Dining out in Sydney never stops, so taking the time to narrow down every single thing we Time Out editors and critics ate this year is no easy task. But we’ve done it, and we can confirm that no matter the price point or cuisine, there are winners at every turn – but you already knew that. These are the crème de la crème, the 16 dishes we haven’t been able to stop thinking about and ones we hope will live on for many more years to come.
Craving more of the best of the best? See who took home the top honours at our 11th annual Time Out Food Awards, have a look at our list of Sydney’s 50 best restaurants, or start the day on the right foot with one of the 29 best breakfasts in Sydney. And if you need a chaser, there’s no better place than a pew at one of our picks of the 50 best bars in the city right now.
And the most memorable dishes of 2019 are...
Strictly speaking, Penny’s is a cheese shop, but there are a couple of sandwich presses behind the counter and man, do they know how to use ’em. Four – yes, four – shredded cheeses are layered on the inside and outside (!) of two Pioik sourdough bread slices and crisped up until the whole thing emerges as the most insanely decadent, eye-openingly delicious toastie you’ve ever tasted. Late-night Bega on Tip-Top just won’t do the trick anymore.
A destination-worthy breakfast if ever there were one, Circa’s Ottoman Eggs deserve every accolade they’ve earned. Why? Because eggs poached this skilfully should be treated with utmost respect, and in the company of brown butter, fried sage, garlicky labne and a disc of meltingly soft eggplant fried to a resonant crunch, they most certainly are. Throw in some spongy housemade focaccia for good measure, and it really is a breakfast of champions.
Each and every one of the ten courses at Quay manages to be even better than the last, and ‘Moo’, the grand finale, sends it home on the kind of high note only Mariah can hit. The dessert explores different textures of Jersey milk, the Rolls Royce of dairy, and combines them all in a sundae-like creation with prune purée and chocolate biscuits that somehow merges all your fondest childhood memories and multiplies them by a thousand. You won’t even feel the sting of the $295 bill afterwards. We promise.
Sydney’s love for Thai food will never, ever die. But now, more than ever, we’re embracing the unparalleled access we have to the nation’s multifarious regional cuisines. The increasing popularity of khao soi – northern Thailand’s hero noodle soup – is proof, and Chat Thai ladles up the one to beat. The combination of that creamy coconut curry broth, those squiggly egg noodles, a bone-in chicken Maryland, pungent mustard greens and devilishly hot housemade chilli oil packs more thrills into a bowl than a creaky carnival ride. Hold on tight.
The advent of a vegan Mary’s Burger is a coup for so many reasons. Most importantly, it means that those of the plant-based persuasion no longer have to miss out on one of the most talked-about burgers in town. The deep-fried vegetable patty (made with carrots, beetroot, mushrooms, white beans and soy protein) is so damn convincing – along with the “milk” bun, the real take on fake cheese and the tangy mayo-free Mary’s sauce – that even carnivores will do a double take.
Almost every dish at our 2019 Restaurant of the Year deserves a spot on this list, but if there’s one that steals the spotlight, it’s the cuttlefish. Cuts of tender cuttlefish are lightly coated in a turmeric batter and tossed in a hot pan with red onion, chilli, green peppers and a curry-leaf butter until they’ve got enough smoky char to knock an owl off the branch of a tree. Order two – one for you and one for the rest of the table.
The Golden Century signatures are just as good at XOPP, but the real win at the Darling Square spinoff is a bar snack menu featuring goal-kicking prawn mantou. The ultra-savoury buns are fried to a high-definition level of golden, split in half and stuffed with sweet prawn meat that’s coated in XO mayonnaise and crowned with a teensy exclamation of funky XO sauce. It’s everything you want from a couple of bites, and if you’ve got an ice-cold Tsingtao in hand, good luck stopping at two.
A very good chef has the power to transport you to another place and time. Bentley Restaurant and Bar’s Brent Savage is better than a very good chef, and in the depths of a blustery winter’s day whisked you straight to spring if you ordered his raw scallops encircled by slivers of compressed pear scented with lemon verbena under a canopy of shaved almonds and finger lime pearls. An entrée that well and truly put the ‘fine’ in fine dining.
Corn flour, chicken stock, lard and water – they’re the four ingredients Rosa Cienfuegos uses to make the tamales that have all comers from all corners of the city queuing up outside her Dulwich Hill delicatessen. They’re steamed in a corn husk with layers of punchy green tomatillo salsa and shredded chicken or red sauce, poblano chilli and cheese until they’ve reached pitch-perfect fluffiness. Turns out there is real Mexican food in Sydney after all.
After a string of pop-ups and stints in other kitchens, Pasi Petänen is finally at the helm of his own restaurant again and here to stay. The beloved Sydney chef has set up shop on King Street in Newtown, and he’s come out swinging in high-flying style. A malty rye crisp topped with a swipe of fiery ’nduja and delicately layered coins of dill-pickled carrot exemplifies his effortless knack for crossing cultural boundaries to create a style of cooking that’s new and familiar all at once. More, please.
You don't win a Time Out Legend Award for nothing. You win one because you do game-changing things. Lorraine Godsmark's cheesecake is one such thing – an almost weightless, impossibly fluffy, lactic and lemony slice of heaven. This OG pastry queen has been doing her thing for more than 30 years, and you can really taste it in this tried and tested recipe that combines Philadelphia cream cheese, a crumbled Arnott's biscuit crust and secrets she's not willing to divulge. Guess we'll just have to keep eating it until we figure it out.
It would be fair to argue that the pappardelle with lamb ragu and the rigatoni with milk-braised pork are lighter options than the meat-free linguine at Totti’s. Spinach and fresh herbs are blitzed together with roasted onion, garlic, capers, lemon juice and olive oil to make a sauce that, along with pecorino cheese and walnut pangrattato, teeters on the edge of being too rich. But how good is living on the edge?
What does it take to create a new cult classic? Not a whole lot more than the moxie to mash up two humble, much-loved national culinary treasures, apparently. Case in point: the moussaka pie at Alevri. Of course minced beef, tender potatoes and eggplant make sweet music together cloistered in the confines of a housemade pastry shell finished with blistered béchamel sauce – it’s a no-brainer, and it really works.
To hell with the fluorescent green, synthetically sweet scoops of what passes for pistachio at average ice-creameries. Mapo, Newtown’s sustainably focused, vegan-friendly gelateria is here to show you how it’s done. The team make it with imported Sicilian nuts, and it tastes exactly like pistachio should: mildly roasted, faintly sweet and salty all at once. We’re not sure how they achieve that insanely velvety texture without the use of dairy, but we guarantee it’ll make you believe in magic too.
Looks like the Unicorn’s got some hot competition for the best schnitty in Sydney title. The Old Fitz is back and better than ever thanks to inspired takes on proper old-school pub grub, and the schnitzel is something to behold. It’s crisp as can be, seasoned with shio kombu-spiked chicken salt for an extra wallop of umami and accompanied by rosemary sprinkled-potatoes, lightly dressed leaves and a pot of gravy you’d happily drink with a straw. No wonder chef Nicholas Hill took home the Time Out Bar Award for Best Bar Food.
You can load up a tray with all your yum cha favourites for a handful of gold coins at Ashfield’s QW Huaxing Bakery. Whatever you choose, be sure to double down on the pineapple buns or bo lo bau and relish the way the crisp sugary top contrasts with the springy, savoury dough underneath. Pro tip: slice it in half and stuff it with a slab of butter for a true Hong Kong breakfast.