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"unashamedly indulgent"

5 May 2022 | Michael Harry and Rushani Epa

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 know just what the Australian food scene has to offer. Read on to find out what amazing things Michael and Rushani have each eaten, noted and cooked.

The best meal I've had lately

Michael Harry (MH):I recently turned 40 and was looking for a fancy special occasion restaurant for a long lunch with my immediate family … Grill Americano was just the ticket. It’s a huge New York-style brasserie, with royal blue velvet banquettes, miles of marble, an army of staff in pressed uniforms, and powerful punters swapping business cards American Psycho-style. Thankfully the food is good – unashamedly indulgent, Italian American comfort fare at admittedly astronomical prices. Think top notch charcuterie, multiple breads, elegant seafood, woodfired steak with all the trimmings, and tiramisu scooped onto your plate at the table. Maximum excess, and probably Chris Lucas’s best restaurant yet.

Rushani Epa (RE): One of my favourite restaurants is Aangan in West Footscray and it always delivers. This was hands down the best thing I’ve eaten in a while – chicken vindaloo mopped up with crisp lachha paratha. The base was perfect. Crimson, rich, heavy on the chilli complete with tender pieces of chicken thigh. I can still remember the sheer euphoria I experienced eating this dish.

The place I am desperate to try 

MH: I dropped into the tiny enviro-friendly wine bar Parcs (it’s scraP backwards) the other night but only had time for a single snack – a rich tangle of ‘umami e pepe’ noodles – and a glass of lo fi riesling. It was so good, I’ve been plotting when I can return ever since. I’m keen to work through ex Sunda chef Dennis Yong’s entire menu, which is minimal-waste, snack-friendly and ferment focused. It’s a slip of a joint, just 20 seats, and packed with cool customers – it reminded me of early days Bar Liberty. A bit improvised, but the start of something big.

RE: Sydney’s favourite Lebanese charcoal chicken joint has just landed in Melbourne. Preston, to be precise, and I can’t wait to get over there and grab a grilled chicken, salty chips and douse it all in garlicky toum.

The dish I can't stop thinking about 

MH: A food-loving friend from interstate was visiting and asked if we could go to Cumulus Inc because – unbelievably – they had never been. The Andrew McConnell stalwart has been doing its thing for 14 years, but I confess I hadn’t been in ages. Trendy joints come and go, but it’s still as good as any in the city, and the signature lamb shoulder is the most perfect example of the dish I’ve tasted. It’s a whole kilogram of fall-apart, smoky, juicy, gnarled meat drenched in a tangy almond and capsicum tapenade, with crisp potatoes, heaps of confit garlic and green leaves on the side. Is there a better autumn dinner?

RE: I love a good pie. The staple of any tradie’s smoko, the quintessential road trip snack, the yin to tomato sauce’s yang. Inner West Swedish Baker in West Footscray might have crafted one of my favourite pies just yet. It’s a steak and pepper pie and it’s totally unassuming. The filling was beautiful – rich, umami with beef that fell apart with ease, but the pastry stole my heart. Flaky and buttery on top and soft and dense all around. I could just eat the pastry on its own.

On my radar in Sydney

MH: I was in Sydney working on a new book a few weeks ago and there was one restaurant everyone told me to visit: Pellegrino 2000, the new Italian trattoria from the team behind Potts Point hotspot Bistrot 916. The place was literally BUZZING on a Wednesday night, every table full, both at street level and in the intimate cellar dining room. The food was delish, and the menu nicely unfussy: a few antipasto dishes, several pastas, a couple of meats, all done very well. Service was fab, vibe excellent. Would return.

RE: There are two words you can say that will usually have me run away, screaming in horror: “‘international’ menu”. It’s hard for me to trust a world-themed venue when such places usually signify tourist traps and food poisoning in major cities. But there’s a spot in Sydney that has defied all odds with its menu that places pork al pastor next to a Lebanese take on the filet o fish. Baba’s Place is the name and it’s a funky newish addition to Marrickville complete with art and great food.

Recent home cooking triumph –

MH: Sichuan food guru Fuchsia Dunlop was in town for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and I got the chance to meet her at a cocktail party. It was a total blubbering fan moment, and I was as star struck as meeting a Hemsworth, because I have cooked her textbook mapo tofu recipe dozens, if not hundreds of times. It’s a hearty dish of peppery pork mince and soft tofu spooned over rice like a Chinese Bolognese. A cinch to make, and like a warm hug. Check out the recipe here

A Hardie Grant cookbook winner

MH: A mate looked after my dog while I was in Sydney (see above) so I made her a meal: Karen Martini’s legendary Syrian chicken. It’s a wildly delicious, sticky, sweet, spicy, lemony, gingery, saffron-infused stew, and honestly, like some sort of medicine. It comes together easily and makes novice cooks look like advanced chefs. You’ll find it in COOK, her sensational new 900+ page cookbook released by Hardie Grant in August. But for now, you can also find it online here.

RE: I had the pleasure of hosting Emiko Davies’ event at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival for her latest book Cinnamon and Salt. In the intimate bones of Ombra we shared 21(!) cicchetti and I was inspired to cook up some fritole at home over the long weekend. What’s not to love about a citrussy Italian dessert? Especially when it’s a fried ball of dough loaded with sultanas, a hint of lemon and dusted in sugar like these?

michael harry - food and lifestyle publisher

Michael Harry
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 epa - food and lifestyle commissioning editor

Rushani Epa
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.