Mad Cow, Sydney
You can read the full review for all the details but, for those with appetites bigger than their attention spans, here’s the word: high-stakes steaks in a room with a look that owes more to The Love Boat than Peter Luger. The disposition and clothing of the staff, and the volume and selection of music, say fun and whimsy but the wine list (and bill) say that there’s some muscle under the hood here, and some smarts, too.
Mad Cow, Ivy, 320-330 George St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9240 3000.
Fish & Wine, Coolangatta
The Gold Coast has moved up in the food world but for all the hype about places like Absynthe and Vanitas, there’s still not much good in between them. Enter Fish & Wine. Proprietor Dean Sammut traded kitchen whites at Canberra’s award-winning Artespresso for a front-of-house role at this very casual beach-bar restaurant. Tasting the incredible beer-battered bream and chips served here in a cone, it’s no surprise to learn Sammut worked with Steve Hodges, of Sydney’s Fish Face fame. Amazingly, Fish and Wine’s version might be, dare we say it, even better, and the rest of the menu follows suit.
Shop 6, Reflections Tower, 2 Marine Pde, Coolangatta, Qld, (07) 5536 7775.
Divido, Perth (pictured)
A little over three years ago, Jason Jujnovich opened the doors of his first restaurant in downtown Mount Hawthorn, doing wood-fired pizza and modern-Italian diner fare, much of it inspired by his time with Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of The River Cafe. A complete revamp in 2007 saw Jujnovich get serious about the decor at last. The wood-fired oven is still there but, these days, it’s used to roast meat, not pizza. There’s also a quirky, balanced wine list, which hits all the right notes. Jujnovich has a good sense of what works. Consider braised cotechino sausage served with a fragrant stew of Puy-style lentils. With some good bread, a glass of something unpronounceable and a dollop of lemony salsa verde on the side, it’s about as good as it gets.
Divido, 170 Scarborough Beach Rd, Mount Hawthorn, WA, (08) 9443 7373.
Royal Mail, Dunkeld
Picture, if you will, the year 2007: the wealthy, wine-loving owner of a rather smart hotel in country Victoria finds himself thinking he needs a chef to complement his vast wine list. Meanwhile, a Melbourne-born cook leaves one of Europe’s most talked about and innovative restaurants only to find himself at something of a loose end. It might sound too good to be true but, more than six months down the track, the proof really is in the (deconstructed, rare flower-garnished) pudding. In Dan Hunter, the Royal Mail Hotel has found the captain to pilot it confidently into the unknown waters of being a destination restaurant. In the Royal Mail, the Mugaritz-trained Hunter finds a welcoming home for his talents and a patron with the vision and inclination to support his endeavours. Worth a detour? And how.
Royal Mail Hotel, Glenelg Hwy (Parker St), Dunkeld, Vic, (03) 5577 2241, www.royalmail.com.au.
The Wine Underground, Adelaide
The Wine Underground, which has now reopened since an arsonist destroyed the restaurant’s original building in 2005, is causing a mild sensation in the heart of Adelaide. Much has changed after the rebuilding, there’s now a bistro and a bar at street level to complement the dining room. Today John Gabel and Cindy Halasz are at the stoves. The dining space is now brighter and whiter, and the menu embraces some extravagant touches with confidence; a delicately flavoured foie gras brulée to start; buttered Kangaroo Island lobster with ponzu dressing, sushi rice and wakame; main of lamb rack with a garlic pearl barley risotto and labne; dessert of Bollinger sorbet topped with toffee. Nice.
Wine Underground 121 Pirie St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8232 1222, www.wineunderground.com.au.
WORDS JANE CORNES, FIONA DONNELLY, SUE DYSON & ROGER MCSHANE, JOHN LETHLEAN, PAT NOURSE AND DAVID SLY PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL CHESTNUTT
This article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.