Winter is here and there's no escaping it. So instead of mourning the loss of sunny days, we've created a dining bucketlist of the most comforting, warming dishes this city has to offer. Whether you want to hunker down with mates over a boiling hot pot, get around a seriously spicy laksa or order up a giant schnitzel, these are meals that'll make you forget that it's a bit chillier than usual in a heart beat.
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Order the: Nepalese dumplings done Manly style
The dumplings here come filled with pork, chicken, lamb, lentils or veggies. 'Manly style' means they come with a slosh of yoghurt, paprika and warming, soupy chicken broth. The dumpling skin is thin but sturdy enough to hold a generous nub of juicy lamb, which is complemented by the garlicky single thing we’re missing is a big spoon to capture the momo’s broth when it’s pierced, but it's added to the bowl of broth that remains, spiked with the rich paprika butter.
Order the: Kogashi ramen
Here they specialise in a kogashi (which means ‘charred’ in Japanese) ramen, which sees a pan heated to a smoking-hot temperature before a dollop of miso paste is added and then it's deglazed with chicken broth. The resulting ramen is underpinned by a distinct smokiness that’s intense in flavour and appearance. It’s imbued with ash flecks, and the chewy noodles and chashu look a little ominous and odd swimming in the slick black broth, but it tastes damn good. It’s not as heavy as a tonkotsu courtesy of the lighter chicken broth base, but still has a rich umami flavour and salty intensity thanks to the charred miso paste.
Order the: Mi goreng toastie
Here they transform well-grilled slices of Infinity Bakery’s traditional tin loaf into killer toasties that demonstrate the stretching powers of good cheese. The best is the “Mi Goreng”, a genius collision of two great late-night snacks: instant noodles and the contents of a fridge-raiding session, wedged into a toaster. Dutch Smuggler’s version squeezes in noodles, a fried egg, shallots, a double meltdown of cheese (oozy mozzarella and sweet, nutty Gruyere) and a mysterious “magic sauce” between its crunchy triangles of bread. Originally a special, it’s no wonder it now has permanent residency on the menu – it deserves it.
Order the: Tom yum noodle
The main event is the signature tom yum noodle, coming in a clean, sweetly porky, hot-and-sour broth hit with generous spoonfuls of fried garlic and topped with crispy wonton strips. Each comes with a variety of toppings from seafood to soft pork bone and can be customised with a choice between seven types of noodles, such as glass, rice, instant and supersized, for those with an appetite. Competitive friends can be seen challenging one another on levels of heat, stomaching chilli levels up to seven – which causes the usually clear broth to turn opaque – with precautionary names like ‘devil’, ‘lava’, ‘super volcano’, and all the way up to ‘super nova’.
Order the: Beef rib
This Indo-fusion restaurant on King Street will slow smoke you a generous serve of unctuous beef short rib. The bone slides out like an easy Jenga move, leaving behind a hunk of soft, sticky beef. It comes with a side of vinegary pickled watermelon that’s a weird, wonderful and very workable accompaniment to the rich beef. A starter serve of lamb ribs also delivers with similar success and they’re charred enough that you can nibble off the blackened ends.
Order the: Half chicken
Call it aioli, toum or skordalia, the popularity of garlic sauce extends to multiple countries and cuisines. Perhaps more than the chicken, the garlic sauce at El Jannah is the stuff that will keep you coming back for more. But for now, let's start with the chicken. The eat-in charcoal chicken meal is of Lebanese bread, pickles and garlic sauce along with a quarter, half or whole chicken. Middle Eastern hospitality means it's a meal and a half.
Order the: Chongqing noodle
The spicy, the rich hit of piquant pepper served in Mr Meng’s signature dish truly lingers. Firm, slippery noodles come wading in a rich deep red broth, with a few pieces of slow cooked beef. It leaves a slick of oil in your mouth and a lasting hum of sichuan spice. It’s an unctuous mouthful, and hot tip for this hot soup – don’t wear white: the red chilli and pepper oil isn’t forgiving. Once you get past the heat of the broth, it sings with a depth of flavour and meatiness.
Order the: Sunday roast
They like to change things up for their Sunday roasts – pork, lamb, turkey beef and chicken are all on rotation – and to make sure you know what you're in for, you can usually check their Instagram to see what's cooking. The roast will set you back $19.90, making it one of the better value roasts in Sydney (but they don't skimp on the potion size either), and you also get a giant Yorkshire pudding.
Order the: Pork belly and the marinated boneless short rib
Get ready for a banchan and barbecue party at this sweet little Korean spot in they CBD. You have to cook the pork belly for a while; leave it on and let it char up a little. Same goes for the short ribs, which need some time on the grill (this is when poking and sampling the banchan comes in handy). When you let them grill for a bit, the pork develops a nice caramelised outer layer, while inside it stays soft and juicy. The sugars in the beef marinade also respond well to charring.
Order the: Mud crab
Forget lobster – either you can afford to shell out on the fleshy crustaceans (that usually go for $140-odd dollars a kilo) or you can’t. And when a restaurant is boasting hefty little pinchers that weigh in north of three kegs your cash will disappear faster than a dirty dog on bath day. Happily, all the bright orange, heavy-clawed beauties at Queens Chow, the restaurant inside Merivale’s latest glamour pub, only just tip the one kilo mark, which makes ordering one exxy, but not unspeakably pricey if you’re in the mood to treat yourself.
Order the: Schnitzel or the steak
You won’t find a better schnitty in town, and we’re not talking cheap, shit chicken here. They’re frying up proper free range, hormone-free chooks from Holmbrae in Taralga, NSW. And the daily steak is always worth your time. They cook it right – a very hot pan to get that crisp, caramelised shell, and a liberal hand with the seasoning. You can choose your sides to make it your preferred version of meat and two veg, and these guys excel at sauce. Damn straight they have Diane on the menu, but we can never go past their bone-dense gravy.
Order the: Hot pot and wagyu Barbie
What does Lady Gaga have to do with a Chinese hot pot restaurant? Not much you’d think, but they do things differently at Spice World, Haymarket’s new own truly quirky and ultimately delicious eating experience. That shocking protein couture look appears to have inspired how Spice World serves up slices of marbled beef. A small Barbie doll comes to your table draped in meaty glad rags, which you pick off and dunk into a boiling soupy hot pot.
Order the: Laska
This stripped back Chinese restaurant located within the much loved Sussex Centre food court has been serving up creamy, spicy laksas to hungry Sydneysiders for the past two decades. The chicken number is a huge bowl that's got just enough creamy coconut milk to cut through the chilli and fragrant galangal. Spongy tofu cubes and chewy noodles add texture, and it comes with fresh chilli paste and oil if you really want to bring the heat.
Order the: Crack Willow Farm pork
For seven years, Cornersmith has scored high marks for its forward-thinking approach to minimising food waste, using local produce and fermenting, smoking and hand-preserving in-house. They also do an excellent plates of Crack Willow Farm pork, coated in a traditional Memphis rub and smoked for a day, before being sliced and served with a knockout barbecue sauce made from smoked peaches.
Order the: Beef pho
The beef soup here bangs with deep, savoury, bone-rich flavour; there's heaps of fresh flat noodles; and the traditional plate of bean sprouts, lemon and big ol'stalks of Thai basil served on the side is piled high and ready to be picked and plonked on top. Order the beef noodle soup for the raw beef, which cooks in your broth as you eat.
Order the: Xiao long bao
Go on. Count them. Din Tai Fung promises that every xiao long bao soup dumpling is enclosed with a least 18 folds. The military precision extends to digital scales in the open kitchen with a mandate that each dumpling pastry must weigh between 4.8 grams and 5.2 grams. After adding the filling, each dumpling must weigh between 20.8 grams and 21.2 grams. This dependable consistency has attracted a legion of dumpling fans. Little wonder this Taiwanese chain has expanded all over Sydney. Expect perfectly thin dumpling skins and gently sweetened pork and seafood fillings.
Order the: Beetroot spaghettini or the amatriciana
Magenta strands of beetroot infused angel hair pasta come smothered in an earthy, oily, mushroom reduction and topped with cashew cream. The truffle oil is a little heavy handed, but overall it showcases how a vegan dish can be just as good as its meaty mates. If you are hankering for some meat, the traditional amatriciana is the way to go. Long frilly tentacles of mafalda pasta hold the just-sweet, umami tomato sugo perfectly, while hunks of prosciutto give it a smoked meaty edge.
Order the: Bologna or the Pumpkin
The less traditional styles at this Bondi pizzaria are interesting and the most successful. The Bologna involves folds of buttery, soft mortadella, contrasted with a crunch of a scattered pistachios. The Pumpkin uses roasted creamy gourds as a base and tops it with sweet, just-caramelised chunks of onion, smoky scamorza cheese and paper-thin slices of pancetta. It’s hard to reinvent the pizza wheel, but these two combos make strong arguments for steering away from the typical pie.
Order the: Crossing the bridge noodle
What is it about picking from an assortment of bits and bobs that makes eating just a little more exciting? Whether it’s an elegant teishoku set or a trashy inflight dinner, we just can’t help being drawn to meals that offer a choose-your-own adventure. Those child-like instincts will almost certainly coerce you into ordering Spring Yunnan’s signature dish. Resembling a one-person mini hotpot, the dish arrives deconstructed. There’s a stone bowl of still-boiling pork and chicken broth, accompanied by an array of dainty plates bearing carefully chopped portions of pork, fish, chicken, prosciutto, coriander, shallots, garlic chives, bean sprouts, beancurd skin — even a tiny quail egg. It’s all rather delightful.
Order the: Steamed lamb dumplings
Load up on dumplings for the price of a song at this bustling noodle and dumpling joint. BYO is a bonus. Get ‘em steamed or fried in serves of a dozen. If you really want to maximise your value, ordering them steamed with score you 16 dumplings for the same price. They do half serves too if you’re only after a snack. These Northern Chinese dumplings have a slightly thicker skin, ideal for encasing meaty fillings of pork, chicken or lamb. Vegetarians have the choice of egg and chives or a braised eggplant filling. Join the crowd inside the tiny dining room, or dine al fresco under the shade of outdoor umbrellas.