If you’re gonna compile a 2014 highlight reel of Sydney dining, Mary’s CBD outlet has to score a top-ranking spot. Broadsheet was dropping intel about the new takeaway branch way back in July, and anticipation was as supersized as the mega Breakfast Burger ($12) that made it onto the eventual menu.
Mary’s city branch opened in late November, a calendar event marked by your Instagram flash-flooding with images of its signature burgers. Yes, there were the famously great old-timers (the classic Mary’s, the Cheeseburger, the unapologetically excellent ‘Shroom/Veg option), a new Chicken addition ($12) and the audacious Breakfast creation. Stacked with a sausage patty, bacon, hash brown, cheese and slatherings of maple syrup and HP sauce – you could also custom-build more elements, by dropping in a fried egg for $1 or adding another hash brown for $2 as an insurance policy against ever needing to feel hungry again. You might need to hire a clean-up crew to fix you up after you work through this fantastic mess, but Will says it’s incredibly worth it. It’s a real ignition-starter for your day – this burger is spectacular. (And should you have a hangover, it might be the best fast-acting medicine you can find.)
With the new Mary’s outlet, co-owners Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham offer a re-reminder of why their business has blitzed so many personal ‘best burger’ lists, scooped up awards from the Herald and FBi, and drawn such dedicated queues. (Once, I was inside Mary’s in Newtown and amazed that it hadn’t attracted the epic crowd of waiting diners that’s a trademark sight there, only to exit and discover the worst storm in 20 years was under way and that’s the kind of record-breaking event that’s required to shake people from their Mary’s loyalty.)
While the CBD post is takeaway only and doesn’t have the killer wine/cocktails/beer list of the Newtown institution, it does sell A-grade shakes that are so seriously thick that they’ll test the suction power of both your straw and lungs. The Passionfruit and Buttered Popcorn ($6) are ace, but the outright winner has to be the Smoked Maple Syrup. Holy shakes, indeed.
Mary’s constant dare is for us to “get fat” and thanks to its flat-out great menu, we’re all more than willing to comply. Hell, if you look at the graffiti on the wall, there’s even an endorsement from “Neil Perry”, talking about how good the burgers are – just to underscore what you already know. And don’t worry, the CBD outlet is just as loud as the Newtown original – the soundtrack is as punchy and full-volumed as the food.
Mary’s CBD, 154 Castlereagh St, Sydney, instagram.com/marysnewtown
One of the standout meals I had this year was at LuMi in Pyrmont, which opened in September. It was such a gold rush of flavours and textures, I’m not sure that I can shake out enough words from the English language to really do it justice, but here’s an earnest attempt, anyway.
LuMi’s high-velocity menu works its magic from the very start – a snack plate with cheddar tartlets, potato and rosemary focaccia and the satisfying crackle of the salt and vinegar rice crisps, which are as light as a breeze-ruffled dress.
Other highlights from Federico Zanellato’s ultra-inspired menu includes the Chawanmushi (a clever cross-breeding of a Japanese standard with Italian flair) and the Evergreen, which is one of my outright favourite desserts of this year. The sorrel sorbet, mint meringue, shiso jelly and lemon basil granita become a forest floor of cooling flavours, full of herbal zip and bracing bursts and textural surprises – it’s a knockout all the way. It’d be tempting to order 10,000 of these as a defence strategy against the summer’s worst extremes.
It took me a while to get to LuMi because I didn’t know how rigid the restaurant was with its seafood-heavy degustation, but it turns out that it offers a brilliant vegetarian alternative if you book in advance. No dish felt like an understudy or B-grade substitute, this is a menu overloaded with star elements. (And our dining companions who scored the ‘standard’ menu thought it was in every way exceptional.) A definite 2014 dining highlight.
As a long-time fan of Mitch Orr’s food, ACME was the restaurant that I was most amped about dining at this year. And as I wrote when it first opened in October, “ACME fiercely lives up to its name – this establishment seriously brings its A-game”. (You can see the full review here.) It’s a place that delivers pay-off after pay-off, with the menu shifting and morphing so often that you need to schedule in emergency visits before your current favourite dish disappears (but the upside is that there’s always a new addition that will totally floor you – like the insanely good Leeks, Potato and Parmesan number, which makes you want to smuggle in some contraband bread to soak up every last droplet of this carb-and-cheese wonder).
Papi Chulo snuck in at the very tail-end of last year, but given that its first days overlap with 2014’s start, I can say its establishment was one of the highlights of the last 12 months without the Calendar Police harassing me, right? This Merivale venture continues Dan Hong’s winning streak, with co-conspirators Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth more than proving their mettle as head chefs. As I wrote in January: “together, they’ve created an excellent menu that takes on the slow and smoky tempo of American barbecue, while weaponising the power of Asian ingredients to add fire and contrast to cuisines from different borders. It’s original, fun, a little audacious and full of bullseye-hitting thrills.” Full review here.
And then there was the surge and surge of Rising Sun Workshop, with its 2-in-1 appeal: a communal motorcycle workshop doing double duty as a ramen bar unlike any other in Sydney. Initially only meant to last six weeks, this joint stuck around from April to September and, if its long-standing development application finally gets council approval, is scheduled to be resurrected in the old Mitre 10 site in Newtown. While the waiting game’s on, you can see if Rising Sun Workshop scores the FBi SMAC award for Best Eats on January 20, or listen to my podcast with Nick Smith, the unlikely ramen master who created the menu that hooked us in – and originally kickstarted his kitchen adventures with an inadvertent bomb scare.
This year also saw Gelato Messina extend its deep-freeze universe, with new stores in Parramatta and Miranda. It rebooted the Darlinghurst lab into a DIY sundae construction zone, with its new Dessert Bar. Also, I know Messina is constantly making you switch your flavour loyalties, by coming up with endlessly great new creations that outdo what came before, but Bananageddon was so awesome that it basically became life support for the week in July that it was available (3 tubs and 2 scoops were bought in that period; it was a flavour that inspired epic stockpiling).
Throughout the last 12 months, I was thrown completely off-axis by restaurants that still deserve headline-worthy attention in 2014, even if they’ve been open for a while. Places such as Sixpenny, Momofuku Seiobo, Bentley, and The Bridge Room just keep scoring touchdown after touchdown.
Some of the knockout meals I’ve had this year also happened to be far from Sydney postcodes. Our dinner at Garagistes in Hobart last month was overrun with highlights – and is up there with MONA in terms of handing you a solid excuse to make an express stop to the Tasmanian capital.
I got to visit Melbourne twice this year – for incredibly short durations – but both times, Supernormal blazed to the top of my to-go list. In January, I made a detour to its pop-up (it was my first stop after landing and dropping off my bags) and on my second trip in August, I had a solo dinner at Supernormal’s permanent spot and every dish reaffirmed how glad I was this establishment was sticking around for a long time. The Apple and Shiso Granita with Soft Poached Meringue and Sheep’s Milk Yogurt ($16) was one of the damned best desserts I was lucky enough to try this year. Another standout – the eggplant at Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne’s Collingwood, which spun me out when I first consumed it in January.
Hotel Hotel is re-energising Canberra with its ultra-likeable presence, and Monster Bar and Kitchen is a key part of its killer charm. When there in July, I attempted a double dinner and double breakfast, just to multiply my chances of eating there; earlier this month, I opted for a less extravagant single dinner at Monster and even in a sole blow, it just upended me completely. Every dish is a winning round and its Fried Cauliflower and Eggplant with Smoked Goat’s Curd are two highlights from a menu that’s overcrowded with orders that are worth your time. Grace (whose hand-drawn banner adorns this blog) called it the best restaurant she’s ever been to.
And what I ate at Subo in Newcastle this year was so expectation-blitzing that it has me considering – is it too crazy to endure six hours of back-to-back train-commuting time just to dine there again and head right home? Hell, the food there is that good. Straight up, it was one of the best meals I enjoyed in 2014.
Something that gave me unending thrills was the fact I got to interview so many amazing people for my podcast. Sure, it was awesome to be able to share a car ride with Ferran Adria (and quiz him from the airport to his hotel), but my favourite experiences were with local talents. O Tama Carey was amazing enough to (literally) sit in the gutter with me to record this fascinating chat, and other highlights included talking to Richard Hargreave, Mike Bennie, Kylie Millar, “Andy Bowdy”/Andrew Bowden and Hanz Gueco (whose podcast is the most downloaded episode of 2014).
By the way, any year where Andy and Black Star Pastry collaborate to create a watermelon cake soft serve automatically gets bumped up to be a great one. This was one reason that 2014 was awesome. I hope you were overwhelmed with many other highlights in the last 12 months, too.
Happy new year.