The 18 best dishes of 2018
You’ve heard about the pig’s head sanga, of course. The breaded puck of pig jowl goodness larded with chicken jus that explodes in juiciness in the manner of a xiao long bao. Lordy it’s good. Ably supported by a peppery mustard leaf mayo and sandwiched between two rounds of fluffy white bread guaranteed to put any carb dodger on a glycaemic high, it’s a must-order at a place that has several dishes vying for that status.
It’s the roti with Vegemite curry, OK? Sunda has made the year’s most spectacular play for the hearts and minds of Melbourne with a crazy-brave combination of wickedly buttery deconstructed roti and a deeply savoury curry sauce with a Vegemite-umami backbone. Add the fact that it’s an off-menu secret with only 25 serves available a night for those who know the password (tip: try “do you have any roti with Vegemite curry left?”).
The humble spud can be a thing of beauty. Here, a soft confit Dutch cream with chewy nubs of pistachio nougatine arrives under a creamy hat spiked with miso and bruléed, lavished with trout roe and caviar (the real deal, not – ugh – Avruga). Underneath, there’s a tangy beurre blanc to drive the whole high-end comfort theme home.
'Eating house' doesn't quite cut it. ‘All-day diner’ falls worryingly short. In fact, when trying to sum up the place Cumulus Inc plays in Melbourne’s hungry heart, ‘favourite clubhouse’ comes as close as any description. And as good a reason as any for this status is the rum baba where the whole bottle is handed over to glug onto the sponge cake at will.
Order the mapo tofu jaffle. You could consider it Super Ling’s answer to Sunda’s cultish roti with Vegemite curry, although this particular meeting of old and new is dusted in blitzed chilli the colour of Cheezels and has shades of meat pie in the lava-hot spicy minced pork filling with a puck of silken tofu. It’s the sort of snack you’ll think longingly of next time you’re drunk with only a 7-Eleven for company.
You want the braised short rib. It will comfortably feed a group of four. The soft, sticky short rib comes doused in a pear and apple infused soy sauce with a refreshing, crunchy salad made of the same fruits. You could dig in as is, but as the customised prints on the wall suggest, order a basket of crunchy ssam vegetables to wrap up your meat for maximum enjoyment.
The main event is the signature tom yum noodle, coming in a clean, sweetly porky, hot-and-sour broth hit with generous spoonfuls of fried garlic and topped with crispy wonton strips. Each comes with toppings ranging from seafood to soft pork bone and can be customised with a choice between seven types of noodles, such as glass, rice, instant and supersized, for those with an appetite.
The grilled broccolini here is tossed with batons of fried smoked pork under cured, grated egg yolk and a parmesan cream. It is matched with a half-glass pairing of Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura chardonnay, where the oxidative wine picks up the umami from the cheese and yolk. Here, the food has been designed around the wine and not the other way around. It shouldn’t feel as ground breaking as this, but sadly, it isn’t a wide enough practice.
Sandwiched between sweet and crumbly brioche buns courtesy of Cobb Lane are large breaded prawns laced with a velvety taru taru sauce, a Japanese-style tartare that has more heft than its western equivalent due to the inclusion of hard-boiled eggs. Adhering to Ima’s no-waste policy, the burger is served alongside deep-fried prawn heads that you can eat whole – the shell is rendered so crunchy and brittle that it dissolves in your mouth in a salt-spiked mouthful.
Lune Croissanterie creates almost mathematically perfect croissants in their climate-controlled lab, each crisp and golden with visible layers of delicate pastry. Seeing as these treats fly out of their Fitzroy shop by noon most days, the duo decided to expand to Melbourne's CBD, which just means more buttery pastry for us.
Melbourne's best restaurants
Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's 50 best restaurants.