Between border-crossing Asian food in an RSL, and blue pasta in Surry Hills, Sydney’s restaurant openings to this point in 2018 have been full of surprises. We were also taken by two ramen restaurants that break with tradition, and Merivale’s crown jewel.
In no particular order, here are Broadsheet’s picks of the year so far.
Live seafood. Caviar. Lobster perched on spaghetti. This is not a typical Newport restaurant. Welcome to Merivale’s Bert's, a classic brasserie rippling the water at the northern beaches.
The curved dining room, looking out over The Newport, takes you to the Caribbean with its extravagant sloped-panel wicker ceiling; potted fiddle-leaf figs; tables dotted with Colonial-style tasselled lamp shades; leather banquettes; and an olive-coloured marble bar, warped to resemble the gentle folds of linen. There’s not a detail Justin Hemmes hasn’t turned over and over in his mind.
Bunkering down here with champagne flutes and finger toast delivered by theatrical staff in linen, you’ll feel like a character in a Nancy Meyers film, if just for the afternoon. Jordan Toft’s food, on the other hand, transports you to the kind of bistros London does well, such as Chelsea’s The Ivy and Scott’s in Mayfair.
Every meal should begin with a visit to the raw bar, which glistens with the daily catch. It materialises later on silver trays as brioche toast with caviar and butter, hand-picked mud crab dressed in lemon mayonnaise, and spaghetti with pipis.
Little-known in Australia but renowned in Tokyo and Kyoto for its burnt-miso ramen, Gogyo quietly arrived on Albion Street in Surry Hills in January. Slowly, people have caught on to the fact Chikaranomoto Global Holdings’ famous Japanese chain has opened outside of Asia – and lines have ensued.
A fix for the soul, the kogashi miso ramen breaks with tradition, and boy it’s good. Founder Shigemi Kawahara decided to burn the hell out of miso back in 2003, which results in the epitome of umami (a fifth taste beyond bitter, sour, sweet and salty).
Lard is then overheated in a wok and two types of miso paste, followed by chicken broth, are added. It’s then topped with barbequed pork, cabbage and a flavoured egg.
The challenge: can a well-respected chef make it in a club? Nu Bambu at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park suggests so. And with a ceiling sculpture made from hand-dyed, pleated crimson silk, this restaurant looks nothing at all like an RSL.
“The market is shifting. The club knows it has to do something or it’ll be left behind,” says chef Freddie Salim, who after a stint at Sokyo and Longrain decided to rejuvenated recipes from his mum and turn out border-crossing Asian fare.
The vegetable green curry is particularly excellent.
“If you want to have really good Vietnamese food, you go to Marrickville. If you want to have dumplings, you go to Ashfield,” says Salim. “In Canterbury I want to create a little bit of everything in one place.”
We’ve seen Italian and Japanese cuisines collide, but incorporating French flavours into Japanese recipes is not something you see everyday.
But now a ramen chef with a cult following (Haru Inukai of Ramen Ikkyu and Blancharu) an ex-Aria chef (Shimon Hanakura) have opened a robata grill and ramen restaurant with a French accent in Darlinghurst.
They’re incorporating luxurious ingredients, too. Truffles and caviar find a spot beside edamame, karage chicken and gyoza, but they aren’t your regular versions of those Japanese dishes. There’s bouillabaisse karaage, bonito and soy dressed burrata, and smoked clay-pot duck with fresh truffle.
It’s early days and it’s still working out a few issues (the robata grill hasn’t been switched on yet due to permit restrictions, for example), but we still recommend you pull up a stool at the bar. There you can take a sneak peak at the daily produce on display in a glass cabinet.
There are just four bowls of ramen on offer, so you know each has been treated with care. We’d like to suggest one but we’re torn between the tart yuzu-spiced duck broth with duck meatballs and the chicken tonkotsu.
“We want to wow you,” says Mark Filippelli of his new vegan-pasta and spritz bar.
And hasn’t the former Icebergs chef chosen to do that in a very unexpected way.
“Why can’t pasta be blue?” he asks. “If it looks blue and it tastes amazing, why not?”
Why not indeed. Between unusually bright spaghetti, vegan eggs and charcoal-black cocktails, Mark + Vinny’s could easily be dismissed as a gimmick. But dig deeper and you’ll discover the pasta is house-made (and perfectly al dente) and there’s an impressive spritz menu 50 cocktails long.
A stage for the social-media savvy, sure, but the tables here are set with dishes that are not just as vibrant as the giant neon sign hanging overhead, they are delicious, too.
Want more great eating? Read Broadsheet's list of the best Sydney cafes of 2018 (So Far) here.