Terry Durack creates the ultimate tasting menu from his top 10 dishes of the year.
It's tempting to declare that my top 10 dishes of the year were pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, pig's head, and pig's head.
Oh, The Pig's Heads I Have Known; their little ears turned into schnitzel, their cheeks and jowls slow-cooked into gelatinously melting braises, their slow-cooked necks pulled and stuffed into a thousand sliders. The crumbed and fried pig's head fingers with green pea soup from new-gun Nelly Robinson at dego-only diner, nel. on the Surry Hills fringe. The tuna tataki and pig's ear salad at sweet little Chaco Bar in Darlinghurst. The pork porn of caramelised pig's head brulee with beetroot, followed by baby-soft, roasted pork jowl with parsnip and kale from chef James Metcalfe at the new Bellevue in Paddington. The genius of chef Matteo Zamboni's suckling pig's head focaccia at Pilu at Freshwater.
In the interests of something a little less, well, pig's headish, however, here are 10 of the best dishes of the past 12 months, curated into the ultimate tasting menu in honour of the Good Food Guide. Only one of them is pig's head. Because you couldn't really have 10 courses of pig's head. Could you?
Finger sandwich of caviar with chives and capers: Rockpool est.1989
Best trend of the year: high-end snacks from high-end bar menus in high-end restaurants. It's all the fun and none of the fuss, at the bars of Momofuku Seiobo, Bentley, Bennelong, Sepia and Rockpool. Take a bow, Phil Wood of Rockpool, for this tender little finger of yeasty white bread topped with kombu butter, Sterling caviar, capers, chives and crunchy little fried breadcrumbs.
Snapper carpaccio, white peach, basil, and finger lime: Cottage Point Inn
Everyone does raw fish crudo or carpaccio, right? But not everybody does line-caught snapper, dressed with a white peach vierge dressing, punched up with basil, finger lime and the salty tang of sea succulents the way talented Frenchman Guillaume Zika does at Cottage Point Inn. As simple, fresh, and almost as stunning as the Hawkesbury river views.
Blue swimmer crab, carrot, tarragon: Cafe Paci
An accidental over-supply of carrots led to one of the stand-out dishes of 2015 at Darlinghurst's shades-of-grey Cafe Paci. Finnish-born chef Pasi Petanen saved the day by shaving them into ribbons, pickling them and looping them languidly over a fresh spanner crab with tarragon mayo, playing up the sweet and savoury nature of both crab and carrot with a reduced carrot juice and apple balsamic vinegar dressing. Now, he has to order even more carrots to feed the demand.
Baked wallaby buns with Davidson's plum sauce: Billy Kwong
Kylie Kwong's pioneering blend of Aussie-Chinese cuisine gained a new spring in its step when Billy Kwong moved to Potts Point late last year. Kwong and head chef Kok Hoong Leong celebrated by turning the traditional Cantonese barbecuepork bun on its head, by filling it with slow-cooked gamey shredded wallaby meat, baking it until crisp and serving it with an astringently fruity relish of native Davidson's plum. Legend born.
Macaroni, pig's head, egg yolk: ACME
Things are never as they seem at ACME, including this "pasta" dish from chef Mitch Orr. First, the macaroni is made in-house. Next, it's sauced with braised pig's head (what did I tell you?) cooked in the style of Filipino sisig. Finally, it's served with a raw egg yolk which, when tossed through, not only gives the meat a soulful richness; but tricks your brain into thinking you're eating some sort of mad, punked-up carbonara.
The 6.30 risotto: Besser
The first time I went to Besser, I ran the last three blocks along Crown Street to make sure I arrived in time to order the one-off daily risotto. Orders are taken at 6.30pm sharp and the dish hits the table 30 minutes later. Miss the deadline, miss the risotto, whether it's soupy green zucchini risotto topped with scallops; black squid ink risotto with calamari; or chef Eugenio Maiale's favourite, made with crab.
Marron, young coconut, koji butter: Momofuku Seiobo
The Western Australian marron was always going to be on this list. Incoming Seiobo chef Paul Carmichael treats it with high respect on the 16-course tasting menu, grilling it lightly over coconut husks, then serving the sweet, clean, clear-tasting meat back in the shell, dressed with young coconut and wood sorrel and oozing with fermented miso-like koji butter.
150-day dry-aged beef rib on the bone: Firedoor
We waited a long time for wood grill master and former chef at Etxebarri in Spain, Lennox Hastie, to find the right location for his first Sydney restaurant. He, in turn, waits 150 days for the magnificent angus beef rib to age on the bone, before grilling it slowly over grapevines. The smoke, scorch, fat and deep, rich savouriness of the meat itself is worth savouring, very, very slowly.
This outrageously pretty, fragrant, pre-dessert owes its existence to – you won't believe it – pig jowl. So many diners were ordering the pig jowl that owner/chef Federico Zanellato wanted something fresh, green and aromatic to come after it, in order to cleanse the palate. From the sorrel sorbet and lemon basil granita to the minty green meringue kisses and green shiso jelly, it's like eating your way through a secret garden.
Opera House Pavlova: Bennelong at the Opera House
When you have already created a dessert as game-changing, crowd-pleasing and MasterChef-rating as the Snow Egg, what on earth do you do for an encore? Meet Peter Gilmore's Opera House pav, a snow-dome of rhubarb, raspberry and freshly piped Italian meringue, with the genius touch of incredibly fine, crisp meringue "sails" attached by what seems nothing less than magic.