What a sensational year. We've watched as two generations of chefs and restaurateurs met up and competed for our dining dollar. The "oldies" – our tried-and-true professionals, our best and finest – are stepping down from their fine dining perches to give the people what they want – excellent, intelligent and more affordable food. At the same time, the hungry, ambitious "youngies" are stepping up their skill sets and opening personal, individual, well-styled places with lots of good, hands-on things to eat and drink. Here's a round-up of the hottest, for your dining pleasure.
The same bloke who put poolside cabanas, Bondi lifesavers and a giant inflatable swan on the rooftop of a city building (the Ivy), and converted an inner city nightclub into a 240-seater dim sum palace (Mr Wong), has now turned a faded beachside pub into a vast, family-friendly food fair. Merivale head Justin Hemmes, who has never thought small in his life, has also installed a wood fired pizzeria, oyster bar, steamy open kitchen turning out everything from burgers to fish and chips, Will & Co coffee cart, and a games room featuring ping pong and petanque. Hot tip: The lobster roll.
169 Dolphin Street, Coogee 9240 3000
There's chawanmushi of steamed parmesan custard with mushrooms and porcini powder, and stinging nettle pasta in lush mussel emulsion. Perched on the waters of Pyrmont Bay, LuMi serves Italian food, but not as you know it. Having helped propel Alessandro Pavoni's Ormeggio at the Spit to two hat status, gifted young Italian chef, Federico Zanellato opened this glasshouse of a restaurant in September, in a joint venture with the Sydney Restaurant Group. Hot tip: The spaghetti on the bar menu, served in a can.
56 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont 9571 1999 lumidining.com
Cho Cho San
Having wowed the Potts Point 'hood last year with mod Greek taverna, The Apollo, chef Jonathan Barthelmess and restaurateur Sam Christie teamed up with chef Nic Wong to create this whiter-shade-of-pale, new-age Japanese izakaya a bit further down Sydney's hottest eat street. Sit up at the sixteen-metre long concrete bar and put your chopsticks to work on silky raw ocean trout with soy, mirin and wasabi, comfort-zone udon noodles with pork and chilli, and an elegant miso cod ... assuming of course, you can get in. Hot tip: The green tea soft-serve in a waffle cone.
73 Macleay Street, Potts Point 9331 6601 chochosan.com.au
Having wowed them at the Sofitel in Melbourne, Mark Best's modern, wine-oriented bistro now has a second venue in Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel, and the huge, split-level space has been packed since day one. Try the wood-roasted Holmbrae chicken with yams and saltbush, or the fennel-spiced and sugared doughnuts, and see for yourself. I might even prefer this clever but still crowd-pleasing level of cooking to the stuff at Marque in Surry Hills. Hot tip: The mini "Pei-zetta" from the wood-fired oven on the bar menu.
Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney, 199 George Street, Sydney 9250 3160 peimodern.com.au
Who's going to miss queuing up outside Billy Kwong's at 6pm? Not me. After 14 years in Surry Hills, Kylie Kwong has now opened in Potts Point, and (yay!) now you can now reserve a table. Other things that may take some getting used to: there are seats with backs, an 18-metre-long jarrah bar; and a big, beautiful open kitchen that runs the length of the restaurant. While Kwong continues to evolve her "Aussie/Chinese" food philosophy, the home-style fried eggs and prawn wontons with brown rice vinegar have moved in as well. Hot tip: The Quandong Saison beer from Young Henry's brewers.
Shop 1, 28 Macleay Street, Potts Point 9332 3300
LP's Quality Meats
If they wanted to, LP's could hold a pretty mean Tetsuya's reunion. Not only is owner/chef, Luke Powell a former Tetsuya's head chef, fellow chefs Shannon Debreceny and Kimberley Gastmeier also worked there, as did front-of-house, James Audas. But the food, and the feeling, couldn't be further from the French/Japanese gastro temple. The joint (it's the sort of place you call a joint) looks like a cross between a Bavarian beer hall and a Western saloon bar, with a heavyweight Texan Southern Pride wood-fired smoker turning out smoky bierwurst, brilliant beef short ribs and lamb belly-wrapped merguez sausage. Hot tip: The sausage du jour on take-away.
11/12-16 Chippen Street, Chippendale 8399 0929
Chef Mitch Orr may have spent a short time with famed Italian chef, Massimo Bottura, cooked at Buzo and 121BC, and invested a considerable amount of money in two state of the art La Monferrina pasta machines – but don't come to ACME expecting spag bol, saltimbocca and tiramisu. Orr likes to play with his food as much as with your brain, so pasta comes with a distinct Asian accent, burrata is served with fennel and seaweed, and Malteser ice cream is paired with candied bacon. A top, drop-in-for-a-bite neighbourhood bar that offers variety, Italian style. Hot tip: The warm mortadella baloney sandwich.
60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay 8068 0932
Forget share plates, pork bun sliders, kim chi, and other trappings of today's Sydney food scene. This is dining – unashamedly French and reassuringly fine – complete with double-clothed tables, flattering lighting, a luxuriously padded ambience, and a super-chic private dining room. Seven months after closing Guillaume at Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House on New Year's Eve 2013, Guillaume Brahimi unveiled his new baby on the site of 45-year-old Sydney veteran, Darcy's. Expect precision cooking, rich sauces and immaculate chocolate souffles. Hot tip: The mighty Paris mash comes gratis with the main course.
92 Hargrave Street, Paddington 9302 5222 guillaumes.com.au
Nice of Mr Bill "World Domination" Granger to drop in to Bondi and open a little cafe when he's already so busy opening little cafes in London and Seoul. Good of you, mate. Also nice that he's keeping up to date, preserving the world-famous scrambled eggs, ricotta hotcakes and sweet corn fritters, while introducing trending #fitspo darlings such as almond milk chia seed pots, prawn-stuffed egg white omelettes, and snapper tiradito. At night, things get slinky, with cocktails and a girly/grilly menu to match. Hot tip: Egg fried rice for kids.
79 Hall Street Bondi 8412 0700 bills.com.au
Monster Kitchen and Bar
One of the big challenges for Hotel Hotel, the brave-new-world, design-driven Canberra hotel, was to create a restaurant in its angled foyer space as non-cookie-cutter as the hotel itself. Monster fits the bill. Chef Sean McConnell (brother of Melbourne chefs Andrew and Matthew), keeps the food coming all day and late into the night, from a snowy river trout hash for breakfast to a share plate of pulled lamb shoulder for dinner. Hot tip: The yabby jaffle.
Hotel Hotel, 25 Edinburgh Ave, Canberra, ACT 6287 6287 monsterkitchen.com.au
10 MORE NOTABLE OPENINGS
Papi Chulo, Manly merivale.com.au/papichulo
One Penny Red, Dulwich Hill onepennyred.com.au
Da Orazio, Bondi daorazio.com
Salon du The, Darlinghurst salondethe.com.au
Fish Face Double Bay fishfaceaustralia.com.au
Yalla Sawa, Cronulla yallasawa.com.au
Surry Hills Eating House spiceiam.com/surry-hills-eating-house
Via Alta, Willoughby viaalta.com.au
Kim Potts Point, Potts Point kim-restaurant.com.au
Tomah Gardens Restaurant, Mt Tomah bluemountainsbotanicgarden.com.au/restaurant
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
The Hottest Openings of 2015:
* The new look Bennelong, courtesy of Quay's Peter Gilmore and The Fink Group is set for a mid-June opening.
* New restaurants from British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton (London, Hong Kong) and former Noma (Copenhagen) second chef Sam Miller will open in the new boutique hotel at Central Park, Broadway, via Singaporean entrepreneur Loh Lik Peng, along with Clayton Wells of Momofuku Seibo, who will head up Automata. Date to be announced.
* Firedoor. The long awaited, fire-powered restaurant from former Etxebarri (Spain) chef, Lennox Hastie opens March 2015. 1A, 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills.
* Highly rated former Chez Panisse chef, Danielle Alvarez will front a new Merivale restaurant at 380 Oxford Street Paddington, opening June.
* First, the open-any-minute Rooftop Bar at Coogee Pavilion, followed by exec chef Jordan Toft's much-anticipated mid-level restaurant late 2015.
* Le Kiosk at Shelley Beach reopens as Boathouse Shelley Beach early in 2015 joining Boathouses Palm Beach and Balmoral Beach.
* Tim Ho Wan, the celebrated Michelin starred Hong Kong dim sum restaurant chain, will open three new restaurants in Sydney, first in Chatswood in February, followed by Westfield in Burwood and George Street, city.
* Chris Lucas of Melbourne's popular Chin Chin has announced a Sydney Chin Chin next year. But where? And when?