Sepia, Man Tong Kitchen, Crumb Street Kitchen, Esq

Photography: Chris Chen

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Sepia, Man Tong Kitchen, Crumb Street Kitchen, and Esq.

SYDNEY
Sepia
There's much to be said for those times when top-flight restaurants give you a chance to taste their work in a less formal (and, yes, marginally less expensive) way, whether it's the bar eats at Per Se in Manhattan, the $45 Friday prix fixe at Marque, or Attica's Experimental Tuesdays. The news, then, that Sepia (pictured) has introduced a yakitori menu to complement its three-star à la carte and dégustation offerings is cause for celebration. It's only served in the bar, so the seating is better for hit-and-run dining than settling in for the night, but the quality of chef Martin Benn's Japanese-style charcoal grilling is unmatched in this country. The luxe likes of scampi with a salt flavoured with its shell or the rolled ribbon of Blackmore wagyu are predictably dazzling, but the real stunner is the chicken - a choice of sticks of sansho-bright skin, smoky thighs, unspeakably juicy breast. The only thing better might be the Tasmanian-grown shiitakes, slippery in their ponzu dressing. It's three-star food on sticks with a wine list and service to match. What's not to like? Sepia, 201 Sussex St, Sydney, (02) 9283 1990. PAT NOURSE

Bonus Sydney-area book-ahead treat
Former Vini head chef Dan Johnston and his Full Circle cohorts are bunging on a very special harvest dinner at Burrawang in the Southern Highlands the week after next. The focus is on sharing "thoughtfully sourced and ethically produced food", much of it from the nearby Moonacres Farm, and is a fund-raiser for the local primary school. It's going to be a fun night. Harvest Moon Dinner, $50 per person, communal seating, BYO,6pm for 6.30pm, Burrawang School of Arts hall, 35 Hoddle St, Burrawang, NSW, bookings through Phil Lavers on 0427 167 678 or at trybooking.com/CSDR. PAT NOURSE

MELBOURNE
Man Tong Kitchen
In the rush of summer openings, it's possible you missed Man Tong, the glitzy Crown outpost of the popular Hu Tong chain. But now that the weather is cooling and we're off daylight saving, it's the perfect time to get acquainted. The kitchen here doesn't mess with success, and the group's famed dumplings lead the charge on the nine-page menu. But if you can will yourself to break with the tried-and-true, there's plenty of excellent spicy stuff to be had further in. One of the best of these is a cold entrée of alternating slices of pork belly and cucumber draped over a bamboo rack and served with a side of fiery Sichuan pepper-laced sauce. Rolled up together, the combination of the cool cucumber crunch, salty pork and chilli-laden sauce is a knockout. Man Tong Kitchen, Level 1, West End, Crown Complex, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Vic, (03) 9686 9888. MICHAEL HARDEN

HOBART
Crumb Street Kitchen  
We've recently written about this cheap-as-chips southern American barbecue joint for Hot Plates but Zac Shearer and Sian King's recent decision to open for weekend breakfasts makes it worth another story. They're making their own croissants and pain au chocolat, which are delicious, but, unsurprisingly, it's what comes out of the barbecue that makes this breakfast menu unique and exciting. Eggs here come fried on top of crisp pork with "hot, hot" sauce or poached with barbecued brisket; and the hotcakes, made with corn and jalapeños, are hot in more ways than one. Crumb Street's paper plates and plastic knives and forks aren't exactly ideal but are a small price to pay for such a spicy way to start the weekend. Crumb Street Kitchen, 144 Harrington St, Hobart, Tas, (03) 6234 7002. SUE DYSON & ROGER MCSHANE

BRISBANE
Esq
You can almost feel a Zen-like calm descend as you cross the threshold at Esquire. You're in safe hands, in a beautifully understated room, with exquisite accoutrements and views. Turn left at the entrance and you'll find Esq, which offers the same service and ambience, and some of the same dishes, only in a more casual setting. Slivers of intense air-dried wagyu are the perfect autumn entrée alongside a scattering of kimchi wafers and chips dusted with a salty freeze-dried vinegar or house-made barbecue powder. And the price to be paid for all this culinary effort? Eight smackers. The most expensive main course here is a perfectly barbecued tranche of Murray cod with lemon and garlic, a steal at $32. Desserts are $10 to $12. Run, don't walk. Esq, 145 Eagle St, Brisbane, Qld, (07) 3220 2123. FIONA DONNELLY

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