Joanna Savill

Simple food done well: Cipro Pizza al Taglio in Alexandria. Click for more photos

The flavours of Sydney

Simple food done well: Cipro Pizza al Taglio in Alexandria. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Doing the stats is always fun. It's also a reminder of how much eating time (and desk time) goes into putting together each year's Good Food Guide. Getting out the abacus reveals a staggering 600-plus reviews and listings in the 2014 Guide , including dozens of Guide-worthy bars, cafes, pizzerias and local heroes.

And in what's becoming a year-on-year pattern, the rush of openings has continued. There are 40 brand-new restaurants in this year's Guide - with plenty more on the way. Most of what has launched reflects a downwards direction - at least in terms of formality, conventional fine-dining and strictly restaurant-y eating experiences. The bar-diner and share plates are here to stay, mostly with an excellent, esoteric drinks list. So when it comes to eating and drinking well, things are on the up.

Whether it's the new big-hitters - Mr Wong, MoVida or at increasingly impressive three hatters such as Momofuku Seiobo - the mood is fun, not frocked-up, the flavours up-front rather than fancy. Service is snappy and on-song (at last, perhaps, career front-of-housers are enjoying their golden moment). And you don't always need to spend millions on a redesign to get the punters through the door.

The first-timers (or not really)

In Sydney, we've scored 40 new restaurants, with several more returning to the Guide's pages following a revamp, a reopening or with a fresh new team (welcome back, Berowra Waters Inn - and with a hat).

Two new restaurants - Mr Wong and MoVida - go straight to two hats in their first year. Another six newies - Ananas, Gowings, Kepos Street Kitchen, Monopole and, on the south coast, Tyler's Pantry (Mogo) and Wharf Rd (Nowra) - also come in with a hat.

There's no denying the voice of experience, though. Most of those new openings come from seasoned restaurateurs. There's Erez Gordon at Bishop Sessa, Mauro Marcucci at Baccomatto Osteria or Bar H's Hamish Ingham and Rebecca Lines now at the Woods. Barry McDonald and the Fratelli Fresh crew have crossed the border with their Circular Quay newie, Cafe Nice. There's the Century from the Wongs of Golden Century, China Lane from a bunch of China Doll/China Beach backers, and a bit of a boom in the Shire - thanks to Joe and Milena Natale (ex-Rambutan) with Cronulla's Alphabet St, and another to come. There's Bondi Brown Sugar's New York-style Lox Stock and Barrel and of course - Melbourne's Frank Camorra at MoVida and Merivale with Mr Wong.

Out on their own for the first time but with flying colours include Cipro Pizza al Taglio's Khan Danis and Catherine Adams, and Michael Rantissi at Kepos Street Kitchen.

Almost a quarter of the more-than-100-scored Canberra and regional restaurants are new, or back in the ranks, with a considerable lift in hats, too - up by a total of four.

Imminent births are expected for the Claude's, Bentley/Monopole, Fish Face and Iceberg's families. Check these pages (and goodfood.com.au) for regular updates.

The fit-outs

We've seen the designers lift the bar yet again this year at places such as Mr Wong (by Michael McCann of Dreamtime Australia Design) and Monopole (by Pascale Gomes-McNabb). But frill-free ex-City openings prove less can sometimes be more: as in Kepos Street Kitchen in Redfern, Cipro in Alexandria, Lox Stock and Barrel in Bondi. (See Scott Bolles's pieceon what's in store on page 18.)

The farewells

A few high-profile departures include Christine Manfield and Universal, Jared Ingersoll's Danks Street Depot, Warren Turnbull's Assiette and District Dining, and the closure of long-time neighbourhood faves such as Nu's, Alio and La Locanda.

These signal a few notable changes ahead. What next for Guillaume Brahimi? And we were too late to catch the dramatic announcement of Claude's Woollahra closure - the two-hatter will be open for just days after publication. All the best to Chui Lee Luk in her new Campbell Street home.

On the up and up, meanwhile, is a cast of committed new-gen hospo types - opening small to medium bars, neighbourhood diners and terrific places where the food and drinks are fun and the staff savvy and keen to share. Think Mary's in Newtown, Bulletin Place and Tapavino at Circular Quay, Vasco in Surry Hills and Frankie's Pizza in the city.

Here's what else is happening as we launch into 2014.

We've got our Canto mojo back

We've rediscovered our Cantonese heritage, with duck and dumplings at Mr Wong, Golden Century's greatest hits at the Century and chains such as Din Tai Fung and New Shanghai steaming up a bamboo-basket storm.

Oh, Mexico

Tacos and tequila have taken over where pies, parmas and schnitties left off. At least we've left behind the industrial nachos, melted mozza and Tex-Mex buckets of sour cream and guacamole. Well, mostly…

Burgers and fries

A slider or po' boy by any other name. Still, we can't resist the Mary's at Mary's or the Chur at Chur Burger. And when we're feeling just a bit too burgered, there's usually a southern-fried chicken option. Wood grills and char-grills bring up the rear, and stand by for wood-fired ovens as the centrepiece at Ester in Chippendale, Da Mario in Rosebery and the new Da Orazio from Maurice Terzini in Bondi.

Home-made and own-grown

Whether it's the revival of pickling, preserving and smoking (thank you, Monopole, Momofuku, Marque and more) or leaves and herbs from a garden out back (Chiswick, Sixpenny, Three Blue Ducks and most of the Hunter), chefs are getting down and dirty. You'll taste the difference. There's more DIY artisan fare to come: house-made cheeses at Vincent (opening soon with the buzo and the Wine Library's James Hird, Tracy Tinder and Todd Garratt).

Modern Middle East and ancient grains

We knew it'd happen eventually. The highly flavoured spice-scattered vego-friendly cooking of the Middle East (thank you, Yotam Ottolenghi and friends) is adding colour to casual menus. Salads are upping their texture quotient with quinoa, amaranth, barley, spelt and pulses.

Save the planet … and the power bill

Now we know what ''sustainable'' means. Restaurants are going solar, composting kitchen waste (to feed the restaurant pigs and chooks, of course) and recycling everything from old menus to table-top timbers.

From the southern highlands to the Hunter, a new wave of eco warriors is planting out

serious food gardens and loving their bees and beehives, too. (See Barbara Sweeney's regional wrap on page 14).

No bookings and no-shows

Tired of last-minute empty seats and book-five-tables-and-then-decide diners, front of house is fighting back. Learn to line up as no bookings becomes the norm, or go online and put down the plastic.

Provenance and a place of our own

Ethical sourcing continues as chefs note how produce is fed and grown. And we're taking pride in Australia's unique native ingredients.