Pope Joan, The Lobo Plantation, Mechanics Institute, Pigeon Hole Café

Photography: William Meppem

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week include Pope Joan, The Lobo Plantation, Mechanics Institute, and Pigeon Hole Café.

Pope Joan
The inevitable queue outside Pope Joan on weekends shows that co-owner and chef Matt Wilkinson has the brunch thing covered. But now the Pope is branching out from admirable eggs and sandwiches (their Cuban, above, is a case in point), opening at night from Monday to Friday with a clever menu that balances health and comfort in a thoroughly appealing way. The comfort side of the ledger includes a brilliant free-range chicken Kiev served with coleslaw and a blade steak teamed with a caper and raisin dressing and plump, crunchy onion rings. Health gets a look-in with a series of hearty salads (eel and beetroot) and sides (watercress, radicchio and almonds). Pope Joan, 75-79 Nicholson St, Brunswick East, Vic. (03) 9388 8858. MICHAEL HARDEN

The Lobo Plantation
Think of The Lobo Plantation as a sort of rum-fuelled Tardis - step through the tiny door on Clarence Street and you find yourself in a surprisingly palm-fringed and Caribbean-flavoured sanctuary. Fully equipped with sharp service, killer cocktails and a savvy fit-out, it's just the place to escape the gloom of July. The eats are decent - baked cheese balls enlivened with a mighty tangy guava dipping sauce, say, or slices of flank steak flavoured with dark beer and brown sugar - but the real draw is the drinks. They have a vast battery of rums at their disposal and they know what they're doing. Take the Millionaire, a powerful blend of Appleton Estate VX and Lobo's sloe gin, lime juice and grenadine house-made liqueur, that'll leave you feeling smarter and taller as well as richer, or the Communist Sour, Havana Club Añejo Especial freshened up with with Aperol, orange syrup, orange bitters, lemon juice and frothed with the white of an egg. Sultry stuff. The Lobo Plantation, basement lot 1, 209 Clarence St, Sydney, NSW. MAYA KERTHYASA

Mechanics Institute
Strictly speaking, this is more of a hot jar than a hot plate, but there's no denying the bar's Epic Bloody Mary is making waves out west. One reason for its notoriety, we think, is the quality of the drink itself. Rich, spicy and wonderfully Tabascoey, it's yet another reason why Mechanics is one of Perth's finest booze emporiums. Garnishing the cocktail with a cheeseburger - among other things on skewers - however, is a wacky statement that speaks of rascally barkeeps who don't take themselves too seriously, but have just enough crazy in their eyes to make a visit here really, really fun. For now, this boozy protein shake is a Sunday-only special, but considering the constant demand for restorative eats and drinks on the sabbath, we're not tipping that to be a problem. Mechanics Institute, 222 William St (access via rear laneway), Northbridge, WA, (08) 9228 4189. MAX VEENHUYZEN

Pigeon Hole Café
A seismic shift on West Hobart café Pigeon Hole's small menu is rare, so it didn't take long for news of the addition of a daily bun to filter through the ether. The daily blackboard menu has always had two or three panini, but this new bun is a totally different beast. Brioche-based, it's equally as voluptuous to look at as it is to eat, its top glowing and golden. Inside, it's generously buttered, then lightly toasted before it receives its regularly changing filling. Version one was braised goat with chipotle and labne. We've also seen beef shin with green tomato pickles, and this week's version is chorizo with an apple and red cabbage slaw, jalapeño and Kewpie mayo. Guaranteed instant stardom. Pigeon Hole Café, 93 Goulburn Street, West Hobart, Tas, (03) 6236 9036. SUE DYSON & ROGER MCSHANE

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