It’s the question underpinning Restaurants of Australia, Broadsheet’s national essay series taking a close look at the restaurants and people helping define Australian food.
As part of our research for the series and the site’s day-to-day, team Broadsheet eats extensively and enthusiastically around Australia. Many good things were, unsurprisingly, consumed in the line of duty. We’ve asked our state editors as well as senior members of the Broadsheet editorial team to share their favourite eats of 2017. Taking in everything from vegan pizza to reverently handled seafood, this diverse – not to mention delicious – list speaks to the vast amount of talent and creativity driving professional kitchens in Australia.
Tea sandwich (Africola, Adelaide)
I got myself to Adelaide six times this year. While there was something new and excellent to try on every visit, I just can’t get out of that city without one of Duncan’s (Welgemoed, chef-owner of Africola) tea sandwiches. Crisp chicken skin, buttered white bread, drippings from the chicken for dipping. Eaten most recently as a late supper at the kitchen bar with a glass of Ruggabellus Sallio, there’s nothing better.
Nick Shelton, publisher
Tapioca crisps with poke, avocado and yuzu (Hana, Melbourne)
The poke wave that washed across Australia this year was a surprise to many, not least those that have encountered the dish in its native Hawaii where it’s a cheap, tasty source of nutrition found shrink-wrapped in every supermarket. But trends generally take off for a reason, and in the hands of Hawaiian chef Mario Manabe, it’s easy to see why this one did. Hana is a venue that should be approached with a sense of humour, but Manabe treats his top-of-the-foodchain fish – tuna, kingfish – with the respect they deserve. And bonus points for the lime and coconut cheesecake.
Tim Fisher, editorial director
‘Nduja (Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco, Sydney)
I could eat Jemma Whiteman and Mike Eggert’s food everyday – it’s just so damn tasty – and this seemingly simple starter is where I want to begin most meals. Their ‘nduja is made by brining free-range pork jowl, then smoking it for six hours over pecan wood. It’s then whipped into a butter-like puree. Onions, garlic and what Eggert calls his “secret spice mix” are blended in, as well as fermented chillies and capsicums. To finish they slurp on roasted chilli oil. It’s peppery, unctuous and, spread on a slice of wood-fired sourdough ciabattini, like eating the best spiced butter, ever.
Sarah Norris, Sydney editor
Fremantle sweet prawn ceviche with apple and coriander (Sasaki, Sydney)
Seems we've been doing it all wrong when it comes to grilling prawns on the barbeque: the best treatment is doing nothing to them at all. Any scepticism about eating raw prawns disappears after one bite of these pale pink, translucent and naturally sweet crustaceans. Neatly fanned on the plate, these velvety shrimps are the definition of melt-in-your-mouth.
Amanda Valmorbida, national fashion editor
Marinara tradizionale (Gigi’s Pizzeria, Newtown)
Proof that simple can be special. The sauce; the charred, chewy dough; the San Marzano tomato, garlic, fresh oregano and extra virgin olive oil. That the wood-fired oven is clearly tended by experts elevates the whole experience, too. Fold it or knife-and-fork it, fight your loved ones for the last piece, then order the tiramisu for dessert.
Miriam Kauppi, chief subeditor
Sourdough and burnt butter (Etta, Brunswick East)
Etta's menu is packed with dishes worth talking about, such as the tamari-roasted pumpkin with sunflower cream. So I almost feel guilty choosing bread and butter. But the three times I visited Etta, I ordered a second serve every time. The bread has a malty crust and steaming, pillowy inside. And the faintly caramel-y butter – I'd like to see that sold in ten-kilo buckets at Costco.
Nick Connellan, directory editor
Testaroli pasta (Florentino Grill, Melbourne)
I’ve never tasted pasta like this before. Its texture is closer to a pancake, and according to the Grossis, it’s only really cooked in one small village in Italy, which Guy Grossi stumbled across during one of his yearly trips there. These aren’t noodle-like in any way, but flat, ribbon-like pads of dough cooked in a scorching hot cast-iron. Grossi serves it with extra virgin olive oil, basil and parmesan. The flavours are subtle and designed to show off the pasta’s texture. The dish feels dressed rather than sauced: another part of its mastery.
Katya Wachtel, Melbourne editor
Housemade noodles with crab, bottarga and master stock (Ramblr, Melbourne)
Think of this as packet mee goreng on steroids. Sweet jewels of crab are hidden amongst a mop of noodles heavily dusted with cured fish roe. You keep telling yourself there must be some Parmigiano-Regiano in there somewhere, but cheese is non-existent. It’s comforting yet luxurious: like throwing on a velvet robe after getting out of the spa.
Nick Buckley, Melbourne assistant editor
Whole-roasted cauliflower with tahini and burnt butter (Africola, Adelaide)
This might be the meatiest dish I’ve had all year – only there’s not a skerrick of animal flesh anywhere. That’s where Duncan Welgemoed shines: in his kitchen, veggies aren’t relegated to side-fling but elevated to main squeeze status. And they more than hold their own on Africola’s fire-driven menu. This whole roasted head of cauliflower, slathered with tahini and burnt butter, delivers the same savoury, hearty satisfaction one might expect from really good steak. So simple and so satisfying.
Daniela Frangos, Adelaide editor
Ravioli (Otto, Brisbane)
I’m not really meant to eat pasta, but when Otto’s Will Cowper fills ravioli with Moreton Bay blue swimmer crab and mascarpone, it’s better to ask my dietician for forgiveness than permission. I also should be skirting around the dish’s accompaniment – a silky, rich black garlic “crema” – but not then. Not ever.
Matt Shea, Brisbane editor
Avocado and ricotta (Millbrook, Perth Hills)
Two things. First: avocado, at least in Western Australia, has a season (winter). And secondly, there are chefs bold enough to serve these Aztec treasures in ways other than smashed on toast. I know this because, this July, I ate some of the best avo I’ve had in recent memory. The venue: Millbrook, a winery-restaurant in the Instagram-perfect Perth Hills. The dish: estate-grown fuerto – a lesser-seen variety of avocado – encrusted with a shower of seeds and presented atop a slick of house-made ricotta. By turns rich and fresh, creamy and crunchy, it’s a rousing endorsement for chef-gardener Guy Jeffrey’s grow-it-yourself cooking approach.
Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor