December 08, 2011
Where was the excitement in Canberra's restaurants this year? In the rise and rise of Aubergine at the Griffith shops, first of all. Ben Willis has refined his message and makes up-to-date ideas and techniques work so well on the plate that he's taken this restaurant to the top of the pile, making Aubergine our restaurant of the year this year.
Restaurant of the Year: Aubergine
Where else? Well, perhaps it's fair to say one of the best reasons for optimism this year is in what's going to happen next.
Serif Kaya is on his way back to town. Ottoman is in for a major refurb to bring colour and movement to the establishment property in Barton, matching the vibrancy already here in the food. And Kaya will be presiding over his own more casual kitchen on a corner in Kingston, in a wine bar and bistro that should enliven things considerably. George Calombaris may or may not be coming to town in a restaurant on the Kingston foreshore. If it happens, and if he does more than put his name to someone's corporate venture, this will shake things up.
Soju Girl is very new in the Melbourne Building, but with any luck will become a cool location, given the savvy group from Ellacure behind this wine bar and eatery.
Chris Hansen looks to be making a return after a few years as a consultant. Hansen's unerring sense of pop cool and his excellence with wine and service was one of the reasons Chairman and Yip was such a great place to go in its early days. Now he appears to be working on a new project, but so far no details.
If the Parlour Wine Room rises from the ashes of the NewActon fire next year, we might finally have a choice of grown-up places to have a great glass of wine.
Speaking of Chairman, Josiah Li is working on a Sichuan-based restaurant and wine bar in Barton, in the new Burbury Hotel. Li has Lanterne Rooms as well as Chairman, and again, here is a restaurateur who knows how to make things work. So you can expect a place full of atmospherics and characteristic fun and fusion in the food and, hopefully, the wine.
A bit odd to celebrate what hasn't happened yet. But, you know, we like to think positively. And these should be positives in a big way.
For this year, you don't get the feeling restaurants are having an easy time economically. Food is more expensive, customers are more demanding about the quality and provenance of their food, but pricing seems close to a ceiling of what people are prepared to pay. Mains of $33 to $38 are commonplace, which doesn't leave a lot of wriggle room, and possibly helps explain why corkage charges are also creeping up.
A final observation. This year's top 20 has seven new restaurants, a consequence in part of two closures from last year's list and a fire taking out two others (Parlour Wine Room and Flint Dining Room). It's a tough game. The new places this year are Artisan, Ellacure, Grazing, Le Tres Bon, Mecca Bah, Pistachio and Sage. We hope you find enough here to keep you eating out with enthusiasm, at least until the doors open on those new ventures.
|Artisan||Le Tres Bon|
|Courgette and Water's Edge||Mezzalira|
|Dieci e Mezzo||Ottoman Cuisine|
|Italian and Sons||Sage|
|Jewel of India||Silo|