The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016: Eating and drinking highlights of the year

ACME's salami-topped Jatz.
ACME's salami-topped Jatz. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Myffy Rigby and Callan Boys scour the city, suburbs and beyond for the year's greatest food and drink offerings – from fish pancakes to a locally distilled gin.

Celebrating Jatz

Wes Griffiths with his meat smoker at Vic's Meat Market.
Wes Griffiths with his meat smoker at Vic's Meat Market.  Photo: Christopher Pearce

So we're more than a little Jatz-obsessed. They're the perfect party food – a salty golden canvas on which to put just about anything. ACME's Mitch Orr tops his with mustard butter and a matchstick of salami. Unlike everything else at the restaurant, which is made from scratch, the Jatz are bought in. Why? Orr knows his strengths. "I'm lazy and I can't make Jatz better than Jatz can make Jatz." ACME, 60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, (02) 8068 0932 weareacme.com.au

Drinking a gin Old Fashioned

There's not a single person – bartender or pal – who hasn't looked askance when this (admittedly slightly strange) drink has been ordered. But there hasn't been a single person who has taken it back once they've tried one. The simple cocktail of sugar and bitters stirred down over a few hunks of ice was introduced to Good Food by Timothy Martin, who heads up Auckland bar Mea Culpa. In Sydney, they'll make you a cracking version at Bulletin Place, minimum side-eye guaranteed. Bulletin Place, 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney bulletinplace.com

Fleet captures the Byron mood.
Fleet captures the Byron mood. Photo: Supplied

Let's get out of the city

The suburbs have always been home to amazing cheap eats but this year saw the opening of big name joints outside the City limits too. Parramatta gastrodome The Emporium launched and zipped straight into the Good Food Guide with its truffle chicken and slow-cooked beef-rib, joining Jamie's Italian Trattoria, Bourke Street Bakery and Gelato Messina in the same postcode. Meanwhile, Michelin-starred dumpling house Tim Ho Wan decided to open its first Australian restaurant in Chatswood and not on George Street. We also saw a bunch of great new bars in the north (JB & Sons, The Greens, The Roots Next Door, Crooked Tailor, Public Bar) meaning what locals save on a cab fare they can spend on another negroni.

Pikelets, sausage rolls and lamingtons at Bennelong

Fish pancakes: there is nothing appealing about this idea at all. Except when genius chef Peter Gilmore is behind them. In which case, we can't get enough. At Bennelong's Cured & Cultured Bar, the team are serving up fluffy little buckwheat pikelets ready for you to build with cultured cream, lemon jam and a sweet little redclaw yabby. Gilmore has started baking suckling-pig sausage rolls, too, so the smoko combo of a sauso-roll and lamington is yours at The House for $52. Skip in there with your hi-vis on and put the "restaurant for every Australian" line to test. Bennelong, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, (02) 9240 8000 bennelong.com.au

Travelling to Fleet

The Byron region is having a real moment right now. And not in that "we're triple soaking our lentils now" or "we only get our finger limes from hillside cults" kind of way, either. While the new Byron is still flavoured with hempseed oil, bone broth and good vibes, there's also more than a small amount of excellent coffee (the Byron hinterland is an amazing place to grow beans and most places roast their own). Better yet, the area's restaurant culture is going great guns. And with respect to the Three Blue Ducks crew, who are doing some really outstanding work out on their property, it's Fleet that really captures the mood so thoroughly. It's tiny, it's super local, and drinking a glass of wine at sunset sitting across the road from the Brunswick caravan park after a late afternoon dip is what life is all about. Beach hair + sunset + breakfast wine = heaven. Fleet; 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, (02) 6685 1363

A gin and tonic at Archie Rose in Rosebery.
A gin and tonic at Archie Rose in Rosebery.  Photo: Cole Bennetts

Newcastle bars come of age

Three years ago a man walked into a Newcastle bar. "I'll have a Sazerac​ please," he said. The bartender looked at him, confused. "Sorry, mate we've only got Bundy pre-mix around here. Best head back to the big smoke." Things have changed massively in the Steel City since, and thanks to joints like Coal and Cedar, Casa de Loco, The Edwards, Reserve Wine Bar and Koutetsu​, you can now get that Sazerac made 50/50 with a chaser of Tecate no worries. It's been a sensational transformation to witness and we can't wait to see it blossom more.

Cask wine tasting and tennis with Melbourne

Suckling-pig sausage rolls with black garlic at Bennelong.
Suckling-pig sausage rolls with black garlic at Bennelong. Photo: Supplied

Natural, organic and biodynamic wine is, for the most part, a wonderful thing. Bouncing with flavour, kind to the environment and converting more drinkers every day. We couldn't help to crack up though, when the preservative-free Soulfor Wine event was going down down in Melbourne at the very same time Chippendale's Lord Gladstone Hotel was coincidently hosting "Boxfest  - a festival of the goonbag" for charity, complete with Fruity Lexia tasting tokens and all. The funniest thing is that the natural wine trend began in Sydney anyway with bars like Love Tilly Devine and 121BC. So, Melbourne - if you want to claim our minimal-intervention plonk movement, then we'll have your panache for opening super-fun, mid-priced restaurants (see ACME, Bang, Besser). I guess you nicked our claim as top dog for big ticket dining with Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston while we weren't looking, but hey, we get Noma next year so, um, yeah. Return that serve.

Nerding out with food comics: Drops of God, Seconds and looking forward to Anthony Bourdain's follow-up to Get Jiro!

Len Deighton kicked it all off in the 60s with his illustrated food strips in London's The Observer (check out The Action Cookbook for the full collection, if you can get your hands on one). Now, you can't walk two aisles in Kinokuniya without passing at least one food focused comic.

Yabbies and pikelets at the cured & cultured bar at Bennelong.
Yabbies and pikelets at the cured & cultured bar at Bennelong.  Photo: Jennifer Soo

Back in 2011, Tadashi Agi's​ cult vino-centric comic books have caught the attention of sommeliers and wine producers the world over. In fact, it was responsible for bumping wine sales in Japan by 130% the first year it came out. The manga series follows Kanzaki Shizuku​, the estranged son of Japan's most respected wine taster and owner of one of the world's most epic wine collections. Shizuku can only gain his inheritance after passing 13 mysterious wine challenges. Thing is, despite an amazing sense of taste and smell and the ability to decant a 1999 DRC Richebourg​ like a superhuman boss, he's never drunk wine before. Adventure ensues.

Then there's Seconds, which came out last year. This is Bryan Lee O'Malley's first foray into food (he's the guy behind the Scott Pilgrim series) and a New York Times bestseller. It's all about 29 year old Katie - a successful young chef/restaurateur with the world at her feet, until everything suddenly goes horribly wrong. A mysterious stranger changes all that with, ah, a magic "do-over" mushroom that allows the eater to go back in time and fix past mistakes. But can one too many change more than the course of just one little restaurant?  

The big one that's got nerds a'talking is Anthony Bourdain's sequel to his popular graphic novel, Get Jiro! which follows a talented sushi chef in a food-obsessed dystopian future. Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi is due to be released in late October. Colour us excited.  

Bartender Chris Woodger at Casa de Loco.
Bartender Chris Woodger at Casa de Loco. Photo: Simone De Peak

Gin for Sydney

It took a while, but the City of Sydney finally has a gin to call its own. When Archie Rose Distilling Co threw open its doors in March, it became the first independent distillery to open in Sydney in a century and a half. We're very much looking forward to trying its whisky in a few years, but for now it's all about Archie's native botanical gin. With Young Henrys and Poor Toms also distilling in the inner-west, a new era of local spirits is upon us. Archie Rose Distilling Co, 85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery, (02) 8458 2300 archierose.com.au

Weekend barbecue at Vic's Meats

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The best thing about Vic's Meat Market at Sydney Fish Market isn't the unbelievably giving beef brisket slow-cooked on the two-tonne smoker, the by-the-glass Grange, the David Blackmore wagyu​, or even the root beer. It's the barbecue community it has fostered. They gather here at weekends to talk Texas, country music and the fine art of seasoning. If there's a band on, all the better. Gee, that brisket is really something though. Vic's Meat Market, Sydney Fish Market, Bank Street, Pyrmont, (02) 8570 8570 vicsmeatmarket.com.au

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 will be available for $10 with the Herald this Saturday. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au/smhgfg2016 for $24.99.