former Nudel Bar site, is Ombra (pictured), a charmingly decorated salumi bar that's all rustic wood surfaces, unusual wines, jars of pickled produce and glass cabinets full of preserved meat. It does a great line in cicchetti (small snacks, that is, of the tuna-stuffed peppers/smoked lamb cutlets/duck rillettes kind) and salumi, much of it made specifically for Ombra, plus there are three simple, excellent pizze and sweet stuff like bomboloni. It's relaxed and atmospheric with Fleetwood Mac on the stereo and both cider and beer on tap. Ombra, 76 Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9639 1927. MICHAEL HARDEN
SYDNEY Senyai The discovery of a good new Thai restaurant, wrote Brillat-Savarin, confers more happiness on the humanity of Sydney than the discovery of a new star. Which brings us to this rather brilliant little sliver of an eatery on the lower level of the strange and perpetually half-empty Regent Place centre near the George Street flicks. The centre's latest crop-rotation has produced a clutch of highly designed establishments, the pick of which is unquestionably this, Nu Suandokmai's new Sydney venture. The look is hip, with a winning injection of Thai kitsch in the form of movie posters and a wall of still-packaged plastic toys. Roll-your-own betel leaves, po pia jaan crisp prawn pancakes and unusually good north-eastern-style sour pork sausage among the snacks signal a menu of both edge and substance. It's a promise made good on with just-murky-enough kanom jeen noodles and fish balls, a southern-style stir-fry of pork, chilli and petai (aka stinkbeans), and the dead-set winner, the jungle curry of minced quail. Senyai, Regent Place, 486 Kent St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9283 8686. PAT NOURSE
An 11-course dégustation without a single dairy delight or animal protein? It's a brave vision, dreamt up by an Argentine chef espousing veganism to help save the planet. With the best will in the world, it doesn't sound like a formula for instant culinary success. Yet the first two of Urbane's fine-dining vegan feasts sold out in mere hours, and two more are coming: 5 February and 5 March. Chef Alejandro Cancino, named Best New Talent in GT's last restaurant awards, delivers the goods. His deeply savoury, meaty bundle of shimeji with horseradish, set alongside a swathe of super-fresh, finely julienned raw sugarsnap peas with nasturtium leaves and dabs of watercress emulsion, demonstrates the appeal of lightening up. Innovative desserts (a delicate coconut milk ice-cream, fresh blueberries and basil combo, for instance) are another good argument for foraging beyond the usual chef standards. Keen to experiment, but not go the whole hog? Try Urbane's permanent vegetarian dégustation which always fields a selection of vegan dishes. Urbane Restaurant, 181 Mary St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3229 2271. FIONA DONNELLY
Ruby Red Flamingo
Chic informality now represents very fine dining in Adelaide. Ruby Red Flamingo has crowds queuing for its cool take on classic Italian - a small selection of dishes (pasta or something from the grill), most in a choice of two portion sizes, with sharing recommended. This style of eating perfectly suits the rustic simplicity of bench tables inside and small tables at an outdoor patio. What started as a pop-up now looks set to become a permanent part of the city's dining landscape, despite the fact it (egad) doesn't take bookings. Roll up and join the queue. Ruby Red Flamingo, 142 Tynte St, North Adelaide, SA, (08) 8267 5769. DAVID SLY