The results are in, and Canberra is now home to a pair of two-hatted restaurants.
Over the past six months, senior members of the Good Food Guide reviewing team have flown to every capital city in Australia and anonymously visited hundreds of restaurants.
The reviewers have been and gone, and possibly picked up a few kilos along the way, and after careful deliberation, the Good Food Guide chef's hats for 2018 were unveiled on Monday night.
Canberra's previously only two-hatted restaurant Aubergine has retained its status, continuing as one of the capital's most decorated restaurants, and has been joined by Ottoman Cuisine, which has picked up its own two hats.
Aubergine owner/chef Ben Willis also again collected a single hat for his smart-casual Temporada in Civic with co-owner Chris Darragh.
Two Canberra restaurants have shone on debut, with Damian Brabender's Otis Dining Hall in Kingston and Gus Armstrong's revamped Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie picking up one chef's hat each.
They join Josiah Li and his Chairman Group's Chairman & Yip, and Trimboli brothers' Italian & Sons in picking up a single hat for 2018, alongside eightysix, Lilotang, and Monster Kitchen & Bar who all retained their one hat status.
The Guide also gives special mentions to East Hotel's colourful new Italian restaurant Agostinis, modern European stalwart Courgette and the Kingston Foreshore's funky Thai eatery Morks.
Over the past 40 years, annual guides in Sydney and Melbourne (and more recently Brisbane) have celebrated the city's finest restaurants, awarding iconic hats to the chefs leading the way in establishing us as one of the great food locations of the world.
This year the Good Food Guide has been combined into one national edition.
Aubergine dishes out a high level of dining without the posturing that often goes hand in hand with the pursuit of excellence. Perhaps it's the ease of the four-course menu. The sleek and moody split-level dining room, or the way sommelier Cyril Thevenet can take you through the extraordinary depths of the wine list without being a bore. While owner-chef Ben Willis' cooking is contemporary, it has the craft and technique of a classic kitchen.
Ottoman Cuisine, Barton
For 25 years, the hospitable Serif Kaya has been one of Turkey's great ambassadors in Canberra. You can't help but wonder how many high-level deals and agreements have been forged in his serene, comfortably appointed dining pavilion over a platter of vibrantly coloured and flavoured dips.
Chairman & Yip, Barton
After 20 years of power lunches and wheeler-dealer dinners in Civic, Josiah Li's flagship northern Chinese restaurant made the long march to the old Malamay site at the Burbury Hotel in 2016. It has settled nicely into its sleek new black-and-red setting, with trophy wine cellar and best-loved signature dishes intact.
Every night is party night at this Braddon hotspot. Whether you think that's a good thing or bad thing is up to you. Personally, we think it's a great thing, from the blackboard menu rambling down one side of the long dining room to the steamy, frenetic open kitchen.
Italian & Sons
As if things weren't buzzy enough at Italian & Sons, Pasquale Trimboli and Mick Chatto have ramped things up a notch by opening Bacaro, an ace little wine bar, in the laneway behind. So now everything's just one big blur as happy families, date-nighters and the apresski set all want in. There's renewed emphasis on house-made pasta and pizza, done to slow-food principles.
Canberra has taken to modern Asian dining like a duck to Lake Burley Griffin, due in most part to Josiah (The Emperor) Li's forward-thinking Chairman Group. Lilotang takes the best of Japan and twists it with style, complete with eye-catching anime graphics, pops of colour, blond timber screens and a wide-ranging Japanese menu from former Nobu chef Shunsuke Ota.
Monster Kitchen & Bar
This is not your usual hotel dining room – because this is not your usual hotel. There's a fun, communal feel to Hotel Hotel's rambling lobby diner, with its terrazzo table tops, midcentury chairs, pegboard ceiling and cork walls. Not only is there a mix-andmatch shared-plate menu, you can also order from the bar menu. Sean McConnell, you see, is not your usual hotel chef.
Otis Dining Hall
The first solo adventure of former Sage chef, Damian Brabender, feels like a cross between a baronial dining hall and a cowboy saloon with its serious wood panelling, mirror overload, dark wooden floors and massive wooden bar. While the decor might suggest roast beef or fish and chips, Otis is more about highly polished, contemporary French bistro classics. With its eager-to-please service, polished kitchen and relaxed feel, Otis brings a new dimension of dining to the capital.
This long-standing Ainslie favourite was starting to show a bit of wear and tear when Gus Armstrong of Braddon's high-energy Eightysix moved in and gave the place a kick up the backside with an open kitchen, smart pendant lighting and bentwood chairs. Welcome back, Pulp Kitchen.
Ben Willis has the pointy end of Canberra's dining scene pretty much tied up with his poised, professional Griffith hot spot, Aubergine. Temporada proves he can go smart-casual as well, judging by the popularity of this no-fuss, woodfired, wine-oriented city bistro. It's a comfort-zone, come-as-you-are space, with high/low seating, raw wood decor, and central, stool-lined bar.
The national Good Food Guide 2018, in partnership with Citi and Vittoria, is available from newsagencies, bookstores and via thestore.com.au/goodfood, RRP $29.99
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