No mere afterthoughts, side dishes are stealing the limelight. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Imagine a roast without the trimmings? A green curry without rice? Or, heaven forbid, a burger without fries? All gloomy prospects, to be sure. Thank goodness for the hard-working, noble side dish.
A side can wear many hats. Some, like Guillaume Brahimi's Paris mash, can take on a fame of their own and outshine the main players. These are the Tontos of the table; the Katos of the kitchen. Others are more subdued and happy to watch on without fuss. The Horatios and Dr Watsons of the food world - ready to provide back-up when needed.
Forever riding shotgun on tables the world over, some of Sydney's best wingmen demand a place in the spotlight.
Too good to be sidelined: Guillaume Brahimi's Paris mash. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Guillaume at Bennelong, $14
Sydney Food Fun Fact #127: Guillaume coined the term ''Paris mash'' when first arriving on our shores in the early '90s and setting up shop with Pond in Kings Cross.
Indulgent delight: Sean Connolly's duck fat fries at The Morrison. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Plain ol' "potato mash" didn't quite do justice to this pommes puree, inspired by his former employer, Joel Robuchon, and thus "Paris mash" was born (that Guillaume's mum was an avid reader of French tabloid Paris Match is no coincidence either). The name now pops up on menus from Cairns to Kalgoorlie but there's no experience quite like diving into this buttery mix than the one to be had under the Opera House ribs.
For each service it's a 10-person job of boiling, simmering, peeling, sieving and stirring to bring this silky delight to the table. Guillaume's cookbook reveals the recipe involves 250 grams of butter to four potatoes.
The end result, with dreamy waves that peak and trough around the plate, is like Nico vocals on a Gainsbourg track.
Mushy peas and slow-cooked egg
Rockpool Bar and Grill, $12
If one wanted to win friends and influence clients with the best salad bar in town, there are worse ways to do it than booking in at RB&G, ordering all 15 sides at once and having a knees-up.
The pony-tailed one's onion rings and speck-laced "mac and cheese" are other highlights but mushy peas are the win. These billiard green champions have a smack of anchovy and come served in a bowl with greater depth than its appearance suggests.
The slow-cooked egg on top is no mere afterthought and it would be churlish not mix it through the grassy pouches of pea beneath.
Three hour carrots
After three hours in a low temp oven, these guys do a sterling job of disguising themselves as burnt sausages from an election day barbecue.
The skins are pruny, sugary and sticky: subjectively bad for sausages, objectively awesome for carrots. The insides are completely submissive to the touch of fork and so sweet and orange you could be licking the face of an Oompa Loompa.
Meanwhile, a dollop of salsa verde plays nicely with the carrot's ginger-and-spice-and-all-things-nice notes. Team them with one of Carla Jones and Colin Fassnidge's whole spring lamb shoulders for a Sunday roast of epic proportions.
Cantonese-style fried rice with roasted meal worms, crushed wood ''roaches'' and chilli cricket sauce
Billy Kwong, $15
Kylie Kwong's adventures incorporating native flora and fauna into the menu at Billy Kwong sees dishes celebrating the history and diversity of our sunburnt country like nowhere else.
This has to be Oz's greatest fried rice. Not because elements are in harmony and there's a killer breath of the wok (and by Jiminy does it have both of these) but because it's so compellingly Australian. The crickets and meal worms used are sustainably sourced from bug-farmer Skye Blackburn at Parramatta where creepy-crawlies live in the Upper Manhattan of bug real estate and gorge themselves on leftover vegies from the Billy Kwong kitchen.
The meal worms add a pleasant nuttiness and such a texture you'll want to throw out those industrial jars of dried onion in the pantry and track down where the kids put the ant farm.
Crisp fried brussels sprouts
Two questions precede any visit to Porteno: how long will we be waiting for a table and, more importantly, what will maitre d' and rockabilly royalty Sarah Doyle be wearing? What's always certain is that brussels sprouts will be had. Fried and treacle-black on the outside once you start peeling away each leaf, you'll find the next one is greener than the one before it.
Moody bits of mint bring everything together and it's hard to imagine anything better complementing the eight-hour wood-fired lamb. Except lashings of malbec, of course.
Creamed corn with lime butter
It takes a side with bravado to hold its own against the confits, mousses and crisps of Martin Benn's set-to-stun cooking but this copper pot of kernels does just that. It's far from the most delicate dish on the menu (a knob of lime butter splurges in a primordial, foamy mess that soups its way through the maize around it) but it's impossible to not keep going back for more. And more. And more.
Should you have an overwhelming urge to experience similar flavour sensations at Sepia but don't want to commit to a full sitting, the Japanese charcoal grill menu at the bar does a cracking baby corn on the cob with umeboshi (pickled plum) and citrus butter. Note too the grilled chicken skin if you're there. Phwoar.
Duck fat chips
The Morrison, $10
Ah, duck fat. Is there anything it can't make taste amazing? Perhaps muesli bars, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless. On any given evening, Sean Connolly's duck-dripping, skin-on frites can be found on the table of nearly every six o'clock swiller and 20-something in the joint.
Cooked in fat, removed from fat and cooked in said (hotter) fat again, on the surface they're crunchier than a credit crisis while the inside's all fluffy, hot, and white. Taste-wise they suggest a South Coast fish'n'chip shop - a wonderful and elusive thing to capture. The serving suggestion is on the money, too: a conical cook's measure that, when given a shake, moves all those teensy gold nuggets of crunch to the bottom.
Potato fossickers then have free run to sift out what is the best part of any serving of chips. Connolly is also releasing his own line of cooking fat so those inclined can recreate these golden rods at home.
Butter lettuce hearts
The Bridge Room, $11
Anyone with thoughts that lettuce is on par with a Sullivans rerun in the excitement stakes should get down to Ross Lusted's smart dining room and dispel such notions immediately.
Lusted's lettuces (say that 10 times fast) are grown exclusively for The Bridge Room by Tony and Paul Dimenche at Boxhill and are harvested daily. This means fat, crisp leaves that still hold their shape after taking a few good lugs of Meander Valley buttermilk dressing and evoke reveries of spring afternoons in county England.
A dusting of lettuce salt made by drying the outer leaves and blending them with Murray River salt gives it all a nice zap.
The Forresters, $8
Sizzler's cheese toast notwithstanding, no bread has such wide appeal among Australians as a crusty loaf chock full of garlic and butter. Short, long, flat, round, herbed, cheesed, fresh or frozen, the humble garlic bread has been a barbecue centrepiece and the supper of stoners for generations.
Given garlic bread's many guises and the range of opinions regarding, it's difficult to select a best in Sydney but eating within the Rat Pack kitsch of Forresters nudges their take over the line. Frozen-section purists might baulk at the addition of jalapenos but what the hey - garlic bread's supposed to be fun and the Asos Appreciation Society that packs the pub each night doesn't seem to mind in the slightest.
The Apollo, $17
Poor Greek salad. It's as if the recipe handed out to 95 per cent of kitchens since the '90s stipulates the following must-haves: one red onion cut into wedges no smaller than the onion itself; feta cheese pasteurised from the finest tractor tyres available and lettuce so depressed it makes Morrissey look like Mr Squiggle.
Thank Zeus's beard for The Apollo. This is Greek salad as it's meant to be: vinous olives and fruity hunks of tomato and cucumber all together under the same feta roof. It's as fresh as its plate is heavy. In fact it is less of a plate and more of a discus from the days Olympians competed in the nud. Partner it with grilled calamari and a lean Peloponnese wine and bring on summer.
Other noteworthy eats on the edge
● Poutine, Hartsyard, Newtown
● Spinach and chickpeas with garlic, cumin, paprika and sherry vinegar, MoVida, Surry Hills
● Sambal Kangkong, Petaling Street, Sydney
● Duck hearts, Wong's BBQ, Haymarket
● Sweet potato fries, Chur Burger, Surry Hills
● Bamboo pith with snow peas, quail eggs, ginger and garlic, Spice Temple, Sydney
● Hushpuppies, Miss Peaches, Newtown
● Moroccan carrot salad, goats cheese, cumin and sumac dressing, Kepos Street Kitchen, Redfern
Find reviews of these restaurants online at goodfood.com.au.