Multimillion-dollar bistros. An inner-city deli selling hard-to-find Mexican ingredients. Big-ticket international talent. Dimly lit basements and sky-high bars with glittering city views. After 20 months of lockdowns and uncertainty, Sydney is in the midst of a restaurant explosion.
"It feels like a whole pinata bursting over our heads raining restaurants from the sky because of all the pent-up plans that have suddenly been released after two major lockdowns," says Sydney Morning Herald chief restaurant critic Terry Durack. "I haven't seen such energy and excitement in the local restaurant scene since the 2000 Olympics.
"But what's interesting is the scale and style of the new wave. Big city restaurant groups like those in Shell House and Hinchcliff House are moving in to revitalise the CBD, but just as exciting are all the small bistros, wine bars and chef-run cafes that are spreading out into the suburbs. I think we'll feel the impact of this three-month flurry for years to come."
Joining the $14 million restoration of Shell House and Hinchcliff House in the city are newcomers Margaret, the Double Bay diner from veteran chef-restaurateur Neil Perry; Ursula's, from Perry's former right-hand man, Phil Wood; and Barangaroo's long-awaited Oncore by Clare Smyth, led by the first woman in the UK to win three Michelin stars.
The fledglings all feature in the Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, a compendium of more than 250 restaurants, cafes and bars in New South Wales, which is released today.
So, aside from the flurry of fresh venues, what else is new on the post-lockdown dining scene?
Everything this year is that little bit richer. With most of us still landlocked and unable to travel, luxury products rule a lot of the menus at the top end of town. Caviar, champagne, lobsters and sea urchins are being consumed faster than you can say "pre-release Gucci".
Butter sauce, a term last heard around the time jogging became fashionable, is back. Whether that's a reduction of orange wine, pipis and butter at Stanmore fine diner Sixpenny, or the boned and butterflied coral trout napped in a butter cream sauce and bejewelled with ocean trout roe at Ursula's, fat is flavour of the month.
Desserts are often large-format and share-style, made for digging in. From the rich, custardy, summer pudding at Margaret to the 10-person bombe Alaska at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, restaurants are going big.
Conversely, chefs are embracing brightness and acid, using Indigenous ingredients such as Davidson plum in savoury dishes to balance proteins, but also in sweets. At Berowra Waters Inn, pastry chef Lauren Eldridge has created a sculptural dessert of labne, Davidson plum sorbet, yoghurt crisps and Davidson plum dust. Such is its beauty, we made it the cover star of this year's Guide.
But for all of the luxe and glitter that has hit Sydney over the past year, grassroots neighbourhood dining has never been stronger, with new places such as Itacate Mexican Deli in Redfern joining stalwarts such as Ryo's Ramen in Crows Nest. It's this kind of diversity that keeps this city sparkling.
The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, presented by Citi and Vittoria Coffee, free inside today. Good Food Month returns to Sydney in January 2022. The full program and tickets are available at goodfoodmonth.com
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At Buon Ricordo (108 Boundary Street, Paddington) try the signature fettuccine with a truffled fried egg tossed through the creamy butter sauce, or the house-made pumpkin and ricotta tortellini with a rich brown butter sauce at Sagra (62 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst).
Experience the delicate, savoury Japanese custard at Quay (Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks), its ginger-fragrant curd enriched with lobster. There's a crab version offered as one of the courses at Tempura Kuon (Little Hay Street, Haymarket) and a silken sweetcorn variety at Orange winery restaurant, Sisters Rock (298 Lake Canobolas Road, Orange).
Try the tart, acidic native fruit in dishes such as Davidson plum with cured bonito, macadamia cream and Davidson plum dust at Ester (46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale) or in the family-style bombe Alaska at Icebergs (1 Notts Avenue, Bondi).
Fancy prawn toast
Our love affair with minced prawn on toast (fried or baked – dealer's choice) has reached its zenith. Take that Hong Kong-style yum cha classic and place it at Potts Point fun diner Ms G's (155 Victoria Street, Potts Point) served with yuzu aioli. At Boronia Kitchen, it's thick-cut and spangled with sesame seeds (152 Pittwater Road, Gladesville).
Steak diane and pepper steak ride again, and this time they're fancy. Try possibly Australia's pepperiest pepper steak at Monopole (20 Curtin Place, Sydney), or experience the joys of a truly excellent steak diane at Cafe Paci (131 King Street, Newtown).
Where would restaurant share-plates be without fresh, creamy, shredded Italian cheese? Try the number at Bastardo (50 Holt Street, Surry Hills) served with grilled peppers, or swipe sourdough through stracciatella at Darlington neighbourhood trattoria Kindred (137 Cleveland Street, Darlington).
The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, presented by Citi and Vittoria Coffee, is free inside today's Sydney Morning Herald. Good Food Month returns to Sydney in January 2022. The full program and tickets are available at goodfoodmonth.com