GT’s best meals of 2020

It's largely been a year we'd prefer to leave in the past, but for these GT editors, these were the meals to remember.
Illustrations by Jeannel Cunanan & Kelsie Walker


Max Veenhuyzen, Western Australia state editor

Despite the year that was, I was lucky to have some really great meals in 2020. There was my homestay with an elderly couple in Hagi, Japan; natural wine and polished Sichuan cooking at Kyoto’s Taiho; a winter picnic with friends in Hyde Park in Perth; the surprise pizza dinner my girlfriend organised for my birthday; plus a home-cooked Kashmiri feast prepared by Masque chef Prateek Sadhu in Mumbai.

But the meal I remember most was a dinner at Ah Beng Kopitiam, a homely, low-frills diner in Perth’s southeast. As we do each year on the anniversary of my dad’s passing, the Veenhuyzens go and eat Indonesian food and Ah Beng tasted like a direct line back to Sumatra, the Indonesian island we lived in before moving to Australia.

While the menu offered all the Indo favourites – ayam goreng (fried chicken), rendang, satay all-sorts – it was the spread of Padang dishes, a regional style of cooking that originated in Sumatra, that really turned our heads.

Ah Beng has since fallen into our regular rotation but to have my first meal there – on such an important day and with the two women I love most – was special. Dad would have loved it (and, as he always did, complained about the “fancy” wine I brought along).

Udang balado (hot and spicy prawns) from Ah Beng Kopitiam, Perth


Karlie Verkerk, deputy editor

Birthday meals are often memorable for their celebratory nature and sense of occasion. But this one – a long lunch for my partner – was unforgettable for so many other reasons. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in late March when we entered Sixpenny’s dining room, made even more intimate than usual due to government restrictions. Seated by the window, we made a toast to the year that was (blissfully unaware of the year that was to come), and enjoyed the warm light filtering through the sheer curtains.

Delicious one-bite snacks were followed by seven courses and matching wines; cured bonito, thinly sliced and paired with citrus pepper and lime, followed by kangaroo tartare, then squid with peas and green tomato. The flavours and techniques were of standard-setting finesse, as dish after dish had us savouring each mouthful. As the waiter delivered the final course – mead-vinegar custard with frozen raspberries and strawberry consommé – we were told it would be the restaurant’s last service before heading into indefinite lockdown.

At the time, I knew it was a significant moment in my world, but looking back, I now realise how significant it was for the world of hospitality.

Mead-vinegar custard from Sixpenny, Sydney


Michael Harden, Victoria state editor

During the brief, halcyon hiatus between lockdowns one and two, I was both overexcited and reticent about restaurants being part of life again. I craved being fed and watered in style but feared the 20-person limit would make the experience resemble a failed party.

I’ve been a fan of Bar Lourinhã’s exuberant Melb-Iberian food, booze and atmosphere since it opened in 2007 and needed to get back there, not just because of my kingfish pancetta with lemon oil addiction, but because its raucous bustle was so life-affirming. But how would it cope without the roar of the crowd?

Beautifully, as it turns out. The room still felt celebratory, not empty but elegant and Matt McConnell’s food – oysters, pickles, grilled chorizo and pork liver pinxos, Goolwa pipis in fino, roasted mushrooms with garlic cream – is always a party. But the best gift that night was hope. That a restaurant with as strong and loved an identity as Bar Lourinhã could morph into something fundamentally different but equally successful allowed me to see past the hardships and challenges to where imagination, creativity and hospitality (and a truckload of hard work) wins out.

Things might be different but they can still be great. The sense of hope I found at Bar Lourinhã that night in June was unforgettable.

Goolwa pipis in fino from Bar Lourinhã, Melbourne


Fiona Donnelly, Queensland state editor

One thing you learn fast as a reviewer is that even in so-called “normal” years you can’t predict which meals will be memorable. Hotly anticipated openings can turn out ho-hum and sometimes under-the-radar experiences yield gold. At the start of 2020 I couldn’t have imagined devouring a meat pie in a careworn Yatala car park would be an event that would leave me elated. But after Brisbane’s (mercifully) short lockdown that flaky-topped pie tasted just like freedom. Simply being allowed to travel to a “non-essential” destination flagged a return to quasi-normality, and I’ll remember the feeling well beyond December. In fact, I recall the joy of that pie each time I fret over friends around the world suffering more stringent and far longer stay-home restrictions.

But when it comes to 2020’s most memorable, a dinner at Thai destination Same Same in January definitely snatches top billing. This stylish successor to Longtime opened last November and recalling the pleasure of that evening in quiet moments has kept me confident and optimistic about Brisbane’s dining scene, regardless of what COVID-19 next throws at us. It’s as much the resilience of Same Same’s owners as it is about the grownup venture they’ve delivered. If they can achieve this after just five years in hospitality – and then, mid-pandemic, launch Agnes – there’s surely hope for everyone.

Betel leaf with grilled pork from Same Same, Brisbane

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A Mornington Peninsula trattoria, Malaysian done luxe, hot coals and good times in Brisbane, Western Australian barbecue, and a taste of wine country in Adelaide. We raise a glass to the venues who opened their doors in the past 12 months, pandemic or no.