In Brisbane, Gauge Stands Apart From the Imitators

BRISBANE, Australia — The restaurant’s name will be a single word: stark, vaguely industrial, somewhat meaningless. There will be some sort of sculptural tartare on the menu, and probably a kingfish ceviche. Saltbush and kangaroo and finger lime will all make appearances. The format is a tasting menu or shared plates or a combination of both; the wines are natural. Ben Shewry has a lot to answer for.

Mr. Shewry’s Melbourne restaurant, Attica, has helped transform Australia’s dining landscape, with an emphasis on native ingredients and inventive local winemakers and a penchant for layered, unexpected flavors. It also has spawned a thousand imitators.

Perhaps it would be more generous to say that Attica has inspired a new generation of Australian chefs. (Some of the blame, or credit, should be spread around; the chef Dan Hunter, of Brae, is similarly influential, and René Redzepi’s brief Australian iteration of Noma left an indelible mark.)

Australia now has a style of dining that is immensely recognizable. But it can be very difficult to tell one “modern Australian” restaurant from another. Much like the natural wines that dominate their lists, this crop of restaurants has a lot of potential, and plenty of intrigue and newness. But sometimes exploring the brave new world of natural wine will have you thinking: “I probably like this? I know I’m supposed to like it. But also: this kind of tastes like armpit cider.” Modern Australian dining experiences are often similarly, or simultaneously, problematic.

I have spent a lot of time in these restaurants in recent months. In Brisbane, I encountered so many of them that I almost didn’t make it to Gauge, which has a name and style and website that render it almost indistinguishable from all the other modern Australian tasting-menu joints in town. But I did stop in, partially because Gauge, nestled in a small space in the heart of Brisbane’s art precinct, operates mainly as a daytime cafe. And there was something about its sourdough waffle with hazelnut ricotta that made a dinner visit seem advisable. It was a good call.

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