It's been a snacky sort of year, really. While we took time out to appreciate the dazzling precision of Sepia's how-did-they-do-that desserts, and the other-worldliness of Cafe Paci's unsettling creations, we've crunched our way through a lot of crisps, squeezed a lot of steamed buns and filled up on lots of fries.
Of all the finger foods in all the bars in this crazy town, Spice Temple's crisp-fried tripe, Bar H's native saltbush tempura and Sixpenny's dramatic blood-sausage sandwich take the cake.
Neither have we lost our craving for down-home comfort food, lapping up the lushness of Vincent's baked comte custard; the Sunday roastiness of roast pork and crackling hot out of the wood-fired oven at Nomad; the just-dug freshness of Sixpenny's baby, baby potatoes; and the mash-up moreishness of Moon Park's bibim.
And there's always time for the classics done so, so well: take a bow, Otto's spaghetti with lobster.
1. The Golden Egg at Sepia
Martin Benn made us gasp with his lime-and-ginger-filled ''pearl'', and amazed us with his zen-like, chocolate, blackberry and passionfruit-filled ''Japanese stones''. Now he has produced his most daring feat of culinary engineering yet. Starting with a silicone mould fashioned from a real duck egg, Benn has created the shell using mannitol sugar and edible gold, the yolk from hachiya persimmon, and the eggwhite from a frozen meringue of yuzu and coconut cream. It makes a cracking pre-dessert.
2. Baby potatoes roasted in fresh mustard at Sixpenny
The shining light of inner West dining, Sixpenny was set up by two former Young Chefs of the Year, James Parry and Daniel Puskas. Their cooking is accomplished, the flavours clean and seasonally matched, and the effort, intent and ambition to connect the produce to the plate is palpable. These teensy-weensy baby potatoes were dug up the day before at the Parry family farm in the southern highlands, roasted in fresh house-made mustard, and served nestled under a compressed spinach leaf.
3. Baked Comte custard at Vincent
The team behind Buzo and Wine Library has another hit on its hands with their so-Frenchy Woollahra bistro, and signature rich comte custard. A blatant and manipulative attempt to push all of humanity's rich, creamy, cheesy buttons, it has the texture of something between a panna cotta and a souffle, and a clean, nutty, almost caramel flavour that fills the mouth like a cloud.
4. Saltbush tempura at Bar H
Hamish Ingham started Bar H as a modern European bistro before switching to contemporary Chinese cooking. Now it's a hybrid, blending the Japanese and Chinese influences of Chuka cuisine with Australia's native ingredients, another ongoing Ingham obsession. Hence this Japanese/Chinese/Australian mash-up in which long woody stalks of saltbush are cooked in a light-as-air tempura batter, and served with a spicy chilli mayo. Stripping off the almost succulent leaves is like plucking salty, spicy crisps off a lagerphone. Weird, but good.
5. Bibim at Moon Park
Anyone acquainted with Korean food will find some familiar names on Moon Park's menu but don't let that fool you. Bulgogi, usually thinly sliced, grilled beef, comes as a burger; and imjasutang, traditionally a chilled chicken soup, is a delicate salad. Chefs Ben Sears and Eun Hee An also rethink the traditional bibimbap as a fresh, rice-free mix of sweetcorn, barley, cured egg, nori and crab meat, ready to toss together at the table.
6. Spaghetti all'aragosta at Otto
Otto has been dishing up high-level Italian dining to a frocked-up celebrity crowd since 2000. Chef Richard Ptacnik walks a fine line between pricy and pleasing, with a spaghetti all'aragosta perfectly pitched for both arms dealers and hot dates. Shared between two, it's a certifiable treat, the Tassie lobster meat sweet, fresh and lightly cooked, tossed though properly al dente pasta with a fruity, rich, tomato sauce warmed with an undercurrent of cognac.
7. Wood-roasted pork at Nomad
Nathan Sasi is one can-do cook. He can and does make his own charcuterie, cheese, bread, vinegar and heaven-knows-what-else. He also does most of his cooking over wood, including a slab of wood-roasted pork that is everything you want from roast pork - big, sweet flavour, magical notes of garlic and fennel, and crisp, salty crackling. Sides of wilted silverbeet and little Canary Island potatoes boiled in heavily salted water turn it into a feast.
8. Cabbage, mussel butter, marrow, pomelo at Cafe Paci
More of an art installation than a restaurant, Pasi Petanen's monochromatic, extended pop-up restaurant specialises in smoky, zesty, fruity, juicy dis-comfort food that will thrill and discombobulate in turn. Petanen transforms the humble cabbage into something resembling dark, deep-sea coral, then teams it with bone marrow, mussel butter, pomelo, plump mussels and a dusting of dehydrated cavolo nero, as if earth had long since disappeared beneath sea level.
9. Fried tripe with heaven-facing chilli salt at Spice Temple
With Spice Temple's new lunchtime yum cha menu, Neil Perry and head chef Andy Evans turn dim sum on its head. Alongside the usual spring rolls and har gau prawn dumplings are gua bao steamed Chinese bread sandwiches and northern-style lamb and fennel dumplings. The deep-fried honeycomb tripe has to be one of the world's best bar snacks, being simultaneously soft and crunchy, sweet and spicy.
10. Blood sausage sandwich at Ester
Is this the home-grown heir to Momofuku Seiobo's all-conquering steamed pork belly bun? One of the few things not to come out of Mat Lindsay's beloved wood-fired oven, the idea behind it is both simple and brilliant. A thin layer of steamed bread is topped with mustard aioli, caramelised onion and a scary-black sausagette (or an all-white lobster sausagette when blood is unavailable). Pick it up, squish it together, take a bite … and smile.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2015 will be available for $10 with The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, September 6 from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $24.99 from September 2. #goodfoodguide