Meet the NSW Restaurant of the Year finalists

“Our job at Margaret’s is simply to take the best produce in Australia and try not to overstuff it,” says chef Neil Perry. “If you can’t make a perfect piece of fish better, then we’re not going to put five or six extras on the plate just for the sake of it.

Perry’s Double Bay fine dining is a finalist The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2023 Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year. Food trends cover all innovations Guide (releases Tuesday) everything includes anchovies, new wave Korean, old school French and more Japanese influence than ever before.

Joel Bickford sits in the Shell House Dining Room and Terrace. Photo: Parker Blain



However, the biggest trend affecting how Sydneysiders eat at the top end is the focus on plating high-quality produce without all the bells and whistles and gimmicks of modern haute cuisine.

It’s not a new style of cooking by any means – Perry did the same at Barrenjoey House in 1983 – but there are fewer edible flowers and foams in restaurants with two and three hats. Guide five years ago and more charcoal-roasted simplicity.

In 2022, there are fewer at locations including Shell House Dining Room & Terrace, Surry Hills’ Firedoor, Mimi’s in Coogee, Bert’s Newport, a’Mare at Crown, Chippendale’s Ester and Fred’s, Paddington. Post-COVID lockdowns, Sydneysiders are more interested in long, juicy lunches than meditative dinners.

Magra lamb chops with roasted winter greens and potato aioli at Mimi's.

Magra lamb chops with roasted winter greens and potato aioli at Mimi’s. Photo: Edwina Pickles



Shell House culinary director Joel Bickford is reluctant to call his haute cuisine “Mediterranean” (“it offers plastic lobster and fishing nets”), but admits there’s plenty of coastal European influence to his menu in the CBD.

“‘Luxury returns’ is a term we use a lot,” he says. “It’s reminiscent of a Mediterranean style of food that’s very simple and relaxed. The food there is amazing, but it’s not always the focus. You want people to enjoy each other’s company and surroundings, rather than looking at the plate and tearing it apart. It’s every ingredient.”

Acknowledging farmers and fishermen (the real “rock stars,” says Perry) is increasingly common, rather than the general area from which the produce is sourced.

Firedoor’s Lennox Hastie lights up as he explains to guests how Victorian wagyu farmer David Blackmore has spent the past decade breeding his herd of Rubia Gallega, Australia’s only Spanish breed of cattle. At Oncore, Clare Smyth’s staff explains the origins of each feature ingredient to diners who pay $340 for seven courses.

Meanwhile, at Margaret’s, Perry’s menu includes “Elena’s Buffalo Mozzarella” and “Bruce’s King George Whiting.” (This is Elena Swegen of Burraduc Buffalo Farm near Foster and Bruce Collis, a fisherman who sources fish from the pristine microclimate of Victoria’s Corner Inlet.)

“Bruce’s white meat has pretty much become our signature dish,” says Perry.

Chef Lennox Hastie wood-fires rare breed steaks at Firedoor in Surry Hills.

Chef Lennox Hastie wood-fires rare breed steaks at Firedoor in Surry Hills. Photo: Edwina Pickles



“The key is to respect the fish… make sure it’s been well handled and properly dried before you hit the grill. It’s then served on a flat plate with lemon, salt and Cobram Estate’s hojiblanca olive oil. It’s so simple, but people go crazy “.

Good Food Guide 2023 Finalists of the Year Vittoria Coffee Restaurant

Firedoor, Surry Hills firedoor.com.au

Chef Lennox Hastie and his large kitchen team focus on cooking with fire, smoke and ash. Book at the counter for the five-course menu, which can start with seared coral trout and finish with caramelized, crystallized kouign-amann pastry.

Pav and Heidi's Bigeye Tuna with Grilled Salsa at Margaret's, Double Bay.

Pav and Heidi’s Bigeye Tuna with Grilled Salsa at Margaret’s, Double Bay. Photo: Edwina Pickles



Margaret, Double Bay margaretdoublebay.com

Neil Perry is still in the kitchen at his latest (and allegedly last) restaurant, overseeing a mighty roster of the country’s best produce, wood-fired, grilled and dressed to be its tastiest version.

Oncore, Clare Smyth, Barangaroo crownsydney.com.au

Nostalgic, surprising and often entertaining luxury dining in the sky in a deeply cushioned room at Crown. If the harbor view doesn’t appeal to you, it’s rose kingfish wrapped in radish and topped with sea vegetable nage broth.

Pipit, Pottsville pipitrestaurant.com

Chef Ben Devlin manipulates hyperlocal ingredients into enzymes and aged concoctions that occupy every available space in this soothing restaurant’s open kitchen. Regional food at its best in a quiet Tweed Shire town.

Shell House Dining Room and Terrace, Sydney shellhouse.com.au

Lemon trees heavy with ripe fruit are just one of the ways Shell House recreates the atmosphere of Lake Como on its CBD rooftop. There’s dazzling marble, glazed terracotta – and then there’s fine dining, sampling Italy and the Mediterranean.

The Restaurant of the Year winner will be announced at The Good Food Guide 2023 Awards on Monday night. The Good Food Guide 2023 The magazine is available from Tuesday November 22 on newsstands and supermarkets for $9.95 or pre-order at thestore.com.au.

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