Such madness, such change. We have witnessed a record number of new restaurants this year, with 50 new metropolitan entries appearing in The Good Food Guide for 2013. The high point of the year has been the opening of the ground-breaking Momofuku Seiobo from New York. It’s equally exciting to see seasoned local performers such as Matt Moran, Ross Lusted, Mike McEnearney and Steve Manfredi reinvent themselves with new directions and new relevance. Generational change continues to alter our dining landscape, with talented young chefs including Jonathan Barthelmess, Kenji Maenaka, Kerby Craig, James Parry and Daniel Puskas all opening their first restaurants.
But as one door opens, another door closes. It’s tough out there. The combined effects of a slowing economy, fiscal uncertainty and rising operating costs mean an unprecedented number of restaurants have called it quits. These were not run by day-dreaming amateurs but some of our most gifted, long-serving chefs including Dietmar Sawyere, Matthew Kemp, Tony Bilson and Justin North.
Here, then, is a quick snapshot of the trends that have shaped our dining year.
Sydney goes Mambo Italiano, with nearly a third of openings being of the pizza, pasta, prosciutto and parmigiano variety. Check out Balla, Quattro Paste, Via Napoli, Popolo, the Old Library, Restaurant 16, Forresters, Buffalo Dining Club and Jamie’s Italian.
Grow your own
For a cook, having a kitchen garden changes everything. So GYO is a growing trend, popping up at places like Three Blue Ducks, The Grounds of Alexandria, Chiswick, Sixpenny, Biota Dining and Balla.
Restaurants catch the buzz, installing bee-hives on rooftops and balconies. Already at The Wine Library, Four In Hand, Berta and Cornersmith, there’s more house-made honey on the horizon.
Back to our roots
Indigenous ingredients are taking their rightful place on our menus. Warrigal greens are the biggest hit, teamed with sashimi, abalone, nasturtiums, sea cabbage and periwinkles at Quay, and stuffed into dumplings at Billy Kwong.
First they took away the tablecloths, then they took away the tables. These days we’re scrambling up on to stools and lining the bars and counters of our latest hotspots, from the starry kitchen benches of Momofuku Seiobo and 4Fourteen to high-rise possies at 121 BC, Cafe Sopra, The Apollo, Chiswick and Izakaya Fujiyama.
Off the shoulder
Once it was pork belly, now it’s lamb shoulder; slow-braised at Four in Hand, Popolo, Xanthi and Public Dining Room, roasted at District Dining, and wood-grilled at Balla.
The new meals on wheels
Sydney plays catch-up on the food truck scene, with a gastronomic grand prix of spelt pizza from Agape Organic; progressive street food from former Tetsuya’s chef Stuart McGill’s Eat Art Truck and healthy veggie burgers from the Veggie Patch Van.
What is it with salted caramel?
We’re stuck on sweet, salty, sticky salted caramel, whether it’s Rockpool’s petits fours, Gelato Messina’s gelato, Reuben Hills’s milkshake, Baroque’s macarons or Quay’s dessert with jersey cream, prunes, walnuts and milk skin.
We live in interesting times, as restaurants and diners slowly change the ways they interact with each other. As this year's reviews make clear, talent and skill exist in both casual and classic kitchens, and there's real joy in knowing that good food, good times and good value are to be had across Sydney, at every level of dining.
Editors Terry Durack and Joanna Savill