Best Eats

What makes a great meal in your opinion? Is it a confronting mouthfeel? Provocative plating? All you can eat bacon bits? In 2018, 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?

 

Cavalier 2.0

The St Leonards café known for its tiramisu French toast has powered up, moved to new bigger digs – and is now serving a butterscotch French toast. You’ll still find the same commitment to great coffee (with serious coffee flights at your table), fermenting ingredients and minimising waste (Harry Kolotas spends three days dehydrating tomatoes to go with the killer burrata dish, for instance). And Cavalier 2.0 lives up to its community feel by running invite-only dinners that only locals can access – this really is your neighbourhood cafe.

Photo: James Brickwood

Sang By Mabasa

Step into Sang by Mabasa and you’ll see co-owner Kenny Yong Soo Son’s designs throughout the tiny Surry Hills restaurant. The Studiokyss designer created the sauce spoons, the hat-shaped lights and even the brass and Tasmanian horsehair broomstick – which is so glitzy and well-designed that you could imagine Kanye owning it. The handmade, personal feel extends to the menu, which is cooked by Kenny’s parents, Seung Kee Son and Jin Sun Son, and interprets the Korean dishes they’ve encountered in homes, markets and alleyways in an inspired way. The fried chicken has plenty of hardcore fans and the addictive cabbage pancake is essential.

Photo courtesy of Sang By Mabasa

Paperbark

Paperbark in Waterloo takes vegan dining to the next level – thoroughly crushing the stereotype that it’s overpriced health food and showing that meat-less dishes can be full of knockout flavour. The team behind plant-based ventures, Verd and Alfie’s Kitchen, have teamed up to create a fine-dining take on vegan food that’s powered by Indigenous and local ingredients. Think black sesame and charcoal tostadas with pumpkin and toasted wattleseed as well as paperbark-smoked mushrooms topped with finger lime and banked on macadamia cream. And the drinks list also celebrates local, small-producer winemakers with a sustainable mindset.

Photo: Steven Woodburn

Lankan Filling Station

After years running a pop-up market stall at Carriageworks, O Tama Carey opened a permanent site for her Lankan Filling Station – and the queues haven’t stopped at the new East Sydney location. Mid-week waits of two hours are normal for this justifiably popular eatery, which is inspired by her Sri Lankan heritage. The signature hoppers are bowl-shaped pancakes that go equally with coconut milk gravy or chicken red curry that comes with a five-chilli-warning. And the old-school toddy comes from a long-running family distillery that uses environmentally-friend and waste-free production methods – so drink up!

Photo: Benito Martin

Bella Brutta

It’s hard to believe that Luke Powell had never made pizza before opening Bella Brutta. But his lack of dough-slinging experience doesn’t really matter, because his toppings and puffed-up crusts are pretty much perfect – whether he’s serving a classic slice flavoured with tomatoes, garlic and basil or going off-script and adding clams or your pick of tinned anchovies to the wood-fired dough. The chef already had a following from running LP’s Quality Meats and it’s apt that his pepperoni pizza is topped with salami cuts from his other restaurant. Bella Brutta means “beautiful ugly” in Italian, but this Newtown pizzeria has no unflattering angles: to us (and its many pizza-goers), it’s one attractive package.

Photo: Jiwon Kim

A1 Canteen

Is there a more Instagrammed sandwich in Australia? A1 Canteen’s muffuletta, a mega-mouthful of a pressed baguette stuffed with three deli meats, olives, provolone, peppers and artichokes, has been gatecrashing your phone screens and also inspiring your ordering decisions at this accessible Chippendale canteen run by Clayton Wells, Scott Eddington and Rachael Trewin – a talented trio from Automata, the acclaimed restaurant across the road. A1 Canteen has more than one (well-photographed) trick up its sleeve, though, it’s also home to curried egg muffins, XO omelettes with blue swimmer crab and a salad sandwich that will trigger all your best school-lunch memories.

Photo: Max Veenhuyzen