T-bones and the new surf 'n' turf: Australia's top restaurant trends of 2019

Grilled octopus, new potatoes, 'nduja and salsa verde at Agostino, Carlton.
Grilled octopus, new potatoes, 'nduja and salsa verde at Agostino, Carlton. Photo: Pete Dillon

Salted caramel is out, but miso caramel is massive. Raw kangaroo is fast becoming Australia's national dish, while cheese is infiltrating everything and T-bones have made a triumphant return. 

The Good Food Guide 2020 is released on October 1 with reviews of more than 500 restaurants across the country and, after 12 months of fancy fork-work, Guide reviewers have reported back on the key food trends spotted in the field. Straight-shooting, deeply-flavoured dishes are the biggest trend in lieu of anything too fussy (macarons have had their day) with a few 1980s throwbacks rounding things out - even arancini has made a comeback.

Salt cod beignets and taramasalata at Eliza, Darlinghurst

Salt cod beignets and taramasalata at Eliza, Darlinghurst Photo: Christopher Pearce

Balls of all sorts

"I've never seen so much round food in my life," said Good Food Guide senior reviewer Terry Durack. "Everywhere I go, there are balls on the menu - meatballs, but also balls made of black pudding, blue sago, labne and salt cod." Arancini rice balls are also making a return and breaking free of their Italian heritage, said Durack. "The last arancini I had were in a Vietnamese restaurant and stuffed with spanner crab."

Spotted: deep-fried crab balls with curry powder, green chilli and dill at Lankan Filling Station, East Sydney; salt cod beignets and taramasalata at Eliza, Darlinghurst; pork and veal meatballs with sugo at Johnny's Green Room, Carlton; green olive and mozzarella arancini with harissa aioli at Bellota, South Melbourne

Mary's Underground bombe Alaska is an edible work of art.

Mary's Underground bombe Alaska is an edible work of art. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Bombes away!

"The bombe Alaska is an edible work of art with spiky peaks of blow-torched meringue, tangy sorbet and rich ice-cream in a glorious juxtaposition of hot, cold, smooth and squishy," said Durack. The next-generation "bombette Alaska" is a great fit for millennial times, he adds, being "technically precise, visually appealing and single-serve".

Spotted: chocolate, hazelnut and mandarin bombe Alaska with mezcal at Mary's Underground, Circular Quay; peach melba bombe at Catalina, Rose Bay; pear and sorrel bombe Alaska with caramelised puffed rice at Coda, Melbourne; chocolate hazelnut bombe at Donovans, St Kilda.

Cacio e Pepe pasta at Lello Pasta Bar, Melbourne CBD.

Maccheroni cacio e pepe Lello, Melbourne CBD. Photo: Simon Schluter

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Cacio e pepe everything

The simple Roman dish of pecorino cheese, black pepper and spaghetti has been popping up at wine bars everywhere, somewhat due to the low cost of ingredients but mainly because it's creamy and highly delicious. Cacio e pepe has now transcended spaghetti to grace other pastas (maccheroni and mafaldine, say) and become so popular that cacio e pepe-enhanced eggs, butter and chickpeas have made it onto menus.

Spotted: cacio e ceci (chickpeas) at Alberto's Lounge, Surry Hills; fried potato gnocchi with pecorino and black pepper at Marta, Rushcutters Bay; cacio e pepe eggs and pancetta at Lagotto, North Fitzroy; gran arso maccheroni cacio e pepe at Lello, Melbourne.

Perfect with a martini: the French dip beef sandwich at Continental Deli, Sydney CBD.

Perfect with a martini: the French dip beef sandwich at Continental Deli, Sydney CBD. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Fancy sandwiches

"Following 2018's decriminalisation of bread eating, 2019 was the year outrageous sandwiches took the place of burgers as the ultimate handheld meal," said senior reviewer Gemima Cody. "They're expensive, but these new wave sandwiches treat every element with the same care you would expect of anything served on a plate. Pair one with a martini for the business lunch of your dreams."

Spotted: French dip roast beef sandwich at Continental Deli, Sydney CBD; prawn sandwich with romesco sauce, lettuce, serrano ham and red onion at A1 Canteen, Chippendale; warialda beef pastrami and smoked mozzarella Reuben at Pope Joan, Melbourne; The Big Dog ciabatta featuring prosciutto, salami, pecorino and pickled fennel at Big Dog's Deli, Richmond.

Little Red Robin's kangaroo tartare with watermelon radish, parsnip and espelette pepper.

Little Red Robin's kangaroo tartare with watermelon radish, parsnip and espelette pepper. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Kangaroo tartare

"If 2019 is any indication, kangaroo tartare is set to be our new national dish," said senior reviewer Jill Dupleix. "If I see it on a menu, I order it, which means I'm currently eating it at least once a week." Roo tartare is an intuitive use of sustainable, wild-caught, native meat that brings out its fresh, slightly gamey sweetness, said Dupleix, and best served with crisps (perhaps made from potato, buckwheat, beetroot or saltbush) for a crunch in the mouth.

Spotted: kangaroo with watermelon radish, parsnip and espelette pepper at Little Red Robin, Lane Cove; kangaroo, pickled cucumber, bush tomato and potato at Arthur, Surry Hills; red kangaroo with truganini at Attica, Ripponlea; kangaroo with fermented capsicum at Matilda 159 Domain, South Yarra.

Rib-eye cut to order at Firedoor in Surry Hills, Sydney.

Rib-eye cut to order at Firedoor in Surry Hills, Sydney. Photo: Nikki To

Shared steaks

Big steaks are big news, with designed-to-share cuts such as rib-eye, T-bone and tomahawk replacing the 200 gram fillet at hatted restaurants everywhere. "Chefs have embraced that eating steak isn't about individual serves, because that means compromising on quality," said Anthony Puharich, chief executive of Vic's Meat which supplies beef to many of Australia's best restaurants. "28 to 30 months of age is the right amount of time to let cattle mature [and develop flavour] and butchers can't cut an animal that size into small serves."

Spotted: 196-day fat-aged Rangers Valley rib-eye at Firedoor, Surry Hills; grilled grass-fed T-Bone with garlic butter and roast potatoes at Fred's, Paddington; Cape Grim 36-month-old grass-fed T-Bone at Rockpool Bar and Grill, Southbank; dry-aged O'Connor rib-eye with house-made mustard, shaved cabbage and fennel salad at Cutler and Co., Fitzroy.  

Braised octopus with nduja at Ode, Bondi.

Braised octopus with nduja at Ode, Bondi. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The new surf 'n' turf 

If there was a Most Valuable Sausage Of the Decade trophy, it would be awarded to nduja, the spicy spreadable pork salumi originating from Calabria. It has made special guest appearances on pizza over the last few years, but in 2019 chefs really took to serving it with anything from the sea, but particularly prawns, pipis and octopus which are robust enough to stand up to nduja's chilli kick.

Spotted: braised octopus with nduja at Ode Bar, Bondi; prawn fried rice with nduja and XO at bills, Darlinghurst; grilled octopus with new potatoes, nduja and salsa verde at Agostino, Carlton; Spring Bay mussels with zucchini, pangrattato and nduja at Grossi Grill, Melbourne.

Barbecued baby corn with macadamia miso and cured kangaroo at Vue de Monde, Melbourne.

Barbecued baby corn with macadamia miso and cured kangaroo at Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

Weirdo miso

Traditionally made from fermented soybeans, variations of Japan's umami-rich miso paste have been flavour-enhancing everything from eggplant to fried chicken to caramel (especially caramel). In the interests of all things local and never-before-tasted, chefs are making their versions own, too, and top restaurants are experimenting with miso made from macadamia, bunya nut and banana.    

Spotted: wagyu with miso caramel and enoki at Cottage Point Inn, Cottage Point; emu egg with sea urchin, saltbush and bunya miso at Orana in Residence, Surry Hills; barbecued baby corn with macadamia miso and cured kangaroo at Vue de Monde, Melbourne; koshihikari rice and apple ice-cream with miso caramel at Kisume, Melbourne.

The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition will be on sale from October 1 in newsagencies and bookstores, and is also available to pre-order at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.