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Opinion: The Age Good Food Guide - It's Hard to get a Hat

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It's hard to get a hat. The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2016 seemed like a shake up of sorts. We're sure all the restaurants were judged on their merits but there were as many "losers" as winners. Melbourne now only has two 3 hat restaurants - Attica and Brae (technically not Melbourne but regional).

Can we conclude that Sydney with a plethora of high end restaurants is the fine dining capital of Australia, with Melbourne the winner of the "mid end" casual scene? The stats would suggest that. Who then is the foodie capital of Australia? We like to enjoy it all; the perfect combination would be to take Sydney high end and combine with the Melbourne mid range. Brisbane and Hobart might have something to say about that being on the rise.

When you red through the guide cover to cover as we did over a long 4 hour lunch (rather approriate) you realise that many of the hatted restaurants of yesteryear are no longer hatted. Indeed some of them have been trending down over several years. Yes it's hard to get a hat. We applaud Woodland House for going from one hat to two, Lume for its debut hat, Minamishima (a name some people had trouble with possibly after a few drinks) to burst on to the scene with 2 hats, and all the other hat winners. Attica and Brae should also be congratulated (it's a long way to the top) for keeping their 3 hat status.

We also appreciate the cheap eats and cafe sections, for example. Well done to Delhi Streets who we highly rate ourselves, and to Shandong Mama for enriching our culinary scene. We note the trend to healthier eating cafes; becoming more Superfood bowl than burgers.

You can argue one way or another about several restaurants; but overall we think the Good Food Guide gets it about right (whether anyone cares about our opinion). One thing we can say is that we've personally been to the vast majority of the restaurants in the Good Food Guide, which is more than most.

Altair Restaurant in Warrandyte can lay claim to the best dining in the eastern suburbs with a score of 14.5; indeed they also scored higher than many of the big name wineries nearby.

When you get awarded a hat it's clear you need to keep working hard to keep it. Every year each restaurant is assessed through an exacting process; one cannot assume a restaurant is locked in for a hat for years to come. We feel that some restaurants have "hat moments" through the year but it's the consistency of hat quality day in and day out that is needed. Anyway we are not the reviewers, but rather opinionated bloggers. At least we can speak from a base of visiting hundreds of restaurants per year. And we reckon The Age gets it pretty damn right. What do you think?

Here is the press release:

In its first year of opening, quietly seductive Japanese restaurant Minamishima was named Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year at tonight’s The Age Good Food Guide Awards, presented by Vittoria Coffee and Citi.

The accolades didn’t end there for Minamishima, with manager and sommelier Randolph Cheung winning the Citi Service Excellence award, along with the restaurant taking home two chef’s hats.

Owner-chef Koichi Minamishima opened his eponymous restaurant in late 2014 offering omakase (chef’s choice) dining with one simple goal: “To fill each customer with joy through the art of sushi”. Coupled with Cheung’s seamless service and expert sake and wine matching, Minamishima has found the recipe for success.

All the awards, hats and top tips for dining over the coming 12 months in Victoria will be in The Age Good Food Guide 2016 on sale at participating newsagents, 7-Elevens and supermarkets from this Saturday, for the special price of $10 with The Age, while stocks last.  It can also be ordered online for $24.99.

Also winning two major awards was Birregurra restaurant Brae: the Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year and Citi Chef of the Year for owner-chef Dan Hunter. The restaurant, almost two hour’s drive from Melbourne, retained three hats, the Guide’s highest accolade.

Attica was the only Melbourne restaurant awarded three hats in the 2016 Guide. However, the two hat category increased from 16 to 20 restaurants in the past 12 months, with Minamishima, Circa, Moon Under Water, The Press Club and Woodland House all joining the two-hat ranks.

Pasta bar Tipo 00, run by a team who have worked at places like Saint Crispin, Estelle, Vue de Monde and the Grossi family’s Merchant, was the year’s Best New Restaurant.

The prestigious Young Chef of the Year titlechosen by industry veterans Alla Wolf-Tasker, Andrew McConnell and Philippe Mouchelwas awarded to George Tomlin of The Town Mouse in Carlton.

The Age Good Food Guide Editor Roslyn Grundy said Melbourne was continuing to cement its global reputation as a dining destination.

“You know you’re looking at an educated food city when some of the year’s hottest openings are a vegetarian fine diner, a dedicated pasta joint, a sushi restaurant and a diner devoted to Nashville-style hot chicken,” said Grundy.

Three new awards were added to this year’s Guide. ASRC Catering, which creates training and work opportunities for asylum seekers, picked up the inaugural Food For Good Award, celebrating innovation, charity and sustainability. Vibrant Indian diner Delhi Streets in Melbourne was named Best Cheap Eat; and crowd favourite Red Spice Road in Melbourne received the People’s Choice Award, based on a huge poll of diners.

Regionally, the big winner was Central Victoria with four restaurants (Catfish, Ballarat; The Good Table, Castlemaine; Masons of Bendigo, Bendigo; and Public Inn, Castlemaine) earning their first chef’s hat.  The Mornington Peninsula also shone with Ten Minutes by Tractor awarded two hats, and Montalto, Paringa Estate, and Port Phillip Estate all with one hat.

The top suburbs and towns for dining excellence based on number of hatted restaurants are Melbourne (23), Southbank (six), Richmond (four), Carlton (three), Fitzroy (three), St Kilda (three), Red Hill South (three), Collingwood (two), South Yarra (two), Castlemaine (two), and Daylesford (two).

A total of 15 awards were presented, recognising the talent, depth and diversity of Victoria’s restaurant scene.

        Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year: Minamishima, Richmond

        Best New Restaurant: Tipo 00, Melbourne

        People’s Choice Award: Red Spice Road, Melbourne

        Citi Chef of the Year: Dan Hunter, Brae

        Young Chef of the Year: George Tomlin, The Town Mouse

        Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year: Brae, Birregurra

        Food For Good Award: ASRC Catering

        Best Cheap Eat: Delhi Streets, Melbourne

        Citi Service Excellence: Randolph Cheung, Minamishima

        Vittoria Coffee Legend (for an outstanding long-term contribution to the industry): Gail and Kevin Donovan, Donovans

        Best Bar: Romeo Lane, Melbourne

        Donlevy Fitzpatrick Award (honouring restaurant-quality food in a bar setting): Bar Clarine, Fitzroy

        Champagne Pol Roger Sommelier of the Year: Meira Harel, Lake House

        Wine List of the Year: Woodland House, Prahran

        Regional Wine List of the Year: Ten Minutes by Tractor, Main Ridge

The Age Good Food Guide and Awards are presented by Vittoria Coffee and Citi. For more information on the winners

Hatted restaurants:

City & Suburbs

Three hats


Two hats

Circa, Cutler & Co, Ezard, Flower Drum, Grossi Florentino Upstairs, Matteo’s, Minamishima, Moon Under Water, The Press Club, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Saint Crispin, Spice Temple, Vue de Monde, Woodland House

One hat

Bacash, Bistro Guillaume, Bistro Vue, Cafe Di Stasio, Cecconi’s Flinders Lane, Centonove, Coda, Cumulus Inc., Da Noi, Dandelion, Donovans, Easy Tiger Smith St, Epocha, European, The Grand, Huxtable, 
Il Bacaro, Kappo, Kenzan, Longrain, Lume, Maha, Merricote, Mister Jennings, MoVida, MoVida Aqui, 
No. 8 by John Lawson, O.My, Pei Modern, The Point Albert Park, Pure South, The Roving Marrow, Sarti, Stokehouse City, Supernormal, Tipo 00, Tonka, The Town Mouse, Union Dining


Three hats

Brae (Birregurra)

Two hats

Gladioli (Inverleigh), Lake House (Daylesford), Provenance (Beechworth), Royal Mail Hotel (Dunkeld), Ten Minutes by Tractor (Main Ridge)

One hat

A La Grecque (Aireys Inlet), Broadgauge (Wodonga), Catfish (Ballarat), Chris’s Beacon Point (Apollo Bay), Eleonore’s (Yering), The Good Table (Castlemaine), Kazuki’s (Daylesford), Masons of Bendigo (Bendigo), Montalto (Red Hill South), Paringa Estate (Red Hill South), Port Phillip Estate (Red Hill South), Public Inn (Castlemaine), Simones Restaurant (Bright), Source Dining (Kyneton), The Stag (Port Fairy), Stefano’s (Mildura), Tani Eat & Drink (Bright), Terminus at Flinders Hotel (Flinders), Terrace Restaurant (Wahgunyah), Tulip (Geelong)

The Age Good Food Guide 2016 will be on sale at participating newsagents, 7-Elevens and supermarkets from Saturday, 26 September for the special price of $10 with The Age, while stocks last.  It can also be ordered online for $24.99.

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