Melbourne's Best New Restaurants of 2018
Honouring the very best new additions to Melbourne's restaurant scene this year.
MELBOURNE'S BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 2018
Honouring the very best new additions to Melbourne's restaurant scene this year.
A faultless degustation-only restaurant in the middle of a 50-acre winery and sculpture park. A no-rules barbecue joint with neon-lit stairs in the CBD. A tiny 25-seater eatery in Yarraville that's already booked out months in advance. These are just three of the boundary-pushing restaurants that have opened their doors this year.
Melbourne's restaurant scene has had an impressive year with both big-name chefs opening new outposts, and smaller, but equally talented, chefs opening their first eateries. And the restaurants that have opened are as diverse in their cuisines as they are in their decors — Korean, American, Malaysian and Australian; neon signs, leather banquettes, communal benches and former car parks.
At Concrete Playground we encourage exploration and showcase innovation in our city every day, so we thought it fitting to reward those most talented whippersnappers pushing Melbourne to be a better, braver city. And so, these six new restaurants, opened in 2018, were nominated for Best New Restaurant in Concrete Playground's Best of 2018 Awards.
Peter Jo, better known in the industry as ‘Kimchi Pete’, boasts a resume from the likes of Sydney’s Berta, Momofuku Seiobo and Melbourne’s Belles Hot Chicken. While working as a sommelier at the aforementioned venues, the self-taught chef has also been in the kitchen for a host of pop-ups. Luckily, his latest venture is more permanent. In March, Jo opened the doors to his first solo venue Restaurant Shik. The new Korean diner along Niagara Lane is combining a family-style, ethically sourced menu with an expertly curated wine list. The concise menu uses traditional recipes and techniques like lacto-fermentation, salt-preservation, curing, pickling and drying. Jo has also worked closely with farmers, foragers, producers and suppliers to source ethical, sustainable and fresh Aussie ingredients. The wine list is an epic collaboration between Jo, Liz Carey (ex-sommelier at Semi Permanent) and Josh Begbie (Embla), who will act as the restaurant’s sommelier going forward. Like the menu, the wines are similarly concise but diverse, focusing on eco-conscious vineyards.
Words: Jo Rittey. Images: Kate Shanasy.
From the ground level on Swanston Street, you’ll see an unassuming black steel door with the words ‘Stairway to Meat-Heaven’ plastered across it. It’s easy to miss, but once you notice it — and the glowing staircase behind it — you’ll no doubt feel the allure of the Dexter team’s new untraditional meat-focused restaurant, Cheek. To get there, climb the stairs to the dining room, which can comfortably cater up to 70 bums on seats. It’s the first floor of what will eventually be a three-level venue — with a bar called Peaches and a rooftop called Cream slated to open soon. But, for now, it’s just Cheek — a narrow restaurant with an industrial aesthetic and strong black and white contrasts with softening pops of light blue. Like Dexter in Preston, it’s a bit of a no-rules barbecue joint. The menu here, though, leans heavier on Asian influences, taking inspiration from Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. You’ll find Japanese dried powders, miso ranch, sweet and sour flavours of plum, yuzu and smoked hoisin throughout the menu. A carefully curated wine list accompanies the food, and more inventive cocktails are added to Dexter’s repertoire, such as the Cheek Fizz with gin, pecan, honey, lemon and fizz.
Words and images: Kate Shanasy.
It’s hard not to be impressed when you visit Laura. Sweeping vistas, thoughtful food and appropriately matched wines poured into individually hand-blown Austrian glassware. When you drive from the city, it’s an overland route. Even driving into Pt Leo Estate, you are surrounded by vines with no view of the sea. So the effect of entering the front doors of the cellar door and restaurant, seeing the verdant sculpture park running off down towards Western Port Bay and Phillip Island, is nothing less than breathtaking. Laura is an intimate dining experience where the idea is to put yourself in culinary director Phil Wood’s hands and follow a six-course tasting menu ($160, wine pairing $90). The food side of the degustation takes you on a tour of the Mornington Peninsula with each course named after the location of the main element of the dish. The matched wines, on the other hand, are more of an international jaunt, with a couple of home visits in between. At any point in your journey, your waiter will happily pour whichever wine you are drinking into a less precious glass so that you can take a digestive stroll around the sculpture park. Make sure you do a 360-degree turn around Laura, the restaurant’s namesake and monumental cast-iron head from Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa.
Words: Jo Rittey. Image: Jason Loucas.
If you learn — and respect — the intricacies of particular cuisines, you can successfully fuse them together. And that’s exactly what is being done at Punch Lane’s newest restaurant. Tucked behind Chinatown, Sunda marries together the flavours of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam with native Australian ingredients. Designed by award-winning architect firm Kerstin Thompson, Sunda is tastefully minimalistic, founded on a neutral palette of concrete and light timbers — allowing the true focus to fall on the food, whose vibrant colours beautifully contrast against the interiors. After having some house-made pickles to start, you could indulge in the oysters with coconut curry vinaigrette and Tasmanian pepperleaf ($5 each). Or the roti with Vegemite curry dip ($10). Yes, you read that correctly: Vegemite. It’s combined with sourdough and blended to make a salty, creamy accompaniment to the Indian-style bread — the perfect intersection of cultures. The inventive cocktail list continues the same theme, uniting flavours from several countries. The Saigon punch ($18), for example, combines cognac, Chartreuse, lemongrass, ginger and lime; and the Sunda Sling pairs Tanqueray with andaliman pepper, Benedictine and soda.
Words: Caterina Hrysomallis. Images: Kate Shanasy.
You can now get a taste of Julian Hills’ clever, contemporary fare without a trek to the Mornington Peninsula, with the chef behind the one-hatted Paringa Estate restaurant opening his first solo venture in Yarraville. Navi is a small, but mighty production, with room for just 25 seats. Here, Hills showcases his passion for top local produce, creative technique and unique flavour pairings, with a $120 eight-course tasting menu, featuring small bites throughout. An $85 five-course option is also be available on Wednesdays and Thursdays only. The name Navi is a Cherokee word for ‘local’, paying homage to Hills’ father’s heritage. A result of Hills’ diverse experience — he grew up on a farm and has worked at a slew of acclaimed restaurants — the restaurant’s offerings combine quality local produce and fine dining techniques. Hills’ creative flair extend beyond the food, too. Also a Fine Arts graduate, he has crafted the restaurant’s original plates and tableware, in organic tones to complement the industrial fitout.
Words: Libby Curran. Images: Ed Sloane.
Describing Matilda as an ode to Australia might be taking it too far, yet Scott Pickett has created what can only be described as the epitome of contemporary Australian dining. Overlooking the Botanic Gardens, the restaurant is adorned with the odd vase of native flowers and botanical installations in glass cabinets along the wall, and has a menu accented with native ingredients. Once you’ve ordered your meal, you’ll be treated to an amuse bouche. Today’s pâte sablée ‘boat’ is filled with salmon cream and bright orange Yarra Valley salmon caviar. Commenting on the attention to detail may well be cliché, but it would be remiss not to do so here. The serving dishes are rustic yet sophisticated. The undulating acoustic panels allow the dining room to be full but not noisy. Neighbouring tables discuss how many times they’ve already visited Matilda — in the eleven days since opened — and when they’re coming next. One diner plans a return trip for the following week. And why not. There’s a whole menu of meaty, smoky goodness to be savoured — bavette, ribeye and duck are firm contenders for the follow-up meal, not to mention dessert.
Words: Jo Rittey.
Top image: Sunda by Kate Shanasy.