So 2010 comes inevitably to its end, putting behind us a year of political turmoil, crazy weather, multiple grand finals, and, for me at least, a lot of excellent food. As the turning of the year often makes us do, it is time to look back at the past 12 months, at the highs and the lows of my culinary adventures.
Actually, ignore that. It’s not a time to talk about the lows. This was my first year of food writing, coupled with the first time I have really seen what Canberra dining can offer. And, in what was a surprise to me, it can offer some wonderful things.
In order to honour the impressive quality of capital restaurants I would like to present, for the very first time:
The Gourmie Awards.
The Gourmies are my choices for the best dining in this fine city.
Now, I must make the disclaimer that these are entirely my own opinions, made from eating this year. I have eaten at 30-something Canberra restaurants, and reviewed about half of them. Unfortunately I have missed a few notable institutions (Ottomans and Courgette being the most apparent), but nevertheless these awards are from a reasonable range of establishments.
The Gourmie for Best Restaurant
There have been a few places that have really stood out this year. Italian & Sons is a strong concept and a solid night out. Onred was plush and comfortable, and an incredibly enjoyable evening. But in the end, there was one place that really rose above the rest:
Dieci e Mezzo
James Kidman and his team have set up a winner with this inner city dining joint. Fresh, simple, nominally Italian food, I have enjoyed every dish I have had here. On top of the exceptional rabbit and chestnut papardelle, and the unbelievably good pork belly, their constantly changing menu has also included a surprisingly light but still meaty roll of oxtail.
Their service is top class, their wine list well designed, and their desserts are arguably the best around. Add to this their excellent, and cheap, breakfasts and there is no competition.
In my review earlier in the year I told everyone to go, and the go again. I am not sure that everyone has yet, but they are busy every night, and getting busier by the week. Dieci e Mezzo gives you an exciting night out, and they deserve, without hesitation, to be called the best restaurant in town.
The Gourmie for Best Dish
It would be so easy to give this to Kidman’s team again for their pork belly. That dish was brilliant when I tried it in early autumn with baby onions, quince, and Brussels sprout leaves. The current iteration has cauliflower puree, and both fresh and preserved cherries. It is an amazing dish, but I want to spread the love.
Instead, the Gourmie for the best dish is going for an entrée that was an unexpected highlight of the year:
Sautéed baby calamari, sumac, almonds, green olive, parsley and amaretto from Sage
This dish had exceptional quality calamari, a complex mix of flavours and textures, and olives so good that I was compelled to ask where they came from. It was a clear standout from a very good dinner. It is sadly no longer on the menu at Sage, but hopefully they have other dishes as accomplished.
The Gourmie for Best Wine List
I don’t have as good a wine knowledge as I would like, so a well-designed wine list is important for me, especially when combined with a skilled sommelier. So what makes a good wine list?
It needs to have balance between local, national and international wines, and between favourites and less known drops. It needs to have a great selection of wines by the glass. A few lists around town have done this well, such as Onred and the wonderful long list at Locanda. But the best list of the year, for me, was:
Thirst Wine Bar and Eatery
Thirst has won this Gourmie for the thought that has gone into their list, and into how it is written. Thai food is not the easiest food to match, so the effort taken to find a selection of mostly aromatic whites is well appreciated, including some that I would never have thought of. But they go past just excellent wines, and more important is the inclusion on the wine menu of tasting notes and suggested matchings. For the inexperienced, this is a brilliant way to get to understand the mind of the sommelier. At Thirst, wine is front and centre, and they do it very well.
So, there are my picks for the best of Canberra this year, and big congratulations to all the winners. It was a strong year for Canberra eating, and I can only hope that next year continues this trend. With a few openings at the end of the year exciting me, I am sure it will.
There are a few other things I hope for next year. I hope that the rumours that the third McConnell brother (Sean, the younger of Andrew and Matt) does come and open a place in Canberra. I hope that someone follows the global zeitgeist and starts cooking along the idea of terrior. I hope that some people come and eat with me. And, mostly, I hope you all continue to read my blog.
So come back next year! I may be moving to a new home, too.
Happy New Year everyone! Eat up well.