Australia’s food trends of 2020 were heavily influenced by the changing dynamic of the pandemic. Here’s a recap of the best products and dining experiences of the year.
Sandwich royalty: King William
The crown-stamped black roller door at the insalubrious end of Melbourne’s CBD comes up for only a few hours a day but word is out that it’s a portal to good times, sandwich-style. When COVID-19 kiboshed the dining scene, chef Steph Britton got talking to her corporate caterer friend Jane Semple; in an excellent result for the city, she annexed a corner of Semple’s underutilised kitchen to create King William. Best-in-show sandwiches include Brigadier (roasted free-range chicken with proper stuffing and “magic” gravy) and Mamma Mia (free-range pork meatballs with sugo, basil salsa verde and the holy trinity of Italian cheeses: provolone, scamorza and parmigiano). Get ’em while they’re hot.
The show must go online: Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
Its 2020 program was cancelled just six days from launch but the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival didn’t waste time feeling sorry for itself. Australia’s leading annual food fest went digital, harnessing the power of technology to bring the likes of René Redzepi, Helen Goh and Massimo Bottura to audiences virtually. Scheduled to return on 19-29 March, the festival will sport a proudly local flavour. Plans were yet to be announced at the time of writing but we can confirm that Bank of Melbourne World’s Longest Lunch will be bigger, better and longer than ever.
Resetting the scene: Firedoor
As dining rooms first cautiously reopened, set menus became the order of the day. Our favourite: Firedoor in Sydney’s Surry Hills, where chef Lennox Hastie has jettisoned the à la carte option for a five-course chef’s selection. It’s no great sacrifice to commit to Hastie’s menu of flame-cooked vegetables, proteins and even dessert. While the dishes change nightly, the internationally lauded chef promises one constant: “We always use the very best ingredients from the most amazing producers we can find.”
Bean machine: Market Lane Coffee
Cafés may have been closed but Melbournians slept easier knowing their caffeine needs were being met around the clock with the arrival of the city’s first coffee bean vending machine. Installed by Market Lane Coffee outside its new headquarters in Brunswick East, the machine stocks bags of freshly roasted beans – ground for filter or espresso methods – and will also come to the rescue when you’re running dangerously low on filter papers for your pour over, Aeropress or Moccamaster brews.
(Don’t) dress up for dinner: Restaurant dining at home
Takeaway fine dining continues to be a thing long after lockdown has let up. In Sydney, Mike McEnearney’s Kitchen by Mike has launched KBM at Home, delivering haute-homestyle meals such as Wagyu beef shin and stout pot pie, plus larder staples from his own range. In Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, the modern Middle Eastern from Gerard’s Bistro translates into a nightly changing set menu that sells out fast. And while it used to be a game of chance snaring a seat at the counter at Minamishima in Melbourne’s Richmond, the delivery menu (including kushiyaki skewers to grill at home), allows you to eat the city’s best sushi in your trackies.
SEE ALSO: A Tasmanian Cellar Door Itinerary
Liquid consolation: Cocktails delivered to your house
Home-delivered cocktails from top bars became just the thing to chase the shut-in blues away – and were so popular they’re here to stay. In Melbourne, Fitzroy’s The Everleigh continues to ensure the citizens of the city are never short of a Manhattan, Negroni or Old Fashioned. Sydneysiders can stay refreshed with the help of Maybe Sammy in The Rocks – recently anointed the best bar in Australasia by the World’s 50 Best Bars for the second year running – and its line of modernised Rat Pack favourites. In Brisbane, locals can enjoy a Lychee Rosé Mojito or gin-based bubble tea at home thanks to the mixologists from Fortitude Valley’s pan-Asian restaurant and bar, Umami.
Crib notes for the kitchen: Cartilage
Go to a restaurant and be fed for a night; learn to cook that restaurant’s signature dishes and be fed for a lifetime. That’s the philosophy behind Cartilage, a series of recipe journals launched to help eateries stay afloat while letting home cooks indulge their culinary cravings. Each journal focuses on a single restaurant – luminaries have included Sunda, Lee Ho Fook and Marion in Melbourne while Hartsyard, Mary’s and Boon Cafe have stepped up for Sydney – and showcases three recipes plus a little extra something such as a cocktail or condiment. Available as a digital download, part of each sale goes back to the venue.
Hope springs eternal: Hope Delivery
When hospitality workers on temporary visas found themselves exempt from government support, chef Neil Perry and his Rockpool Foundation launched the charity Hope Delivery in Sydney and Melbourne. Now providing thousands of free meals each day to international students and workers, it has marked a significant career segue for Perry, who has stepped away from the daily running of the Rockpool Dining Group and describes Hope as “a bit exhausting… and utterly rewarding”.
Bring us the juice: Juice Traders
You can’t keep a good wine bar down. When Adelaide’s Leigh Street Wine Room was forced to shut its doors, Juice Traders was born. Just like its bricks-and-mortar sibling, the wine delivery service focuses on natural drops from near and far, while limited-edition collaborations with South Australian winemakers such as Basket Range Wine, Occhipinti and Good Intentions are a bonus.
Green shoots: new Australian restaurants of 2020
New openings slowed to a trickle in 2020 but there have still been some gems. A trio of alumni from Brisbane’s now sadly defunct Stokehouse Q – including executive chef Ollie Hansford – wasted no time opening Siffredi’s Spaghetti Bar. From the school of “keep it simple but make it perfect”, their Teneriffe eatery has a sharp menu of five pastas, a few snacks and a punchy wine list. In Melbourne, Andrew McConnell’s Gimlet wowed the city for just three weeks between lockdowns but re-emerged to deliver its New York brasserie-style menu, complete with an addictive anchovy Danish. And Sydney has COVID-19 to thank for Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of The Bentley Group’s move into the pizza business. Their celebrated wine bar Monopole relocated to the CBD and its Potts Point digs became Ria Pizza + Wine. “Pizza is accessible for everybody and that feels pretty important right now,” says Savage.
Bar none: Bar Angophora
An outdoor bar was just a glint in the eye of Brian Geraghty, chef and owner of Berowra Waters Inn, north of Sydney – until the pandemic hit. “We obviously can’t do takeaway,” says Geraghty of his restaurant’s location on a tributary of the Hawkesbury River, where diners arrive by seaplane or boat. Cue Bar Angophora on a 40-seat double deck jutting over the water that staff helped to build. Its flexible approach means you can grab a cocktail infused with native botanicals and chase it with a plate of oysters or try the full six-course dégustation menu.
Food meets fashion: Attica merchandise
We already knew top chefs were rock stars but Ben Shewry of Attica has proved it by recruiting a bunch of creative mates – including artists Heesco, Callum Preston, Jessica Rather and Reko Rennie – to design a cool range of merchandise including T-shirts, hoodies and tea towels. The New Zealand-born, Victorian-based chef hasn’t forgotten about food: at the time of writing he’d just announced plans for Attica Summer Camp, a casual diner that will pop up in the Yarra Valley for five months with a relaxed, communal approach inspired by Shewry’s country upbringing.
Image credit: Nikki To (Firedoor)