1. Helsinki by Mikko Takala
Less formal and fussy fare awaits diners in the Finnish capital but they shouldn’t ignore one of Europe’s finest restaurants.
The Helsinki food scene in 2020 will witness a shift away from fine dining towards a more casual style of cooking, even home-style dishes, as restaurants offer simple, no-nonsense servings at more affordable prices.
The New Nordic trend will continue but in a less dogmatic, more approachable style. This means that the restaurants will still focus on the provenance of their ingredients while taking inspiration from other cultures, as well as the Nordic styles of old.
A good example of this will be Lucy in the Sky Restaurant, my personal pick for 2020. Located in an enticing setting on top of a high-rise by the sea, it focuses on farm-to-table ingredients and wild herbs while drawing inspiration from Japan and Asia. Finnish and Japanese cuisine have many elements in common and the mix is set to be very interesting.
Visitors to Helsinki should try the Palace Restaurant. It is unapologetically fine dining and very pricey but it is one of the best European restaurants I have eaten in for years. I’d also recommend Grön, Inari, Penélope and BasBas for a more affordable and relaxed approach.
About the critic: Mikko Takala is a Finnish food writer and author. He contributes to various Finnish newspapers and magazines and has written several cookbooks and travel guides.
2. Hong Kong by Janice Leung Hayes
The current volatility will impact on the city’s hospitality scene but you just can’t keep a good restaurant down.
Hospitality veterans in protest-hit Hong Kong are preparing for tough and uncertain times. But even as visitor numbers slump and some tables empty out, restaurateurs are putting on a brave face. What’s more, a fair share of investors and chefs are pressing on with new openings – and in a rather big way.
A sizeable corner of Tsim Sha Tsui, the touristy and well-trodden waterfront district, has been reborn thanks to homegrown property developer New World – The Rosewood Hotel and K11 Musea mall are among the new openings here. Dining options in the area are numerous and will continue to increase well into 2020.
The most anticipated of these is Bayfare Social, a glamorous, Spanish-inspired food hall conceived by Parts and Labor Design. In the same area, fêted baker Dominique Ansel is slated to open patisserie Dang Wen Li which, judging by the name, is eyeing expansion in China.
Yenn Wong, ceo of hospitality group jia, has a knack of introducing Hong Kong to rising stars such as Jason Atherton and Julien Royer. Due to celebrate a decade in business, she has picked Mirazur alumnus Ricardo Chaneton to lead her new contemporary French fine diner Mono.
Many of the city’s best Cantonese restaurants are taking a more detailed look at the areas around the Pearl River Delta for niche ingredients and lost recipes. You’d do especially well to head to The Chairman, one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated Cantonese restaurants. Its new menu features a specific breed of goose from the city of Foshan, roe from estuary crabs and house-pickled chillies inspired by village recipes.
The city’s insatiable demand for meat was made embarrassingly clear when it was revealed during the Amazon fires that most of Brazil’s beef exports end up in Hong Kong. Advocates for a more sustainable way of eating are now more active than ever, with chef and founder Peggy Chan leading the way. Fresh from opening her fine-dining vegan restaurant Nectar she is launching a cooking school called Pollen Lab to inspire diners to graduate from beef to beets. There’s plenty to stew over in Hong Kong when it comes to politics; luckily, the food scene has provided us with lots to chew over too.
About the critic: For the past decade, Janice Leung Hayes has been a food critic and writer for publications such as the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Tatler and Travel 1 Leisure.
3. Rachel Roddy’s Rome
The Italian capital excels in getting the best out of the basics and an increasing number of innovative venues are happy to play on that.
Fifteen years after ending up in Rome on a whim, Rachel Roddy lives in the Testaccio district and has become an important culinary voice when it comes to Roman restaurants. She has a weekly column in The Guardian and several books under her belt.
This London-raised writer can be held partly responsible for elevating the understanding and appreciation of la cucina romana in the Anglosphere. Her tastes and talent as a cook and writer are linked to home cooking and simple grub; things with which Roman cuisine are synonymous. “In its body Rome is a big city but in its stomach it is a little village,” says Roddy, describing the traditional rough-and-ready palate that dominates the Italian capital. It’s hard, therefore, for her to talk of trends but the subtle evolution of the quintessential trattoria into something contemporary is exciting.
One such “neo-trattoria” is SantoPalato, where young head chef Sarah Cicolini is “going back to her Abruzzo roots while being fresh and playful”, says Roddy. Here you’ll find tripe (a Roman delicacy) but also braised peas with egg and parmesan – a riff on traditional pea and pasta soup. The proliferation of pizzerias in the city fascinates Roddy. “Pizza is an incredibly successful formula for eating out,” she says, citing 180g Pizzeria Romana, Pizzarium Bonci and Trapizzino as worthy of hype. “At heart, Rome’s appetite is grounded in dough and tomato.”
About the critic: Rachel Roddy’s next book, An A–Z of Pasta, which she attests will be about “far more than pasta grannies”, will be published by Penguin in 2020.
4. Amy Rosen’s Toronto
The dynamism and diversity of Canada’s largest metropolis are reflected in its slew of bold and forward-thinking establishments.
Unlike the spoiled residents of Rome or Paris, Toronto natives don’t possess a storied culinary history or singular food stuffs that define their city. Instead its kitchens are propelled by youth and diversity: its residents come from more than 100 nations. “Borderless and unfussy, [Toronto is] young and free,” says food critic Amy Rosen, summing up the state of the city’s culinary scene.
“Casual settings with interesting wine cards that complement thoughtful shared plates are the common denominator,” says Rosen of the restaurants setting themselves apart in Canada’s largest city. She points to upscale French diner Aloette – the younger sibling of Alo, regularly cited as Canada’s best restaurant – for its wedge salad and lemon meringue pie. At Donna’s, a west-end snack bar helmed by a team of Momofuku veterans, “every table seems gifted with plump shrimp-salad sandwiches and ham-and-bread plates”.
The culinary scene is shifting – but with change comes opportunity. “Toronto restaurants don’t see it as a loss when forced to recalibrate,” says Rosen. David Chang’s Daisho and Shoto, for instance, have shut to give way to Kojin, Momofuku’s wood-fired steak joint. “The Black Hoof, arguably the pivotal player in igniting Toronto’s modern culinary scene a decade ago, has been reopened as Bar Vendetta by the same owners,” says Rosen. “With youth comes courage.”
About the critic: Formerly the editor in chief of Modern Farmer and food editor at Chatelaine, Rosen also served as the first food critic for EnRoute¸ Air Canada’s in-flight magazine.
5. Sydney by Terry Durack
Expect a celebration of excellent seafood on menus this year, while the city’s nightlife is also set to get an overdue shot in the arm.
As the ongoing drought in New South Wales impacts on beef and lamb prices, restaurateurs are finding new ways to cope. Italian food, never far away, is a big growth area, thanks to its emphasis on pasta and pizza. Overall there’s a shift to coastal cuisine, including new uses for seaweed, sea urchin and sea succulents, as well as a lot of fin-to-tail among chefs such as Josh Niland of Saint Peter and the Fish Butchery. If all you want to do in Sydney is eat simple fish and seafood next to the water, make for Cirrus at Barangaroo, the reinvented Bathers’ Pavilion on Balmoral Beach or Fred’s on Oxford Street in Paddington.
We’re finally seeing Indigenous talent in our kitchens thanks to the National Indigenous Culinary Institute, which trains chefs with industry leaders such as Neil Perry of Rockpool Bar & Grill, and Guillaume Brahimi of Bistro Guillaume. I’m looking forward to The Gidley, a steak-and-martini concept from the team behind the very Florentine Bistecca. And it will be fascinating to see how Parramatta develops into a “second city”, with chefs wondering whether to head to the western suburb.
As Sydney’s barbaric licensing laws are finally repealed, Mary’s Underground is ready with live music every night of the week, and the Prince of York has installed a perfectly pink basement bar called Pamela’s with a permanently rotating disco ball.
About the critic: As chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide 2020, Terry Durack knows his way around Sydney’s dining scene.