Sydney's 10 best winter dishes

Terry Durack
Beef and red wine pie from The Butcher's Block in Wahroonga.
Beef and red wine pie from The Butcher's Block in Wahroonga. Photo: Jennifer Soo

It's easy to eat well all summer long on ripe red tomatoes, raw fish crudo, gorgeous salads and grilled fish. But that's just not going to cut it any more. We need thick, hearty soup, hand-made pasta with a chunky meat sauce, slow-roasted meats, and lots and lots of things with melting cheese on top. We need chefs who know how to cook with a slow hand, and we need a glass or 200 of red, red wine. Here are 10 delicious ways to stave off the winter chills in Sydney.

1. Callos a la Madrilena at MoVida, $18
If you ever need to ask for "comfort food" in Spanish, just say "callos a la Madrilena". It was one of the dishes that MoVida's Frank Camorra grew up with; in fact he says it was his mum's signature dish. If you don't have a Spanish mum who does tripe stew as a signature dish, fear not. We do, at least, have a MoVida, now that Camorra and team have established a branch of the ridiculously popular Melbourne-based Spanish tapas group in downtown Surry Hills. Head there on a chilly, windy night to best appreciate this lovely, messy, meaty, paprika-laden mix of honeycomb tripe, chickpeas and chorizo sausage. You will need red wine.

50 Holt Street, Surry Hills. Phone: 8964 7642,

2. Slow-braised cumin lamb shoulder at Four In Hand, $89 for two
The boys at Four in Hand call this the Heather Locklear of the dining room because it appears to have been their "special guest star" forever. It started life scribbled on the mirror as a daily special for two people to share, and basically never left. Dublin-born chef Colin Fassnidge roasts the whole lamb shoulder long and slow, imbues it with cumin-flavoured sea salt and serves it up with a mess of colcannonised potato and Dutch carrots with minted yoghurt. Baby boomers go a bit misty-eyed when it comes to the table because it takes them back to childhood family roasts; youngies just look on in awe, mouthing "OMG".

105 Sutherland Street, Paddington. Phone: 9362 1999,

3. Crispy-skin duck with organic Davidson's plum & orange sauce at Billy Kwong, $49
Kylie Kwong's menu can run to some pretty wild things such as cricket and prawn wontons and stir-fried Flinders Island wallaby. It can also change quite dramatically as she focuses more and more on indigenous and ethically sourced ingredients, which are often produced on a small scale. But her Australian/Chinese take on duck a l'orange is a permanent fixture, with minor variations on the theme. First marinated, then steamed, the duck is then deep fried to get its signature crisp, lacquered skin, the colour of burnished mahogany. It's served with a sweet, sour, salty caramelly sauce enriched with bittersweet oranges, mandarins, plums, native quandongs or whatever else is organic and in season.

Shop 3, 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills. Phone: 9332 3300,

4. Red-braised pork belly at Chairman Mao, $19
It's a lucky thing for Kensington food lovers that Andrew Bao and his wife Dingjun Li gave up finance and accountancy to open their first restaurant. Specialising in the spicy, salty, oily cooking of Hunan province, Li's food is built on chilli, garlic, chilli, ginger, chilli, spice, chilli, black rice vinegar and more chilli. The biggest seller in this people's eating republic is the wonderful braised pork belly, a soulful bowlful of wobbly, slow-cooked briquettes of pork belly that have taken on the deep flavours of the red braise stock. Your only problem is that the dish is just as much a favourite of the restaurant's regulars as it was with Chairman Mao, and can sell out before 8pm.

189 Anzac Parade, Kensington. Phone: 9697 9189.


5. Tagliatelle al ragu at Quattro Paste, $20
Spaghetti bolognese may be the third most popular home-cooked meal in Australia, but what we make is miles away from the original tagliatelle al ragu that rules the city of Bologna. At Balmain's Quattro Paste, the tagliatelle is made in-house daily, and has real character of its own. Tuscan-born chef, Lorenzo Fauri, chops the veal and pork by hand before mincing, then simmers the meat gently for up to six hours with onion, celery, carrot, and - the secret ingredient - a few chicken livers. The result bears little relation to the tinny, acidic, gravelly mince of many an Aussie/Italian tratt. It's thick and sludgy, savoury-tasting and sweet-smelling and could well make "tag rag" as popular in Australian households as "spag bol".

Shop 129, 85 Reynolds Street, Balmain. Phone: 9810 9125,

6. Snapper pie for two at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, $48
They may as well call this ship-shape, waterside seafood restaurant Snapper Pie on Blackwattle Bay and be done with it. Ever since the original head chef, Michael Klausen, first put the pie on the menu in 1998, most of the people who book in to one of the two sittings here come for the pie first, and the splendid views of Anzac Bridge second. It's as much about the tableside ritual as the pie itself, as the waiter breaks open the golden, puffy, pastry crust and scoops out the truffle-scented chunks of fish in their super-creamy, onion-based stew. Alongside is smooth mashed potato and a lightly smoky tomato for acidity. Views, what views?

End of Ferry Road, Glebe. Phone: 9518 9011,

7. Southern fried chicken, biscuit and gravy at Hartsyard, $28
Fried chicken is so damn hot right now. It's the No. 1 favourite on all manner of menus, from Malaysian to Mexican, from Japanese to dude food. One of the best around is American chef Gregory Llewellyn's finger-licking version at Hartsyard. The brined and cold-smoked chicken is encased in a crusty-as-hell crust of hot sauce, buttermilk and flour and comes with its own, low-country accompaniments of buttermilk biscuit (a buttery scone-like creature) and a creamy-white "gravy", studded with sausage meat. One bite, and y'all be coming back for more, y'hear?

33 Enmore Road, Newtown Phone: 8065 81473,

8. Tonkotsu ramen soup noodles at Ryo's, $12
Yes, there is always a queue outside this cosy, plain-Jane ramen noodle shop, and you will patiently wait in it until you are admitted if you know what is good for you, because some of Sydney's finest ramen noodles lie at the end of it. Chef Ryo Horii was born in Fukuoka in Japan, home of the mighty Hakata-style ramen. Dedicated ramenologists tend to go for the purist, cloudy, salt-flavour pork soup version, cooked for 15 hours and served with roast pork, shallots and sesame seeds. If you want the works, then check out the Tokyo-style chicken stock version with soy sauce, roast pork, nori, bamboo shoots and egg.

125 Falcon Street, Crows Nest. Phone: 9955 0225.

9. French onion soufflé gratin at Bistro Moncur, $20
Chef Damien Pignolet may have left the building, but his signature, twice-cooked soufflé, which first appeared on the menu soon after he opened Bistro Moncur in 1993, isn't going anywhere. Current head chef Sam Kane keeps pretty much to the Pignolet original, serving it as a golden dome of light-as-air soufflé under a molten, creamy, sea of deliciousness. It's rich and gooey and cheesy and oniony, and much more fun than eating a French onion soup. And judging by the number of people who still regularly order it, it's bound to be around for the next 20 years.

Bistro Moncur, 116 Queen Street, Woollahra. Phone: 9327 9713,

10. Beef and red wine pie at The Butcher's Block, $16
What was a butcher shop is now a nicely detailed local cafe and restaurant owned by father-and-son team George and Anthony Karnasiotis, who make a point of celebrating the site's history. The walls are clad in white butcher tiles; old meat hooks hang from above; meat cleavers are embedded in the door of the toilets as handles; and the helpful, can-do serving staff wear blue-and-white butcher-style aprons. There's a good burger and lots of non-meat offerings as well, but you're here for the pie. House-made, it's all excellent pastry and chunky beef and red wine stew, served with mashed potato - yet another good thing about eating in winter.

15 Redleaf Avenue, Wahroonga. Phone: 9487 8136

Source: the (sydney) magazine