Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Sagra, Lee Ho Fook, Statler & Waldorf, and Walk the Talk Kitchen.
In Italy, a sagra is a small festival, a bit like a country fair, often dedicated to a single ingredient. In Darlinghurst, though, Sagra is a small restaurant dedicated to celebrating simple, honest Italian food. There's talent from Sean's Panaroma in the kitchen, which makes for admirable focus on the plate, while Lucio's also figures in the restaurant's DNA, which goes some of the way to explaining the intelligence of the short, all-Italian wine list and the charm of the service. If you like your Italian food to impress through the quality of the ingredients the kitchen chooses and the care with which they're deployed rather than modernist flourishes, this is the restaurant for you. Spaghetti a la sarde comes present and correct, the sardines melting into a ragù peppered with currants and pine nuts, while the keen balance between buttery tagliatelle and violetta artichokes (pictured above) makes a virtue of restraint. It's the neighbourhood Italian that Stanley Street has been missing. Sagra, 62 Stanley St, Darlinghurst, NSW, (02) 8307 0430. PAT NOURSE
Lee Ho Fook
Victor Liong's CV includes positions at a couple of Sydney's finest - Marque and Mr Wong - and, while traces of those restaurants may be visible in his work to those who like to get forensic, Lee Ho Fook forges its own path. It's tricky to slap a label on what Liong - in partnership with Peter Bartholomew and David Mackintosh (MoVida, Pei Modern, etc) - is doing at his Smith Street diner. Modern Chinese? European with a Chinese accent? Modern Australian? Best to just tuck in, especially the snappy soy custard with hot and sour sauce, a salad that teams raw ocean trout with wonderfully textured jellyfish, or the inevitable burger/slider: a milk bun stuffed with candied pork and cucumber. The room (French wine bar Boire in an earlier incarnation) has clean, simple lines, the perfect backdrop for Liong's intriguing flavours. Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood, Vic, (03) 9077 6261. MICHAEL HARDEN
Statler and Waldorf
Drinkers, Statler and Waldorf has you covered. Fancy some school prawns with your pint of Brisbane-made Fortitude Original Golden Ale? Here they are, all crisp and correct, in an earthenware pot with chervil mayo on the side. How about a handsome ploughman's, delivering fat slices of brisket with a blue-cheese wedge and crunchy house-made pickles? It's all yours. The interiors here are suitably gastropub-simple - think low-stress bare brick walls and wooden boards. And co-owners Jay Lambert and Steve McDermott (formerly of The Bowery) know their way around a bar. No heckles from this balcony. Caxton Street is looking up. Statler and Waldorf, 25 Caxton St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3368 1932. FIONA DONNELLY
Walk the Talk Kitchen + Catering
Ali Seedsman has been a favourite chef of Michael Hill Smith since she was head chef at the kitchen of his Universal Wine Bar in Adelaide, and then catered events at his Shaw + Smith winery in the Adelaide Hills. Smith is now a regular at her modest café in the nearby Hills hamlet of Verdun, where she's happy doing simple, inexpensive soups, snacks and lunch plates with big flavours. Open Tuesday to Friday for breakfast and lunch, the café has a menu that changes weekly, "I'm doing whatever I feel like, really," Seedsman says. This translates to the likes of pan-fried ocean trout with coconut dhal and spiced yoghurt, or chicken and prawn laksa. There are good local wines by the glass and ample outdoor seating for when the weather is fine, but if you want takeaway meals, it's smart to phone ahead and request them early - these dishes don't wait around for anybody. Walk the Talk Kitchen + Catering, 25 Onkaparinga Valley Rd, Verdun, SA, (08) 8388 7344. DAVID SLY
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