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Plates of food at El Jannah
Photograph: Supplied

The 14 dishes that got us through 2020

Snacks did a lot of heavy lifting in the year of 'the Great Indoors'

Written by
Time Out editors
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For the last couple of years there’s been a sense each January that the coming year must surely improve on the last. So the gods must have be rolling in the aisles when we went into 2020 hoping for anything short of a dumpster fire, because that’s what we got, on a global, economic, environmental, medical, and psychological scale. Maybe online pilates got you through, or forest bathing, or craft. But for us, it was the snacks that did the heavy lifting in 2020. Our deepest gratitude goes out to….

  • Shopping
  • Delis
  • Potts Point

Every day Penny painstakingly grates up to four kinds of cheese to press between two slices of excellent local sourdough and toast to melty, salty perfection. The cheese she then adds to the outside of the sambo to ensure everything is covered with a golden crust is the stroke of genius means she has to count down the number of toasties remaining each day for the crowds that seek out her tiny cheese shop in the backstreets of Potts Point.

  • Restaurants
  • Sri Lankan
  • Darlinghurst
  • price 2 of 4

This modern Sri Lankan eatery is a restaurant for all seasons and temperaments. It’s top of our list for anyone visiting Sydney, and we don’t need much cajoling to book one of their monthly crab curry set menus. During lockdown they pivoted to pre-batched curries that you could cook at home, which meant that any time you were feeling low you could spice up your life with O Tama Carey’s gently roasted, faintly creamy white curry with tender fish pieces in it. A little fresh coriander and no one was eating better than you that day.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Plenty of reports were getting around about the rise in everyone’s drinking during the home times of 2020. No judgement here. In fact, we were chief amongst them, which is why we stocked our fridge with the range of pre-batched cocktails coming out of Sydney (and Melbourne’s)  top bars. Multi-person Daiquiris from Jacoby’s, Jean Claude Pandan’s from PS40, Cosmopolit-tins from Continental, Martinis from the Everleigh, and Penicillins from Romeo Lane that came in little plastic sachets like Mi Goreng seasoning.

 

  • Restaurants
  • Restaurants

It was the year we all just wanted to be comforted, inside and out, so roast chicken was high on everyone's hit list. And no one chargrills a whole chook like El Jannah. The bronze, salty skin goes the full way around so there's enough for everyone to get a piece, and going HAM on the garlic sauce is like a group bonding activity – it's OK if we all do it together. El Jannah then upped the ante by opening a drive through outlet, as did Frango's. Even boujie Surry Hills got in on the fowl action with the opening of Henrietta's mid year.

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  • Restaurants
  • Restaurants

Freshly shucked oysters are something you find on pretty much every modern dining menu in town, so when we weren’t on the town the appetisers started coming to us care of East 33, a Sydney rock oyster delivery service that sources from nine locations across the NSW coastline and provides tasting notes so you can have a shucking party at your place. If you were going to be indoors a lot in 2020, at least you could make it fancy.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Paddington

It was the year when only comfort food would do. People needed the dinner equivalent of flannel pajamas – something carb heavy, mostly beige and promising little in the way of micro nutrients. Good fish and chips transports you to a happier time and place, and the best in town is from Saint Peter. The chips have the potato skin still on them, the fish is good quality and sustainable, and eating it makes you think about the possibility of holidays sometime in the future.

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  • Restaurants
  • Australian
  • Surry Hills
  • price 3 of 4

When fine dining had to find a way to pivot into people’s homes, Firedoor nailed the brief by offering a weekly set dinner box that you could collect on Friday and then finish off at home. The genius here was that they maintained the idea of the treat meal by only having it be available on Fridays. It gave you something worth looking forward to, especially when it meant you could get your hands on their famous dry-aged steak for half of what it’d cost you to dine in.

 

  • Shopping
  • Bottle shops
  • Newtown

Sweet, innocent 2019 was the joyful year of natural wine becoming the norm in Sydney venues, so when we all stayed home for the majority of the year the nice wines came to us in the form of delicious mixed packs from purveyors like PnV Merchants, DRNKS and Different Drop. Plus all those venues that normally cracked a bottle for the table were allowing people to browse their collections like a bottle shop – Where’s Nick, Lucio’s, Dear Sainte Eloise and even the Stinking Bishops let people take home the goods from their cellars.

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  • Restaurants
  • Restaurants

The char topped, biscuit-free, baked cheesecake that took over our social feeds in 2020 was an exercise in wabi sabi beauty. They are cracked, at times uneven, and hardly what you’d call textbook baking, but they are also sweet, rich, velvety, gooey-hearted and available from high-end venues like Ester and Porteno, as well as local cafés like Shenkin. There’s even a business that opened during 2020 that will deliver a whole one to your house.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Redfern
  • price 1 of 4

Basically the noodle soup equivalent of a belly rub, RaRa’s ramen provided the nourishment and toasty warmth necessary to get us through the start of our indoor sentence, as the air started to get colder and the future looked ever more uncertain. We forgot out troubles over a bowl of soupy hakata noodles swimming in a black garlic and chilli-topped broth, with a spoon of charred sweet corn nestled alongside and RaRa’s famous, soft-yolked 63-degree egg.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Manly
  • price 2 of 4

Sydney is a casual Italian-loving city, and there’s not much we like better than a tiramisu, be it a classic from the likes of Fratelli Paradiso, the Dolphin, 10 William Street, or Busta, or something a bit wild from Saga (hello, tequila jelly). If ever a year needed a literal pick-me-up filled with equal parts caffeine to speed up the passage of time and liquor to smooth out the rougher edges, it’s 2020.

  • Restaurants
  • CafĂ©s
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

Praise be to the gods of caffeine who ensured that while working from home we stayed buzzed on the good stuff with coffee subscriptions, single origins, house blends, Aeropress, Moccamasters, French press, Bialettis, recyclable pods and home espresso machines. As a coffee-loving city, we thankfully had both the taste and established habit to ensure we kept up the best part of our daily grind. In fact, so entrenched in our coffee culture that systems were set up so that we could shout our frontline workers a cuppa to say thanks.

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  • Restaurants
  • CafĂ©s
  • price 1 of 4

The only thing more common than a cheesecake on your socials was home-baked bread. And while feeding a sourdough starter in your kitchen might have filled in some of your free home hours, when it comes to your daily toaster filler, we’re more than happy to leave it to the many professionals populating our fair city. Whether you’re a devotee of Pioik, Brickfields, Berkelo, Bourke Street, St Malo, Bread and Butter Project, Iggy’s or any other of the city’s fine bakers, Sydney’s bakers were a saving grace of 2020.

  • Restaurants
  • Marrickville
  • price 1 of 4

Banh mi is pretty much the whole food triangle packed into a crispy French roll, filled with lettuce, crunchy carrot, fresh chilli, green onion, raddish and coriander, plus your protein of choice, pate, mayo, soy sauce and seasoning. Marrickville Pork Roll is a lead contender for the best banh mi in Sydney, but like many under house-arrest this year, we went for our nearest dealer for a lunch to look forward to in 2020. Dulwich Hill Pork Roll serves up a range of rolls from its no-fuss royal blue shopfront, including traditional cold cut banh mi and barbecue pork rolls, but the roast pork roll with its crunchy crackling and juicy meat is a stand-out.

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