A long time coming I know. This was written, then disappeared into the interwebs, found again, put on the backburner and now brought back to life. Luckily, we still back these choices wholeheartedly. No doubt 2012 newcomers will mix up this list come the end of the year.
Ask a bunch of foodies what their Melbourne dish of the year is and you will hear about offerings from well-known chefs, outer suburb hideaways and cheapy-cheap no thrills eateries. And no one would ever be able to agree. So we have sucked it up and thrown these dishes at the wall to see if they stick.
1. Barbecue goat with cucumber and mint riata – Chin Chin
I rarely order goat if it’s on the menu, as it is so easy to overcook while carrying out a tenderising long, slow braise. But Chin Chin’s version is falling apart, reminiscent of pulled pork, and comes with a mix-it-yourself cooling yoghurt and spicy Indian masala-style sauce. You’d be hard pressed to find goat this tender, mouthwatering and tasty on the subcontinent. This goes hand in hand with another of their dishes that makes the list…
2. Crispy barramundi and green apple salad with caramelised pork, chilli and lemongrass – Chin Chin
Dish. Of. The. Year. Grab a table (having navigated the, at times, epic wait list) dismiss offers of a menu and just order this dish with a serve of rice. Perfect for two people – if the owners ever saw a sure thing* in their life they could split this into two different dishes, double the cost and we would still make our way here to order it. The barra is succulent inside the batter and thrives in the sour and spicy salad. But, really, I this for the most amazing caramelised pork that has ever graced a plate. There is another sticky pork dish on the menu but this trumps it every time. Do yourself a favour.
*On recent visits in 2012 we have found the size of this dish has gradually diminished and now would only feed one person as a main. So if you are in the mood for caramelised sticky pork, I would now suggest ordering the similar dish.
3. Fried Chicken – Hallah
I previously lived in a state of dilemma. I love me some fried chicken and if I ever had a hankering I would have to do the walk of shame into the local KFC in London (and they haven’t even invented hot and spicy over there). We would then head to Hyde Park and I would gorge myself until nearly sick. And all the while WordMonkey would watch me in complete disgust as my hands and face would become covered in oil.
Well I am in a better place now. It again shows how important the Twittersphere is to foodies. I remember walking past Gami one day and then sending a tweet out asking if this was the place to try fried chicken in Melbourne. I received a few responses to instead try Hallah. I did. And I don’t need anywhere else. Go by yourself (I know I have done a few sneaky visits) or with a group and order to your heart’s delight (or not – as it may induce a coronary).
4a. Brunch – Istra Daylesford dry–cured bacon, smoked mozzarella and pear relish toasted doorstop sandwich
4b. Lunch – Pulled Pork with Asian herb salad with sourdough – both from Fitzrovia
Ok, a bit of a cheat – but these two porky offerings from St Kilda’s Fitzrovia deserve a mention. The first promises to clog those arteries in the most joyful way possible – a think slab of flavourful bacon, juicy and greasy, with an equally thick slice of cheese and tangy relish, in a wedge of sourdough. Oil on your chin, your hands and one big smile. The second dish is a little more refined – one to eat with a knife and folk, a definite nod to decorum – and much more sparing on the fat content. Fragrant Asian herbs and well-seasoned meat make this just as tasty, though.
5. Heirloom carrot soup, Vin Santo, scallops – Albert St Food & Wine
And then there were five. This little beauty made the list just in the nick of time. Albert Street opened at the end of 2011 and the food is the brainchild of Philippa Sibley, who is a one-time The Age Good Food Guide Chef of the Year and author of PS Desserts, to name just a few of her foodie claims to fame.
Best-known for her pastries and sweet treats, we actually wish to celebrate Philipa’s ability to jazz up a potentially run-of-the-mill soup. Reading the description of the dish I brushed straight past, but luckily WordMonkey decided it was worth a try. She handed me a spoonful and it floored me with everything that was going on – the colour, texture and taste were just so inviting. The best bit, aside from the luxuriously creamy soup itself (must have been one hell of a base stock), were the beautifully cooked scallops bobbing in a swirl of Vin Santo. If you have ever seen an episode of Hells Kitchen, you can rest assured that these scallops are not going trashed by Ramsey. In a word – sexy.