Despite the general tenor of last year (“ugh” is a universal descriptor), a lot of good things happened. And a lot, surprisingly, in the restaurant world. Even more surprisingly, a lot happened in the city – an area of Sydney widely reported to have suffered the most. That’s something to be celebrated.

Restaurants in the CBD and surrounds need your support more than ever, so Good Food is putting out an all-points SOC (Save Our City) call to anyone who is hungry.

To aid you in this delicious mission, we’ve rounded up everything you might have missed over the past year, from new restaurants to old favourites doing new things.

A’mare: that’s Alessandro Pavoni’s new love

Grand old Italian opulence is the theme here. Picture George Clooney’s Lake Como loungeroom, where he drinks his morning espresso and evening martini, and you’re probably pretty close. Chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio at the Spit, Chiosco) offers big northern Italian flavours in big, brassy surrounds. The pitch here is old-school service and old-school dishes, both executed with that particular flavour of flashy refinement Sydney loves so much. Fresh pesto, made tableside, is a signature we can get firmly behind. Crown Sydney, level 1, 1 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo,

Calabria Panineria brings the breakfast sandwich

Sydney sandwich queen Marcella Nelson-Aebi is back on the scene with a brand new panineria, specialising in the sort of sambos you’ll start eating at lunch and finish for dinner. She even does a special breakfast menu – egg and sopressa salami on focaccia, Italian beef sausage and eggs fried in olive oil – if you want to begin the day with intent. Otherwise, order her signature schnitzel (so crisp, so juicy) or a ham and cheese jaffle. 252 George Street, Sydney

GOOD FOOD: Chinta Ria Buddha Love, 14 Nicole Walk, Darling Square, Haymarket. Siungapore Chilli crab. 20th February 2020, Photo: Wolter Peeters

The chilli crab at Chinta Ria Buddha Love. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Chinta Ria offers big Buddha love

Regulars of Chinta Ria’s original Darling Harbour site who have missed being greeted by chef-restaurateur Simon Goh’s three-metre laughing Buddha statue will be pleased to see it has taken pride of place at its new home at Darling Square. Here, in a canteen-style atmosphere, order carrot and potato curry puffs for just $3 a pop, roti with chicken curry sauce or a whole crab with all the trimmings including deep-fried Chinese-style bread to deal with the leftover sauce. Casual Malaysian food in very pretty surrounds and plenty of price points? Sold, to the Buddha in the front. 14 Nicolle Walk, Haymarket,

Good Food - Esteban, Sydney CBD. Terry Durack review. Taco al pastor. Photographed Thursday 29th October 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 201029

Taco al pastor is worth a double order at Esteban. Photo: James Brickwood

Esteban is two levels of good times, wood-fired meats and sipping tequilas

The team behind Paddington’s Tequila Mockingbird has transformed the old Grasshopper Bar site into a multi-level Mexican restaurant. Sip tequilas and scoff tortillas made in-house and a whole lot of grilled meats from the hefty ironwood-fuelled parrilla. Make sure to order the sweet potato tart, if only to say you tried sweet potato cream in a restaurant that also sells a reposado tequila for $300. 1 Temperance Lane, Sydney,

Everybody is popping up at PS40

It may be a sleek city bar and soda shop serving up sharply presented cocktails, but over the past year PS40 has started morphing into something so much more. Known for its out-there cocktail program, owner-bartender Michael Chiem and co have taken the spirit of experimentation and opened their space up to chefs who may not have permanent venues or just want to try something outside the box in a safe space. Takeover Tuesdays have hosted everyone from Big Sam Young to Graeme Hunt (Chin Chin, Spice Temple Melbourne) and Toby Wilson (Rico’s Tacos). The cooking lineup changes as often as the in-house cocktails – sign up to the newsletter to secure a table. Skittle Lane, Sydney,

Good Food. Ho Jiak Town Hall - traditional Malaysian food. William Xie and chef Junda Khoo were about to throw their third and largest Hojiak Malaysian restaurant open to the public when the Coronavirus lock-down came into force, and everything was put on hold. Now with the 50 people limit in place, the 250 seater is, at last, open. Char Kuey Teow with prawns. Photographed Thursday 4th June 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 200604

Char kwai teow is value-added with shellfish of your choice at Ho Jiak. Photo: James Brickwood

Ho Jiak Town Hall is all spice and very nice

It’s not lunch in the CBD unless you’ve spilled something indelible on yourself. And there’s no better place to do that than chef Junda Khoo’s new city restaurant, specialising in delicious, stainy foods (shout out to those laksa-filled dumplings) from the Malaysian city of Penang. If your hip pocket will allow it, go for the whole mud crab, wok-fried with butter and salted duck egg. And if not, their char kwai teow is legendary. 125 York Street, Sydney,

Kuon Omakase - new restaurant in Sydney 2020
Tuna sushi
Supplied photos

Tuna sushi at the tiny but mighty Kuon Omakase. Photo: Supplied

Kuon Omakase is the ultimate delicious trust exercise

Book way in advance for this 11-seat, “trust the chef” experience where you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Happily, what you get is nothing to get upset about. Here you’ll discover a daily-changing, 20-course degustation made up of highly styled Japanese dishes (truffled snow egg chawanmushi! Monkfish liver cooked in soy!) at the hands of chefs Hideaki Fukada and Jun Miyauchi. Shop 20, 2-58 Little Hay Street, Sydney,

Matt Moran takes over Chophouse menu

When Matt Moran and the Solomon family first took over the Sydney steakhouse back in 2016, they were management in name only. But in October last year, Moran stepped in and worked with head chef Scott Kim on developing the menu to incorporate more of his personal cooking aesthetic. Dry-aged steaks are still the main attraction here, but alongside those rib-eyes, T-bones and rump caps are anchovies and lardo on toast, chubby burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and beef tartare. The dining room has also had a makeover, with a whisky cart available for nightcaps. 25 Bligh Street, Sydney,

Terry Durack review at Monopole in the CBD. Merguez sausage with roasted fennel and harissa. 11th Dec 2020. Photo: Edwina Pickles / SMH

Merguez sausage with roasted fennel and harissa at the new Monopole. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Monopole has moved to the city

All-new moves in an all-new part of town for restaurateurs Nick Hildebrandt and Brent Savage. The two-hat wine bar, which previously occupied space on Macleay Street in Potts Point, now resides around the corner from sister restaurant The Bentley overlooking Australia Square. Here you’ll find all the hallmarks of the OG venue (the award-winning list, beautiful design by architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb), along with a reinvigorated menu (thanks to chef Brent Savage) that includes parmesan and caramelised onion gougeres and killer steak frites. 16-20 Curtin Place, Sydney,

Good Food. Bar review. Cantina OK at Council Place, Sydney CBD. A Bottle of Jorge Perez rattlesnake mezcal with small glass of mezcal and some grapes. ( watermelon was not available and the fruit changes every week) 21st march 2019. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

The Jorge Perez rattlesnake mezcal at Cantina OK! Photo: Edwina Pickles

New outdoor seating at Cantina OK!

One of Sydney’s smallest bars (when they opened, you would have been hard-pressed to squish in eight people) has now turned into a Sydney outdoor bar with Melbourne sensibilities. Thanks to a loosening of the rules around outdoor drinking and dining spaces, the OK! team was able to utilise the laneway to seat more guests, which means 30 people can now experience the joys of the hand-cranked ice machine, single estate mescals and excellent margaritas. Best of all, Sydney is finally getting the opportunity to utilise all that outdoor space the way it was intended – for fun. Council Place, Sydney,

GOOD FOOD - REVIEW. Leo at Angel Place, Sydney CBD. Macheroncini pasta with lobster. Photographed Tuesday 30th July 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 200630

Maccheroncini pasta with lobster at Restaurant Leo. Photo: James Brickwood

Restaurant Leo brings some sass to the classic business lunch

Love Federico Zanellato’s Japanese-flecked Italian food at LuMi? Miss Karl Firla’s tight, modernist cuisine at Oscillate Wildly before they shut up shop in 2019? Then hold onto your pearls, Sydney – the chefs have teamed up to bring the CBD a breezy, delicious and approachable Italian restaurant that ticks all the business lunch boxes with some hidden twists such as squid ink risotto and bagna cauda butter served with the house-made focaccia. Shop 1, 2-12 Angel Place, Sydney,

The SSO performing to diners at Bennelong Restaurant, Sydney Opera House.
The trend of 'dinner & a show' is making a comeback as diners are forced to stay seated when going out, so restaurants are adding in some entertainment to get punters in the door. It also helps performers who are still mostly without other gigs. The SSO has teamed up with Bennelong, which is finally reopening its doors on Thursday night, to provide diners with a concert to go with their meal.. 29th Oct 2020. Photo: Edwina Pickles / SMH

Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians treating Bennelong guests to dinner and a show. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Bennelong has changed the sound of Sundays

The recently launched Live at Bennelong series coincides with a brand new a la carte menu from chef Rob Cockerill. The three-course menu, which includes the likes of a salad of summer greens with feta, figs, pepitas, verjuice and a steamed murray cod with whole lemon cream, is available every Sunday from noon to 3.30pm, and is $160 a head, with a $30 cover charge for music. The music program, curated by Phillip Johnston, will include the likes of Tim Rollinson (D.I.G.) and Lloyd Swanton (The Necks) with special guests Jeremy Rose, Peter Dasent, Gary Daley, and Virna Sanzone. Bennelong Point, Sydney,

Sammy Jnr is set to change aperitivo hour

Panini and espresso by day, aperitivo by afternoon and cocktail bar by night? King Street just upped the game significantly thanks to Vince Lombardo and Stefano Catino – the duo behind Rocks cocktail bar Maybe Sammy. The venue, due to open in early March, will have a focus on cocktails on tap, and interior design work by architect-to-the-stars, George Livissianis. 66 King Street, Sydney,

Sergeant Lok restaurant, The Rocks
Food pic:Clockwise from 1pm. Snapper, shiitake, red chilli, first press soy, witlof Szechuan Pepper SquidKing prawns, kaffir lime, black vinaigretteOcean trout, red bean curd cure, pickled goji berry, crispy potato
Supplied PR pix

Clockwise from top right: Sergeant Lok’s snapper, Sichuan pepper squid, king prawns, and ocean trout. Photo: Supplied

Sergeant Lok brings mod-Chinese vibes to the old Sailors Thai site

Remember those heady days when the old Rocks police station housed gone-but-not-forgotten Sailors Thai? The site lives again as a modern Chinese restaurant named for the famously corrupt Hong Kong policeman, Lui Lok who terrorised the city back in the 1960s and ’70s. Expect to see tofu made from scratch in-house, shaoxing-glazed beef and smoked-and-barbecued duck. 127 George Street, The Rocks,

The three-martini lunch returns at Hubert

This one’s for all you Gerald Fords, Gordon Gekkos and Jordan Belforts. CBD French restaurant Hubert has brought back the long lost three-martini lunch – an institution born in the 1950s that died with the introduction of fringe benefits tax in 1986. The doors swing open every Thursday and Friday at noon for $11 martinis made any way you like. Order yours with gin, vodka, shaken, stirred, a lemon twist, on the rocks, cocktail onions or, as they suggest, “garnished with enough olives that you could call it lunch”. Order half a lobster, a steak, three martinis and sink into Friday in the time-honoured – by not going back to work. 15 Bligh Street, Sydney,

Quay menu changes

Chef Peter Gilmore has been busy, working behind the scenes on a few low-key menu changes at this three-hat dazzler. Beauty and intricacy are the names of the game on the plate, with those views out the window. Look out for poached marron with green almonds, pomelo and micro flowers, or a riff on his classic pork jowl dish. This iteration sees slow-cooked pork jowl bedded down in umami custard and black pig salami. Given the commitment it takes to nab a table at one of the world’s best restaurants, it’s probably worth strapping in for the sommelier’s selection drinks pairing as well. If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it properly. Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks,

Woodcut Terry Durack review. Brick chicken, fragrant lime, barberries. 14th Jan 2021. Photo: Edwina Pickles / SMH

Brick chicken with fragrant lime and barberries at Woodcut. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Woodcut, Sydney’s new Crown jewel

Ross and Sunny Lusted have moved into their new Crown Barangaroo restaurant, set about cooking a far-reaching menu using the powers of wood, charcoal and steam, and have scored themselves a 16/20 review from Good Food restaurant critic Terry Durack in the process. That’s a big three-from-three in anyone’s books. But if anyone is up to the task, it’s the Lusteds. Get in for pressed beancurd skewers with enoki mushrooms, steamed pipis flavoured with vadouvan, served with chickpeas and chickpea leaves, spiced Maremma duck, and grilled chicken with lime. Crown Sydney, level 1, 1 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo,