Impressions of the 2015 guides – The Age Good Food Guide and the Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide

I am excited. I have been excited for some time having booked at Brae close to five months ago. But now I am heading to The Age Good Food Guide restaurant of the year and on the first Saturday after it has been crowned!

Momofuku's xo, diakon, tripe

Momofuku’s xo, diakon, tripe

It’s a bit of good luck and good planning. There is a lot of ill feeling towards food guides in general, but they are all too often misunderstood. Basically, it gives the publisher a once-a-year opportunity for their publication to be more broadly and generically publicised. It is great for the restaurants who get awards and/or acclaim (hats in the GFG and stars for AGT) and it does help grow their business and the industry, but they completely understand that you need a bit of good luck on top of great execution and a special difference to get an award. It is not scientific, and it is extremely subjective. Like so many artistic awards, if you are towards the top of the tree, you are successful in your own right, and the recognition is a little bit of cream, rather than the objective.

Lake House's Moreton Bay bug ravioli, kim chi, dashi

Lake House’s Moreton Bay bug ravioli, kim chi, dashi

There are thousands of restaurants. To all of those who say guides are irrelevant, I say if you can get a hat or a star, then you are worth trying out. There is no possible way any one person can attempt to try every restaurant in a city (let alone Australia) in the space of a year, so consistency is impossible. However, if several experienced diners have been to the same restaurant, and all have enjoyed their experience and rate the restaurant close to the top of their list, then that is compelling to me. Taking that into account is more important than arguing why one restaurant in the Australian Gourmet Traveller Top 100 is higher than another; as this is not going to bear any fruit whatsoever.

Supernormal's New England lobster Roll

Supernormal’s New England lobster Roll

For any time starved person, whether it be work or family or other pursuits, using a guide is a savvy way to have more positive than negative experiences in restaurants. While guides like AGT are like my bible, it is not a blind following. There are restaurants that are going to be more suitable, more comfortable, more confronting, and more expensive, than the next. You still need to be picky, and match the destination with the company,and with the occasion. That being said, I have rarely been to two and three hatted/starred restaurants and had a mediocre experience.

Cutler & Co's heirloom tomato salad, smoked buffalo ricotta, filo pastry

Cutler & Co’s heirloom tomato salad, smoked buffalo ricotta, filo pastry

I’m pleased the GFG chose Supernormal, which I reviewed recently, as the new restaurant of the year. I love Andrew McConnell’s diversity and the child of Golden Fields is a fantastic place to dine. I’m also pleased that Attica won the AGT restaurant of the year which has been dominated by Sydney over the past decade. I can understand why Rockpool, Momofuku Seiobo (see my recent review), and Quay round out the top four and hopefully my experience at Brae this weekend will measure up to its award as AGT regional restaurant of the year, and fifth in Australia. It is fantastic to see Cutler & Co also make the top ten in seventh (see my recent review). With Attica, Flower Drum, Vue de Monde, and Brae all receiving three hats in the Victorian GFG there is mainly consistency with AGT.

Momofuku's almond, peach, thyme

Momofuku’s almond, peach, thyme

If you were to dine out at restaurants like these every day you would be quickly going broke. We need some diversity in our dining experiences and a quick look at the AGT Top 100 and the hatted restaurants in the GFG provide an excellent array of styles and cuisines. There is traditional and contemporary, expensive and reasonable, formal and informal, institutional and new. It’s exciting seeing the number of restaurants breaking new ground all around Australia and around Victoria.

The growth of the restaurant industry must present a daunting task for the various judges of these guides. The reward for the publisher comes in being able to promote to a broad audience the places that are worth some effort to try, whether it be to get a booking, to drive or fly, or simply wait in line. I applaud those who contribute to these guides, and look forward to ongoing debates about the relevance and accuracy of the guides.


Bench Espresso – Perth, City – Numerous Occasions – Breakfast

Ham and cheese croissant and long black coffee

Ham and cheese croissant and long black coffee

Coffee in Perth. It is a favourite subject of mine and I’m pretty sure I have enough material to teach it at Curtin.

However, during this decade that is yet to be well (or popularly) named, Perth is starting to claim some amazing coffee as it’s own. When I’m here I need at least one good one a day to add to some of the absolute shockers I’m exposed to. My answer is Bench Espresso on many a morning.

I would probably try some of my old favourites if I was closer, or one of my new faves like Lowdown. But Bench is right up there with the best. I can park here on my way to work, quickly eat and drink in, or take away and my morning has started in good spirits.

The coffee itself is well made by the baristas, put through a top machine (Synesso), and begins with top quality beans. It should be this easy everywhere but somehow three simple elements are often lacking in so many places.

The food is really great and simple. Tasty muesli, standard but nice ham and cheese croissants, a little bit too standard toast, and great savoury muffins that are my go-to for a quick breakfast.

The amazing, absolutely incredible thing is that I walk past so many other places just as full as Bench with obviously inferior food and coffee. Personally I would walk for 10 minutes to get Bench over so many others. Please do yourself a favour and do the same! Life is too short for bad coffee.

Bench Espresso on Urbanspoon

Choux Cafe Patisserie Francaise – Swanbourne – Saturday 16 August 2014 – Lunch

Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon

It looked quiet but sitting in Choux Cafe for half an hour proved there is more than steady traffic on a Saturday afternoon.

The brief for lunch was straightforward. Quick, tasty, clean. This little French deli ticked the boxes. The Beef Bourgugnon pie had large chunks of slow cooked beef encased in a crumbly buttery pastry. The espresso I had wasn’t too bad either.

We had to try a macaron having been happy with our successful journey to date. They were not bad. The butterscotch with salted caramel was delicious but a touch overcooked.

Next time I’m in the area I’m coming back for the croissants which look amazing. With places like Jean Claude closed on the weekend thank goodness we can find a bit of Paris in Swannie on a sunny Saturday!

Butterscotch macarons

Butterscotch macarons

Choux Café Pâtisserie Française on Urbanspoon

University Asian – Nedlands – Tuesday 19 August 2014 – Take Away Dinner

Special fried rice

Special fried rice

The students at nearby UWA and the general population around Broadway must be pretty pleased with themselves. In a relatively short space of time there is Chapter 88, Varsity, Tommy Sugo, and the staple Univeristy Asian.

I’ve always wanted to try this humble restaurant and take away joint, and I had my chance tonight. I was told the special fried rice is aptly named and that is what I ordered.

On getting back to my hotel I realised this was indeed no normal fried rice. Squid, chicken, pork, prawns – all in good measure with a nicely executed rice fry up – were about as good as it gets for take away Chinese.

This introduction leaves me in no doubt that I’ll be back for a proper meal in the not too distant future.

University Asian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yabba Dabba – Dalkeith – Sunday 17 August 2014 – Breakfast

Potatas bravas, chorizo, jamon, fried eggs, spinach

Potatoes bravas, chorizo, jamon, fried eggs, spinach

The depth of places popping up in and around Perth is incredible at the moment. I used to enjoy coming to this part of Waratah Avenue but now it is an even greater pleasure.

Yabba Dabba is a fun name but this is a serious breakfast proposition (they also do lunch and dinner). The fitout is attractive in every sense of the word and it is attracting the locals in spades.

This morning we are on the previously newspaper laden table that is probably used for a comfortable wait for takeaway coffee and it is a great spot! Close to the door letting in the oddly warm winter air and the action along the street and in the restaurant.

Breakfast is modern cafe standard with avocado toast, good quality bacon and eggs, and a few interesting dishes thrown in too. The waffles look amazing but we were indulging big time last night and that is not happening this morning!

Avocado smash, ciabatta, fennel and fig, with poached egg

Avocado smash, ciabatta, fennel and fig, with poached egg

I am torn between the beans and a much whackier dish. I opt for the potatas bravas with fried eggs on top of jamon and spicy chorizo scattered thoughout. Yabba Dabba! It is delicious. Potatas Bravas is not the classic breakfast choice but a well constructed one and had the classic Spanish spicy and creamy sauce thrown in. The only improvement would be poached eggs rather than fried so there is more yolk binding the other elements.

The other dishes are bright and flavoursome and show that there is consistency here. Hopefully that also translates to the pizza served later on in the day.
The coffee is pretty good, especially once I ask for my long black not to be so full. They have a nice and fancy Synesso machine so that’s a start for sure.

Yabba Dabba is a cool place in a rather expensive area. It has captured the locals and I’m sure it is starting to get busier and busier. It’s a great step for this village and is to be applauded.

Yabba Dabba Kitchen & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ace Pizza – Highgate – Sunday 17 August 2014 – Dinner

Creme brûlée doughnut

Creme brûlée doughnut

“Break-ups are never easy” is a line used so often for such an obvious observation. But what about restaurant favourites.

I am seriously considering taking Ace Pizza out of my favourites on Urbanspoon. Sure, I definitely like you, but I just don’t feel the same spark. You let me down bad last time, and I’m not sure the fire in your pizza oven burns as brightly for me anymore.

I am not the world’s biggest restaurant critic. I don’t want to be. I like food too much to want to find faults that are not already obvious. But burnt and at the same time soggy pizza? Please.

We had to tell our waitperson. And they didn’t really comprehend but we told them we’d prefer another one please. I saw her conversation – firstly with the humble pizza chef, then the chef de partie, then the head chef. I was too far away but I don’t know if they saw a huge issue because the waitperson never came back to explain. Put it another way. It was so burnt that the burnt base had come though to the, hardly covered in anything, top of the pizza (the black on the right of the pizza in “take one” is not olives).

Lincoln Lady pizza take one

Lincoln Lady pizza take one

The next attempt was better but the oven is overcooking without crisping up the pizza and the result is nice ingredients being left on a dark and dirty, soggy base. I’m sorry, but it’s over. And I loved you so much a few months ago.

Lincoln Lady pizza take two

Lincoln Lady pizza take two

The save is the before and after. Before we had the fried macaroni and cheese and it is decadent genius. After we had the creme brûlée doughnut and that is just crazy good. A doughnut filled with creme brûlée and covered in toffee. The only thing that could possibly go wrong is medical in nature and we can’t talk about food in those terms if we are enjoying it.

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

It’s not like the service here is bad. It is actually pretty good. But come and say we are sorry the chefs burnt your pizza rather than “was that one okay?” It’s not like I want it for free or we ate half of it to begin with.

Ace Pizza is no longer a favourite but I would never discourage anyone from trying it. I like the vibe, the staff, and most of the food, not to mention the drink selection. But it is a pizza place and that aspect has to be perfect every time.

Ace Pizza on Urbanspoon

Bread In Common – Fremantle – Monday 18 August 2014 – Dinner

cumin roasted carrots, almond, ginger, carrot tofu

cumin roasted carrots, almond, ginger, carrot tofu

Most times you go out for dinner the biggest ingredient, and one of the only ones you can control once you’ve sat down, is your company at the table. This should not be taken too literally as I know you have no choice when dining communal style!

Breaking bread. It is a warm concept. Sharing a meal with friends and/or family is one of the greatest pastimes of all civilisations. So I love the name Bread In Common for a restaurant. As you might now expect it is filled with communal tables and bread is a theme (for $2 per person which is a little strange in a way – I’ll get on to that later).

mushrooms, chickpeas, rocket, hummus, sorrel

mushrooms, chickpeas, rocket, hummus, sorrel

It is well documented that the team of owners who have BIC have many other restaurants in Perth. The one that BIC is most closely based is Il Lido in Cottesloe which is one of my favourite places to eat in Perth so no surprise the formula works for me and I’m in awe of the extensive warehouse stripped back fitout. It is popular on a Monday night so it’s not just me either.

One of my best mates rates this as their favourite with packs of energy and enthusiasm, and we have been planning to catch up here for ages. We have a good group for a catch up and before you know it we are digging in to several share dishes.

That is the thing to do here – share lots of reasonably priced dishes (think around $15 for veg and around $24 for meat and seafood dishes). The portions are not overly generous but there is, literally, a bite or two each of most between the seven of us. I am a numbers man so let’s say about $2 a bite for the more expensive dishes! Each dish sounds great. The menu is well written and when ordering the service is helpful.

beef rump, wood roasted pumpkin, capers, pepitas, fennel, hay ash

beef rump, wood roasted pumpkin, capers, pepitas, fennel, hay ash

Out of what we tried, the hits are the chargrilled chicken, the carrots, the duck fat roasted potatoes and the pork shoulder. The mushrooms are dominated by polenta (which is not mentioned on the menu?) but are okay and the rump is a miss as it is far too chewy. The cuttlefish was just okay but missed for most of us, especially given it had been talked up by our waitperson. They didn’t bring the beetroot and for some reason made an executive decision on the second chicken dish even though we would have gobbled it up.

cuttlefish, tonatto, beans, pickled apple

cuttlefish, tonatto, beans, pickled apple

The corn accompanying the chicken is divine. It is one of the best combinations I’ve tried recently. The duck fat potatoes live up to the promise and are indulgently served with roasted garlic, rosemary and ketchup (aka tomato sauce). The carrots are beautifully roasted and come with carrot tofu (aka surprise pumpkin) that is soft and tasty. The cuttlefish was strong but not with a rich decadent flavour so it was a little off-putting and strong smelling. The beef is just simply using the wrong cut for what they are trying.

We had been here for ages chatting and catching up and it is a great space to do just that over some nice food. The dessert was right for the concept – beautiful bread and butter pudding with a modern touch of burnt toast ice cream that was more playful than anything else. It did have a hint which is all you would want of burnt toast! The pudding was denser than my favourites but was delicious all the same.

The collection of owners in these restaurants are making a killing and they deserve to. Their places are always great spaces, well thought out, and normally not taking themselves too seriously.

I do need to touch on the $2 bread and $0.50 butter, $0.50 olive oil and $3.50 dukkah. Is there really a need to do this? We each had one piece of bread and I was just confused. They didn’t come back once over a 3.5 hour dinner and offer more so I’m guessing that’s it. It is just tacky for such a great place. Breaking bread doesn’t have a price on it!

BIC is a terrific venture, and honours the vibe of Fremantle and it’s local architecture. The feel and effort that are present mean it is going to be part of the dining scene for a long time to come but there are improvements to be made.

Bread In Common on Urbanspoon