Alpha, Cellar Bar, Red Chilli Szechuan, The Jetty South Bank

Photography: William Meppem

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Alpha, Cellar Bar, Red Chilli Szechuan, and The Jetty South Bank.

SYDNEY
Alpha
Peter Conistis is back with a bang. Anyone who ate at Cosmos, Eleni's, Omega or The Civic over the last 20 years will recall Conistis's cooking with a fond heart and a rumbling tum, but it's when you bite into his pastry anew that his finesse bowls you over all over again. The golden spanakopita that's on the menu at Alpha is like the Platonic ideal of the spinach and cheese pie, the filo superbly flaky and crisp, the filling rich and fragrant with dill. The menu sprawls from the newer-fangled likes of ouzo-glazed lamb ribs and mastic-spiced quail with watermelon salad to Conistis classics such as scallop and eggplant moussaka, and rabbit and black olive pie, cheekily corralled under the "vintage dishes" heading. It's already killing it at lunch, and dinner reservations are getting scarcer by the moment - get in for your taste today. Alpha, 238 Castlereagh St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9098 1111. PAT NOURSE

MELBOURNE
Cellar Bar at Newmarket Hotel
After a false start last year, the Cellar Bar at the Newmarket Hotel has re-opened (Thursday to Saturday) with a rejigged agenda that, in keeping with the beautiful, beaded, boothed and mirror-balled retro nightclub décor, is now more cocktail bar than supper club. Still, despite well-made cocktails, bottle lists and much vintage Champagne, food still makes its presence felt here, albeit in snack rather than dégustation form. Taking cues from the upstairs dining room's Latin American moves, the Cellar Bar's list includes toothfish and miso anticucho (Peru's take on the grilled skewer) served with crisped-up taro, and good jamón served with spiced pear. There are tacos and empanadas, a wagyu chilli dog, and dulce de leche mousse, too. The bookable booths seat six to eight so go with friends. Cellar Bar at Newmarket Hotel, 34 Inkerman St, St Kilda, Vic, (03) 9534 1060. MICHAEL HARDEN

PERTH
Red Chilli Szechuan Chinese Restaurant
Perth's newest Sichuan restaurant is hot all right, but its cooking encompasses more than just mouth-numbing peppercorns and capsaicin thrills. The kitchen's fuqi feipian, for instance, uses crushed peanuts and coriander to add crunch and freshness to slices of tripe bathed in a tingly ma la ("numbing and spicy") oil. Elsewhere, wrinkly tubes of smoked bamboo add textural interest to a fiery stew of tender beef brisket. At less than four bucks, a side order of preserved vegetables is a must. Pickled ever-so-briefly and cut thick for maximum crunch, they're an ideal foil to the menu's fireworks. Another welcome addition to Perth's favourite Asian eat street. Red Chilli Szechuan Chinese Restaurant, 865 Albany Hwy, East Victoria Park, WA, (08) 6161 2898. MAX VEENHUYZEN

BRISBANE
The Jetty South Bank
A mix of flawless River Quay views and come-hither Bali-meets-Brisbane décor has lured diners to this airy spot since it launched a couple of years back. But the recent arrival of well-regarded head chef Damien Styles is starting to hook in a different demographic. The menu is still slightly scattergun in its approach, but dishes like a fork-tender slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with a bank of fluffy parmesan-boosted polenta and a herb crumble hit their mark. A glossy nasi goreng, dotted with tiny prawns, and topped with a soft-yolk fried egg and scattering of crunchy deep-fried shallots, joins the lamb as part of a winter weekday lunch deal running until spring. It's hot value at $25, including a glass of house red or white. The Jetty South Bank, River Quay, Sidon St, South Bank, Qld, (07) 3844 8838. FIONA DONNELLY

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