In terms of emphatic operatic farewells it surely compares to those of Melba, though for Guillaume Brahimi there will be no comebacks at Bennelong Point. The French-born chef who will soon bid adieu to the Sydney Opera House, tonight received not only the diva-like “Legend” prize at the The Sydney Morning Herald 2014 Good Food Guide Awards, his restaurant also scored three hats.
The first chef in four decades to truly make the challenging Opera House restaurant space work as well as Joern Utzon intended it to, Brahimi announced in July that he and the Opera House Trust would separate over culinary differences, with his eponymous Guillaume at Bennelong set to close at year’s end.
The cultural institution, celebrating its 40th anniversary next month, surprised many, least of all Brahimi, by tendering for a more populist “bistro-style restaurant, café and bar” to replace Guillaume at Bennelong’s uncompromising fine-dining approach. Brahimi, who intends to re-open elsewhere, has been elevated to three hats from two last year, and for the first time since 2008.
“We talk a lot about the ‘death of fine dining’,” said Joanna Savill, editor of the Good Food Guide. “But it's not dead. And never will be. People will always seek out a special experience for a special occasion and Guillaume is well and truly capable of delivering that. That amazing space at Sydney Opera House is perfect for a special restaurant. We just hope there's another one waiting to move in.”
The three Michelin-star trained chef may have starred at Sydney’s annual awards for the culinary cognescenti held at The Star tonight, but fellow chef Ross Lusted, also attracted attention after being named chef of the year for The Bridge Room. Tetsuya’s-trained Martin Benn won restaurant of the year for Sepia.
But for others it was a case of taking the bad with the Good Food Guide. Mark Best’s Surry Hills eatery Marque was lopped of its coveted three hat status and relegated to two toques. Same for Peter Doyle’s est. Savill, said that reviewers experienced some “disappointing moments” at both establishments this year, which led to the hat slippage.
“It's always really hard to make these decisions,” she said. “These are amazing Sydney restaurants and ranked accordingly. But we put these Guides together for our readers and want to match their expectations. We felt that for a number of reasons neither restaurant was operating quite at the 18/20 level required to achieve three hats.”
Other notable demotions included Porteno, down from two hats to one, while Matt Moran’s Chiswick is hatless even though his flagship Aria retains its two toques. The long-standing Lucio's Italian Restaurant had its two hats restored, while a host of newcomers, MoVida, Monopole, Mr Wong, Kepos Street Kitchen and Gowings Bar & Grill, all received hats in their first year of business.
We talk a lot about the ‘death of fine dining’, but it's not dead. And never will be. People will always seek out a special experience for a special occasion and Guillaume is well and truly capable of delivering that.
Savill said that such new restaurants – all contenders for the best new restaurant of the year award - offered “freshness, excitement and originality” while Brahimi’s triumph at this year’s awards was a “great way to go out.”
His success tonight is certainly a peach melba in the face of the Trust, chaired by erstwhile News Corp boss Kim Williams.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2014 will be available for $10 with The Sydney Morning Herald this weekend, from participating newsagents, Coles and Woolworths, while stocks last. It will also be available in bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $24.99 from Tuesday, September 3.