PETER Gilmore knows that if there is one dish he can never take off his menu it is Quay’s famous Snow Egg.
“When the guys from MasterChef asked me if I could do a recipe for them, it was at the peak of the show’s popularity,” the chef recalls of the fateful decision to set the Snow Egg as a grand-final challenge on MasterChef Season 2 back in 2010.
“And when we showed them how it was made, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, we want to do that!’,” Gilmore says.
As it turns out, that MasterChef finale — won by now-celebrity chef Adam Liaw — remains the third-most watched show in Australia post-2001, viewed by more than four million people. And the Snow Egg hasn’t been off the menu since.
Peter Gilmore’s Snow Egg dessert. Picture: Kristi Miller
“I have had people fly in from New Zealand to have it, from Britain, from India,” says Gilmore (who was awarded the delicious. magazine Maggie Beer award for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Food held at his new Bennelong restaurant last night).
“Australian MasterChef is shown around the world, so it would be terrible for someone if they came to the restaurant just to have it and it wasn’t on any more.”
The Snow Egg — a complicated composition of poached meringue, ice-cream, tuile, granita and oh so much more — tops our list of Sydney’s cult dishes, the dishes that diehard food lovers know and love, and which can never be taken off a restaurant menu.
And while many of the dishes listed here are from Sydney’s finest restaurants, many more can be mined at some of the city’s multicultural gems, and cost as little as $3.30.
That’s the price of a Sweet Belem Portuguese tart, sold by Jose Silva at his much-treasured Petersham cake shop.
Sweet Belem Portuguese Tarts. Picture: Rohan Kelly
Silva — trained in fine dining and last head chef at Guillaume at Bennelong — acknowledges that the tart is prized in the Sydney food world as something special.
“And it’s a bargain at $3.30,” he laughs.
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Silva says the secret to its success is that he takes a gourmet approach to its construction, using only the finest eggs, butter, vanilla bean (not essence) and puff pastry he makes himself.
“It’s all handmade with quality ingredients which are the best I can get and baked fresh,” he says.
“We don’t sell them the next day because they’re not the same.”
For Gilmore, there’s no regret about the egg’s popularity.
“I’m proud of it,” he says.
“It’s a great dessert.”
Proud chef Peter Gilmore with his guava snow egg dish. Picture: Rohan Kelly
1. Snow Egg, Quay
The undisputed king of cult Sydney dishes, this extreme dessert has been on the menu at Quay for a decade. So, you have to spend $175 and eat three other courses before you get to the Snow Egg. But with its layers of icy texture and sugar-spun flavour, every mouthful is perfection.
● Overseas Passenger Terminal, Sydney; quayrestaurant.com.au
2. Portuguese tart, Sweet Belem
Custard, puff pastry, cinnamon. So simple, so perfect. And for only $3.30 a pop. Happy days.
● 35B New Canterbury Rd, Petersham
Chef Jose Silver will be there with his famous tarts. Picture: Rohan Kelly
3. The Mary’s Burger, Mary’s
Even hot-shot American chef David Chang, the great hater of Australian burgers, can’t dispute that Mary’s does good burger. “You know who f***s up burgers more than anyone else in the world? Australians,” Chang said recently. “Australia has no idea what a burger is. They put a fried egg on their burger. They put canned beetroot on it, like a wedge of it. I am not joking you. This is how they eat their burger. There are a few notable exceptions to this, like Mary’s in Newtown.” Good enough for him, good enough for us.
● 6 Mary St, Newtown
LP’s Quality Meats chef Luke Powell with a Mary’s burger at Mary’s in Newtown. Picture: Justin Lloyd
4. Pork Banh Mi, Marrickville Pork Roll
Take a long, fresh, crispy roll, fill it to bursting with sliced pork, pate, pickled carrot and daikon, coriander and that sauce that’s part sugar, part fish sauce, soy, lemongrass and garlic. Then charge $4.50 for it. There’s a queue out the door. Get in it.
● 236A Illawarra Rd, Marrickville
Get in the queue outside Marrickville Pork Roll. Picture: Mark Evans
5. Date Tart, Rockpool
If date tart sounds very ’90s, that’s because it is. Don’t knock it, because this tart has withstood the test of time for a reason — it’s light, it’s luscious, it’s delicious. Indeed, you might say it’s absolutely fabulous.
● 11 Bridge St, Sydney; rockpool.com
A dish of date tart at Rockpool Restaurant at The Rocks in Sydney.
6. Criskin chicken, Tan Viet
Take a mass of egg noodles, take chicken specially twice fried until it’s golden on the outside and moist in the middle, take iceberg lettuce and a mountain of herbs. Shove them all in an oversized bowl on a laminated table decorated only with a bucketful of Vietnamese condiments, tuck in and enjoy.
● 2/100 John St, Cabramatta
Criskin chicken with egg noodles served at the Tan Viet Restaurant in Cabramatta. Picture: Frank Violi
7. Green noodles with blue swimmer crab, Lucio’s
It has been on the menu since Lucio’s opened 32 years ago (yes, in 1983!) and that’s because there’s something kind of perfect about pasta and crab and tomato sugo (left) eaten in this beautiful yellow dining room. Belissimo.
● 47 Windsor St, Paddington; lucios.com.au
The Blue Swimmer Crab Pasta from Lucio’s. Picture: Nic Gibson
8. Beef pho, An
You can have your ramens, your tom yums and your laksas, but the queen of soup in Sydney comes from this hilariously unreconstructed Bankstown pho house. The beef pho has so many layers of flavour it unfolds like a finely nuanced drama in your mouth. The medicinal benefits of pho are so intense it’s said it can cure a cold, and, perhaps more helpfully, a hangover.
● 27 Greenfield Pde, Bankstown; anrestaurant.com.au
Beef pho from An Restaurant Bankstown. Picture: John Fotiadis
9. 1m pizza, Via Napoli
It’s pizza, it’s 1m long and it is handmade at one of the best and most cheerful pizzerias in Sydney. The end.
● 141 Longueville Rd, Lane Cove, 64-68 Gladesville Rd, Hunters Hill; vianapolipizzeria.com.au
Via Napoli have made a name for themselves by specialising in long pizzas. Picture: Tim Hunter
10. Sausage roll, Bourke Street Bakery
We were going to include the inevitable pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, but the judgment is that Bourke Street Bakery’s sausage roll is Sydney’s undisputed pastry king. The filling contains pork and fennel seeds. Bliss.
Gourmet sausage rolls at Bourke Street Bakery. Picture: Phillip Rogers
11. Japanese stones, Sepia
It may look a bit like a pile of roo droppings but this exquisite dessert by Martin Benn is a wondrous stack of crisp coco butter “stones” filled with cherry-chocolate liquid centres. This is such a cult dish it’s not even on the menu, but available if you ask, very, very nicely.
● 201 Sussex St, Sydney; sepiarestaurant.com.au
Japanese Stones dessert from Sepia. Picture: Simon Bullard
12. Truffled egg pasta, Buon Ricordo
When the truffled egg pasta comes out of the Buon Ricordo kitchen it stinks out the whole dining room — in a good way. Waiters make the dish at your table (a surprising joy in itself), stirring the egg stored with truffles through the hot pasta to make an absurdly rich dish that’s the envy of the entire room.
● 108 Boundary St, Paddington; buonricordo.com.au
Fettuccine with cream, parmesan and truffle egg at Buon Ricordo.
13. Chicken and chips, Frango
Sure the service could be improved, but that’s what you have to endure to get chicken as good as this. The charcoal chicken cooked over coals is the specialty, the sticky, salty skin hiding moist, flavoursome meat. And then there’s the chips. That are covered in chicken salt. Yes. Chicken. Salt.
● 89 New Canterbury Rd, Petersham, fangos.com.au
The delicious Portugese chicken served at Frango. Picture: John Appleyard
14. Salted caramel gelato, Messina
Just about everyone does salted caramel now, but Messina’s gelato was at the vanguard of the SC movement. Its popularity stems from the fact it is absurdly more-ish and just the right balance of savoury and sweet.
● Various; gelatomessina.com
15. Betel leaves, Longrain
Longrain still misses its favourite chef Martin Boetz but you can still eat his brilliant betel leaves topped with a punchy combo of smoked river trout, peanut relish and green mango. This is classic Sydney Thai food at its most glamorous and enduring.
● 85 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills; longrain.com
16. Stoner’s delight, Ms. G’s
Chef Dan Hong’s creation of doughnut ice-cream, peanut dulce de leche, peanut and pretzel brittle, crispy bacon, Mars bar brownie, passionfruit curd, potato chips and deep fried Nutella is not for the dieter. Their loss.
● 155 Victoria St, Potts Point; ms-gs.com
Ms G’s decadent dessert Stoner’s Delight. Picture: Justin Sanson
17. Ricotta cake, Pasticceria Papa
This unassuming cake, filled with fluffy, sweetened ricotta, is sheer go-to comfort food for Italians, and more recently, non-Italians too. The mixture is so light, it’s almost like you’re not eating it, which, naturally, allows you to eat more. Win.
● 145 Ramsay St, Haberfield and 75 Hall St, Bondi Beach; ppapa.com.au
Ricotta Cheesecake from Pasticceria Papa at Bondi Beach. Picture: John Fotiadis
18. Poutine, Hartsyard
What’s poutine? It’s chips, it’s gravy and it’s runny cheese sauce, all melded together in one big delicious heap. It’s so good we’ll even forgive the fact it’s a Canadian dish.
● 33 Enmore Rd, Enmore; hartsyard.com.au
Poutine meal served at Hartsyard, Newtown. Picture: Damian Shaw
19. Pig’s head, Four in Hand
Yes, it’s a pig’s head. Served on a board with a knife sticking through it’s cheek. Sure, it’s not for wusses but the combination of perfectly crackled skin and soft, salty meat makes the guilt of eating something that’s staring you in the face a little easier to bear.
● 105 Sutherland St, Paddington; fourinhand.com.au
The famous pig’s head at the Four In Hand pub. Picture: Adam Taylor
20. Confit of ocean trout, Tetsuya’s
Tetsuya’s ocean trout is the original posh degustation dish to end all posh degustation dishes. While it has changed over the years, the concept remains the same — take the finest fillet of ocean trout and cook it tenderly in flavoured oil to achieve a melting consistency, then team with a delicate salad of, say, celery, witlof, apple and unpasteurised ocean trout roe, all served on A Big White Plate. It’s an ethereal, old-world experience the likes of which you can’t get everywhere these days.
● 529 Kent St, Sydney; tetsuyas.com
Confit ocean trout with kombu at Tetsuya’s. Picture: Mitch Cameron
21. Ricotta Hotcakes, Bills
There’s a reason folk line up for Bills, a chain of cafes that opened in the ‘90s and stayed there. It’s the ricotta hot cakes, stupid: so light, so fluffy, and topped with honeycomb butter. Did we say honeycomb butter? Yes we did.
● Bondi, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills; bills.com.au
Ricotta Hotcakes from Bill’s. Picture: John Fotiadis