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By Concrete Playground
June 14, 2017

Melbourne's Ten Best New Restaurants of 2017

The city's very best newcomers, opened over summer and autumn this year.
By Concrete Playground
June 14, 2017


The city's very best newcomers, opened over summer and autumn this year.

There's a moment when you're eating an Alaskan king crab roll flying fish roe in soy paper in a CBD basement that you become smugly aware that Melbourne's restaurant scene had a strong start to 2017. It's not every year that begins with a three-storey palace of Japanese food, one floor of which has a wall of wine and a 12-person omakase table. Or a cafe that serves churros and croquettes for a tapas-only breakfast. Or a Albert Camus-inspired Algerian restaurant with some of the best goat you've ever had.

With so many openings hitting the city in a six-month period, we whittled it down to our favourite newcomers raising the bar for Melbourne's hospitality scene. Well, our favourites so far — and there's still another six months to go.

  • 10

    The trio behind the CBD’s family run Armenian restaurant Sezar and The Black Toro in Glen Waverley have opened a third eatery in Windsor. Dubbed Shukah, it continues the family’s focus on Armenian flavours — but you can expect a more casual vibe.

    Shukah’s menu combines Armenian food with European and other Middle Eastern influences. The centrepiece is a Mibrasa charcoal oven, which has been imported from Spain. From that, you’ll be getting smoky, charry meats, fish and vegetables.

    Matching them is a small ‘punchy’ wine list, including Lebanese, Georgian and Armenian drops, as well as a range of cocktails. On top of that, the team is collaborating with Brunswick’s Kettle Green Brewing Co to come up with a unique beer that’ll be light and floral to counter Shukah’s spices.

    Erika Lancini has taken care of the design, with pastel colours and, for seating, a mix of banquettes and high stools. A big picture window looks onto the street and there are plans to open a courtyard out the back in time for summer. The space at 104 Chapel Street, has room for 40 inside and a few outside.

  • 9

    Piquancy is taking its name seriously. As soon as you step through its door — tucked amongst the quiet cluster of shops on Hawthorn’s Auburn Road — you’ll be hit with the sharp, spicy attributes synonymous with the restaurant’s namesake.

    Since opening in April, it hasn’t taken long for the team behind St Kilda’s Babu Ji to draw the crowds across to Melbourne’s east for plates of their distinctive modern Indian cuisine. The menu is separated into dishes from the street and dishes from the pot, all of which are made with locally sourced produce. For the former, you’re looking at the likes of juicy charred pieces of tandoori chicken ($26), layered cubes of sweet beetroot paneer ($23) and crispy handmade samosas with pomegranate, green mango powder, spiced potato and peas ($17). Servings are best suited to groups of four.

    The pot dishes out staple Indian delights such as butter chicken ($24) and palak paneer ($22), but also a few welcome surprises. Pile your silver plate high with melt-in-your-mouth lamb kafirana ($26), a stew featuring the subtle combination of ginger, garlic and lime leaf. For the adventurous, the fish curry ($25) is a must. Made with blue grenadier, turmeric, mustard seed and coconut milk, the rich, creamy flavours will almost certainly form part of your regular order. Of course, you’ll need to mop it up with a serving of naan; we’re happy to report that the kitchen seems to have got that flaky-doughy balance just right.

  • 8

    The first thing you’ll notice when you stroll up to Bligh Place’s new bar and restaurant is that it looks really impressive. The designers at Souk know how to create drama. The big, pink neon sign illuminates the laneway, shining like a beacon to all the wanderers on Flinders Lane. It then gives way to a curtained entrance hall and a huge dining space that, somehow, manages to create the atmosphere of a much smaller, and more intimate, venue.

    Souk is technically a restaurant but we’d recommend stopping by even if you’re just after a few drinks — it’s worth the experience. The atmosphere is buzzy and the combination of dining and bar space creates ample social movement.

    The first thing you’ll notice about the menu is that it’s refreshingly light on the deep-fried element; it’s light but flavoursome, and perfectly seasoned. It doesn’t hide behind fat or grease. Considering the relentless diner food craze, this is novel in itself. If you’re obsessed with hummus and find yourself eating it by the bucketful, don’t go past Souk’s version, which is drizzled with burnt butter and paprika ($9). The Turkish tabbouleh ($10 a serve) is a nice fresh starter, and is served on white endives if you don’t want to fill up on bread. We’d also (highly) recommend the chicken and apricot kofta ($18.50), a beautifully balanced skewered kofta served with beet hummus. It might seem like an odd pairing, but it works; the sweetness of the apricot, sprinkled with some spice, makes the kofta a little sweet, very hearty, and balanced out with the beetroot in the hummus. The Turkish dumplings ($16) are also making waves in the dumpling community. They’re laced with a delicate Middle Eastern spice palette (no vinegar here, sorry) and served with hot bean sauce, and stuffed with flavoursome low-fat meat — we recommend you try the lamb ones. But beware: one bite and you’ll never be able to go back to Chinatown cheapies.

    Souk does take a departure to the fried side with their riff on KFC. The Kuwaiti fried chicken ($28 for four pieces and one excellent joke) is one of the most indulgent dishes on the menu, in both price and taste. But it’s worth the investment. The succulent pieces of chicken are wrapped up in a spicy, crunchy coat and they’re damn good.

  • 7

    What do you get when you cross three fine dining heroes with decades of combined experience that spans pretty much the entire world? Although this sounds a lot like a punchline that would force you to unfollow a close friend, the real answer is Etta, the new home for Hayden McMillan, Hannah Green, and Dominique Fourie McMillan. The trio, who have an insane resume that includes Cutler & Co, The Roving Marrow (which won a hat under Hayden’s charge), Attica and Neil Perry’s Rosetta, opened up their new joint on March 23 at the Brunswick East end of Lygon Street.

    With restaurants all over the place trending towards a more healthy-meets-delicious selection of dishes, it’s no surprise to see the trio’s newest venture taking up the mantle of the balanced yet tasty diet. When we met Hayden back in 2013, when he was killing it in the kitchen at Auckland’s TriBeCa, he told us that his dish of choice at home was a “massive bowl of vegetables and sweetcorn with sliced almonds and butter”. Whether or not that’s still the case, this focus on vegetables is key to the menu at Etta. It’s not a case of a strictly vegetarian joint, but he says to expect “a heavy representation of produce over protein”.

    While it’s easy to give in to our inner child and assume that everything that is good for you tastes rubbish, Hayden is aiming to blast that notion back into the past — where it belongs. “It’s the kind of eating that makes people feel good,” he says. “And it’s delicious.” So expect dishes like mozzarella pasta with peas and broccoli, King George whiting with lentils and lemon, and a rich charcoal lamb dish with goats’ cheese.

    The 80-seat restaurant is a ‘contemporary neighbourhood bistro’, and the wine list, curated by Hannah, shares that focus on locality, too, championing small producers and family-owned operations from both at home and abroad. The fit-out has been crafted by IF Architecture (the folks responsible for Gertrude Street’s Marion), and will feature a botanical mural by local artist Robert Bowers.

  • 6
    Long Chim - CLOSED

    The sights, the sounds and — most importantly — the flavours of a Bangkok street kitchen have come to Melbourne. Now open on Crown Riverwalk, Long Chim Melbourne is chef David Thompson’s third Thai restaurant in Australia, following the super successful Long Chim Perth and new 2016 addition Long Chim Sydney. It’s not often that Melbourne trails behind Perth in the world of fine dining. Still, we figure better late than never.

    Prepare for Thai fare just like you’d find in the streets and markets of Bangkok, including charred rice noodles with beef, basil and Sriracha sauce, plus prawn laksa, chive cakes, green papaya salads, grilled pork and banana roti. The a la carte menu also boasts curries, soups, salads and stir-fries aplenty, including a mashed prawn curry and sour orange curry of ling fish. Dessert fiends can look forward to both durian and Thai coffee ice cream.

    Thirsty? Long Chim — which means ‘come and try’ — will also serve up craft beer and wine along with a selection of Asian-inspired cocktails. The rum-based Bangkok Painkiller and gin-based 555, both created by Long Chim’s head of beverages James Connolly, are highlights among the 11 boozy, five alcohol-free range, alongside the Or Tor Kor Mule (a combination of ginger beer, vodka infused with kaffir lime zest and Thai bitters), the Tropic Thunder (pineapple, passionfruit, burnt orange and rum), and the Muay Thai Mai Tai (ginger, almond, coconut and tequila).

  • 5
    The Recreation

    At a time when much of Melbourne’s food-related buzz is reserved for the boundary-pushing contemporary, The Recreation is a refreshing nod to the old-school. Just don’t be put off by the fact that this Fitzroy North building churns through tenants like nowhere else, or by the somewhat senior average age of the dining room crowd — this one’s heading straight to the top of your return visit list.

    It’s a wine bar, bottle shop and bistro, all wrapped up in one delightful package and helmed by the expert trio of chef Steven Nelson (ex-Bistro Gitan and Jacques Reymond), sommelier Mark Protheroe, and FOH gun Joe Durrant (both ex-Grossi Florentino).

    The dining room is an instant charmer, with its rustic mix of timber and exposed brick, and affably crisp service. The kitchen’s plating up modern iterations of some classic French flavours, with just the right amount of cleverness shining through. It’s comfort food with a sophisticated edge — a study in beautifully executed, classic Euro flavours.

    Silky veal tartare gets a kick from pickled radish and creamy wasabi rouille ($8), while a zucchini flower, fat with lemony ricotta, is punctuated perfectly by a tumble of heirloom tomato ($8.50). But it’s the sweet-meets-savoury tarte Tatin that really steals the starters show, ingeniously teaming rich, crumbly black pudding with sticky glazed pear and some truly memorable pastry ($11).

    The handful of entrees and mains is clearly not trying to win over anyone in the vego camp — but, hey, everyone else is in for a real treat. There’s an O’Connor flat iron steak, dressed in chimichurri and teamed simply with a bowl of hand-cut fries ($38). See also a free-range Milawa chook that’s the culinary equivalent of a big, cosy hug — perfectly juicy, doused in a honey-sweet jus, and sitting atop an earthy jumble of grains ($37). Otherwise, the menu states that the kitchen team can prepare more vegetarian options on request.

  • 4
    Osteria Ilaria

    For years they’ve had Melbourne swooning over their bowls of pasta. Now, Tipo 00 owners Luke Skidmore, Alberto Fava and Andreas Papadakis have embarked on their second joint venture, last week opening casual wine bar and eatery Osteria Ilaria, right next door to their original Little Bourke Street restaurant.

    The trio — along with Skidmore’s interior designer sister Briony Morgan — have been busy putting their stamp on the space once home to DuNord, swapping out the blonde timber and Scandi style for a look that’s pared-back and rustic, balanced out with a few contemporary touches. The 85-seater boasts a little more breathing room than its neighbour, with bar seating for that laidback, after-work tipple, and a private dining room with room for 16.

    Having achieved cult status with their pastas and Nonna-worthy Italian fare, these guys are taking an even bigger bite out of Europe this time around, both in the kitchen and behind the bar. Expect wines from the likes of South America, Croatia and Georgia to sit alongside a share-focused, Euro-inspired menu designed for hearty, family-style feasting.

  • 3
    Nomada Cafe y Tapas

    Tapas may not be your go-to for breakfast, but that will change once you visit Nomada Café y Tapas in Fitzroy. Housed in what was formerly home to Hammer and Tong, the newly-opened cafe comes from the super crew of Jesse Gerner (owner at BombaAnada, Green Park and Samuel Pepys), Michael Burr (Bomba), Jesse McTavish, Greg McFarland (both ex-The Kettle Black) and Shane Barrett.

    Any thought of morning chill, the day ahead or what Donald Trump might do next is banished once you step over the threshold into the cosiness of the refurbished interior. Think the Spanish villa you’ve been ogling on Airbnb — lots of wooden bric à brac (well, okay, rolling pins), large old-school fishing net lightshades and fluffy alpaca skins slung over the backs of the long bench seat that runs along the window. Shelves bear a collection of plants, Spanish glass bottles and pottery, and Burr’s laidback playlist hums in the background.

    And then there’s the clacked egg. Just so you can bring this up next time you’re in erudite company and need an edge, a clack is a tool that perfectly takes the top off an egg without damaging the rest of it. At Nomada, once clacked, the egg is removed and made into a rich hollandaise with a little mushroom powder, sweet corn, potato and jamón. Then the mixture is poured back in to the egg shell and served perched on burnt hay. The presentation, aroma and beautiful mouthful of umami flavour makes this a little soul-filling treat — especially at breakfast.

    Coal-blistered tomatoes with sherry, scattered herbs and a flurry of Manchego pair well with house sourdough and house-made butter, with the plump little cherry tomatoes offering a burst of juicy flavour. Otherwise, the menu offers a selection of tapas dishes at $5, $9, $15 and $19 so you can put together your own breakfast of Spanish delights, amongst them, house-cured anchovies, salted blue eye croquetas and sweet pumpkin porridge. If it’s closer to lunchtime, something like the Angus hanger sandwich might offer a more hearty option.

    It’s not a Spanish breakfast without churros and these babies are the real deal: super light and crunchy with just the perfect amount of cinnamon sugar and melted chocolate. They’re made even sweeter by the fact that you can eat them before midday.

  • 2
    Camus - CLOSED

    Albert Camus didn’t believe in monogamy, but then, he hadn’t tried the goat dish at Camus, a new French-Algerian restaurant named after him in Northcote. Brined for 12 hours then slow cooked, the goat ($36) would have been enough to make the famous philosopher, author, atheist and absurdist see God — or at least a long-term commitment. It’s one of the mains on the short but effective menu by Pierre Khodja, a renowned French-Algerian chef bringing new spice and flavour to the Westgarth-end of High Street with his new restaurant.

    Camus is on the quieter stretch of the street, and from the pavement it gleams with light, enticing you to step inside the converted terrace house. The wine list is limited but inventive, with unusual varieties making an appearance, such as the 2015 Pittnauer Pitti Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt blend from Austria ($12 glass). The list is constantly changing as the team tries new wines that excite them; on our visit, we try a Shadowfax Pinot Noir ($13 glass) which is new to the menu that night (and is hopefully there to stay). This inventiveness extends to the modern French-Algerian menu, which showcases the same level of care and detail as the design — the complimentary black cumin-spiced bread is so good we could eat it until we died in a haze of carbs, and it’s not even officially on the menu.

    Both the starters and the mains are large and made for sharing, but save some room for dessert, as the Turkish delight soufflé with halva ice cream and pistachio baklava ($18) is sure to get your heart a-flutter. But even though this dessert is sweet to look at (and to photograph), we’d instead keep the tiny section of our stomach with space left for the quince tart with star anise ice cream ($16).

    It’s these flavours and attention to detail at Camus that make dining there so memorable — even the wine glasses are monogrammed with symbols that were inspired by Berber tattoos. For a new restaurant, it’s an absurdly polished performance and one that deserves longevity, if not monogamy — kind of like the creative work of the man from which it takes its name.

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