Instead of the Good Food Guide, this year we bring 100 Good Things to the table: a collection of people, places, moments and mementos that best represent 2020.
1. Welcome to the only cocktail bar on the Hawkesbury
Berowra Waters Inn, one of Sydney's most legendary restaurants sitting at the mouth of the Hawkesbury, is also one of the hardest to get to, accessible only by boat, seaplane or, if you've driving, a regular ferry. Currently, the river is a hive of activity thanks to yachties unable to leave the state. They've run out of moorings, and local accommodation is booked out. But never fear, there's a bar on the way, as owner-chef Brian Geraghty looks to the future of BWI. And the future is a sprawling deck overlooking the water with a daily-changing menu serving local seafood caught by Hawkesbury fisherfolk (they're now experiencing a blissful run on mud crabs and school prawns). The wine list will be all-Australian and cocktails will be designed by consulting bartender Tom Price. Geraghty is keen to also make this a locals' bar and is adding extra boat moorings for visitors. All going to plan, we'll be sitting on the deck with a crab claw by mid-December. MR berowrawatersinn.com
2. Platter up
Momofuku Seiobo's menu has made a very sharp move towards pure tropical good times. See the seafood "welcome" platter, the OTT break from reality we all need. MR seiobo.momofuku.com
3. Small shops, specials and trucks – tacos get serious
Don't sigh. We understand. The Mexican trend that struck Sydney back in 2014 scarred us pretty deeply, too. Today, though, you can access incredible, authentic Mexican food in Dulwich Hill at Tamaleria & Mexican Deli. Eat in for tacos al pastor (shredded pork and pineapple), chicken and green sauce tamales wrapped in a silken corn husk, and a pickled cactus salad. Or take away from a range of hot sauces, fresh-made tortillas, queso fresco and Mexican sodas.
If linen and glassware are required, Cafe Paci offers its famous rye taco with pickled ox-tongue and sauerkraut.
If all that matters is flavour and a place to stand, Toby Wilson's Rico's Tacos truck pulls up for lunch and dinner four times a week at Gelato Messina's HQ in Rosebery. Check @ricostacotruck for specials and extra locations. MR mexicanfoodaustralia.com.au; cafepaci.com.au
Ross Lusted's menu at Woodcut will be a wood-fired bonanza. Photo: Supplied
4. Making the Woodcut
Barring any further last-minute drama, Ross and Sunny Lusted's dream is on track to open at Crown before Christmas. "Long before Ross and I opened The Bridge Room, we had planned a wood-fired restaurant," says Sunny.
If the 300-seat venue isn't the biggest restaurant to open this summer, it's certainly the sexiest. A canyon-like entrance opens to a dining room featuring water views, native timbers and a vertical garden where chefs pick herbs for a daily-changing menu.
Ross will oversee four open kitchens, filled with yakitori aromas and the fragrance of kettle-steamed crab. Whopping T-bones, served with steak knives made from fallen gidgee wood and Japanese steel, are set to be a must-order. No detail has been overlooked; almost every item is custom-made. CB crownhotels.com.au
Redfern gelateria Ciccone and Sons. Photo: David Li
5. Putting it on ice
In sickness and in health, gelato is enduring, and an especially welcome comfort to sweet-lovers in 2020. And it's been a low-cost, low-risk and most importantly, high-fun way for chefs and gelaterias to collaborate. "Some weeks, we're more of an ice-cream parlour than a restaurant," says Firedoor's Lennox Hastie, who regularly collaborates with gelato heavyweights Messina. When they introduced their Basque cheesecake flavour, it sold out twice.
Newtown gelateria Mapo is shaking up King Street with collaborations with chef Mitch Orr (Jerusalem artichoke and caramelised hazelnut) and Potts Point cafe Room 10 (cold brew).
Hand-churned and straight outta Redfern, small-batch gelateria Ciccone & Sons (pictured) has been a longtime collaborator with Continental Deli, making their "neopoli-tin" canned gelati (three changing flavours such as strawberry, black sesame and salted cashew). On Ciccone's own turf, find the likes of maraschino cherry, honeycomb and buttermilk. They even have their own dedicated amaro bar for grown-up iced treats. MR gelatomessina.com; maponewtown.com; cicconeandsons.bigcartel.com
Sundowners rule at Mosman Rowers. Photo: Emily Scacher
6. Sundowners in the shed
One of the joys of living in Sydney is our ability to make almost anywhere the setting for a celebratory drink and bite. Sure, we don't have graffiti-strewn laneways stuffed with hidden bars, but we do have an epic amount of waterfront real estate. Mega yachts might feature, but there's an old salt's attitude to many of the little marinas that hug the coast, some of which offer a perfect place for sundowners, even if you're not a card-carrying club member.
The Navy Bear, inside the Royal Australian Naval Sailing Association in Darling Point, serves one hell of a bacon-and-egg roll to be enjoyed as the water laps around your feet.
Mosman Rowers "welcomes wet bums, sandy feet and paws". Take it from sea to seat with a Bloody Mary and a bucket of prawns, just as nature intended.
Something of a local secret, Cronulla Sailing Club opens to the public for drinks on Friday nights in summer months. Unless you're a member, the queues for the bar are ferocious but the reward is the best sunset in the south. MR birdandbear.com.au; mosmanrowers.com.au; cronullasc.com
Japanese oysters might feature on the omakase menu at Kuon. Photo: Min Park
7. The rise of omakase: In chefs we trust
Omakase means "respectfully leaving another to decide what's best". You get what the chef wants to give you, which will be the freshest and most seasonal produce available. You're also seated face to face with the chef, so it's more personal and more tailored – and more fun – than kaiseki. But it comes with a proviso. Limited seating (often only five or six people) at the sushi counter means omakase restaurants often book out months in advance.
At 9am on the first day of every month, the fingers of thousands of Sydney food-lovers hover over their phones, desperately hoping to secure a 6pm booking at the counter of sushi master Toshihiko Oe's tiny omakase bar, Sushi Oe, situated within the popular Jizakana restaurant in Cammeray. Chef Oe brings legions of fans with him from his time at Masuya Suisan in Haymarket. Now, he's winning even more (if only a handful at a time) with marinated flathead, minced tuna with spring onions, simmered blacklip abalone and torched freshwater eel with nori. With only six seats for the 30-piece omakase and one sitting a night, the race is on.
Every night is party night at Chaco Bar, where diners feast on sizzling skewers straight from the glowing binchotan coals. But when owner-chef Keita Abe reopened in September, he wanted to do something different, in addition to the regular menu. His new yakitori omakase is for just 16 people – eight at each of the two sittings at the chef 's counter – on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The 13-dish omakase may, or may not, include warayaki (hay-smoked) fish, Maremma duck tartare, spanner crab chawanmushi and chicken thigh smoked over cherry-blossom wood. The silver lining is that with fewer guests, he can do more complex food.
Kuon Omakase, a tiny restaurant in Darling Square, is booked until February 2021. After that time, owner Kenny Lee will introduce a new booking system that will allow you to book for the following month – if you're quick. Kuon's Hideaki Fukada and Jun Miyauchi present a daily-changing 20-piece menu for 11 diners at a time. You'll need to think beyond the norm here and upgrade expectations to a biscuity monaka filled with oscietra caviar, sea urchin and tuna belly; truffled snow egg chawanmushi; monkfish liver cooked in soy, and Kuon's signature toro, uni and ikuri (salmon roe) handroll. Sister restaurant Kuon Tempura opens in Darling Square in late January. TD jizakana16.wixsite.com; chacobar.com.au; kuon.com.au
8. Raising the bar for city drinkers
The pandemic has been less than kind to CBD venues and operators have had to invest heavily in ideas to lure locals to former tourist areas. Ideas like chef-restaurateur Matt Moran's plan to turn part of his fine diner Aria into a smart-casual wine bar. Aria Wine Bar guests will choose from 80 by-the-glass options and 1700 by the bottle, and order chef Joel Bickford's refined snacks. Mark your diaries for a March 21, 2021 opening. CB ariasydney.com.au
Raes on Wategos is seconds from opening their new bar. Photo: Kate Nutt
9. New moves in Byron town
Teach a person to fish, they'll eat for life. Give a person a surf board, and it's likely you won't see that person in one place for long. And look! Here's surfer-chef David Moyle, back cooking in Byron Bay after stints in Hobart and Melbourne. He's overseeing the menus at Harvest in Newrybar and Barrio in the Byron Bay industrial estate. In other Byron-related news, Raes on Wategos is seconds away from opening its new bar downstairs from the restaurant. Yet another good reason to make a brief sea change. MR harvestnewrybar.com.au; barriobyronbay.com.au; raes.com.au
10. Sea farmers unite
Coronavirus hurt in so many different and unexpected ways, you'd be hard-pressed to meet anyone unaffected. But there have been some silver linings. With so many restaurants closed during lockdown, it forced farmers around the country to re-evaluate their business models.
Some, such as NSW's long-established, independent, family-run oyster growers, realised there was power and strength in numbers. And so they united under the East 33 appellation, promising next-day home delivery of their immaculate Sydney rock oysters.
The orders ($69 for two dozen) showcase eight Sydney rocks from northern NSW, eight from the Central Coast and eight from the South Coast, each with its own distinct flavour profile. JD & MR east33.sydney
11. Neil Perry's bold Hope
Officially, Neil Perry retired from Rockpool Dining Group in July, but in the past eight months the chef has never been busier. Perry (pictured with OzHarvest's Ronni Kahn) launched notfor-profit initiative Hope Delivery in April, aiming to feed homeless and disadvantaged people affected by the pandemic, plus workers on temporary visas ineligible for government assistance.
With a crack team of Rockpool staff, volunteers and the help of OzHarvest, Hope regularly provides more than 2000 meals a day in Sydney and Melbourne. When he's not on the pass creating Hope Delivery meals packed with Australia's best produce (Stix Farm vegetables and Garry Kadwell spuds regularly feature), Perry is out fundraising to make sure the program can keep happening and feed more people in need. "It's here forever," he says. Or at least until there are no more hungry Australians. CB rockpoolfoundation.com
The rise of cask wine at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. Photo: Edwina Pickles
12. A visit from the goon squad
Forget magnums, embrace the "bagnum": cask wines that are long-lasting once opened and respectable enough to serve to your friends. The trend leaning into high-quality, small wine producers, both local and international, is a growing one, not least because it's a more economical choice for restaurants with reduced operating hours and for at-home wine drinkers who may like just a glass without committing to a full bottle. Restaurants such as Bondi's Icebergs have long embraced the bag over the bottle for some of their by-the-glass pours, as have wine importers such as Giorgio De Maria of Fun Wines, which distributes Carussin's eminently drinkable Vino Rosso, available by the three-litre cask. And now independent bottleshops such as P&V liquors are producing their own casks and bags, in collaboration with young and emerging winemakers such as Owen Latta, of Latta Vino in Victoria, and Sam Leyshon from the Canberra region's Mallaluka Wine. Just in time for Christmas. MR giorgiodemaria.com; pnvmerchants.com
13. A good year for Indigenous-owned bush-food suppliers
Native ingredients entered the home-cooking consciousness of the nation in 2020, to the point where supermarkets are selling wattleseed cheesecakes and lemon myrtle meringues. MasterChef contestants were seen using desert lime and riberry and Australian ingredients are also enjoying an increasingly popular status as superfoods (Kakadu plum, come on down). It's a movement we hope continues and benefits First Nations peoples. Home cooks chasing bush foods can shop at Indigiearth, founded by Ngemba Weilwan woman Sharon Winsor, who works with Aboriginal communities across the country. By helping create Indigenous-owned enterprises, Winsor ensures employment, income and education remain within the community. Visit Indigiearth's new Mudgee eatery, Warakirri Cafe & Dining. CB indigiearth.com.au
Sweet treats at Cherry Moon General Store, Annandale. Photo: James Brickwood
14. The general store is making a comeback
If we've learnt anything about this year, it's that community is vital, and the beating heart of that is often the old-fashioned general store. Outdoor seating at Annandale bakery and organic supermarket Cherry Moon General Store is at a premium for their sandwiches and salted chocolate cookies – it's a matter of menacing anyone lingering over their layer cake. Inside, buy wood-fired sourdough made on site, fruit and veg and excellent, hard-to-find dry goods.
A few suburbs over, in Newtown, 212 Blu subbed out their tables and chairs during COVID to make room for a little general store with local products including craft beer, wine and gorgeously expensive incense as well as a selection of coffee gear and Loggerhead beans. MR facebook.com/cherrymoongeneralstore; 212blu.com
Antica Australis. Photo: Jason Loucas for Rare Medium
15. Wild Times in the Central West
We may have been trapped in our own (very lovely) state for much of the year, but boy have we made the most of it. Closed borders have forced those of us with the means to travel to look to areas such as Orange, currently enjoying a massive boost in tourism. They've also enjoyed a massive boost in chefs, many of whom have left the big smoke in search of a quieter life. Good luck on that front. The area's restaurants are booked months in advance.
Sister's Rock, located at Borrodell Vineyard, features former Pilu at Freshwater chef Charles Woodward, who is making the most of local foragers and miso fermenters.
Charred Kitchen and Bar boasts a beast of a wood-fire oven made by head chef Liam O'Brien's (ex-Bentley, Bistro Moncur and Nahm, Bangkok) high-school tech teacher. The tasting menu is bedded in local ingredients, influenced by his working travels both in Australia and Thailand.
Dom Aboud is using everything he learnt during his years in front of the flames at Rockpool Bar and Grill at the Schoolhouse Restaurant at Union Bank.
And if it's all about the untested names, there's Antica Australis, delivering big Italian flavour in the tiny town of Carcoar, executed beautifully and originally by ex-industrial welder Paolo Picarazzi. MR borrodell.com.au/sistersrock-restaurant; charred.com.au; theunionbank.com.au; anticacarcoar.com
16. A pasta party everyone wants in on
Sydney can never have enough places like the Italian-ish Bar Vincent, which Darlinghurst locals are in love with for its low-key vibes and whatever'sbest-at-the-market attitude to the menu. That could mean asparagus dressed with a zippy gribiche, or mozzarella topping baby broad beans. Pasta is essential, such as maltagliati with deeply savoury wild boar ragu, and fregola teeming with prawns, cuttlefish, vongole and mussels. Ain't no party like a pasta-packed party, and Bar Vincent brings it. CB barvincent.com.au
The High Hopes Roadhouse apple pie. Photo: Wolter Peeters
17. High hopes for new Bilpin diner
It's a Bilpin pitstop with style and personality thanks to Sean Moran (Sean's Panaroma, Bondi) and his partner Michael "Manoo" Robertson. The pair recently opened this Blue Mountains roadhouse, and it has everything a country diner should: warm service, a warmer fireplace for winter and home-style food showcasing beautiful produce from their Bilpin farm. "It's got a lot of charm," says Moran, who painted the High Hopes Roadhouse signage himself. "We're using our cavolo nero with a steak and egg dish. There's also chipolatas served with onion gravy and peas, pumpkin soup with fresh horseradish and apple pie from a self-taught baker down the road." TD seansbondi.com
Hendrik Max chef's knife. Photo: Supplied
18. Blades made in Sydney for dedicated cooks who live anywhere
Like many of the better things 2020 threw at us, chef Hendrik Max's knives are an exercise in patience. To get your practical object of beauty, with folded carbon steel and handles made from maple, tamarind and native vasticola, you'll need to get in line now via his Instagram, MR @hendrikmaxknives
The Stinger served at Double Deuce Lounge. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
19. The only bar in Sydney serving a Stinger and Goldfish
First things first. A potted history of the Stinger for those of you not born of an era in which cocktails doubled as mouthwash. American drinks writer David Wondrich once described it as "a short drink with a long reach". Invented in the 1920s by Reginald Vanderbilt, a member of one of America's wealthiest families, the Stinger is two slugs of Cognac and three quarters of a slug of creme de menthe. It might be a drink for psychopaths (creme de menthe!) but served ice-cold and "up", as it is at Double Deuce Lounge in the CBD's Bridge Street, it's a perfect balance of richness, with a cool finish. And best of all, Goldfish, those salty, moreish American crackers usually served to children at daycare, are their complimentary bar snack of choice. MR doubledeucelounge.com
20. Garage band hot sauces to make everything 10% more exciting
Condimental is a hot-sauce collective based in Sydney, heroing producers around the regions of NSW. CB condimental.com.au
Words: Callan Boys, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Myffy Rigby