Food & Culture

GT's best meals of 2021

For many, it's been a year best forgotten. But 2021 still delivered plenty of memorable moments and delicious surprises. GT's state editors reveal their best bites of the year.

STEAMED PRAWN DUMPLINGS, LUCKY KWONG | SYDNEY, NSW
Karlie Verkerk, deputy editor
When I received the news that one of my all-time favourite restaurants, Billy Kwong, was closing back in 2019 I resigned myself to the fact that I'd never taste chef-owner Kylie Kwong's steamed dumplings again. It was a wonderful love affair that punctuated the best part of a decade, but all good things must come to an end, I thought.
That was until she opened Lucky Kwong in South Eveleigh's new precinct mid-way through this year — and lucky for me, her steamed prawn dumplings made a comeback. I perched on a bench in a windy alleyway and peered into a large cardboard cup to find the most delicate little parcels swimming in a dark, glistening liquid.
One whiff and all the times I savoured these slippery morsels flooded right back. Flecked with Sichuan chilli and native bush mint, which is grown in the Jiwah indigenous garden nearby, they may be version 2.0 but let me tell you, they're better than ever.
Steamed prawn dumplings from Lucky Kwong, Sydney
TRUFFLE AT SÔL, RESTAURANT BOTANIC AND ADELAIDE CENTRAL MARKET | ADELAIDE, SA
Tory Shepherd, South Australia state editor
The best bites I indulged in this year all involved truffle. Back in the days of giant pepper grinders and powdered parmesan, truffle would usually be doled out sparingly, if at all. You were more likely to get synthetic and vaguely truffle-smelling oil, or the precious fungus mashed in with some more prosaic mushroom. Not now.
When I visited SkyCity's Sôl restaurant, an enormous and gnarly specimen was displayed on crisp linen, flakes of it on more than one dish. And at Restaurant Botanic, the truffle was handled nonchalantly — a mandolin, a generous hand, a luxurious flourish. While at Adelaide Central Market, I sampled soft cheese marbled with the magical fungus; and stopped by the Mushroom Man's stall for delicate morsels in tissue paper, which made the perfect present and delightful dinner addition.
"the best bites I indulged in this year all involved truffle" — Tory Shepherd, South Australia state editor
CHOWDER, MIAMI FISH MARKET | GOLD COAST, QLD
Fiona Donnelly, Queensland state editor
When you're fortunate enough to eat for a living and write for Gourmet Traveller, restaurant visits come with high expectations. It's never less than an absolute thrill to encounter the creativity of chefs, admire their technical skills and ability to imbue intensity of flavour in every aspect of a dish.
But there's also a feeling of yes, job very well done — that's precisely as it should be. Before visiting Gold Coast newcomer, Miami Fish Market, I'd heard about the sashimi, the fresh uni, the seafood and more — but it was a simple cup of fish chowder that stopped me in my tracks. And it cost just $6.
Hot creamy, almost bisque-like, laced with chunks of fish — this soup was good enough to grace any table, anywhere. Would it be as impressive next time, with the added burden of expectation? Who knows. But it was certainly the most surprisingly delicious thing I've eaten this year.
Chowder from Miami Fish Market, Gold Coast
SEFTALI, MIKSA | MELBOURNE, VIC
Michael Harden, Victoria state editor
With its highway rest-stop setting in the northern Melbourne suburb of Coolaroo, this modern, minimalist Turkish grill keeps it studiously low-key. But the food being cooked over charcoal in the open kitchen is anything but restrained. At times, it's spectacular.
The secret? One of Melbourne's great chefs, Ish Tosun (formerly of Collingwood's Gigibaba) owns the joint. His compact menu is mostly about grilled meat, superb versions of Turkish faves like adana and kofte. But the dish to stop you in your tracks is seftali (pronounced chef-tali), a traditional Turkish-Cypriot spiced lamb mince sausage wrapped in caul fat.
As it cooks over the charcoal, the caul melts, adding an amazingly rich fattiness to the salty meat, cut beautifully by a shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and sumac-dusted red onion support team. There's bread for stray juices too. Make the most of it.
Seftali from Miksa, Melbourne
CARAMELISED WHITE CHOCOLATE GANACHE, PORT CYGNET CANNERY | CYGNET, TASMANIA
Alix Davis, contributing editor
Not long ago, the Huon Valley town of Cygnet (50 minutes south of Hobart) was picturesque but a little light on when it came to food. Much has changed and Port Cygnet Cannery is leading the charge with long weekend lunches built around the produce grown on their nearby farm at Gardners Bay. They also offer pizza — cooked in a wood-fired oven imported from Naples — on Friday nights and it was there, on a cold winter's evening, that I ate my best dessert of the year.
The whole meal ($45 including a drink) was fabulous — pickled vegetables with cashew cream and basil oil for starters and our choice of perfectly crusted pizza with locally sourced toppings for mains. But it was the dessert of caramelised white chocolate ganache topped with Jerusalem artichoke ice-cream and apple sorbet that really caught my attention. Chef Lachlan Colwill works closely with the head farmer and the proof of their excellent teamwork is surely in the pudding.
Caramelised white chocolate ganache from Port Cygnet Cannery, Tasmania
The grilled beef tongue at Lulu La Delizia. The garfish rollmops at Nieuw Ruin. The brandade at Billie H. That potato, raw beef and cured egg thing from Vasse Felix; meat and seafood have figured prominently in my 2021 highlight reel, yet the year's biggest fork-drop was this vegan marvel from new Mount Hawthorn bottle shop and wine bar, Casa.
Starring toasted pumpkin seeds, sofrito and coriander blended into a densy wodge and served with springy house focaccia, the dish is both a nod to chef Paul Bentley's cooking experience in Mexico — Mexican food zealots will have already clocked this dish as the Yucatán specialty, sikil pak — and a reminder that, in the right hands, flora can be as gratifying as fish or flesh. (In a similar vein, Casa's stracciatella with cucumber and miso-yuzu broad bean salad are also worth road-testing.) Here's to more great vego snacking in 2022 and beyond.
Pumpkin seed dip, pickled green tomato and focaccia from Casa, Perth