Pilot’s chicken + steamed white bread + mayo + fresh side salad… the best roast chook experience in a long time. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

Reflecting on 2020 food reviews was a stark reminder of what an annus horribilis it was for many in hospitality, writes dining reviewer WENDY JOHNSON.

Wendy Johnson.

WE bid a sad farewell to those forced to close. We applaud those who stirred the creativity pot to keep us fed in new ways. We worship those who weathered bushfires, hail and COVID-19 to stay with us.

Here are this year’s top five picks, in no particular order.

Pilot, a 30-seat restaurant at Ainslie, creates amazing food and has a wine list aficionados love exploring. We adored the beef tartare and fish curry. Pilot takes food seriously but not too seriously and the roast chook dish is a classic example. This is Pilot’s special take on the good old Aussie chicken sandwich. Delicious and fun.

Dumpling Social’s Pork and chive dumplings… an old classic taken to a new level, with a side dish of soy and chopped chilli for added zing. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

Dumpling Social has a prime possie on Bradley Street. Its funky fitout and special vibe make you want to eat loads of dumplings, which we did. We indulged in pork and chive dumplings, the Xiao Long Bao (delicate steamed pork dumplings swimming in hot soup) and the fashionable beef and beetroot dumplings (the pastry is two-toned in colour). Also explore the signature dishes.

Smoked salmon galette at Breizh Café… pretty on the plate, simple yet sophisticated. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

Breizh Café, a little slice of Brittany at Ainslie Shops, specialises in crepes and patisserie. The mushroom galette was with Gruyère, potatoes sautéed in parsley and garlic butter and baby spinach. The smoked salmon – presented as a rose in the centre of the plate was pretty and delicious with a hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, sour cream and salty capers. We enjoyed lunch with a Grenache/shiraz blend from Provence, and topped off with traditional Kouign-Amann, created with bread dough layered and folded with butter and sugar.

Margherita at Department of Pizza… flavour-bomb tomato sauce, fresh, aromatic basil, and yum fior di latte. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

The foundation of a glorious pizza is the dough. At the relatively new Department of Pizza at Campbell shops, dough is king – not too thin, not too thick and easy to digest. Pizzas, created with love, are wood fired, traditional and authentic. That includes the Margarita with a flavour-bomb tomato sauce, fresh, aromatic basil, and yum fior di latte. Just as sensational was the moist limoncello cake and the out-of-this-world tiramisu.

Duck a l’orange from Les Bistronomes… with pickled red cabbage, orange and duck jus and citrus segments. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

Les Bistronomes’ COVID-19 model deserves a top pick for innovation and quality. “Cooking with Clem”, created during the pandemic, kept the restaurant afloat. The idea was so popular it continues, with Christmas take-home dinner packages selling out early. A three-course meal, partially prepared at Les Bistronomes, is delivered in a basket with a recipe card and a link to a cooking YouTube video. Unpack the basket, read the card, grab un verre de vin and watch Clem explain how to execute the remaining steps for finishing off the dishes. We loved the beef Wellington and duck à l’orange.

Now it’s rest time before tantalising the taste buds again in 2021. Happy holidays.

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Ian Meikle, editor