For a city as obsessed with new restaurants as Sydney, 2020 was an understandably frustrating year for both operators and hungry diners.
The pandemic might have slowed the roll-out of new venues, but even it didn't put a full-stop on Sydney's opening action.
In a year when the word "pivot" entered our orbit, restaurant operators still found a way. They swung open their doors as takeaway temples, and when the restrictions lifted, the reopening became the new opening.
We tip our toque to some of Sydney's newest restaurant arrivals, while taking a peek at the fresh batch of venues about to land.
Mimi's at Coogee Pavilion. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Putting on The Ritz
As the sun rose on the Year of the Bat, Sydney had just had a fresh injection of hospitality extravagance it hadn't seen since the gilded age of Olympics-era fine diners.
Meu Jardim in the city offered both a waterfall and a firepit; its near-neighbour, Firegrill, had chandeliers that took a team of five three weeks to piece together. You can throw Mimi's at Coogee in the mix, a January arrival with more marble than the Parthenon.
As well as the opulence, they all had something else in common: the timing of a three-hour fried egg. Fortunately, all three have re-emerged from the COVID-19 darkness, joined by some incoming finery.
Sydneysiders anticipate a Michael McCann interior (Mr. Wong, Felix) with the same enthusiasm they do the NYE fireworks, and the just-opened Seta, on Barrack Street in the Sydney CBD, has the usual array of luxe McCann accoutrements. It's one of the finest looking dining rooms Sydney has seen in some time. You can also throw a Michelin-star Italian chef into Seta's ingredient list.
Kuon Omakase's big eye tuna tartare with Tasmanian sea urchin and caviar. Photo: Min Park
If tiny, highly specialised restaurants are considered a no-go zone in our economic climate, restaurateur Kenny Lee proved the naysayers wrong, successfully opening the $180-a-head Kuon Omakase in the middle of a pandemic. In late January, he'll add the 11-seat, tempura-worshipping Kuon Tempura to his collection of upmarket, pint-sized venues residing on the edge of Sydney's Chinatown.
Artist's impession of Robo's robot kitchen. Photo: Supplied
Weird and the wonderful
When Robo restaurant opens next year at Darling Square on the edge of Sydney's Chinatown, it will mark a first for the city. The chef-less Robo will feature a robotic kitchen. But not just any robot. It's the same wok-tossing model used in the pop-up hospital built in just 10 days in Wuhan earlier this year.
While the fast-casual eatery will still require staff to prep ingredients, the chef hasn't worked anywhere of note, having just rolled off the production line at the Shanghai A1 Robotic Group. It can oil the wok and measure out the protein, it is even plumbed up to sauce dishes before cooking and plating them up.
Colombo Social in Enmore. Photo: Wolter Peeters
There's still a beating (human) heart in Sydney, 2020 having highlighted the generosity of the restaurant industry. Social enterprise restaurant Colombo Social had only just opened in Enmore when the pandemic hit. It quickly broadened its brief of offering work and training to asylum seekers, providing meals to those affected by the crisis.
There's another feel-good story on the way. OzHarvest's start-up with Michelin starred Massimo Bottura will see a branch of the Italian chef's Refettorio restaurant open in the heart of Crown Street in Surry Hills. Ambassador chefs will cook there at night, while at lunchtime it will feed the vulnerable. Oz Harvest's Ronni Kahn says Refettorio's latest ETA is April.
Assorted seafood disheds at the Amalfi Way at Woolloomooloo Wharf. Photo: Alana Dimou
How's this for a list of the recently landed? Sella Vinoteca in Randwick, The Amalfi Way at Woolloomooloo, Bastardo in Surry Hills, Seta in the city – these new arrivals are just the tip of the ice in your Negroni.
Both our casinos are getting in on the act. Cucina Porto opened at The Star last month, and Alessandro Pavoni's a'Mare is schedule to fire up any day at Crown. The upmarket Barangaroo restaurant will also have a Italian sibling, Il Cafe.
But wait, there's more. International restaurateur Scott Brown will open an Italian-leaning mega venue with room for 450 people at Quay Quarter Lanes next year. While Brown hasn't settled on a name, he has picked a moniker for its Sicilian basement bar that will please fans of The Godfather films: Apollonia.
Good Food has learned plans have been hatched for a sprawling Eataly-style venue in Sydney, which will open on George Street in the second half of 2021.
To the Point
Potts Point is the food gift that keeps on giving. One of the presents is under the tree, Ria Pizza + Wine, swung open its doors in the old Monopole site last week.
You'll have to wait for 2021 for the other gifts from postcode 2011 when the wrapping comes off on a new French bistro headed into the Lotus restaurant site on Challis Avenue, with Dan Pepperell in the kitchen.
And Diana, a Korean-Chinese restaurant, is going into the former site of Billy Kwong on Macleay Street. PP delivers, again.
Zucchini flower quesadillas at Bad Hombres. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Just say ole
Dust off the sombrero. You'll need it this summer with all the Mexican opening action. North Bondi recently said hola to Calita and its lobster tacos, while Surry Hills' plant-based Mexican Bad Hombres opened a branch at Bondi Beach last month.
Gin Lane founder Grant Collins recently opened Mexican bar-restaurant Cartel in the former site of A1 Canteen in Chippendale with Aztec-leaning food and plenty of margaritas, mezcals and tequilas.
Continuing the Mexican cartel theme, Sinaloa is headed into the Double Bay site where Mrs Sippy previously traded. Restauranteur Ussi Moniz da Silva had hoped to open Sinaloa this month. It is only a Mexican minute away, landing in January.
Maybe Sammy's owners are opening a rooftop bar. Photo: Supplied
The owners of Sydney bar Maybe Sammy will open Deans on 22 (working title) early 2021, at the top of the new hotel on the corner of George and Hunter streets.
The deal to put a slick new restaurant on the rooftop at Shell House near Wynyard Station is advanced, and there's even renewed talk of a rooftop bar-restaurant for the State Library of NSW.
Braised wallaby tail doughnut with black garlic at Bangalay Dining, Shoalhaven Heads. Photo: Supplied
When Emily Herbert, the Australian head chef at Ottolenghi Belgravia for the past four years, returned home to open a cafe-deli in Kiama this year, she picked a region on the rise. Otis, on Kiama's main drag, has a fresh, constantly changing menu.
It also has a new food neighbour. Fish Tribe, a seafood-serving venue leaning on local suppliers, opened this month with former Bridge Room and Cirrus Dining chef Robert Blackburn overseeing its menu.
Down by the Shoalhaven, Bangalay Dining has nabbed chefs Simon Evans and Tom Chiumento from Wollongong's recently shuttered Caveau restaurant. South Coast oysters with burnt cucumber dressing, anyone? Yes, please.
And on the other side of the Shoalhaven, there's a new kid in town. The Growers, a 450-seat venue, opened just in time for summer on the road to Culburra Beach. Happy eating.