This year didn’t exactly turn out how we had planned – we spent more time in lockdown than we would have liked, and less time in restaurants. But food was one of the shining lights of our year – whether it was giving us something to look forward to on the weekend after another infinite week of being cooped up, or the joy of that first restaurant meal once we were released. Like last year’s picks – when ramen was the dish du jour – this year’s choices are all about comfort foods: plenty of pizzas and burgers, as well as the joys of a fine dining meal that feels so luxe and welcome post-lockdown. These are our favourites: the drinks and dishes our staffers, editors, writers and photographers couldn’t get out of their minds.
La Salut, Redfern – octopus, sobrasada and chickpea
Sarah Norris, national editor
It was an immensely tough decision to choose just one dish – it was a toss up between Jovi’s DIY cheeseburger (I even wrote a whole article about the juicy, delicious cook-and-eat burgs) and this fabulous dish from La Salut, the suave new Spanish wine bar by the Love, Tilly Devine, Ragazzi and Fabbrica crew. Like the burger, the joy it brought was partly because of its timing – I visited the newbie as Sydney was reopening after our winter of (lockdown) discontent, and as I felt comfortable to be out and about. I was out, the sun was shining and I was hanging with my favourite people. There’s no trickery to this flavour bomb – it’s grilled octopus on a bed of chickpea puree spiked with sobrasada (a kinda spicy Catalan pork sausage) and topped with a dollop of yoghurt. It’s oily, punchy and has the exactly big-flavour energy I need in my life. Another serve, please.
Westwood, Newtown – fermented-garlic honey pizza
Che-Marie Trigg, Sydney editor
All of Westwood’s pizzas are excellent. But the one that served me well this year – that I love so much I devoted an entire column to it – is the fermented-garlic and honey. The crust is thin and chewy, the cheese melty and oozy, the honey adds sweetness that’s tempered by the fermented garlic. It’s the perfect comfort food – and while it was a delight during lockdown, it was best shared with others: split with a bottle of chilled red with workmates, divided between a few friends from out of town after a few cocktails, a last-minute decision to go halvsies with my partner on a weeknight. It’s a versatile beast, this pizza, and a welcome addition to my eating-out repertoire.
Lola’s Level 1, Bondi – pan tumaca with jamon iberico
Dan Cunningham, directory editor
From my window seat at Lola’s, the sea looked angry on a stormy Bondi eve. But then a slab of tomato-smeared sourdough bread appeared at the table, dear reader. It was piled high with a flurry of Spanish ham sliced so thin it seemed to dance in the restaurant’s agreeable air conditioning. Outside, the clouds parted just a little, and I remembered – for the millionth time – how much I bloody love bread.
Baba’s Place, Marrickville – bouillabaisse bolognese
Emma Joyce, national assistant editor
In October the recently opened Baba’s Place in Marrickville was so popular I couldn’t get a booking. So, when a friend’s spot at the bar became available I snapped it up, eager to try the already famed house-made labne, made using culture transported from Lebanon via co-owner and chef Jean-Paul El Tom’s grandmother. The thick, creamy yogurt with garlic chive oil and Afghan bread was an instant winner. But then came the real MVP: the mixed heritage bouillabaisse bolognese. Hand-pulled Shanghai noodles are topped with prawn and bacon XO sauce, smoked koji, lamb ragu, fresh and crunchy cucumber and diced shallots. It’s both light and full of flavour, with each bite pulling you in a different cultural direction. Owners El Tom and Alexander Kelly draw on their Lebanese and Macedonian backgrounds, sure, but the standout dish here is a combination of what makes Sydney so special. It’s a little bit of everything and likes to play with your expectations.
Dimitri’s Pizzeria, Darlinghurst – Bee Sting pizza
Wassila Aboud, sales and partnership manager
I frequented Dimitri’s this year, often doing the dash for takeaway wearing nothing but flannelette pyjamas. I’d often pretend to review the changing menu (which is updated regularly on @dimitrispizzeria) well and truly knowing I’d always find myself in the arms of my lover, the glorious Bee Sting. The Bee Sting pizza comes with house-stretched mozzarella, sopressa, tomato and house-harvested honey. Eating this always gets the taste buds questioning – is it sweet? Is it savoury? It’s the perfect mix of both, much like a Nickleback song.
Jovi’s, online – DIY cheeseburger
Aimee Chanthadavong, writer
When I heard the news my old local favourite burger joint Pub Life Kitchen was being resurrected, I was ready to race back down – except I no longer lived down the street. Rather, I was trapped in a five-kilometre radius 35 kilometres away. But it was such sweet relief when Jovan Curic announced deliveries of his legendary cheeseburgers were coming out west – I don’t think I could’ve rushed to order anything faster. And oh damn, the cheeseburger was as good as I remembered: a patty that’s so juicy, fatty and – this time – well-aged, sandwiched between a pillowy soft potato bun, and topped with melty American cheese, crunchy pickles and smothered with garlicky lime mayo, plus tomato sauce for good measure. It was the saviour for my taste buds that were after a burger that wasn’t from a fast-food chain.
Ursula’s, Paddington – coral trout
Ariela Bard, writer
It’s my 15-year wedding anniversary and I’ve hauled my husband out of the Recital Hall at Angel Place. The show has gone overtime and I won’t be a minute late to my 9pm booking at Ursula’s, Phil Wood’s new neighbourhood bistro. The white Negronis, delivered with charm and warmth, quickly soothe any of his lingering resentment at missing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. But it's the coral trout, spiked with trout roe and warrigal greens and hidden under a warm blanket of silky butter-cream sauce, that brings the night, the year – and us – back to life.
Pizza Madre, Marrickville – candied macadamia and wattleseed tiramisu
Raveena Kant, sales and partnerships executive
Pizza Madre for me fell into the bucket of, “I had a booking but I had a lockdown”. Alas, it was saved on my Instagram collection for a good few months and shot up in the list to become the first venue where I regrouped with friends post-lockdown. The menu serves up a full vego selection of woodfired goodness that’s made on its infamous sourdough base, so to walk away raving about the dessert was a pleasant surprise. Its take on tiramisu includes a delightful array of wattleseeds, which add a punchy, salty crunch to each bite; the kitchen has mastered the sponge-to cream-ratio but what really makes the tiramisu hit is the added flavour of macadamia. I’m still in the process of investigating if the macadamia was infused in the creamy layers or if it’s added into the coffee liqueur, so I’ll just have to go back for round two to be extra sure.
Sang by Mabasa, Surry Hills – bibimbap
Emily Barlow, group campaign manager
One Saturday in June, an unassuming diner on Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills is buzzing with 30 young women, sharing an excellent set menu. It’s a day that encapsulates what I love about Sydney: superb food, a sunny winter’s day, and the lightness of life pre-lockdown. Everything about Sang by Mabasa is harmonious – a small, family-owned operation, making their own ceramics, which are used to serve impeccable Korean supper. The bibimbap is a standout. The layered dish arrives in a sizzling, weighty stone bowl, inviting you to stir the rice, shredded vegetables and kimchi, topped with a perfectly fried egg, and consume. There’s tang, sweetness and, importantly, chilli. And for a fine-leaning diner, the $20 price point never hurts, nor does the BYO wine.
Porcine, Paddington – garlic mussels on toast
Tristan Lutze, writer
By name and reputation, Porcine promises to be an inherently porky experience; there’s that giant picture of a half-pig, half-sausage on the wall for starters. But, known as he might be for Scotch eggs and pork pies, chef Nik Hill – king of the smoked eel – has plenty of fishy tricks up his sleeves, too. To wit, the “mussels on toast”, simple as they sound, bring as much muscle as they do mussel. Heaving, blushing bivalves, tossed with softened parsley, are piled onto a crunchy piece of rye toast and absolutely slathered in garlic and butter. Think garlicky, buttery escargot piled onto garlic-bread vibes. It’s the kind of first mouthful that sends your eyeballs rolling into the back of your head, something I’ve come to know as the “Nik Hill effect”.