Across 2019, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? has delivered 225 pieces (that's more than four reviews a week). In a concerted effort to support restaurants and producers in rural and regional areas, who are doing it tough with endless drought and now raging bushfires, nearly a quarter of those reviews took place out-of-town.
Metropolitan reviews were undertaken in 73 different Sydney suburbs, with care taken not to neglect Sydney’s edges. Gledswood Hills, Terrey Hills, Dural, Penrith, Cronulla and Cromer all found their way into the mix, along with newer suburbs like Wentworth Point (which was visited 7 times). This year's reviews covered 37 different cuisines. Beyond the pastiche we refer to as Australian cuisine, Japanese (including various fusions) topped the list with 22 different spots reviewed. Italian and Chinese each attracted a respectable 19 reviews,while Afghan, Polish and Burmese and Ethiopian are all cuisines I ate in just a single venue across the year (though I did go back to the Polish restaurant a second time).
Distilling all that down to the 10 most memorable meals of 2019 they are:
10. Azuki Bakery
Meals don't have to be expensive to be memorable. Azuki Bakery in Enmore sell a curry pan (bun) that will set you back less than five bucks and will be great every time you eat it. Their mentaiko roll sees me open my wallet every time I walk past, though it's more of an acquired taste.
Memorable meals do more than just sustain you, they communicate culture. Alchemy in Surry Hills is an utterly transportive space with Polish art, alcohol, cakes, food and humour imparted with every meal. I've never eaten better pierogi and their Napoleonka (vanilla slice) is to die for.
8. Locale Pizzeria & Capriccio
Everyone needs a neighbourhood Italian, and if you happen to live in either Deakin (ACT) or Leichhardt, you have struck gold. Capriccio bring a regional flavour to Italian cooking, with hand-stamped pasta they make in house. Locale Pizzeria get the simple things right, like a brilliant prawn pizza and the best calamari fritti I ate all year. I couldn't split them.
Great meals can be found in unassuming places. While I've been impressed enough with Urban Tadka in Terrey Hills to drive there for three meals, there's something about Coya that gets me every time. Perhaps it's that it's so incongurous to find a chef of Ashraf Saleh's talent cooking well-priced degustations in a suburban strip mall in Cromer.
6. Cucina Espresso & Born in Brunswick
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day I'm told, and I have had two breakfasts in 2019 that I find hard to forget. Hobart's Born in Brunswick produced the best crumpet breakfast I’ve ever eaten, but I was equally charmed by Cucina Espresso in Concord. They innovated without losing sight of their Italianate focus, producing a clever breakfast arancini with a runny yolk centre.
5. Sashimi Shinsengumi
Seafood is excellent in Australia, and this year I ate more than my fair share with memorable meals at Manta (who kicked butt with bouillabaisse), Moxhe (who won my heart with hay-smoked mussels) and Love Fish (who showed seafood doesn’t have to be over-priced, even with sustainable choices and a water view). What made Sashimi Shinsengumi the most memorable was in part the difficulty of scoring a booking, then the experience of sharing a seafood-focused meal with five friends plus six strangers, all serviced by the one, talented chef.
4. Jang Ta Bal
Three restaurants slayed on meat this year, and I find it very hard to split them. I’m giving it to Jang Ta Bal by a whisker for their in-house butcher slicing up wagyu in the middle of the dining room, and for their super spicy cheesy pork ribs. I loved those ribs so much I went back for more the very next week. Graze in Willow Tree know how to handle meat, and Yellow Billy in Pokolbin makes smoked meats into an art form. It was really hard to choose between them!
3. Restaurant Moon & Punjabi Fusion
There was a lot more successful fusion this year, from Peruvian-Japanese to French-Japanese, to various multicultural cuisines engaging with contemporary Australian ways of eating. The two I can’t forget are Restaurant Moon, which I credit with re-enlivening my appreciation of Thai cooking with some very modern presentation but still keeping the balance of Thai cuisine, and Punjabi Fusion who also do amazing things with presentation while retaining authentic Indian flavours.
While I loved Nikkei for finally bringing Peruvian Japanese to Sydney, I reckon my favourite deguastation this year was at Noi in Petersham. As I mentioned earlier, I ate a lot of Italian cuisine this year, and Noi turned it all on its head with one coconut foam-topped pig’s head terrine, eaten in an environment that was sophisticated without being stuffy.
1. Pearls on the Beach
With Graze, Born in Brunswick, Locale Pizzeria and Yellow Billy already mentioned in the previous categories, and 54 restaurants to choose from, it should be obvious that it was really hard to choose an out-of-town restaurant this year. The out-of-town restaurant I’m most keen to return to is Pearls on the Beach in the Central Coast. It has that perfect combination of setting, service, wine and food, that has already turned my meal into a sepia toned memory that will stay with me for a long time.
Speaking of which, I'm off to make some new summer memories. Catch you all on the flipside in 2020!