When Pilot restaurant opened in 2018 we knew something special had happened. Dash Rumble and Ross McQuinn stripped back the space that had housed Pulp Kitchen forever, and there was that same sense of minimalism to Mal Hanslow's menu, broccoli + mint, zippy salad, roast chook.
It was always about treating quality produce with respect.
Pilot made The Canberra Times' Top 20 restaurants of 2018 just months after opening.
"It's a feat of ambition barely restrained, an elegant, sparkling, youthful, sophisticated diner," we said at the time.
And it seems the secret is out. Pilot picked up its first Good Food Guide Awards hat, just a year into the game.
It was also nominated for 2020's best new restaurant of the year, losing out to Brisbane's Joy, but National Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby said the Pilot team could be very proud of its first year.
"Pilot was a real boon for Canberra this year," she said.
"It's the energy and young blood those guys have pumped into the site that has us so excited.
"That steamed bread and roast chicken dinner sandwich just about blew my mind."
Narrabundah's XO also debuted on the hatted list for the first time.
"XO takes a delightfully unconventional approach to traditional south-east Asian cuisine," Rigby said.
She said many people were starting to see Canberra as real food destination, and rightly so.
"Canberra has the opportunity to really shine and all eyes are pointed to our nation's capital," she said.
"I think good chefs can and should call Canberra home. There are great opportunities to be had for people who have plenty of drive and fantastic ideas."
Rigby said Aubergine's Ben Willis remained a stand out in the city. Aubergine kept its two hats, the city's best rated restaurant.
As well as Pilot and XO, other restaurants to pick up one hat include Bar Rochford, Chairman and Yip, Courgette, Italian and Sons, Morks, Ottoman Cuisine and Temporada.
Braddon's Eightysix lost its hat from the 2019 guide but still gets an honourable mention alongside Agostini's, The Boat House, Lilotang, Monster Kitchen and Bar and Otis Dining Hall.
Regional restaurants to gain one hat include The Argyle Inn in Taralga, Biota in Bowra and Clementine in Yass.
It's the 40th birthday of the Good Food Guide, which began in The Age in 1980 and following four years later in The Sydney Morning Herald, earning a reputation as the country's most respected dining bible.
"Just quietly, I get stupidly excited about birthdays," Rigby said. "Anyone's, really. Mine, my loved ones', passing acquaintances - they're all an opportunity for celebration. So imagine how crossed-eyed with bliss I am to be blowing up the balloons for the 40th anniversary of the book I've had the pleasure of editing for the past five years.
"Over four decades, the Good Food Guide has documented the rise and fall of nouvelle cuisine, waved hello and goodbye to the discotheque diner, cringingly described sushi as 'vinegared rice hors d'oeuvres', lamented the end of the Fringe Benefits Tax (and the subsequent demise of the outrageously long lunch), and celebrated the arrival of venues blurring the line between restaurant and bar. And now? We live in the age of social media where anything is possible - if your backers, aspirations or followers are generous enough."
Previous editors of the Guide include: Claude Forell and Rita Erlich, Stephanie Wood, Sally Lewis, John Lethlean and Necia Wilden, Janne Apelgren, Roslyn Grundy, Leo Schofield and David Dale, William Fraser and Helen Greenwood, Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix, Matthew Evans and Lisa Hudson, Simon Thomsen and Catherine Keenan, and Joanna Savill.
WHO ARE CANBERRA'S HATTED RESTAURANTS
A sleek fine diner minutes from Capital Hill.
A dark, sheer-curtained dining space, a cracking wine list, a carefully curated four-course seasonal menu - it's clear that this is special-occasion territory.
Settle in with a glass of local bubbles and meet one of the stars of the show, sommelier Cyril Thevenet, whose approachable attitude is a pleasure when dealing with a wine list that's as broad as it is deep.
Chef Ben Willis' expertly crafted food surprises without feeling stuffy or contrived.
Bar Rochford, City
Good times fuelled by next-level bar food and natural wines.
With an impressive central bar and the assured architectural bones of Civic's Melbourne Building, this room is a stunner. Spinning vinyl and a buzzy atmosphere set the scene. Young gun chef Josh Lundy has taken the reins in the kitchen, but don't worry, the galette is still available - expect Old Bay or bush tomato-flavoured riffs on the signature. The drinks list is about as hip as it gets, touting a heavy-hitting line-up of cult natural wine producers from home and abroad, whose empty bottles you'll notice lining the room, not to mention many Instagram feeds.
Read our review: Dining at Bar Rochford is a stellar experience
Chairman and Yip, Barton
Service and style on the south side.
The digs might be an updated blend of sleek lacquered timber and ebony accents, but this Canberra institution has been dishing up duck pancakes for more than two decades. Its current location strikes the right chord for both patrons from way back and a parliamentary power lunching crowd. Handmade steamed prawn and pumpkin dumplings are luscious and textural, filled with rich prawn broth. Finishing on Western-style desserts, like vanilla bean panna cotta with almond and maple syrup, might seem strange, but maybe it isn't. There's no denying, the Chairman has been around the block and knows his clientele.
Read our review: Modern take on the traditional at Chairman and Yip
Fine dining with finesse.
There's a real sense of occasion here. From massively comfortable plush chairs to starched linen, this is an establishment that takes itself seriously. That doesn't mean there's no sense of fun, though. From popcorn shrimp scattered across zesty, rare yellowfin tuna to plump lemon myrtle doughnuts with cookie crumbs and fresh strawberry ice-cream, chef James Mussillon knows how to make tongue-in-cheek taste fantastic.
Read our review: All the hallmarks of fine dining at Courgette
Italian and Sons, Braddon
Bold Italian flavours in bustling Braddon.
Like stepping into a lively family gathering, a buzzing atmosphere welcomes diners at this Braddon institution, which has racked up a serious following of Italophiles and loyal locals. The service is warm and perceptive, with a good measure of old-fashioned hospitality. Waiters serve marinated South Coast sardines tableside, flaunting their skills with some single-handed, double-spooned show-off-ery. The pizza is, as expected, textbook, and a liberal wine list embraces Old and New World Italian producers.
Read our review: Italian and Sons still ticks all the boxes
Thai classics turned into fine dining masterpieces, with waterfront views.
The classics of Queen, Springsteen and Bowie are wafting through the air, but here at this breezy lakefront eatery it's the kitchen that's smashing out greatest hits. Don't expect pages of stir-fry and noodles, though. The menu is short and sweet, but what they focus on they do very well. Make sure to order the Patagonian toothfish with a simple buttery lime, garlic and chilli sauce that lets the sustainably sourced, flake-apart fillet shine.
Read our review: Contemporary Thai at Morks is exactly what it claims to be
Ottoman Cuisine, Barton
Modern Turkish done with fresh, quality ingredients, warmth and class.
This Canberra institution is where big moments happen. From proposals to political powerbroking - these elegant rooms have witnessed some significant decisions over the years.
The hardest today, though, is how to have the lamb... spiced, chargrilled cigars of kofta paired with smoky baba ghanoush is a wise choice. So, too, are fat butterflied prawns in a buttery, slightly tart saffron and pomegranate sauce with crisp snow peas and almond-studded rice.
Read our review: Ottoman leaves us spoilt for choice
Dining among the leafy streets of residential Canberra has seldom been less suburban.
The dining room may be on the spare side, but the menu is telegraphic to the point of inscrutability. Who would guess that "potato bacon balls" is in fact balls of potato under a wave of jamon-infused cream and cubes of dashi jelly? What to make of "peaches and cream" among the entrees? Or, more troublingly, "zucchini"? Good thing they're all so bloody tasty.
Still, to pull this off and keep it feeling playful rather than grating requires service that is switched-on and invested to the hilt. Co-owners Dash Rumble and Ross McQuinn answer the call, guiding their customers with easy wit and a tight little drinks list.
Read our review: Pilot is a barely restrained feat of ambition
A do-it-all city bistro that delivers.
A smart-casual interior of plywood, pressed tin and repurposed shipping pallets strikes just the right chord to shift synonymously between daytime and evening. This is the kind of place where you might settle in for a glass of rioja alta and a flat-iron steak, while office workers duck in and out for takeaway coffee or a quick laptop lunch.
There's plenty of energy on the floor and the ethos is relaxed. There's no compromise when it comes to produce and execution. The wood-fired grill stamps its mark firmly across the menu.
Read our review: Temporada is sexy, smart and stylish
Innovative Asian cuisine with an attractive twist.
Of all the creatures one might find alluring (celebrities, catwalk models, chartered accountants), cephalopods are not among them. Yet here's "sexy squid", marinated in master stock, coated in flour, then deep-fried and dusted in a spiced sugar mix. It's sweet, crunchy bundles of bite-size joy. But sexy? Well, that depends on your definition.
XO takes a delightfully unconventional approach to traditional south-east Asian cuisine. The small but perfectly formed menu boasts crazy rich Asian "bolognese" of slow-cooked chicken mince, crab and prawn paste with udon noodles in place of pasta.
Read our review: Unravelling the magic of XO
- The Good Food Guide 2020 is on sale from October 1 in newsagencies and bookstores, and is also available at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.