The rules are simple: the venue had to have opened this year (or late 2020, at a stretch), with reimagined restaurants and excellent takeaway options also getting a hall pass. These are the dishes – and one condiment – we can’t get out of our heads.

Lobster, lard, fior di latte and herb pizza, Di Stasio Pizzeria
There’s a lot of good pizza in Melbourne. But lobster pizza? A scarcity, sadly. Admittedly I didn’t realise it was something I was missing until Di Stasio Pizzeria came along. The restaurant’s white pie – topped with sweet, sweet lobster, lard (game changer), fior di latte (made by chef Federico Congiu with St David Dairy jersey milk) and herbs – is a beautiful thing. Luxurious, indulgent – of course Di Stasio has created the perfect post-lockdown pizza.
- Katya Wachtel, editorial director

Pate en croute, Aru
I can’t think of a more interesting, creative chef in 2021 than Khanh Nguyen, the young gun behind Aru and Sunda. The meal I squeezed in at Aru between lockdowns was one of the best I’ve had in several years. I could write a paragraph about the duck sanga, the forbidden rice sourdough, the dry-aged duck or almost any other dish. I’ve chosen the pate en croute with banh mi flavours because it’s the most representative of Nguyen’s singular ability to merge his Vietnamese upbringing with the ideas and techniques he’s picked up as a chef. The delicate, meaty slice is a riot of flavours and textures: slow-cooked pork cheek; a thick vein of dark jelly made from pork stock, Maggi seasoning and rice vinegar; a big blob of chicken and pork-liver pate emulsified with butter and mayo; and chunks of cha lua, a mortadella-like pork loaf starring pungent fish sauce. Oh, and well-dispersed trimmings of spring onion, coriander, wood ear fungus and chilli. It’s a lot, yes. But it bloody works. I didn’t enjoy having to share this dish with the other five people on my table.
- Nick Connellan, publications director

Abalone and lardo skewer, Etta
I’m not sure a sexier, more superb skewer exists. Cupped in a shimmering abalone shell, the greenlip variety is intertwined with lardo and charred to luscious, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Your table manners will slip, then disappear altogether when the pork-belly rib beckons you to leave no skerrick behind. That is to say: chef Rosheen Kaul’s reincarnation of Hannah Green’s Brunswick bolthole knocks it out of the ballpark.
- Tomas Telegramma, Melbourne editor

Chirashi, Uminono
Chirashi – sashimi slices on a bed of slightly salty, tangy, sweetened sushi rice – with nothing but fresh, barely seasoned fish is already a winner for me. But the way Uminono chef and owner Arnaud Laidebeur treats his produce takes it to another level. He uses special sauces, flavoured oils, fruits and nuts to enhance each fish’s flavour, without overpowering its freshness. I was tossing up between writing about the chirashi and the signature omakase takeaway box, where sushi gets the same boost in nigiri form.
- Chynna Santos, editorial assistant and Things To Do editor

Turmeric chicken “banh mi”, Ca Com
This lockdown sandwich was so popular it spurred a spin-off spot for Anchovy owners Jia-Yen Lee and Thi Le. It's a take on a Laotian breakfast sandwich, khao jee pate, which is a bit like a Vietnamese banh mi – a dish so familiar to Melbourne diners, Lee and Le call it that for ease. Crunchy-sqishy rolls from Phuoc Thanh bakery come smeared with mayo and jeow bong (spicy chilli paste), stacked with turmeric-coconut chicken (barbequed until delightfully sticky-edged) and stuffed with salad, pickles and herbs. A daub of crisp house-made chilli oil rounds the whole thing out.
- Ellen Fraser, executive producer

Snacks, Miss Mi
Chef Esca Khoo’s lockdown babi guling from his Dalam Nusantara pop-up is a contender for this list, but we’re here to talk about snacks. Specifically, those he serves at Miss Mi, the new restaurant at the bottom of the Movenpick Hotel. They’re a journey around Asia and change regularly, but I had tears in my eyes eating the tehe-tehe urchin on a rice cracker with seaweed sambal, inspired by the sea gypsies off the coast of Borneo who forage for urchin and trade it for rice.
- Sofia Levin, writer

Cacio e pepe tortellini, Al Dente Enoteca
There is a rich history of pasta shapes and their impact on sauce distribution. But throughout this history, did anyone think to ask, “What if we put the sauce on the inside?” Well, Andrea Vignali did. His tortellini cacio e pepe are filled with dairy in five forms: cream, milk, butter, pecorino, and Grana Padano. All that, undergirded by the warmth of the pepper, is sealed within a golden parcel of handmade pasta. Truly, this is pasta’s ultimate form. We can innovate no further. I have had precisely nine of these capsules. Some – in a past life – were delivered frozen. More recently, dining in at Al Dente, they were plated fresh. I’ve never been so excited to eat pasta and drink wine but in a new room. And – of course – with the sauce on the inside.
- Jarrad McLean, product manager

Khachapuri, Gray and Gray
There’s nothing not to love about bread and cheese – especially when it’s in boat form and topped with a whole egg yolk. Gray and Gray’s molten khachapuri may be a simple pleasure, but it’s damn delicious (and somehow easier to justify than ordering a pizza).
- Quincy Malesovas, writer

Seared scallop, labneh and sobrassada, Lillian Terrace at Society
A generous mound of barely-seared, super-sweet Hokkaido scallops, sliced in discs, and topped with crumbled smoky sobrassada. What an unexpected belter this pretty dish was. Beneath the scallops, lemon-and-oregano labneh and a bright and glossy sobrassada oil seasoned with sherry vinegar and shiro kombu. Smoky, sweet and rich. Yum. Also, while we’re talking Lillian, I have to mention the crepe cake – my nominee for dessert of the year. Eighteen layers of hazelnut praline, chocolate Chantilly, mascarpone and caramelised hazelnuts – I will be back for you.
- Katya Wachtel, editorial director

Morcilla muffin, Spensley’s
While incomparable, this fancified sausage-and-egg McMuffin has ruined the Macca’s original for me. But I’m not mad about it. On a tiny, house-made English muffin comes a hockey puck of rich morcilla, red-onion-and-shiso relish and an egg yolk, which 10/10 will explode. You’ll make a mess, co-owner Willow Humphreys will bring you an extra napkin, and you’ll smirk childishly. (And while this Clifton Hill gem opened in late 2019, now under chef Maria Kabal’s reign, it feels like a different beast entirely.)
- Tomas Telegramma, Melbourne editor

Sichuan chilli congee, Sani
If only I could start every day with this warming, luxurious rice porridge. Sani’s chefs serve it in a sculptural, vase-like bowl loaded with fall-apart confit duck leg, gnarly wild mushrooms, a halved soft-boiled egg and pieces of Chinese doughnut. It’s such a pleasure to fossick through these submerged bits’n’pieces, ensuring each spoonful has just the right amount of mushy rice on board to coat your mouth and usher everything downwards.
- Nick Connellan, publications director

Green falafel, Golda
As the doors swung open on Melbourne’s restaurants, a trip across the river for this northerner was well worth it (it’s really not that bad). Rotem Papo, chef and co-owner of Golda Restaurant in Prahran, takes diners on a culinary adventure through his homeland of Israel, celebrating the diversity of flavours, spice and texture. He brings it all cleverly into a contemporary Melbourne context. The watermelon-and-tuna tartare jumbled with Lebanese cucumber, Yarra Valley feta and za’atar oil was vibrant and jumping. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder was sitting in chickpeas and silverbeet, turmeric yoghurt, and a sweet – and equally earthy – date-and-rosemary reduction. But a starter of green falafel with roasted beetroot hummus and the chilli kick of fermented red zhoug (Yemenite hot sauce) had us fastening our seatbelts for what was in store. A joyful, thoughtful and delicious celebration of a chef’s heritage. Go!
- Hilary McNevin, writer

Potato Head 2.0, Egglab Brunswick
During lockdown, a friend and I started walking together before work about once a week. We’d take turns meeting at each other’s local cafe, grabbing a coffee and doing a lap of the area. Sometimes we’d finish with breakfast. One week I took him to Egglab, a short-order breakfast diner near me that’s remarkably consistent when it comes to basics like perfectly cooked eggs. Since then, there have been no more walks in my friend’s neighbourhood – he insists on coming to me every week, so we can scoff a Potato Head 2.0 together. The “double” version of the smaller Potato Head breakfast burger packs a hash brown, fried egg, double bacon, double cheese and a lip-tingling house-made chipotle sauce on a semi-sweet brioche-like bun. And yet, it doesn’t feel like a total pigout. It’s a Goldilocks breakfast – not too big, not too small, not too rich, not too bland. Just right.
- Nick Connellan, publications director

Scram, Egglab Brunswick
Another slow year meant the highlight of many weekend mornings was taking a walk to Egglab and sinking my teeth into its perfected scrambled egg roll. A golden cloud of scrambled eggs with chives, caramelised onion and house-made chipotle (I like to throw a hash brown in there, too) gave me a much-needed bump of serotonin whenever I was feeling lazy, hopeless, disassociated – or all of those things. Grab some OJ, coffee and waffle fries on the side and you’ve got yourself a good time, regardless of the state of the world.
- Scott Renton, Scout editor

French-dip sandwich, Jolly Good Sandwiches
Just when you thought you were getting sick of sandwiches (jokes, you infidel), chef Raphael Exton Pery introduces the French dip at his corner shop in a bottle shop. Technically an American invention, the sourdough baguette roll is layered with roast beef, Swiss cheese and mustard, plus a dippy container of house stout gravy. You could easily split a sandwich with a mate for lunch. Just make sure they’re happy to double dip like the pandemic ain’t no thang.
- Sofia Levin, writer

Falafel pita, Wazzup Falafel
When it comes to falafel, I’m usually loyal to Half Moon. But after discovering Wazzup Falafel in Preston, I can’t help but stray. The Palestinian-owned food truck makes a mean falafel pita, best enjoyed with a heavy lashing of chilli and some fried eggplant. If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, tack on a few of their onion-and-herb-stuffed falafel balls.
- Quincy Malesovas, writer

The Ron, Pizza Shop
Traditionalists, take a hike. The Ron is (or, sadly, was) Pizza Shop’s cheeseburger pizza special during those dark winter months. And it gave my Friday nights a sense of purpose. Slivered white onion, a light drizzle of mustard, chopped pickles and chunks of hamburger beef on that dirty (but incredible) burger cheese. Why couldn’t they keep it forever? Did it even really exist to begin with? Pizza Shop’s sourdough pizza base is about as good as it gets, so even if The Ron is gone, I’m still going back for the Nonna (confit garlic, provolone and really great greens) and cannoli every week.
- Evan Jones, writer

Reuben, Picnic
The Reuben at Picnic holds a special place in my heart. It got me through some dire lunch situations during lockdown, and now I’m addicted. Sitting between two thick-cut slices of perfectly toasted crusty bread is that classic flavour pairing of corned beef, cheese and plenty of sauerkraut. Topped with a gherkin for good measure, not all heroes wear capes.
- Samantha Schultz, photographer

Chai-spiced cinnamon scroll, Parker Bros Bakery (online)
I spent 20 minutes scrolling through my camera roll trying to jog my memory about all the delicious things I’ve eaten this year. There were a few things that made my “favourites” album before I remembered the criteria for this story: the venue had to have opened this year (or late ’20 at a stretch). Then, like my first vodka shot out of lockdown, it hit me: Parker Bros’ chai-spiced cinnamon scroll. The dough is infused with a tea blend from the Melbourne-based Monk’s Chai and smeared with a chai-and-cream-cheese icing. It’s dense, in the best way, and made even better by a 12-second zap in the microwave. A box of these arrived at my door in the depths of Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, just when I needed it most.
- Stephanie Vigilante, social-media editor

Roasted-potato crème caramel, Aru
I’ve had a lot of crème caramels in my life. Leche flan, the Filipino version, might be my favourite dessert of all time. And I’ve tried a lot of interesting variations too: cream cheese, lemon and ube among them. But I’ve never had anything quite like the one at Aru. The texture is rich and velvety, while the flavour is subtle: it definitely doesn’t scream potato, but it’s familiar enough that you’ll think whatever it is is just on the tip of your tongue.
- Chynna Santos, editorial assistant and Things To Do editor

Fior di latte soft serve, Di Stasio Pizzeria
There’s been a lot of hype around Di Stasio Pizzeria finally opening. Everyone’s talking about the courtyard. The pizza. The art. They clearly haven’t tried the fior di latte soft serve. Served in an emerald-green martini-like glass with a gold spoon, it’s churned from the house fior di latte made at the St Kilda venue, drizzled with Mount Zero olive oil and served on top of olive-oil cake that’s both spongy and cooked into croutons. Mamma mia!
- Sofia Levin, writer

Cotton sponge cake, Attica Summer Camp
Imagine the best barbeque you’ve ever been to. I’d wager Ben Shewry’s here-for-a-good-time-not-a-long-time Attica Summer Camp was better. The fire-powered snacks, the million-dollar view, one soundtrack to rule them all. But that genius roving dessert trolley nearly had me put my neck out. Calling my name was the lofty cotton sponge cake; it was moist (sorry), ultra-light and the result of three months of development. Shewry said it best: “It reminds people of their grandmother’s sponge and then they eat it and say, ‘Wow, that’s nothing like my grandmother’s sponge.’”
- Tomas Telegramma, Melbourne editor

Avokaya, Furrmien
I like avocado. I like kaya (Southeast Asian coconut jam). I had never thought to combine them but after trying Furrmien’s avokaya, I can’t imagine having them any other way. Creamy and subtly sweet with that distinctive avo nuttiness, this is the condiment you never knew you needed.
- Quincy Malesovas, writer