GT's best dishes of 2012: Fiona Donnelly

Author: Fiona Donnelly
Photography: Courtesy Urbane

1. Salty pork belly with leeks, Hellenika 
It won't be accorded pin-up status anytime soon, but what this rough-edged rectangle of Greek porkiness lacks in eye-allure, it makes up for by delivering the perfect balance of crisp, chewy crackling and yielding fat, tender flesh. A bed of soft, sweet leeks beneath is amped up with a decent stock with a whack of lemon juice to add edge. Make mine a glass of the Estate Argyros assyrtiko, thanks. Hellenika, 2235 Gold Coast Hwy, Nobby Beach, Qld, (07) 5572 8009

2. Campari, orange, curds and whey, Esquire
Sharp yet whimsical and beautifully balanced: like many of the plates dished here, this flavour-bomb of a dessert with its zingy Campari sherbet and quirky whey ice-cream was a wake-up call to the palate and gently thought-provoking. Smart and memorable - a Splice for the ages. Esquire, 145 Eagle St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3220 2123

3. Rabbit burger, The Aylesbury
In a year of too many badly done burgers, this carefully cooked Melbourne morsel was a standout. Juicy with duck fat, the sweetness of its soft bun was sharpened by a smattering of bread and butter pickles. It's enough to make your nose twitch. The Aylesbury, 103 Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9077 0451

4. Hanoi-style pork ribs, Nu Nu
Can ribs be pretty? A resounding yes in the case of these knobbly little babies with their crisp, fish sauce-enhanced exteriors hiding those juicy shreds of spicy-sweet meat beneath. They arrive on the table at Nu Nu with a generous cheek of lime, red chilli rings and a spiced salt. So nice to gnaw you.Nu Nu, 123 Williams Esp, Palm Cove, Qld, (07) 4059 1880

5. Pici cacio e pepe, Trattoria Il Marzocco 
A snow of nicely sharp local pecorino and plenty of black pepper. The Tuscans take a Roman dish and make it better by adding pici: fat, rounded strings of springy, hand-rolled pasta, a local specialty. Trattoria Il Marzocco, Via Gracciano nel Corso 84, Montepulciano, Italy, +39 05 7875 6076

6. Pink lady apple pre-dessert, Urbane
A version of this ethereal pre-dessert (pictured above) was first plated by chef Alejandro Cancino (winner of GT's most recent Best New Talent gong) at Noma's Saturday night chef showcase when he was staging in Copenhagen. It was Cancino's reaction to the kilos of apple flesh which were left over each time the restaurant made apple-peel powder. He wanted to show how the fruit itself could shine. Light and delicate, this dish is a flavour-packed exercise in elegance, with the apple, lemon balm, lemongrass and ginger working together to highlight and subtly accentuate each other. Urbane, 181 Mary St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3229 2271

7. Crayfish and reef fish tortelloni, Stokehouse
Tortelloni, smortelloni, I can hear you snort already. But often it's the seemingly simple dishes that are the most difficult to get right. Take the judicious amount of acidity in an addictive wine and butter sauce, a wonderful silken pasta, a scatter of pop-in-the-mouth salmon roe, a sunny deck overlooking the Brisbane River and it's a dish to remember. Stokehouse, Sidon St, South Bank, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3013 0333

8. Red tonkotsu ramen, Taro's Ramen & Cafe
Owner-chef Taro Akimoto describes the house-made chilli oil as the "frame" which helps contain the "spreading" Bangalow sweet pork tonkotsu goodness that he takes three painstaking days to brew. Fans call it the crowning glory. The noodles are house-made, the soft boiled egg is organic and there's no MSG. You can taste the dedication and still it costs peanuts. Taro's Ramen & Cafe, ground level, Boeing House, 363 Adelaide St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3832 6358

9. Whipped cod roe, Builders Arms Hotel
This tangy, sublimely light appetiser changed my opinion of taramasalata and dips with just one swoop of Turkish bread. The salmon roe scatter adds glamour, but it's all kudos to the kitchen for creating something alchemical from stale sourdough bread (not potato) and imported salted cod roe. Far greater than the sum of its parts. Builders Arms Hotel, 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Vic, (03) 9417 7700

10. Wilga Vale venison tartare, beetroot, apple, rose, rainberries and brown butter, The Long Apron
Several dishes from a fab lunch here could have easily made the cut. This very pretty and flavoursome dish is intricate and not short on technique. Hand-cut tartare of local venison is given a twist and lift with fresh apple discs, beetroot curls, pink rose petals and tiny local rainberries. A slick of brown butter brings it all together. The Long Apron, 68 Balmoral Rd, Montville, Qld, (07) 5452 1111







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