14 Apr 2022 | Michael Harry and Rushani Epa
It's no secret how much we love food at Hardie Grant Books. Food is always on our minds and it's the reason why we're one of Australia's leading food and drink publishers. Now, we're sharing our favourite topic of conversation with you every month in our new monthly column, Food for Thought.
In Food for Thought, publisher Michael Harry and commissioning editor Rushani Epa bring you their latest restaurant and recipe recommendations. With their ears to the ground, these expert taste buds will highlight the very best the Australian food scene has to offer. Read on to find out what amazing things Michael and Rushani have each eaten, noted and cooked
Michael Harry (MH): I was over in Adelaide recently and had a brilliant lunch at Restaurant Botanic in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The chef is Justin James, ex Vue de Monde, and he’s doing spectacular things with natives picked right from the garden, in this beautiful old rotunda in the middle of the park where the trees seem to breathe in the wind. It’s one to watch as the best new restaurant in Oz.
Rushani Epa (RE): Hands down the hopper thali at Polperro’s Many Little Bar and Bistro in Red Hill South. Not only does head chef Gayan Pieris break down barriers by serving up Sri Lankan-inspired fare via degustation and fancy little plates, but he manages to keep bellies full in doing so. The experience culminates with a giant thali that features various curries, sambals, condiments, hoppers and rotis. There’s nothing more I need to tell you other than go!
MH: I’ve got a booking at Smith St Bistrot this week – Scott Pickett’s new one at the site of the old St Crispin (which I still miss). It’s got a kinda Moulin Rouge vibe with lots of ornate mirrors and red velvet, and the menu looks classic French – oeufs mayonnaise, steak and chips, crème caramel. There’s also a brunch menu coming soon. Tres bon.
RE: I’m a sucker for steak frites. Westwood is a newish wine bar in West Melbourne that I’ve been meaning to try and it dishes up a good-looking grass-fed rump camp with chilli mustard and grilled cos. Not to mention it offers TRIPLE COOKED chips with black garlic aioli to go with it. I mean, come on!
MH: Have you checked out HER in the city? It takes up an entire building so there’s lots of options to explore, including a rooftop bar, a Tokyo-style ‘Music Room’ hidden behind the toilets and a Thai canteen called BKK on the third floor. The Laab Gai with crispy chicken skin, shallot and soft herbs is FULL ON with intense chilli levels. I can normally handle a five-alarm spice level, but this fragrant plate had me reaching for the iced water and sweating bullets. Seriously hot.
RE: McDonald’s, eat your heart out, Japanese-inspired wine bar Mono XO’s scallop sandos beat a Big Mac any day. Sandwiched between two fluffy white layers of bread is a big, juicy, crumbed scallop, a thick dollop of housemade Thousand Island dressing and a thin sheet of lettuce. It’s a textural delight and packs a zingy, pickle-loaded punch not dissimilar to a Big Mac.
MH: I keep an eye on Pat Nourse from the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Instagram for tips on where to eat next and he recently posted about Ante, a vinyl/sake bar in Newtown, which looks extremely up my alley for good music, booze and elegant mod-Japanese.
RE: Ciao, Mate! Nick Stanton (Leonardo's Pizza Palace, Leonard's House of Love) is passing the baton on to Matt Stone (Oakridge, Future Food System) at Sydney’s Ciao Mate! I’m curious to see how this goes but no doubt the food will be as delicious as ever. Think thin Neapolitan bases with thick, doughy halo crusts, Moreton Bay bug bucatini and more Italian-inspired goodies.
MH: One of the most incredible effort-to-result ratio recipes I started making in lockdown is Ali Slagle’s spicy chorizo pasta from NYT Cooking. There are literally four ingredients – a good Spanish chorizo, garlic, tomato paste and chilli flakes – but it all comes together with heaps of salty pasta water for a KAPOW of flavour. It’s delicious with a blizzard of parmesan and a scattering of parsley for health. I could eat it every night.
RE: I’ve got an abundance of rainbow chard growing in my garden so I decided to make Dlou' Selee' Mtaballeh. It’s a Lebanese dish that sees chard stalks lightly boiled then doused in tarator. I paired it with a tabbouleh on the side and added in some fresh jalapenos (diced fine) from the garden to add some heat.
Hardie Grant’s food and lifestyle publisher, Michael Harry, fell in love with great food while working as a waiter at London’s Hakkasan restaurant in the early ‘00s. He has been the editor of The Age Good Food Guide, lifestyle editor of Good Weekend magazine, and worked behind the scenes on Ready Steady Cook. He is always on the lookout for the perfect chicken sandwich, a dirty gin martini, or a really spicy ramen.
Rushani is the commissioning editor in food and lifestyle at Hardie Grant Books. Outside of her role at Hardie Grant she's also a journalist and editor who specialises in food and culture that has written for publications like Time Out Melbourne, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, SBS Food and Acclaim Magazine. She also runs Colournary, a digital and biannual print magazine that celebrates and amplifies the voices of First Nations, Black and People of Colour through the lens of food and culture.