These are the dishes our editors and writers couldn’t get out of their minds. While the rules would usually stipulate venues that opened this year, this is not a normal year. And we all know good eating isn’t limited to the new and shiny. That said, a few newcomers caught our eye (hello, The Scenic. You too, Arkhe). But there are also some lesser-known, longstanding spots that earned a special place in our hearts and tastebuds. Here’s what we loved this year.

Wood-ear mushrooms with garlic vinegar, Muni
My picks this year, like so many other years, could really have been any dish I ate at Parwana or the Hills’ house of good times, The Summertown Aristologist (who knew some cos lettuce could be elevated so highly with a spattering of Tommy ruff garum?). But I want to give a shout-out to the dish that perhaps surprised me the most. Honestly, I may not have ordered Muni’s wood-ear mushrooms had the pork neck not been sold out. And thank goodness it was, because these shrooms (like Craig David) are slicker than your average. The firm, springy mushies are drizzled in house-made soy sauce and garlic vinegar and topped with torn basil from the nearby farmers market (instead of coriander, to this Italian’s tastebuds’ delight). Simple but an absolute standout. My dining partner was so enamoured with this textural dish he tried to recreate it at home, to lesser success.
- Daniela Frangos, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth editor

Beans akara, OzAfrican Delights Cafe
Like the saying goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Or, more appropriately, the snacks you eat on that journey. And so it was that, while in an Uber to Woodville to interview someone for a story, I spied this homely West African eatery on Kilkenny Road and made a mental note to drop by for lunch. I’m glad I did, although next time I’ll bring reinforcements: the menu here is deep, both in size and the ground covered. Fortunately, my meal included the beans akara: deep-fried, chewy (in a good way) oval fritters made from pounded black beans. While the akara get top billing, the star of the dish is the meaty, slow-burning chutney they’re served with – although, surprisingly, according to chef and owner Hannah James, the chutney is totally vegetarian. And totally delicious, even when eaten fridge-cold in your hotel room later that day.
- Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor-at-large

Anchovy soldiers, The Scenic
Isn’t it fitting that Adelaide’s best pub view and best pub meal can be found in the same dining room, atop Norton Summit at the recently reinvented Scenic Hotel? I think often of the flank tartare served on a slashed-open packet of Smith’s original crinkle-cut chips, and the sliced-down-the-middle roo schnitty. But what really got me going were these fish fingers. Golden, crusty bread. Oritz anchovies. And whatever the hell that “green sauce” is. Phwoar. I ate a single finger, which was four too few.
- Tomas Telegramma, Melbourne editor

Roo schnitzel, The Scenic
Adelaide had some truly impressive high-end openings this year, but the places I found myself returning to again and again were ones of familiarity and comfort. Enter: The Scenic Hotel, whose hearty roo schnitzel provided solace several times in the depths of winter. Even when I didn’t order it, I would usually urge someone else at the table to, out of sheer respect for its presence. Yes, it is but a humble (albeit giant) schnitty, but it’s an example of what pub food can be when chefs think outside the box – and a welcome change from less sustainable beef and chicken options. It’s paired with an excellent potato salad (since replaced with mash) and a pepper sauce in the best pub meal I’ve had in a long time. (Tip: if you’re about balancing the food groups, consider ordering a side of greens.)
- Daniela Frangos, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth editor

Spencer Gulf prawns with XO sauce, Angler
Who’d have thought a fish’n’chip shop in posh, leafy Stirling – miles away from the beach – would be serving some of the most considered, flavourful seafood dishes in Adelaide? But Angler is a fish’n’chip shop of restaurant quality. Blushing wood-oven prawns are tumbled with powerful XO. And the power of smoke transforms carp into fish-based “bacon”. Owner Sam Prance-Smith and manager Jeremy Arrascaeta’s emphatic celebration of lesser-known fish is triumphant.
- Kate Richards, writer

Wagyu beef ramen, Minimono
When the Delta variant made its way to Australian shores, making overseas travel seem increasingly like a pipedream, I paid even closer attention to venue openings around town. It seemed others did, too, because long lines outside the door of this new, tiny noodle bar meant I delayed my first visit for some time. Happily, it was worth the wait: Minimono’s Wagyu beef ramen – an ox bone-based broth with slow-cooked Wagyu beef, ajitsuke tamago (soy-marinated egg), black fungus, spring onion, pickled onion and bamboo shoots – feels like a comforting hug, and was one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve eaten this year. I’m sure it’s best enjoyed in winter, but it’s still ridiculously good on a warm night (plus, it’s more likely you’ll get a seat).
- Nicole Wedding, writer

Baked sourdough with roasted onions, sour cream and taleggio, Arkhe
As it is at most barbeques, latecomers often miss out on the good stuff. Those thunderbolts of Fomo hit especially hard at Arkhe, one of (South) Australia’s biggest openings of 2021. Former Burnt Ends ex-head chef Jake Kellie has a talent for using smoke and fire to coax maximum deliciousness out of ingredients. Presenting exhibit A: this (sadly since retired) riff on flamiche, a classic French tart from the Picardy region that brings together sweet onions, bright sour cream and the molten savour of Section 28 Monte Rosso made in the Adelaide Hills. I can’t wait to get back to Norwood.
- Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor-at-large

Parfait tartlet à la Burnt Ends, Arkhe
These little morsels are inspired by the dish that earned chef Jake Kellie second place at the San Pellegrino World Young Chef Award in 2018 – replacing pigeon liver with duck liver in a burnished baby tart that I haven’t quite stopped thinking about. The crisp pastry casing and bruléed top breaks away to reveal a smooth, velvety parfait inside, and in two or three bites it’s gone. Fleeting and fabulous.
- Daniela Frangos, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth editor

Lunchtime special, Meet Delight
When nothing but wooden tables and fluorescent lighting will do, head directly to Grote Street’s Meet Delight where the no-frills fit-out belies the impossibly delicious noodles, dumplings and cold dishes on the menu. I particularly loved the lunchtime special, which comprises your choice of three noodle bowls, a salty, soy-soaked egg and a can of soft drink (Sunkist is my preference but do what you will). Shout out to the braised beef noodles (dry and extra spicy) where chunks of tender beef and al dente noodles hang out in an umami, fragrant chilli sauce with little nubs of peanut and greens – for health.
- Kate Richards, writer

Abalone in paperbark, Restaurant Botanic
Beauty surrounds the new-look Restaurant Botanic. The picturesque gardens, the subtle decor and the painstakingly-plated dishes executive chef Justin James serves up. The stand out: a whole abalone wrapped in a charred paperbark parcel. The tenderness of the abalone makes this a heavenly delicacy that disappears in about six mouthfuls. And between each slice, a piece of asparagus has been neatly tucked. Perfection.
- Kurtis Eichler, writer

Egg-salad sandwich, Brid
Fifty per cent of the joy I experienced during Melbourne’s 2021 lockdowns was sandwich related. It’s curious, then, that one of the most memorable ones I tore into this year was in Adelaide – before I even harnessed the full potential of sandwich serotonin. Sitting at Brid on a frosty morning, the windows fogged à la Titanic, I had one thing on my mind: focaccia. And its blessed renaissance. A lofty, cut-down-the-middle slab encased just-creamy-enough egg salad and peppery rocket. Perfection.
- Tomas Telegramma, Melbourne editor

Flank steak tartare, The Scenic Hotel
Raw beef seems to be everywhere right now, but raw beef served in a sliced-open Smiths crisps foil packet? That’s the magic of this born-again local pub, captured via finely diced flank steak, crinkle-cut chips and (out of shot) a parochial drinks list that speaks to The Scenic’s strong community spirit.
- Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor-at-large

Basque burnt cheesecake, Basque by Leo
I’m not the biggest dessert fan – I’ll always prioritise savoury courses over saving room for sweets – which is probably why my favourite cake is cheese-based. This particular cheesecake, though, is something else: caramelised and glossy on the outside with a creamy, custard-like texture inside, fired at a high temperature to create the blistered, cracked crust. Chef Leo Loureiro’s version – which you can order on Instagram to be delivered to your door – is especially silky-smooth inside and adds orange zest (a tip given to him by former Leigh Street Wine Room chef Nathan Sasi) for extra pizzazz. It’s also alarmingly easy to devour – I hoovered almost all of it (a serving for four) up myself. Extra points for arriving at my door in a box wrapped in string, like the truly special gift it is.
- Daniela Frangos, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth editor