Joel Valvasori, Lulu La Delizia  2021 Winner

Five years into his reign at Lulu La Delizia, Joel Valvasori has created the kind of restaurant that diners speak about in hushed tones. The reason? This is a place that puts joy right at the top of the priorities list. A Perth boy who built a name in Melbourne and made waves at Lalla Rookh before opening his own place in Subiaco, Valvasori has now made Lulu an institution, one where the tone is buzzy, the drinks exceptional, the service spot on. It speaks to his development as a restaurateur on top of his role as chef; this kind of experience just doesn’t happen without someone with a deep understanding of hospitality. Then there’s the cooking. Dishes are confident, steeped in technique and tradition, and reflect a chef who not only knows his product, but isn’t afraid to walk his own path. The pasta – firm, springy, made to exacting specifications – comes in all shapes and sizes, from coin-shaped corzetti to casarecce to cavatelli, and once turned through its sauce, comes out piping hot. Spring could see him toss perfectly al dente spaghettini with clams and just the right amount of oil. Or saffron pappardelle with capon braised in white wine. Wherever you turn, this is a chef exploring the depths of his own considerable ability. The trick, though, is making it so enjoyable for the diner. Lucky us.