There’s not much time for creativity in restaurants, especially when the focus is on filling the venue’s grumbling stomachs. But some venues can be sites of radical solutions. From climate change and sustainable agriculture, to the social implications of space and reinventing the use of ingredients, the need for continuous innovation is crucial.
While hundreds of restaurateurs tackle these issues, a few continuously stand out. Here are five of our favourites committed to the task of pushing their – and our – imaginations forward.
Paperbark – Sydney
We can’t really say what the future of dining holds, but there’s a strong possibility it won’t involve serving meat. As tasty as it can be, the stuff ain’t great for the environment. So the trick is getting people to eat their greens and enjoy them too.
This thinking is at the forefront of Paperbark in Waterloo, Sydney. Put together by the crew behind Verd and Alfie’s Kitchen, the vegan restaurant’s menu is entirely plant-based. That’s not new in Sydney, but the venue’s premium take on it is a hopeful foreshadowing of what a mainstream high-end vegan eatery might look like.
Leaning heavily on Australian ingredients such as Davidson’s plum and pepperberry, chef Joey Astorga is especially interested in using what grows here – he cooks mushrooms on a switch of eucalyptus and deep-fries saltbush leaves. Despite their source, it’s for multicultural means: those ingredients inform churros, gnocchi, jaffles and pate.
Franklin Dining Room and Bar – Hobart
Franklin has long been on the must-eat list of all serious gluttons. When it opened, chef Dave Moyle’s ethos felt like a revelation: that by just choosing local produce and cooking it simply, you could offer some of the best meals of your life.
That creativity is still evident – where else can you get your grilled black lip abalone and pancetta skewer, or raw Bruny Island wallaby with coffee brown butter, buckwheat and pickled pear? – but now the reigns have been handed to one of the country’s most talented young chefs: Analiese Gregory. She’s a neat fit for Moyle’s replacement – she’s had a stint at award-winning Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, but isn’t above making a mean jaffle.
Part of what’s innovative about Franklin happens behind the scenes. Since late 2017, Gregory has built connections with Tasmanian fishermen, farmers and growers to have some of the best local produce bypass the market and arrive straight on the table. She’s also scaled back Franklin’s roster, reducing lunch service to two days a week to better ensure the highest of quality.
The Summertown Aristologist – Adelaide
Aristology is the art and science of collecting edible ingredients, preparing them via changes in temperature or pH, combining said materials in novel arrangements and presenting them on a plate and/or other appropriate surface. That’s right: cooking.
But some minds like to break things down further. When you take the sum total of the Basket Range in South Australia – one of the most fertile and picturesque agricultural regions in the country – and sort out its constituent ingredients (soft walnuts still in their shells, or fresh eggs from hens picking among the vineyards, maybe grapes or quince or turnips), then pay careful attention to each one individually, you begin to discern a complex of characteristics particular to this specific region.
That’s the idea behind The Summertown Aristologist, a cellar door and local produce driven outpost in the Adelaide Hills . Chef Oliver Edwards offers hyperlocal grazing plates with an emphasis on veggies from the kitchen garden, sustainably caught seafood, and innovative starters like smallgoods and sourdough all made in-house.
Happy Boy – Brisbane
If Happy Boy is anything to go by, the future of innovative and imaginative dining in Australia is celebrating global cuisine beyond the “classics”.
Housed in a slick contemporary space that could be Chelsea, NYC, as easily as Brissie, QLD, Happy Boy’s conception of Chinese focuses on true provincial cuisine, delving deeply into the food of Sichuan, Xinjiang and Canton. Founders Cameron and Jordan Votan aren’t Chinese, but their commitment to creatively exploring the particularities of the nation’s regional cuisine has had a profound impact on Brisbane dining.
Attica – Melbourne
The inclusion of Attica on this list should be no shock – Ben Shewry’s Ripponlea restaurant has long been pushing the culinary envelope. Imagination is at the forefront of the Attica experience – dishes are designed to represent landscapes and experiences that influenced Shewry throughout his life, and those dishes are presented with simple names – potato cooked in earth; apple, olive and warm shredded wheat – that belie the complex dishes that arrive on the table.
Shewry systematically stretches himself and his team to avoid stagnation. In recent times the Taranaki-born chef has abandoned his deeply personal menu to explore the cuisine of urban Australia. Where Attica was once a vehicle to probe the connection between food and the self, it now investigates how certain meals can create an entirely new sense of place.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with VISA, who are connecting you to The Broadsheet Kitchen. Visa are proud to be supporting the up and coming culinary talent of Australia, working towards the future of dining.