What makes a great meal in your opinion? Is it a confronting mouthfeel? Provocative plating? All you can eat bacon bits? In 2019, whether you were in the market for some left-field innovation or trad transcendence, these five taste-makers had you well and truly covered. Which nominee left the best taste in your mouth?
Banh Cuon Ba Oanh
Banh Cuon Ba Oanh is a tiny family-run restaurant with an equally tiny menu that’s been packed since day one. Their speciality is bánh cuốn, a traditional North Vietnamese breakfast dish of fermented and steamed sheets of rice noodles that are rolled with savoury goodies and served with fresh herbs and a tangy fish sauce dressing. They’re certainly not the only restaurant in Sydney making bánh cuốn, but they’re likely the closest version to what you’ll find in North Vietnam itself.
Photo: Helen Yee
Nikkei is one of the year’s most ambitious new venues. Not only is it Sydney’s first Japanese-Peruvian restaurant, they serve a cocktail menu using the same ingredients, a regionally-varied list of crisp coastal wines and a soundtrack of reggaeton and new salsa. Nikkei is inarguably one of the year’s most beautiful new restaurants, particularly X considering that most of the timber furniture and the tiled backbar was built by the servers themselves. The new restaurant comes from Jason and Christopher Ang, and Tina Wing Kee, the same team behind Sydney Tokyo Bird, Osaka Trading Co and Banchō Bar. Nikkei’s most appealing quality is that despite the ambitious fine dining experience on offer, at its core it remains entirely fun.
Photo: Bruno Stefani
Cherry Moon General Store
No eatery in Sydney captures the city’s zeitgeist quite like Kimmy Gastmeier and Aimee Graham’s Cherry Moon. It’s a bakery, café and grocer with owners who talk about whole-foods, seasonality, local produce and community, and a fit out that looks like a mix between a yuppie marketplace and an antique store. The centre of it all is a wood-fired oven that produces all of Cherry Moon’s breads and many of their pastries (they’re the only full-time bakery in Sydney to use one). Most of what you’ll find in the grocery shelves – ricotta, gelato, butter, tea, muesli and more – is all made in house. The delicious café menu is also based on all the above.
Photo courtesy of Cherry Moon General Store
Bayswater Kitchenette is run by two women with serious restaurant experience: Glenda Lau (from Automata and A1 Canteen) and Alessia Bottini (Fratelli Paradiso). But don’t expect flashy fine-dining, Bayswater Kitchenette is like an extended living room: an Italian-ish spot where you can pick up a takeaway box of ragu or spaghetti, or settle in for Alessia mum’s lasagne recipe or Glenda’s outstanding banoffee pie. This cosy eatery has helped solo apartment-dwellers meet their neighbours, given nearby aged-care residents a chance to enjoy comfort food that feels like home and has inspired diners from other postcodes to consider moving closer, because this is the perfect neighbourhood restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Bayswater Kitchenette
From 2013 to 2015, Pasi Petanen ran Cafe Paci, a Darlinghurst pop-up restaurant painted in one shade of grey, because that’s all he could afford. The drab décor didn’t matter, because the food was exceptional and it won Petanen the Good Food Guide’s Chef of the Year award. Fast forward to 2019, and he’s opened a permanent spot for Cafe Paci in Newtown. The drinks are fun (and include ‘Lonkero’, a gin and grapefruit soda casually considered to be Finland’s national beverage) and the menu is inventive and far from drab or grey. Think potato dumplings with trout XO sauce, sourdough pasta with pear and cheese, and a spiced chocolate mousse inspired by Petanen’s days at Lankan Filling Station.
Photo courtesy of Cafe Paci