Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Papi Chulo, Northern Light Bar & Eatery, Howzat Burger, and The Cupping Room.
Papi Chulo, Merivale's Manly landfall, sits right on the wharf (you can smell the barbecue even before you get off the boat) and resembles a sort of fantasy retro-Deco Mexican ferry terminal - in the best possible way. It's big, and it bustles. Americana accounts for much of the menu. The chicken wings with comeback sauce (like a spicy mayo) are exemplars of the species, best taken at the bar with a large beer pulled from the custom taps, or a prawn-garnished Bloody Maria. The juicy, fatty, smoky brisket is perhaps the hit of the barbecue menu, but nonetheless it's the perfectly adequate pork ribs that adorn every table. The burger (pictured above) is outstanding (as it should be for $18), a bit like a Hongburger with salad, and if the curly fries are something of a misstep, the pickles and Viet-style slaw pick up the slack. Papi Chulo breaks all the rules, says the website. Well, no. But it does throw down some good eating and fun times. Get into it. Papi Chulo, 22-23 Manly Wharf, Manly, NSW, (02) 9240 3000. PAT NOURSE
Northern Light Bar & Eatery
Not many Smith Street shopfronts stay empty for long so it's no surprise that the former Gigibaba site was snapped up fast. It's now a Chinese/Japanese bar and eatery called Northern Light. Chef/co-owners Glen Bagnara (ex-Chester White) and Adam Liston (ex-Hare & Grace) are working the stoves while the front of house is tended to by the charming Emily Pullen (ex-Next Door Diner). The menu consists of around 20 small courses that sometimes stick to the theme - congee with spiced eggplant and dashi, sashimi served with pickles, grilled skewers threaded with shiitake or chicken or wagyu - and other times ventures deeper into fusion territory with combinations such as eel with salted grapes or bresaola with wasabi. The room has been given a few cosmetic changes, but the lightbulbs on tangled cords and extra chairs hung on bare brick walls from its Gigibaba days remain intact. There's Japanese beer, a snappy wine list and cocktails too, if further incentive is needed. Northern Light Bar & Eatery, 102 Smith St, Collingwood, Vic, (03) 9416 0698. MICHAEL HARDEN
Philip Johnson, chef-owner at E'cco Bistro, has a swag of culinary runs on the board, but will Howzat Burger, his first pop-up venture, knock Brisbane lunch-goers for six? Crowds are expected when batting opens at lunchtime today, with a selection of five "chef-made" burgers hitting the grill. Play continues Friday, and again at lunchtime on Thursday and Friday next week. There's even rumour of milk-crate seating being installed at the Howzat Burger HQ, aka the old E'cco Bar beneath E'cco Bistro. Opt for a stump-rattling roast pork belly burger with classic slaw and chipotle mayo, a cumin-spiced lamb number with balsamic onions and iceberg, or a vegetarian chickpea falafel with shredded beet, cucumber and mint yoghurt - all $10. Sides of fries and beer-battered onion rings are $5. Old-school players may dig the Nutella, banoffee and coffee shakes for $7. Or perhaps a Yarra Valley pinot for $8 a glass, if you want to hit the spot harder. Howzat Burger, 510 Adelaide St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3831 6860. FIONA DONNELLY
The Cupping Room
The capital came later to the fancy coffee stakes than Melbourne and Sydney, but it has caught up with a vengeance. Newest among the champions of the bean is this polished and buzzy establishment opposite the Supreme Court. How fancy are we talking? Multiple grinders loaded with different beans? Tick. Less milk than usual in a standard flattie? Tick. Filter coffee bar? Tick. The fact that the milk coffees are served at 60C can come as a surprise, even when it's clearly stated on the menu, but the taste and texture is beyond reproach. And, hey, you could always opt for an (excellent) espresso instead. As with many a coffee specialist, the food is a bit better on the page than the plate, but there's still lots to like in the Latin American-accent menu, whether it's the gallo nero, a hearty rice-and-beans number flavoured with barberries and smoked paprika and topped with Rodriguez chorizo and a fried egg, or the simple delights of the salted caramel milkshake topped with caramel popcorn. Capital stuff. The Cupping Room, 1/13 University Ave, Canberra, ACT, (02) 6257 6412. PAT NOURSE
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