Best Eats

What makes a great meal in your opinion? Is it a confronting mouthfeel? Provocative plating? All you can eat bacon bits? In 2023, whether you were in the market for some left-field innovation or trad transcendence, these six taste-makers had you well and truly covered. Which nominee left the best taste in your mouth?

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Justin Shin started making and selling haejjanguk (Korean hangover soups) over Instagram. It was a lockdown project and his customer base was Sydney’s Korean community. He’d make dwaeji-gukbap (a cloudy pork bone soup) and sundae gukbap (pork bone broth with blood sausage) and deliver it across Sydney. Yeodongsik is that project turned into a restaurant. The reason this tiny, 25-seat restaurant has lines out the door almost every night is because this style of soup isn’t very common in Sydney. While haejjanguk is on the menu of countless Sydney restaurants, not many taste like Shin’s – or his mother and aunt-in-law’s to be precise; they came up with the recipes, initially served at Shin’s aunt-in-law’s restaurant in Korea and based on being simple and light. While many Korean restaurants in Sydney load up on salt, packet sauce and general intensity, the experience here feels worlds away from the norm. Add to that a soundtrack of mostly jazz, and a considered service style that’s educational but not in that over-explained, fine-diner way, Yeodongsik is extremely relaxed. The only thing that’s not relaxing about it is how conscious the diners are of the next in line waiting for their seats.

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Aileen Aguirre, Francis Dela Cruz, and Lesley Roque of Takam are offering a take on Filipino food this city has never seen before. Alongside the more recognisable mainstays of Filipino cuisine such as chicken insal (barbecued lemongrass chicken) and pancit palabok (vermicelli noodles served with a shrimp gravy and finger lime caviar), you’ll find lesser-known dishes from the archipelago’s 2000 inhabited islands, updated for a modern palette. This includes a vegan humba (replacing the traditional pork is soy and anise stewed jackfruit) and poqui-poqui (a fragrant smoked eggplant omelette served with mushroom rice). Diners can opt for these dishes as part of the café-style brunch menu, or try to secure one of only 10 seats at their much sought after Friday and Saturday dinners. The set menu offers a further deep dive into the unique flavours of a complex cuisine informed by decades of migration, trade and colonial history spanning three continents.

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Self Raised Bread Shoppe

Self Raised Bread Shoppe in Carlton is not your average bakery. You can trust that the dough will be pretty good, given that it’s shaped by the team behind beloved Bexley pizzeria My Mother’s Cousin. Sal Senan and siblings Huss and Amani Rachid fill their counter with everything from lamb kafta sausage rolls to cream cheese strawberry tarts. There’s a lot of care that goes into every order: the white sourdough used in their grilled cheese sandwich, for instance, is fermented for 30 hours and gloriously stacked with Double Brie, aged Maffra cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss cheeses, a good dose of mustard, mayonnaise and smoked salt – and an optional dose of garlic-thyme mixed mushrooms worth loading onto your toastie. Their burger sauce – which is inspired by Big Macs and drizzled onto their egg-cheese-hash-stuffed milk bun – is one of many punchy house-made elements that makes this breakfast staple special. And they also quietly (but admirably) make their menu as inclusive as possible: their hoagies are presented with in-house ciabatta that’s packed with halal-friendly cuts they’ve produced themselves, such as beef salami and turkey ham, which are alternatives to the traditional pork varieties.

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Parami is powered by onigiri – those iconically triangular Japanese rice balls – and the fond memories that Mika Kazato and Keita Abe have of them from childhood. But you don’t have to be seeking a nostalgia hit to appreciate their offerings. You’re sure to find something to your liking among their assortment of onigiri, from the salty-sour-savoury ume kombu, which features pickled plum, perilla and kelp, to teriyaki chicken done in collaboration with Chaco Ramen and inventive new combinations such as mushroom and cheese. The cafe brings a taste of Japanese konbini snacks to Surry Hills, done thoughtfully and without artifice; fruit sandos come as bread rolls filled with cream and piled high with fresh strawberries or mango, while home comfort staples such as roasted sweet potatoes are translated into their yaki-imo cookies. Parami offers a new entry into Japanese eats – a snacky, inner-city, on-the-go counterpoint to both the more formal, traditional restaurants and the loud, lively izakayas and ramen joints.

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This is not the first time Sydney has been graced by a Mark Olive restaurant named Midden. In the mid-1990s Mark helmed a groundbreaking restaurant of the same name, which showcased Indigenous produce to a wider Australian audience for the first time. While the first iteration has long closed, when presented with the opportunity to partner with the Sydney Opera House and open a new restaurant located right beneath the world-famous sails, Olive again opted for Midden, a word which reflects the history of the land on which the Opera House stands today – a gathering place for storytelling, ceremony, and culture for thousands of years before the building was conceived. Midden’s menu draws on Mark’s heritage and highlights native Australian ingredients such as wattle seed, bush honey, saltbush and succulents. Start your meal with damper served with eucalyptus whipped butter, snack on a smoked kangaroo salad, be treated to a braised wallaby shank and end on delicate strawberry gum panna cotta. You can also indulge in a native high tea on select days of the week or explore an extensive cocktail menu that uses a wide variety of native ingredients like native sage, quandong and cinnamon myrtle.

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Ambi’s Chai Bar

Every drink at Ambi’s Chai bar is like a postcard of Ambi Thind’s life. The Kenyan-born owner grew up with regular cups of the Indian tea, but noticed how Africans would present the beverage with even stronger doses of spice. So the drinks menu at his chai bar is partly inspired by his years in Kenya, his stint working on his parents’ Zambian farm, and his time coaching a young women’s hockey team in Sydney. He introduced the players to his home-brewed chai during training sessions and while cooking them Punjabi meals at his home. They suggested he adapt the tea – perhaps by tweaking the spices or other ingredients, or adding some chocolate. So the menu at his Afro-Punjabi chai bar is named after some of these players (Ashlee’s Chai, Maddy’s Mzungu, Brooksy’s Chai, for example) as well as repeat customers listed on the ‘Chai-mpion’ board, who’ve come up with their own flavours (Fitzy’s R&R, sweetened with some rum and raisin chocolate), or his staff members (like the lemongrass-scented tea inspired by a longtime employee nicknamed Jamila). Each chai is brewed to order, with generous spices and bubbling tea-infused milk, and the roti-heavy food menu is influenced by the owner’s Punjabi and African upbringing. The community devotion for his bar has seen his original Pennant Hills venue expand in 2023 with this new North Sydney outpost and a Canberra location, too.

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