News: And then there were Three. The SMH Good Food Guide Awards.

7 09 2010

Who would have expected that this year’s SMH Good Food Guide Awards would be even more dramatic than last year? Last year Chui Lee Luk was demoted to Two Hats at Claude’s and last night it was the turn of Wakuda Tetsuya and Tony Bilson to lose a Hat each at their restaurants. Only est., Marque, and Quay kept their Three Hats.

Tetsuya is Australia’s Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, or Ferran Adrià, and his restaurant is regularly named as one of the best in the world. Bilson’s was the most recent member of the Three Hat Club, joining in 2007, only two years after opening, but Tony Bilson is one of the great figures on the Sydney restaurant scene since opening Berowra Waters Inn in the 1970’s.

There is much talk of this signalling an end to fine dining in Sydney. I hope that’s not the case. We have been spared the worst of the Global Financial Crisis in Australia, but a reaction to the GFC has been a move towards less formal dining. In New York and London the days of top-end fine dining restaurants being profitable only thanks to a handful of people spending an arm and a leg on wine are over. I hope that there will again be a place for crisp white tablecloths, large kitchen brigades, and armies of smartly uniformed but unobtrusive waiters.

That said I am a big fan of the focus on excellent produce and simple flavours that has spread through the Sydney dining scene in recent years. I’m pleased that the often clever for the sake of being clever phase of molecular gastronomy has passed and these highly scientific techniques are only used when they add something to the flavour of the food. People want to know where their food comes from, and they want to celebrate the produce rather than the chef’s ego, and I think that’s a good thing.

Movement over the years:

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Bilson’s

opened

☆☆

☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆

Claude’s

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

u/s

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆

☆☆

est.

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

Guillaume at Bennelong

☆☆

☆☆

☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆☆

☆☆

☆☆

☆☆

Marque ☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆
MG Garage ☆☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ closed
Pier ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆
Quay ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆
Rockpool ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆
Tetsuya’s ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆

☆☆

Notes: Bilson’s opened in 2004 and was unscored until 2005. Claude’s was unscored in 2005 being the year Chui Chee Luk took over from Tim Pak Poy. MG Garage closed its doors in 2006. Pier returned its three hats in 2010.

So what happened to Tetsuya’s and Bilson’s? Did they drop the ball or did the rules of the game change? I suspect the latter, with perhaps an element of Terry Durrack marking his territory as the returning chief critic at the SMH.

I do hope that next year will see another shakeup at the lower levels. The field is now particularly diverse at the Two Hat level. Four in Hand for instance is a great restaurant and thoroughly deserves its two hats, but it’s not on the same level as Tetsuya’s. As you can see from the table above, the remaining Three Hatters all had Three Hats in 2004. It’s about time we had some new blood at the top.

Tom

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