I am excited. I have been excited for some time having booked at Brae close to five months ago. But now I am heading to The Age Good Food Guide restaurant of the year and on the first Saturday after it has been crowned!
It’s a bit of good luck and good planning. There is a lot of ill feeling towards food guides in general, but they are all too often misunderstood. Basically, it gives the publisher a once-a-year opportunity for their publication to be more broadly and generically publicised. It is great for the restaurants who get awards and/or acclaim (hats in the GFG and stars for AGT) and it does help grow their business and the industry, but they completely understand that you need a bit of good luck on top of great execution and a special difference to get an award. It is not scientific, and it is extremely subjective. Like so many artistic awards, if you are towards the top of the tree, you are successful in your own right, and the recognition is a little bit of cream, rather than the objective.
There are thousands of restaurants. To all of those who say guides are irrelevant, I say if you can get a hat or a star, then you are worth trying out. There is no possible way any one person can attempt to try every restaurant in a city (let alone Australia) in the space of a year, so consistency is impossible. However, if several experienced diners have been to the same restaurant, and all have enjoyed their experience and rate the restaurant close to the top of their list, then that is compelling to me. Taking that into account is more important than arguing why one restaurant in the Australian Gourmet Traveller Top 100 is higher than another; as this is not going to bear any fruit whatsoever.
For any time starved person, whether it be work or family or other pursuits, using a guide is a savvy way to have more positive than negative experiences in restaurants. While guides like AGT are like my bible, it is not a blind following. There are restaurants that are going to be more suitable, more comfortable, more confronting, and more expensive, than the next. You still need to be picky, and match the destination with the company,and with the occasion. That being said, I have rarely been to two and three hatted/starred restaurants and had a mediocre experience.
I’m pleased the GFG chose Supernormal, which I reviewed recently, as the new restaurant of the year. I love Andrew McConnell’s diversity and the child of Golden Fields is a fantastic place to dine. I’m also pleased that Attica won the AGT restaurant of the year which has been dominated by Sydney over the past decade. I can understand why Rockpool, Momofuku Seiobo (see my recent review), and Quay round out the top four and hopefully my experience at Brae this weekend will measure up to its award as AGT regional restaurant of the year, and fifth in Australia. It is fantastic to see Cutler & Co also make the top ten in seventh (see my recent review). With Attica, Flower Drum, Vue de Monde, and Brae all receiving three hats in the Victorian GFG there is mainly consistency with AGT.
If you were to dine out at restaurants like these every day you would be quickly going broke. We need some diversity in our dining experiences and a quick look at the AGT Top 100 and the hatted restaurants in the GFG provide an excellent array of styles and cuisines. There is traditional and contemporary, expensive and reasonable, formal and informal, institutional and new. It’s exciting seeing the number of restaurants breaking new ground all around Australia and around Victoria.
The growth of the restaurant industry must present a daunting task for the various judges of these guides. The reward for the publisher comes in being able to promote to a broad audience the places that are worth some effort to try, whether it be to get a booking, to drive or fly, or simply wait in line. I applaud those who contribute to these guides, and look forward to ongoing debates about the relevance and accuracy of the guides.