The rules were simple: the venue had to have opened in 2018 and the dish or drink was something our writers couldn’t stop thinking about.

Penny’s Cheese Shop, Potts Point: Grilled-cheese toastie
Sarah Norris, Sydney editor
Not only was it something I couldn’t stop thinking about, it became the first entry in a new Broadsheet series called “I Can’t Stop Thinking About”. This four-cheese toasted sandwich is the inspired creation of fromage virtuoso Penny Lawson, who this year opened her excellent speciality cheese shop in a backstreet of Potts Point. It’s made with sourdough from Pyrmont’s Pioik Bakery, a mix of cheese she has in her larder, but always a cheddar for its sharpness and a raclette for its melting properties, and I like to include onions for sweetness. But the reason why we called it Sydney’s best toastie, is because it’s made with cheese on the outside – genius – which gives it not only a spectacular golden crunch, but also plenty of those crisped-up bits you only usually get from escaped cheese formed during the grilling process.

P&V Wine Merchants and Continental Deli, Enmore: A Spanish Sesh
Sarah Norris, Sydney editor
The tastings at this inner-west bottle shop slash education fun house are great, but this one with Continental was F-U-N. Twenty punters were taken on an informative and delicious exploration of the drinks of Spain, such as sherry, wine and vermouth, with the Continental team matching them to some pretty impressive cheeses, tinned seafood and cured meats. I left a little bit tight but a whole lot more knowledgeable and I think that’s a damn fine way to spend a weeknight.

Don Peppino’s, Paddington: Ciceri e tria
Yvonne C Lam, acting assistant Sydney editor
How much chickpea is too much chickpea? The limit does not exist in the ciceri e tria, with whole chickpeas, chickpea-flour pasta shells and crisp fried versions of the same pasta shells. I first tried this dish at Wilmer in 2017, the Full Circle group’s previous Italian pop-up in Potts Point, and this is better than I remember. I could eat a punch bowl of this stuff, with a massive spoon, sitting cross-legged on my kitchen floor, probably without pants. Instead, I make do perched at the bar, fully clothed, in the nightclub-turned-restaurant glory of Don Peppino’s.

A1 Canteen, Chippendale: Tagliatelle, pickled mustard greens and fermented chilli
Max Veenhuyzen, Perth editor and national food contributor
I liked this Japanese-Italian-Australian pasta so much, I tried replicating it at home. It wasn’t exactly the same. Nonetheless, my lame DIY efforts will have to suffice till I’m next back in Sydney and can stick my fork into this ugly-glorious mess of glossy noodles, brassicas, kanzuri chilli (a bright, citrusy Japanese condiment made by slowly fermenting chillies in the snow) and dabs of smoked feta. A wonderful, original dish from one of this country’s more wonderful, original eating and drinking prospects.

Bella Brutta, Newtown: Clam pizza
Molly Urquhart, assistant audience-growth editor
Bella Brutta’s clam pizza lives up to all the glorious Instagram hype. There are only five bread discs (for want of another word for “pizza”) on the menu and the clam guy is a must-order. Even if you’re not that into clams, which is me to be honest, you should give it a whirl. Fresh, garlicky, chowder-y, white base-y, parsley-y, charred as shit and moreish. I’ve had it twice, on two separate occasions, and the second time lots more lemon was squeezed on than the first round. I preferred it that way. Frankly, it tastes like the beach.

Mama Lor, Rooty Hill: Hopia ube
Nicholas Jordan, contributor
Earlier this year I had a miniature breakdown. A good breakdown. The kind you have when you’re 12 and you’ve just finished watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was over a pastry, a dense but flaky little pie-like goodie that had been stuffed with a slightly sweet and brilliantly purple yam paste. In tagalog [Austronesian language] it’s called a hopia ube. I ate this hot yam pie, and it was delicious in the same uncomplicated way a good peanut-butter sandwich is, but I felt sad because I had realised a great tragedy. There are too many good things in the world and I don’t have time to experience them all. I had never even heard of a hopia ube before that day, and I knew there were hundreds of other things I may never know.

Poly, Surry Hills: Potato cigar
Ania Newbery, writer
In my eyes the potato can do no wrong, but since a fateful night a few months ago, the humble vegetable won’t be right unless it’s used to fill a light filo pastry “cigar” affixed to a plate by a silky parmesan custard. On second thoughts, could I have a bucket of that too, please? Poly’s menu is ever changing, with several renditions of the cigar making an appearance. A delicious stroke of luck would lead you to find the potato cigar I had – although I’m sure any iteration would be delectable.

Ron’s Upstairs, Redfern: House chicken
Tristan Lutze, writer
I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something appropriately elevated about the house chicken at Ron’s Upstairs. Maybe it’s the slightly blackened flame-licked skin rubbed with paprika and chilli, hiding that still-juicy bird meat. Or it’s those two little bowls that come with it, one filled with berry-red Piri Piri chilli sauce, the other with a fragrant and unapologetically garlicky toum. I don’t know, maybe it’s the magnificently garish (and garishly magnificent) fit-out of the room; a museum-worthy tribute to the wood-panel-chic outer-suburb Eastern European community clubs trapped, as they so often are, in the early 1980s. Or maybe we finally did it. Maybe this is it. After years of searching, maybe we found it. Maybe this unassuming staircase, the one that leads up to this effortlessly cool Redfern restaurant and bar, was the one Zeppelin were singing about.

Poly, Surry Hills: Pig’s ear on a stick
Nick Buckley, assistant Melbourne editor
You can espuma and spherise your food, or just stab some shit with a spike and throw it on the grill. It’ll probably be more delicious anyway. Which is what happens to pig ears at Poly (sort of). The oinkers’ listening flaps get a three-hour Chinese red braise before being pressed, skewered and grilled. As the layers of soft fat, crisp skin and crunchy cartilage sizzle over charcoal they’re basted with a yakitori tare sauce of caramelised honey, brown rice vinegar, tamari, sesame oil and dessert oak seeds. Pair that meat stick with a glass of acidic, raisin-y Tissot Cremant du Jura Extra Brut NV and get ready for an indulgent, unctuous and textural sucker punch.

Travis Tausend “Joy” riesling
Nick Connellan, publications director
Travis Tausend is a young, self-taught winemaker based in the Adelaide Hills, where he benefits from a likeminded community of zero-sulphur rockstars, including Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk, Anton van Klopper of Lucy Margaux and James Erskine of Jauma. This wine is a big departure from the searing, laser-like acidity found in many Australian rieslings. To me, it tastes like nothing less than a mouth full of fizzy liquid sherbet.

Bella Brutta, Newtown: Cavolo nero pizza
Katie Milton, writer
This cavolo-nero number is cooked between 450 and 500 degrees in a woodfired oven and served on a perfectly charred sourdough base thick with pecorino and fior di latte. Then, it’s topped with whole chunks of buttery garlic, and just like Bella Brutta translated, it’s beautiful and ugly in all the best ways.

Poly, Surry Hills: Comte doughnut
Aimee Chanthadavong, writer
Fried cheese? Hell yeah. Even better when it comes freshly fried in the shape of a churro. My eyes told me my first bite should’ve been dense and doughy. Instead, it was crisp, light, fluffy and addictively umami. Each time I reached for more, I had to slow it down to make it last a little longer. Together with good wine, it was too hard to not order another – and that time I wasn’t planning on sharing.

Poly, Surry Hills: Potato dumplings, kombu dashi, black garlic
Aleksandra Bliszczyk, writer
Contrary to what you might expect of a wine bar-restaurant, Poly’s food is loud, uninhibited and show stopping. Normally I stick to the top half of any menu, but thank god I ventured south and ordered chef Mat Lindsay’s weird western-eastern synthesis of buttery potato parcels, kombu and ginger broth, and black-garlic pulp. The dumplings are like smaller, glossier Polish potato-filled pierogi, which are normally served with sour cream, but this wild flavour pairing is a huge plot twist. Needless to say I’ll be asking my 90-year-old grandma to make kombu dashi to go with her pierogi this Christmas.