It's been a long and sweltering summer in Australia, bothersome at best and devastating at worst. In the face of drought, fires, floods and global epidemics, chefs and cooks are pushing on, more determined than ever to comfort the rest of us through the power of great food. Gosh knows we need it.
From bagels to caviar, here's 10 dishes making waves this summer, valiantly upholding Sydney's reputation as a world-class city to eat in air-conditioned restaurants.
Choose your own back fat adventure at Chaco Ramen. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Yuzu scallop ramen at Chaco Ramen
Thanks to an army of up-and-coming ramen chefs pushing broth beyond tonkotsu, there's never been a more exciting time to eat Japanese noodles. New(ish)comers such as Ichibandori, RaRa, Gaku, Gogyo and Tontaro are applying fresh spins to ramen's ancient craft, but it's to Chaco I keep returning.
Chaco's original Crown Street digs became a full-time ramen house in December, when owner Keita Abe and chef Chris Xin relocated the yakitori side of the business to Potts Point. There's a customisable "fat soy" ramen allowing diners to choose their own level of back fat adventure (no fat, less, normal or extra), but I'm all about the yuzu ramen built on a pork and chicken-based broth. Pretty with Hokkaido scallop in the shell and a wonton filled with john dory and prawn, the ramen's light-heavy balance is ideal for weather that never knows if it's coming or going. 238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Lox is The Thing. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Classic lox at Lox in a Box
Sydney's bagel economy took a hit in late 2019 with Brooklyn Boy departing its Circular Quay outpost and Smoking Gun shuttering in Woolloomooloo. A new schmear was spread in North Bondi, however, when the legends behind Fed Kitchen catering opened Lox in a Box at Seven Ways.
From a handsome timber-lined hole-in-the-wall, Candy Berger and Gaia Lovell rock a mean babka, salt beef, challah and chopped liver, but lox, as the takeaway store's name suggests, is The Thing.
Berger worked with former Fishface chef Stephen Hodges for three months to perfect a lox recipe, the salmon cured in coriander seeds, peppercorn and yellow mustard. It's then smoked and sandwiched with a cream cheese schmear made to Berger's Jewish grandmother's recipe, fragrant with lemon zest, shallots and dill.
Wellington Cake Shop supplies the bagels and Berger says customers can be sure they're never eating a day-old delivery. "If there's any left at the end of service, we'll make bagel chips and offer them to people in the street."
Lox in a Box's "deli-very" system went live last week, too. "We'll deliver bagels to offices, homes, beaches, parks, jetties, you name it," says Berger. Shop 2, 96 Glenayr Avenue, North Bondi
Springy gnocchi is a must order at Peppe's. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Pomodoro gnocchi at Peppe's Osteria
OK, strap in. I have some predictions for Australia's food landscape circa 2030. Plant-based "meats" will comprise the majority of fast-food burgers; proper steaks will be hugely popular (and pricey) as replicating the texture of sirloin in a lab proves elusive; the Curly Wurly will make a comeback; Chicken Twisties will be discontinued; 99 per cent of dishes in restaurants that aren't steakhouses will showcase whole vegetables, fruit, grains and seafood to minimise food costs and environmental impact.
Peppe's new osteria in Waterloo is a textbook template for this last prediction, minus the fish. There's no vegan-based preaching or Beyond Meat products, only Italian cooking celebrating vegetables in all their glory. The lasagne is loved, but springy gnocchi is a must-order. Sauce options change regularly, but the pomodoro is something of a constant with vibrant tomatoes, perfect basil leaves and fried capers. The future looks very, very good. Shop 8, 18 Danks Street, Waterloo
Get the scoop from Mapo. Photo: Rein Photography
All the gelato at Mapo
If, for some bonkers reason, the government had issued a Sydney-wide ban on new gelato stores in 2019, I can't imagine too many would have kicked up a fuss. The city already has more than enough top-notch gelaterias (Cremeria De Luca, Ciccone & Sons and RivaReno, hello) and for every developer-led dining precinct it seems there's another Messina. However, Newtown would not have been gifted Mapo either
Owner Matteo Pochintesta learned his craft in Milan before returning to Australia to run a pozzetti game of the highest standard. There are no preservatives in Pochintesta's creations, and zero artificial colours or aromas. At Mapo, you'll only find sustainably sourced ingredients used to create fresh gelato daily, such as fior di latte made with Barambah Organics milk, Sicilian pistachio, Bolivian single origin chocolate and Piedmont hazelnut. The real deal in keeping cool. 123 King Street, Newtown
High comfort-food factor at Shwarmama. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Hummus plate at Shwarmama
Surry Hills' Shwarmama has set a new standard for marinated chicken wrapped in flatbread thanks to Ester chef Mat Lindsay overseeing the shawarma-centric kitchen. Lindsay's falafel pocket is a thing of beauty, bursting with tahini, garlic sauce, harissa and pickled chilli, but in these times of economic uncertainty, it's hard to go past the high comfort-food factor of hummus.
Served with a paper bag of pita, Shwarmama's chickpea dip is one of Sydney's silkiest, topped with whole chickpeas and a generous splash of olive oil. I can't think of a more wholesome way to stuff my face on the couch and watch Columbo. 106 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Honolulu, here we come! Photo: Lewis McQueen
Huli-huli chicken at Belles Hot Chicken
Belles Hot Chicken chef Morgan McGlone has created his own version of Red Rooster's tropicana snack pack featuring a whole fried huli-huli-style spatchcock served with pineapple coleslaw and soft, sweet buns. Aloha, Honolulu!
Huli-huli is a grilled Hawaiian chook dish sticky with sauce that's a little bit teriyaki and a little bit honey soy. McGlone's riff on the fruity bird is basted in brown sugar, ginger and pineapple juice and yes, absolutely, it's a three refresher-towel job. The serving is designed to feed two, but I recommend a solo session so any huli-huli leftovers can find solace in a home-made salad with spring onion, diced apple and Kewpie. The special edition chicken is available until February 29. Locations at Barangaroo, Haymarket and Forest Lodge
A caviar bump is hard to turn down at Mimi's. Photo: Steve Woodburn
Caviar service at Mimi's
Mimi's chef Jordan Toft will see that pre-lunch martini and raise you. How about a caviar bump and a vodka shot to open the batting at Coogee Pavilion's new fine diner instead? It'll cost you $32 for the privilege but when there's a trolley of Siberian caviar in front of you, the offer is hard to turn down.
If you're wondering why sturgeon aficionados spoon caviar on the back of their hand, it's because science dictates that's the best way to eat it; caviar is around 70 per cent fat, and fat becomes more flavoursome when it's warmed.
When you can no longer feel the caviar between your forefinger and thumb, the roe is coming to blood temperature, an excellent heat level to taste fat at. This warming process can take a minute or two, so don't feel the need to rush proceedings. 130A Beach Street, Coogee
The Saint Peter breakfast is back. Photo: Supplied
Saint Peter's breakfast at Saint Peter
Brunch is back at Saint Peter, baby. After too many months without sea urchin crumpets on a Sunday, Sydneysiders can once again hunker down with Josh Niland's brunch menu, which made a triumphant return in December.
"Brunch is part of the Saint Peter DNA and we really wanted our customers to experience the diversity and creativity that we can achieve with a fish," Niland says. "It also allows us the opportunity to serve dishes like Saint Peter's breakfast and our [ocean trout] merguez sausage and egg English muffin."
That Saint Pete's brekkie is a doozy, composed of different fishy treats each week such as broadbill gammon, ocean trout merguez, sardine garum-dressed tomato, avocado, poached eggs and bush tomato harissa. In other news regarding Paddington's premier fish restaurant, Friday service is now a tasting-menu-only affair and recently featured Abrolhos Island scallops enhanced with cucumber and fig leaf oil, and a chocolate and fish fat caramel slice. 362 Oxford Street, Paddington
Transcendent curried eggs at Japanese cafe Kurumac. Photo: Callan Boys
Curry scrambled eggs at Kurumac
Dika Prianata and Eugene Leung opened Kurumac in October after noting how much Marrickville was lacking in quality Japanese food. I, for one, haven't been this excited about an inner west cafe since 212 Blu started spiking cold drip with Fernet.
Leung also owns Kirribilli coffee spot Cool Mac and the bloke knows his way around a La Marzocco. He also knows how to provide umami-charged sustenance and Kuramac's all-day menu lists onigiri rice balls, grilled salmon congee and killer curried scrambled eggs. Stirred to a level transcending creamy, the eggs are served on fluffy white toast and topped with three tempura prawns because life's too short not to.
Mapo supplies the gelato for Kurumac's roasted green tea milkshake, which probably isn't something you want to think about after eggs, but it's important to know such excellence exists. (PS: Do it.) 107 Addison Road, Marrickville
Simple pleasures at Ragazzi. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Anchovy, butter and sourdough at Ragazzi
I don't have a larger context to warrant the inclusion of Ragazzi's Cantabrian anchovy with Iggy's bread and whipped chive butter on this list. There's no wider trend, such as gill-to-tail eating. No plant-based something-or-other to spotlight. No new-fangled fusion cuisine to bring your attention to. Just a little bit of bread, butter and a tiny fish. Sometimes that's all you need. Shop 3, 2-12 Angel Place, Sydney