So I’m writing this literally hours before 2015 is about to wind up, so I hope you don’t mind if I do a little time-tripping via memory lane and drop some of my culinary highlights of 2015.
One of the most-amped-up openings of the year was The Paddington in (non-spoiler alert) Paddington. Given that it was Ben Greeno’s first gig after his megawatt run at Momofuku Seiobo (truly one of the best restaurants in Australia under his reign), all that hype and breath-holding was worth it.
As you might have heard in my podcast with him, the roast chicken was a key part of the menu for his Merivale venture (he even tried 100 euro roast chicken in France as research), but that’s not the only thing that gets a rotisserie spin at this venue.
The Paddington, even when it was box-fresh, was packed and en pointe from its first week, and unsurprisingly racked up pretty great endorsements. It features one of my fave dishes of the year, which is the spelt, braised kombu and egg concoction that Ben first conjured up as an emergency measure (to use up butter from France, which is kind of the nicest emergency that exists!). It’s flat-out phenomenal.
I think I maxed out on praise just writing about Automata, the Chippendale restaurant that’s run by Clayton Wells, who was Ben’s deputy at Momofuku Seiobo. It’s my favourite restaurant to have opened this year (and Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack obviously agree, placing it high on their list of Australia’s hottest restaurants of 2015). Both chefs have busted expectations since cord-cutting from Seiobo, and it was awesome to see Clayton showcase his invention (and his admitted dependency on seaweed!) with the ever-changing five-course here. Automata’s featured two of the best dishes I’ve had this year: the stracciatella, fermented peach, dehydrated tomato and kelp oil and the raspberry, rhubarb, cherry tomato and wakame.
There should be some auto-renewal function at Automata, where you instantly get booked in for a future sitting once you leave the restaurant, because it is worth so many return visits.
Another standout for me was Dead Ringer in Surry Hills – although how could you really misfire if you take the award-blitzing team behind Bulletin Place and hook them up with Farmhouse chef Tristan Rosier? The yuzu Bacardi Breezer was one of the most fun drinks I had in 2015 and do not underestimate the creamed almond, sesame and grape dip on Tristan’s menu. Usually, I’d skip over dip, but I’m glad I got talked around on this. I listed this as one of the best vegetarian dishes under $20 in Sydney for Good Food.
Something else I was totally wrong about – my assumptions about Boon Cafe in the Sydney CBD. I was such a latecomer to this awesome eatery because I’d been warned that it wasn’t vego-friendly and that there was basically fish sauce splashed all across the menu. Then I met the amazing Palisa Anderson (who helps run it, along with the Chat Thai ventures that her mother Amy Chanta started) and she told me there was currently a vegan festival on at Boon Cafe. So the first thing I ever had here was the vegan ‘egg’ noodles with mushroom gravy, followed by a killer eggplant toastie. I love how Boon upends your expectations about Thai food and the attached grocery is pretty cool, too.
Now is also an excellent time to make a detour to Boon as the awesomely talented Yu-Ching Lee, who runs Lemonpi and has been a pastry chef for Brickfields Bakery, Sepia, Bentley and other excellent venues, is in charge of the sweets until January 17. Her reign only started on Christmas Day, but I’ve already stocked up on her pandan lamington (the bright green that surprises you as you slice through it is a real delight), choc Milo tart, raspberry & lime macaroon, strawberry jam hojicha tart, flourless choc cake, Thai milk tea white choc cake, pandan madeleine, matcha chiffon cake and her banana goji & cocoa nib bread is a category-destroying winner – it’s the best take on banana bread I’ve ever tried in my life. If I could bottle smell of it when I toast a slice of it in my house, I would. That warm banana-charring fragrance is heady and generates an ultra-comforting moment you completely want to hit pause on.
If I still worked in Surry Hills, I’d be a lunchtime repeat offender at Salaryman and order its vegetarian ramen a billion times. The broth has a good amount of body, because it gets a savoury hit from roasted cabbage. (The second time I went, they added king mushrooms to the jackpot of flavours.) The tofu is set for two days and tastes super buttery, even though it’s only fried for a minute. Also at Stephen Seckold’s newest restaurant, I really like the smoked creme fraiche pea tarts, which taste a bit like super-delicious Le Snaks and I mean that in a good way!
One of the most amazing things about 2015 has to be Elvis Abrahanowicz and Sarah Doyle’s mega achievements, opening Continental Deli and Bistro in Newtown back-to-back with Stanbuli. Just the tinned peas alone at Continental Deli are amazing – if I was stockpiling for the apocalypse, I’d get all my canned goods from here and you would eat fantastically until the world ended.
And it’s been worth the long, long wait for Stanbuli, because Ibrahim Kasif’s food is phenomenal. I hope to write a post about it soon.
On the topic of spin-offs, Kepos Street Kitchen opened Kepos & Co in Waterloo – giving us the best way to eat hummus (thoroughly dunked in burnt butter) and ruling sweet tooths with desserts like the baked kaitafi banana with mascarpone and Turkish mocha ganache.
Eric Koh returned to Merivale (after a stint at Tim Ho Wan) and flexed his dumpling mastery at Work In Progress’ latest pop-up. It’s a great teaser for Enmore Chinese, which is due to open next year with Papi Chulo’s Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth reigning over the menu, too.
On the topic of Enmore Road, Rosso Antico Pizza Bar opened and proved how great its slices are. It’s also a good alternative if you’re missing meat and cheese since nearby Gigi in Newtown went vegan – but honestly, you won’t, because Gigi is even better than it was before. Despite the online furore, Gigi’s menu makeover was not the tofu-on-pizza apocalypse people were envisioning – and it’s been a justified business move, given that the lines outside the pizzeria can stretch out the length of three neighbouring stores on a Saturday night. I have no idea how they make the Funghi e Radicchio with dairy-free blue cheese, but it is amazing (and sceptic-converting).
Gigi’s move to an all-vegan menu was echoed by Randwick’s Soul Burger, which is definitely a joint I want to check out in the new year. (Also, I love that even in the most unlikeliest of places – such as Watermans Lobster Co and Belles Hot Chicken’s Sydney pop-up – you can score a good vegetarian-friendly option.)
Speaking of pop-ups, Black Star Pastry has taken up residency in a corner of Kinokuniya, serving yuzu panna cotta and its signature strawberry watermelon cake for anyone who needs a book-browsing break. (Across the same level is Lotus, a handy venue for anyone needing an easy centrally located spot for dinner or lunch; it’s huge enough that you don’t have to worry about waiting lists and its shiitake and asparagus dumplings are one of my favourite things of 2015).
The misguided lockout laws were hard to ignore this year (and saw the demise of many institutions), but Goro’s in Surry Hills, with its 3AM Sunday morning closing times, is one late-night spot to head to (offering a not-so-usual Japanese menu and Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Run Away With Me’ on its karaoke lists – definite pluses)!
Dr Faustus, in the same postcode, started serving “drunken fries”, which tasted like someone melted a cheeseburger over your chips (BYO defibrillators) and a pretty great pulled mushroom burger. Oh and Sydney need not worry about a bun-and-patty drought, given the queues for North Sydney’s Five Points Burgers (which had Tomislav Martinic consulting on its menu). Luckily, you no longer have to plot an office getaway to try its cult menu, as Five Points finally started opening for dinner recently. Plus, the chips are insanely good. (As are the crinkle-cuts at Jacks in Newtown, which I suspect are not at all Heart-Foundation-approved, but damn, those finger-burning, crisp-as-hell chips are great.)
Kerby Craig also rightly attracted long, long queues for his Ume burger pop-ups – and his limited-edition creations were ace to wash down with some yuzu soda or round off with some kombu-salted chips.
Not too far away, Besser opened – the new Crown Street venture for A Tavola. I’ve yet to make it in time for its 6pm risotto, but I love the Tagliatelle, which as I wrote in May, “is as brilliant and simple as its ingredients list: mixed mushrooms, truffle butter and Pecorino”.
Another excellent spin-off was Mecca Espresso’s Alexandria cafe, which is Instagram-winning levels of good-looking and, despite the suspiciously healthy bent of the menu, even charmed me over with a sprouted lentils and kim chi bowl.
Some really brilliant food trucks wheeled into Sydney, with the Levins-approved Yang’s dishing up a versatile mix of Malaysian fare from its tiny kitchen, and Mama Linh’s delivering an excellent pulled mushroom banh mi and other goodies that had people flocking to its locations. (Incidentally, I discovered that its owner’s father – and the husband of Mama Linh – escaped Vietnam on the same boat as my dad, scooping out water for hours to keep the vessel afloat. It is a truly small world.)
I’m a big fan of The Rabbit Hole Tea Organic Tea Bar, which again, is in my “to write up” list. And I can’t wait to properly check out The Unicorn in Paddington (the pub by the people behind Mary’s, Porteno and Young Henrys). I have had a chance to check out its amazing collection of tyre swans, though!
It was sad to say goodbye to Cafe Paci – undoubtedly, whatever Pasi Petanen does next will be a knockout. And I miss the pinpinbap, malted brown rice congee with mushroom and pumpkin and other gems that Pinbone was busting out – I can’t wait to see Pinbone get a second life next year.
It was also good to see Andy Bowdy go solo – I bet he has big plans for 2016, too.
Another highlight of 2015 has been the emergence of some excellent local food podcasts, such as The Mitchen and Ingredipedia. And thank you to all the people who have so kindly said super-nice things about my podcast or spread the word about it. I’ve got a bank of episodes I’m working on at the moment and I can’t wait to drop them on iTunes in the new year.
And thank you for dropping by my blog, even though real life often intervenes and makes it tricky to generate posts as much as I like. I’m signing off on this 2 hours before 2016 gatecrashes into our lives. I hope you have an amazing time toasting 2015’s end and a just-as-brilliant introduction to its successor. Happy new year!