Sometimes the world is too hard. The edges of reality are jagged and the future looms like a gritty sandstorm coming up fast on the horizon. At these times, there is only one thing to do. Retreat into the safe and comforting curves of a steaming bowl of molten cheese and carbohydrates.
Done right, this American classic can warm your insides like a long hug from a generously proportioned aunty. Just as an aunty doesn’t need truffle oil or a $22 price tag to give good hug, Sydney’s best takes on this dish are often the most simple.
Where: 182 Campbell Street, Surry Hills
Surry Hills newcomer Surly’s bucks the trend of most American-style diners in Sydney. Instead of serving up traditionally affordable southern fare for a gallingly expensive price, it serves up traditionally affordable southern fare for a moderately reasonable price (at least by local standards). At $5 a pop, their gooey side of mac n cheese is the best deal on the menu. It’s got a slightly chewy mouth feel, a peppery flavour and best of all – it also comes as a condiment on their beef brisket sandwich.
#2 GPO Cheese & Wine Room
Where: The Westin Sydney, 1 Martin Place, Sydney
You know a place is serious business when they have two mac n cheeses on their menu. One classes up the American overindulgence of adding bacon by using Italian sausage instead, while the other has four cheeses. The four-cheese version is tart, salty and slightly nutty – thanks to the mozzarella it has a great melty ‘pull’ effect, and the rest of the sauce is firm and creamy, not watery, as is sometimes the case when venues get creative with their cheese combinations. Both versions will set you back $13.50 and are filling enough to pass for a whole meal.
#3 Palmer and Co
Where: Abercrombie Lane, Sydney
Mac n cheese both is and isn’t the ideal food to eat when you’ve been drinking. It is because it’s salty, carb laden and could well cure what ails you. It isn’t because if you try and cook it at home after you’ve had a few, there’s a very good chance it won’t go well for you, your utensils or any other people standing near you. Which is why you should duck into Palmer and Co as a last port of call before lockout and eat theirs instead. Sure, it’s a loud venue with a prohibition vibe, but they nail the dish. At $8, theirs has a rich, creamy consistency and it’s served all night.
#4 Panama House
Where: 251 Westfield Road, Bondi
Though they claim their mac n cheese is ‘truffled’ there’s little hint of that decadently earthy flavour in Panama House’s piping $8 side dish. The cheese is still on the boil when they bring it out in an earthenware dish, and the tangy flavour and slightly crusty top more than compensates for the lack of truffle taste. Bonus points: every meal at Panama House comes with a trio of salsas, so you can spice things up if you feel the need.
Where: 143 Curlewis Street, Bondi Beach
If you’re after a properly truffled taste, Neighbourhood Bar’s ‘shroom-tastic iteration of mac n cheese is your best option. By adding dried porcini mushrooms as well as truffle oil, they really intensify the flavour – which is a little more delicate, and slightly sweeter than the rest of the options on this list. At $12, the portion isn’t huge but it tastes sufficiently indulgent to warrant the price tag.
#6 The Stinking Bishops
Where: 5/63-71 Enmore Road, Newtown
As you’d hope from anything with ‘stinking’ in its name, this hybrid deli/eatery is a love poem to cheese. By adding cauliflower, cashew and shallots, the Newtown-based fromagerie has upgraded what’s traditionally a side-dish to an actual proper meal – it’s even got veggies in it for #cleaneating. The fact it’s a whole meal is reflected in its price tag, $22, but if you order it you’re unlikely to be disappointed in the filthy rich, ever so slightly sweet flavour (or able to get through the whole bowl unaided).
#7 Plumer Road Chicken Shop
Where: 89 O’Sullivan Road, Rose Bay
Sometimes you just want basic, almost-from-the-packet mac’n’cheese, and lots of it. That’s what you’ll get at this Bellevue Hill institution, who will fill up a large takeaway container of the stuff for $7. You want half mac n cheese half pad thai? They can do this for you too. It’s a terrible idea, but they’ll do it.
#8 The Nighthawk Diner
Where: Various locations around Sydney
This food truck doesn’t have a fixed location (because it’s a food truck) but they do have what is probably the best, worst-for-you vegetarian burger of all time. The mac’n’cheese burger. Yep. That’s right. Instead of a lentil patty or a portobello mushroom you get cheesey elbows of pasta. On a bun. Delish.
Alyx is the Fashion Editor of the Saturday Paper, fashion writer for The Guardian and a moonlight social consultant. Her favourite place is the rooftop garden at 10 Corso Como. For dessert, she always orders the cheese plate.