Every year that we do this we’re stunned by how much has happened in the past six months. It really feels, every time, like there’s an unprecedented interest in eating out and a many people trying to make it interesting.
In no particular order, here are our top 10 restaurants of the year so far.
A curtained entrance, timber furniture, carpeted floors and hand-carved Japanese cutlery and crockery – it’s the closest you’ll get to eating in the hip part of Tokyo without actually going there. Except for what’s on the plate. There are Japanese touches but it’s far too imaginative to be classified as just that; for example, a blend of beef, dark chocolate, red miso and wine. Where else would you find that?
This is Darren Robertson and Cameron Northway’s answer to hospitality’s holy grail, a solid neighbourhood restaurant. At night the all-day venue is more about wine, house-made pastas, oysters and Negronis on tap. In the morning, it’s umbrella-shaded outdoor benches, Single Origin brews, pastries, eggs on toast and one of Sydney’s best bacon sandwiches.
From the ashes of Eleven Bridge, Neil Perry’s last fine diner, comes something entirely different. Modelled on the fancy hotels of Hong Kong, Jade Temple is an ode to both the dishes served at Australia’s many Chinese restaurants, and those deeply rooted in Cantonese tradition. In short, imagine eating lemon chicken and char siu made with NSW’s best produce in a room that looks like an ad for a five-star South East Asian hotel.
When Gastro Park closed we lost one of Sydney’s most creative fine-dining restaurants. What we gained was one of Sydney’s most deceptively creative casual dining restaurants. “Deceptive” because, unlike all the theatre at Gastropark, the creativity here is relatively hidden. A steak looks like a steak and a beetroot like a beetroot, but behind the scenes chef-owner Grant King is up to his usual experimentation to make sure steak and beetroot taste as rich and interesting as possible.
Bacco Osteria and Espresso
Darren Robertson and Cameron Northway aren’t the only hospitality entrepreneurs to have a dig at an all-day, all-moods-catered-for restaurant. Just a week before Rocker (above) opened, Andrew Cibej (Vini, 121 BC) and chef Scott Williams launched Bacco – a two-faceted venue in the CBD. On one side it operates as a cafe serving thick-cut pizzas, paninis and espressos. On the other it serves fresh pasta, old-school gnocchi and regional Italian classics in a casual dining room.
Pino’s Vino e Cucina
Pino’s isn’t doing anything radical. But it’s not trying to, either. It’s simply a neighbourhood Italian restaurant with good pasta, good cocktails and a good wine list. The reason it is on this list with illustrious company is because of the vibe. A good soundtrack, good lighting and a refreshingly, not over-designed fit-out make it one of the most comfortable and fun restaurants in Sydney.
When acclaimed Singapore-based chef Lino Sauro came to Sydney, he said the thing he was most looking forward to was working with the local produce. It was hard to make traditional, high quality Sicilian food with the fruits, vegetables and seafood in Singapore. Despite that he was lauded as one of the best Italian chefs in the country. Imagine what he’s doing here (or go see for yourself).
Look around the venue and see white walls, open windows, industrial light features and, if you’re there on a Friday night, a DJ. It all feels very Bondi and very “done” until you start eating. Tomi Björck and Samuel Cole say the venue is a blank canvas, an experimental approach that has led them to serving bold flavours and dishes such as pastrami bonito with kombu pickles, and beef cheeks served ssam style with salad leaves, pickled beetroot, yuzu cream and hot sauce.
A massive (in size and ambition) two-part venue from Justin Wise and Dixon Hospitality. The main part is a semi fine diner so focused on Australian products it was built entirely with local materials and now operates without a single imported ingredient. The other (much smaller) part is it’s where to go for a 12-course dessert degustation from Melbourne pastry master Darren Purchase.
At the start of the year Bad Hombres was a natural-wine bar serving tacos. A few months later it became (with only Gigi’s Pizzeria for competition) one of the best vegan restaurants in Sydney. How do you make switching to a meat-free menu a success? Not thinking about vegetables as meat substitutes, just making them delicious.
Audience pick: Yakitori Jin
An inner-west izakaya serving yakitori and sake in a traditional izakaya style setting was one of our most-read food stories of the year.