A Baker, Cutler & Co., Penfolds Magill Estate, Vincent

Photography: Prue Ruscoe

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including A Baker, Cutler & Co., Penfolds Magill Estate, and Vincent.

A Baker
The big changes in the capital this year aren't just on the hill. This new café/bar/eatery sits on the site at the NewActon pavilion formerly occupied by Flint restaurant, which was gutted by a fire in 2011, and it's definitely well on the way to lifting the local standard. The new venture's fittings gleam against the burn-scarred walls, while a smiling, savvy floor team hustles coffee and snacks. Braised white beans with cotechino and sage is the kind of standout that appears on a breakfast menu that also includes shakshuka-style baked eggs, fruit loaf with ricotta, both house-made, and some mighty fine canelés. At lunch and dinner there's the likes of the superb spaghettini with silverbeet, soft egg yolk, parmesan and melting, barely-there shavings of smoked and cured lamb's liver. For the more grazing-inclined, the edit is smart: South Coast oysters, charcuterie (porchetta and mustard fruits; rabbit rillettes with beetroot and rye), good bread baked in-house and the likes of Holy Goat's La Luna cheese. Get into it any way you can. A. Baker, NewActon Pavilion, unit 2, 15 Edinburgh Ave, Canberra, ACT, (02) 6287 6150. PAT NOURSE

Cutler & Co.
Ignoring the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' homily, Andrew McConnell has shaken things up at Cutler & Co. with a renovation that drags his team of young chefs from behind the scenes and into the limelight with a new open kitchen colonising the former bar at the front of the restaurant. It gives good entrance - the flurry of white-jacketed activity, the exhaust system hidden behind a gorgeous laser-cut metal canopy, a vintage dentist's light converted to a heat lamp as a sculptural centrepiece - but also provides a new dining experience (kitchenside seating) and a lounge/bar area surrounding the kitchen. The menu now sports an extended list of small snacks to match the new lounge. There's brilliant grilled octopus coated with intense, terracotta-coloured fermented chilli, delicate breakfast radishes served with buffalo ricotta, just-spicy devilled crab in cos leaves and smoked trout sandwiched in lacy-thin layers of rye toast. Good stuff, and a good view too. Cutler & Co., 55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Vic, (03) 9419 4888. MICHAEL HARDEN

Penfolds Magill Estate
The rush is on to taste the initial five- and eight-course dégustation meals of new Magill Estate executive chef Scott Huggins. A good example of his intricate yet modest take on hero ingredients is Kangaroo Island marron, kept alive until seven minutes before table service. To capture optimum freshness, Huggins boils it for 90 seconds, removes the shell and bags the tail meat with butter before bathing it in 55C water for six minutes, then searing it in a hot pan before serving with three interpretations of artichokes. This is where the work of Scott's fiancée Emma McCaskill comes into play, in the newly created role of development chef - she extracts an especially rich purée, soaks the leaves in sugar syrup for 24 hours before frying them to a fragile crisp, and lightly pickles the hearts. These serve as an appropriately delicate foil for the slightly nutty notes of the marron tail. It's simple-seeming on the table but sublime stuff - a very impressive example of carefully refined cooking. Penfolds Magill Estate, 78 Penfold Rd, Magill, SA, (08) 8301 5551. DAVID SLY

Think less "Dutch ear amputee" and more "a hundred wines": vin cent. With its entirely French wine list, this brilliant new brasserie could, perhaps, be a product of an Arles side street but, in truth, its heritage is more mixed, coming as it does from James Hird, Todd Garratt and Traci Trinder - the team behind Woollahra Italian favourite Buzo. Cheese is the other focus. Chefs Garratt and Hird have spent the last year training in artisan cheesemaking and the fruits of their work are on display in a glass case by the kitchen, sharing shelf with the French cheeses they're also ageing and finishing themselves. On the plate, that dairy magic could equal baked Comté custard at the beginning of the meal, or yoghurt-soft Jersey milk curds with whey crackers and honey harvested from the roof to close. If you like wine, cheese or good times, this is the new restaurant for you. Vincent, 14 Queen St, Woollahra, NSW, (02) 8039 1500. PAT NOURSE

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