Finalists for Regional Restaurant of the Year 2018

Photography: Avalon Lane (Fleet); Julian Kingma (Igni); Colin Page (Brae)

FLEET, BRUNSWICK HEADS

Seating barely 14 customers, Fleet could scarcely be said to be a restaurant at all. The staff number fewer than the reservations departments of other two-star eateries, and the location, in a tiny town north of Byron Bay on the north coast of New South Wales, isn't what you'd call dynamic. The menu is short, the wine list is tight. But whether it's in the welcome from Astrid McCormack, or the flavours from chef Josh Lewis, the effect of this concision is concentration, and the result is generous. Lewis has a close connection to everything on the plate just as the story of every drop of drink in the house is familiar to McCormack. Fleet is as tasty as it is original; in other words very tasty indeed.

In short: Punching well above its weight.

IGNI, GEELONG

Snacks at Igni.

Aaron Turner's food hits the sweet spot between intellectual exercise and good old-fashioned flavour, making him and his Geelong restaurant essential to anyone who cares what they put in their stomach. The backstreet location and smoothly run front of house from co-owners Jo Smith and Drew Hamilton make this a very well-iced cake. A recent feature by CNN listed Igni among the world's most underrated restaurants, and in international restaurant-watching circles, it's being discussed as the next big thing. As far as the diners of country Victoria are concerned, though, it's already there.

In short: Making Geelong great again.

BRAE, BIRREGURRA

Behind-the-scenes at Brae.

A book, accolades, full houses, accommodation, bigger gardens, international attention - Brae has been nothing if not busy in the past year. But its sense of focus and confidence has, if anything, sharpened with all the extracurriculars. More than ever, it's delivering one of Australia's great dining experiences, regional or otherwise.

In short: A restaurant worth all the hubbub.







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