Lifting the lid on The Age Good Food Guide 2015 finalists

Suzanne Carbone
Saint Crispin chefs Joe Grbac (left) and Scott Pickett. Pickett is nominated for Chef of the Year.
Saint Crispin chefs Joe Grbac (left) and Scott Pickett. Pickett is nominated for Chef of the Year. Photo: Wayne Taylor

It was the year restaurants popped up with more gusto than a pulsating popcorn machine and the salty snack became an entree, main course and dessert. Kale was fried into a chip and if diners suffered post-crunch guilt about a vegetable beings smothered with oil, they could go to a cafe and buy a healthy kale smoothie.

Casual dining was the rage and no, you couldn't book a table, making queuing – and grizzling with a rumbling stomach – the enforced past-time. That's the price to pay for restaurants being the new daytime nightclubs.

The bible on where's hot to see a menu and be seen, The Age Good Food Guide, celebrates its 35th edition and is the biggest edition yet with more than 650 restaurants, including 120 new entries.

A dish from Restaurant of the Year nominee Saint Crispin.
A dish from Restaurant of the Year nominee Saint Crispin. Photo: Daniel Mahon

The editor of the guide, Janne Apelgren, recalled: "When the first Guide was published in 1980, men were required to wear a jacket and tie at several Melbourne restaurants (even Florentino has abandoned this requirement now) and women were routinely given menus without prices."

French was one of the best-represented cuisines and now "contemporary" accounts for the largest number of restaurants, followed by Italian. Pasta is still on the boil, with one in seven restaurants in the guide being Italian.

Abla's and Vlado's appeared in the first edition 35 years ago, and are still listed, as is Florentino, now under Grossi family ownership. BYO restaurants dominated the listings, now purely BYO restaurants number just a handful. This year's nominees for Restaurant of the Year range from casual modern Asian to fine-dining degustation. There are three new awards: Local Hero, Where to Eat Now and Best Gourmet Getaway. The winners will be announced on Monday, August 25 and here are the finalists.

Gourmet getaway contender: Robin Wickens of the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld.
Gourmet getaway contender: Robin Wickens of the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. Photo: Eddie Jim

Chef of the Year (acknowledging a chef with the craft to deliver exceptional dining): Cory Campbell (Vue de Monde), Benjamin Cooper (Chin Chin, Kong), Dan Hunter (Brae), Andrew McConnell (five restaurants including Cutler & Co), Scott Pickett (Estelle Bar & Kitchen; Saint Crispin).

Restaurant of the Year (new, regional and metropolitan categories): Attica, Brae, Jim McDougall in Stefano's Cellar, Lake House, Prix Fixe, Saint Crispin, Supernormal, Tulip, Vue de Monde.

Young Chef of the Year: Joshua Pelham (Estelle), Vaness Mateus (Pope Joan), Thomas Woods (Woodland House), Timothy Martin (European), and Daniele Tarasco (No. 8 by John Lawson).

The Donlevy Fitzpatrick award for Best Bar with Food: Bellota (South Melbourne), Ombra (city), Bar Di Stasio (St Kilda).

Local Hero (for a restaurant that serves its loyal local following exceptionally well): Bistro Gitan (South Yarra), Da Noi (South Yarra); Hellenic Republic (Brunswick), Mister Bianco (Kew), Union Dining (Richmond), Union Food & Wine (Ascot Vale), Valentino (Toorak).

Where to Eat Now (for a restaurant that captures the mood of modern Melbourne dining, as nominated by Good Food Guide reviewers): Bar Lourinha (city), Huxtable (Fitzroy), the Town Mouse (Carlton).



Best Gourmet Getaway (for a restaurant that delivers destination dining, with accommodation to match): Lake House (Daylesford), Royal Mail (Dunkeld), Provenance (Beechworth).

Sommelier of the Year: Jane Semple (The Point), Banjo Harris Plane (Attica), Angie Giannakodakis (Epocha), Liam O'Brien (Cutler & Co), Stacey Lee Edwards (Lake House)

In the first edition of The Age Good Food Guide, 35 years ago, then-editor Claude Forell said an Age poll found that "dining out is a more popular leisure activity than going to parties, football or cricket, the races, the cinema, theatre or concerts".

The Age Good Food Guide 2015 co-editor Roslyn Grundy said: "So, it's situation normal. Thirty-five years on, Melburnians are still crazy about eating out, and sniffing out the latest 'It restaurant' is our favourite sport."

It must have been an Italian who invented the saying "We're all just killing time in between meals" and there's only ten days to wait to find out who's serving the best.

The Age Good Food Guide 2015 will be available for $10 with The Saturday Age on August 30 from participating newsagents. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at for $24.99. #goodfoodguide