First published on 10 Dec 2013. Updated on 18 Feb 2014.
Compressed cucumbers at Attica
Ben Shewry, the emotional, story-loving Kiwi chef may be retiring his internationally famed dish of a potato cooked in the earth, but dry those eyes, because the beauty of Attica is in its innovation. Of all the many intelligent, thought-provoking dishes that came before us this year at the Ripponlea fine-diner, it was the sheer genius of compressed and grilled cucumber spears that got us. They rise like stalagmites out of a shimmering black bowl from a pea-peppered green and gold sea – a reduction made from the cucumber skins, and a sauce of smoked cheddar and flecks of trout.
Anchovy and mozzarella sandwich at Bellota
It’s the sandwich worth crossing town, and state borders for. Mozzarella and salty anchovies are caught between white bread, which is lightly battered in egg, French toast-styles, rolled in an almond crumb and deep fried.
Duck waffles at Cumulus Up
Andrew McConnell: lord of the snacks. We were excited when we heard the chef behind Golden Fields, Cumulus Inc. and Cutler and Co was opening a bar and this dish, which sees confit duck meat pressed into a waffle and capped with a swirl of foie gras parfait and a piquant prune purée, proves we had every right to be.
All the gelati at Gelateria Primavera
Melbourne might currently be losing its collective mind over Sydney imports Gelato Messina and N2 Extreme Gelato, but Massimo Bidin’s introduction of fior di latte, cardamom, and the almost savoury roasted hazelnut gelati at this marble foyer on Spring Street made last January worth living.
Souvlaki at Jimmy Grants
It’s not just that they’re making their souvas with punching fresh ingredients here – your Greek wrap sees delicate hunks of charcoal fired lamb, or chicken, swaddled in a puffy charred bread with salty fries and a sniff of salad - it’s that they’re not charging $15 to update the classic. They could have. They didn’t. We like that.
Tacos at La Tortilleria
The Mexican wave is finally rolling back out to sea – no doubt to inundate us again in another fifteen years – but it’s left some seriously good tacos on our shores. In the authenticity stakes, noone has gone to quite the lengths as La Tortilleria. These guys are making tortillas from fresh corn, which they painstakingly treat to make their dough.
Tea eggs at Lee Ho Fook
There’s a lot to be excited about at this modern-Chinese restaurant headed up by irreverent chef Victor Liong. The eggplant captured in a toffee-like shell with fresh chillies; the Chinese cabbage in a delicate mushroom gravy ramped up with a sugary, savoury crushed prawn and ham floss. But it’s the tea eggs – soft-centred, and nutty, salty and simultaneously sweet from the steeping in herbal oolong, and dressed with sesame oil, mirin, and fishy Avruga pearls that keep us coming backs.
Meat tray at Meatmother
Ribs or rump (your choice) are served in a blue-rimmed white enamel camping dish with pickled fingers of okra, and cauliflower and a round of Texas toast – that’s thick white bread spread with beef dripping and fried. You also get a side. We’re all about mini skillets of creamy mac’n’cheese with a crouton crust and jars of scorched Brussels spouts razzed up with crisp bacon lardons. Just add whiskey, and you’ve got a good ‘Merican time.
Crab boil at Miss Katie’s Crab Shack
There was a full on frenzy when Louisiana-style crab boils came to town. For good reason. You’re looking at blue swimmer crab, cooked up with sausage, potatoes and corn and doused in garlicky butter. You just can’t argue with that kind of delicious, But we have to split the credits here. Chef Katie Marron has always cooked it, but the crab shack concept was that of New Mexican brothers Will and Mick Balleau of Chingon, who opened this joint before handing over the reins to Marron. The great news for you, crab fans, is that as of next year you can get the crab boil at both Miss Katie’s in North Melbourne, and at the Balleau’s soon-to-open New Orleans wonderland Le Bon Ton in Collingwood. Everybody wins!
Ox heart at Piqueos
*Pictured is Piqueos' tira de asado. We don't have a snap of the iron-rich, scorched, spongy cubes of ox heart that we actually consider the pinacle of this sizzling Argentinean restaurant's menu. Then again, there’s not a lot that we don’t love about this joint from the pisco sours made in the milkshake maker to fluffy, puffy, ethereal desserts of dulce de leche topped with a glistening cloud of meringue.
Deep fried oyster po’ boy at Po Boy Quarter
First there’s the crunch of the crisp batter, followed by the creamy, oceanic hit of the oysters within and the piquant heat of the gris gris, which, if you don’t speak condiment, is a mixture of vinegary Crystal hot sauce and liquid smoke. Shove the lot in a chewy baguette the size of your forearm with finely shredded iceberg lettuce and you have a winner.
Banofee pie at Pope Joan
Chef Matt Wilkinson can do fancy with the best – he has a way with vegetables and proteins that elevates each far above their station. But then right alongside a delicate dish of smoked eel, tongue and whipped goats curd there’s the banofee pie – fresh banana amongst a rubble of peanut and choc-chip biscuits topped with creamy layers of caramel, banana mousse and a gently browned squiggle of meringue.
Antipasti platter at Rosa’s Kitchen
Rosa Mitchell broke a lot of hearts when she uprooted herself from Journal Canteen and took her rustic Sicilian dishes to a pub in too-far-to-get-to Williamstown. So the cheers were many when she returned to the CBD, and recommenced plating up platters stacked with onion frittatas, fried ricotta, and salads of barley, fresh peas, and herbs grown in her garden.
Mushroom sponge and pullet egg at Saint Crispin
This joint, sibling to the Estelle in Northcote, came out of the gates kicking and punching with an all-star cast of dishes this year. The giant pork crackling clouds dusted with sumac are one of the finest booze snacks this city has going (you can also order them upstairs at their cocktail bar Thomas Olive), and the likes of a raggedy mushroom sponge with a soft egg nesting in its midst, surrounded with puffed rice, Parmesan jelly cubes and a creamy, aerated foam, though no longer on the menu, really showed they meant business.
Fish dumplings at Shandong Mama
They may not be the prettiest of things, but these northern-style fish dumplings, hand-made daily by Shandong expat Meiyan Wang are as fresh as they are delicate: a loose mince of oily mackerel, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives, captured in the thinnest white dinner jackets.
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