Award winners: The Age Good Food Guide 2015
Citi Chef of the Year: Andrew McConnell, pictured at his CBD restaurant Supernormal. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
- Chef of the Year
- Service Excellence Award
- Restaurant of the Year
- Innovation Award
- New Restaurant of the Year
- Regional Restaurant of the Year
- New Regional Restaurant of the Year
- Sustainability Award
- Legend Award
- Young Chef of the Year
- Sommelier of the Year
- Donlevy Fitzpatrick Award
Acknowledging a chef with the craft to deliver exceptional dining.
Does Andrew McConnell have a crystal ball? He can certainly predict how Melburnians want to eat - perhaps before we know. Supernormal, the seventh in his stable of zeitgeist-capturing restaurants (Cumulus Inc and Up, the Builders Arms, Moon Under Water, Cutler & Co and Luxembourg), proves him versatile as well as talented. He jumps from luxe Eurocentric food at Cutler & Co to pan-Asian street food at Supernormal.
As well as restaurants that hum from early to late, McConnell has given Melbourne a handful of the city's destination dishes. His New England lobster roll is a best seller at Supernormal, while it's the cracked wheat salad and tuna tartare at Cumulus Inc that he counts among his favourite dishes. It's still on the menu at Cutler & Co. Stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai, working with acclaimed Melburnian and restaurateur Michelle Garnaut, have shaped his style. But McConnell's had some other interesting gigs: cooking for entertainers as varied as Prince and Pavarotti. He and brother Matt McConnell were jointly named the Guide's Young Chefs of the Year in the 2002 edition, and Andrew was named Chef of the Year in 2007, 2010 and for the third time in the new 2015 edition.
With a CV that includes Tansy's, Jacques Reymond and Circa, through to his own early places (Diningroom 211, Mrs Jones, and Three, One, Two) he's been an integral part of shaping the way we eat in Melbourne now. And with young chefs rising through his restaurants, that influence will extend for years to come. Janne Apelgren
For top-level professionalism and hospitality.
Many Melburnians will have been welcomed to table by Angie Giannakodakis, at the first Press Club where she delivered warmth and good wine to diners, and now at her own restaurant, Epocha, in Carlton.
She's long been an advocate for the quality wines of Greece, bringing a refreshed enthusiasm for them from 12 years working in Athens' fine diners to the Press Club.
At Epocha regulars almost swoon in anticipation of slipping into the restaurant's hospitable embrace after a day at the office, and letting Giannakodakis recommend a glass (or often, half a glass) of this or that from the enticing wine list.
She is opening a second restaurant, Elyros, in Camberwell, with a menu of produce-based Cretan cuisine from a Michelin-trained chef, and booze-friendly mezze in the wine bar.
The opening of Elyros should enable Giannakodakis to continue to prove her mettle not only front of house and with fine drinking recommendations, but also as a restaurateur.
For a restaurant that sets a benchmark in everything it does.
It's one of Australia's most extraordinary (and, yes, expensive) restaurants, drawing guests from afar to the tiny town of Birregurra, and a chic, yet unstuffy dining room set in bountiful vegetable gardens with a backdrop of the oft-clouded Otways.
There's a Field of Dreams quality to Brae, at the end of a winding rural driveway. Chef Dan Hunter and partners built it, and diners have come. It's not easy to get to, especially if you want to partake in the stunning wine list, so driving is out of the question, but that's part of the adventure. As for the food, it's thrilling stuff, but there's blessedly little pomp, with cutlery-free starters such as beef tendon crisps dusted with pepperberry. Indigenous ingredients star, perhaps finger lime cells popping over braised wagyu short rib with shiitakes, lime and rock samphire.
So much about Brae is right: comfy leather chairs, a luxe room, smooth upbeat service, the perfectly paced parade of peerless dishes. All that's needed are a few more taxis and somewhere on-site to stay (coming summer 2015-2016). When the Guide dropped by, one local accommodation operator had just taken a booking from New Yorkers. Brae seems destined to find a spot on the global culinary tourist trail. Janne Apelgren and Larissa Dubecki
Acknowledging forward-thinkers who bring a new dimension to the way we eat.
If Federation Square were a flavour, it would be lemon. That's according to the swarms of pampered bees producing a citrusy honey in little landscaped bee villages in the city.
These are just several of more than 70 hives built and maintained around Melbourne by pioneer urban beekeepers Vanessa Kwiatkowski and Mat Lumalasi, founders of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey.
''We see honey as a byproduct of having happy, healthy bees,'' says Lumalasi.
The results are sweet: honey for home and restaurant use, beekeeping classes and a raised awareness of the plight of the honeybee. Globally, bees are falling victim to disease and threatening the natural food supply. ''Vanessa wanted to connect people with their food as well as educate the general public,'' says Lumalasi.
The pair's honey is in demand from restaurants like Attica and Cumulus Inc due to its unblended purity. Honey is reflective only of what is near the individual hives (in the case of Federation Square, lemon-scented gums by the Yarra). ''It's almost a terroir of honey,'' says Lumalasi. Janelle Carrigan
For the best addition to Melbourne dining in the past 12 months.
There's karaoke in the basement, greatest-hit dishes such as New England lobster roll and peanut butter parfait on the menu, some of the best bar perches in town, and no bookings at dinner unless you're bringing six of your best friends. Welcome to Andrew McConnell's modern-Asian metropolis. You can eat cheap or banquet hard, but it's fun, flexible and totally tasty. Inspired by McConnell's time working in Shanghai and Hong Kong, Supernormal's informal and a bit of a hoot. Booths are the go-to spots, while spontaneous dining is encouraged at the seats fronting the long open kitchen. If you find yourself waiting, there are Japanese snacks in the vending machine. Then add dumplings, and a raw bar menu that reviewer Larissa Dubecki described as ''a place of manifold pleasures''. Many will want to tick off the destination dishes - hello to that lobster roll and ''yes, please'' to peanut butter, caramel and chocolate parfait - but don't miss new classics such as the white-cut chicken with sesame and spring onion, or the easy-to-love fried custard with ginger syrup. More super than normal. Janne Apelgren
Great dining beyond the city limits.
Jim McDougall in Stefano's Cellar, Mildura
The slender, subterranean cellar beneath Mildura's Grand Hotel is one of Victoria's most interesting (and yes, romantic) restaurant spaces, and Jim McDougall's cooking more than does it justice. Stefano de Pieri remains an owner but has handed the restaurant on to McDougall. Yabbies, Murray cod and kangaroo feature in his modern six- or eight-course menu on which local produce stars, accounting for as much as 80 per cent of what's served. You may find yourself swiping yabby through luscious grape-crowned Murray cod liver parfait. The menu unfurls as a surprise, it's a generous procession with lots of little extras, from charcuterie of goat or venison to sublime tomato sorbet in gazpacho to fruit-jube petits fours. Service is smooth, it's luxuriously quiet apart from a just-right jazz soundtrack, and there's even a half-price degustation for junior gourmands. Chef McDougall previously worked alongside co-owner Stefano de Pieri, but apprentice is now conjurer in this alluring cave. Janne Apelgren
For the best addition to the dining scene beyond Melbourne in the past 12 months.
This second bloom from Matt Dempsey, of Inverleigh's Gladioli, this time with friend and collaborator Graham Jefferies, pairs sharp, pared-back Scandinavian decor with contemporary food. The chefs tip their hats to fashion without over-thinking things. There's a shared-table chefs' menu if you choose, plus slick staff and an all-Victorian wine list as smart as Tulip itself. Kind pricing, too.
For an individual or business that advances the cause of sustainability.
Lance Wiffen, Sea Bounty
Lance Wiffen has made sustainable seafood a delicious alternative for diners and cooks. Chefs become rhapsodic about Wiffen's blue mussels, and now his family-owned company, Sea Bounty, with 30 years in the fishing industry, has helped revive big, plump, native angasi oysters, farming them on leases deep among the sea grass at the bottom of Port Phillip Bay.
Wiffen is a seafood industry leader who has embraced technology to deliver high-quality mussels and angasi oysters to restaurant dining rooms and home kitchens in Victoria and across the nation. Twenty-five years ago he was dredging scallops in Port Phillip Bay, but moved across to the fledgling mussel aquaculture industry that saw native mussels bred in a hatchery then grown out on ropes suspended from floats off Portarlington. In 1990, he was selling 500 kilograms of mussels a week. Now that figure is 200 tonnes.
Two years ago he, along with colleagues, applied their experience in raising mussels to Port Phillip's indigenous oyster, the angasi. These large, flavoursome oysters were acclaimed by Melbourne's top chefs. Accredited by the WWF and ACF, his business is a sustainability success story. Richard Cornish
For an outstanding long-term contribution to the hospitality industry, chosen by Les Schirato of Vittoria Coffee.
Flower Drum will be 40 years young in 2015, and for 33 of those years, Anthony Lui has cooked there.
He became head chef in 1985, and one of the owners in 2001. More recently, the Guangdong, China-born chef has the Drum's culinary heart beating afresh, bringing excitement back to Cantonese cuisine in the graceful grande dame of a dining room in Market Lane. As a chef, he delivers dishes that let luxury produce shine.
Anthony Lui began his Flower Drum career with founder Gilbert Lau. Now he's a co-owner with partners Patricia Fung and William Shek, while his son, Jason, is the restaurant's general manager. Their secret, Jason Lui has said, is having loyal customers and equally loyal staff and remaining ''faithful to what we originally set out to do; cooking traditional Cantonese food''.
Many of the staff, both front of house and in the kitchen, have notched up two decades of service; while regulars have long included the city's rich and powerful. But in this celebrity-friendly spot, Anthony Lui's food is the real star.
Awarded for talent and potential by a panel of leading chefs.
As a teenager growing up in the Gippsland area, Timothy Martin was understandably short on Melbourne restaurant contacts. After watching a profile of Michael Lambie on the DVD series Kings of the Kitchen, Martin rectified that by writing to the famed chef and asking for a job. Lambie said yes.
That was 10 years ago, in the early days of Taxi Dining Room, and Martin worked his way through every section to eventually reach junior sous chef. After stints at Maris in Malvern and Berardo's at Noosa, Queensland, the 28-year-old is now head chef at the European, the city stalwart that encourages Martin to continue to develop his interest in classic, traditional fare.
''I prefer simple cooking,'' says Martin. Simplicity in fine dining belies strong and confident technique. Martin takes inspiration from masters such as David Thompson, whose attention to detail in classic Thai dishes at Nahm in Bangkok impresses the young chef. ''It's not like he changed the massaman curry,'' says Martin. ''He's done something simple that people enjoy but he's executed it perfectly.''
Martin is in no rush to open his own restaurant. He enjoys the management aspect of his role at the European, getting the best out of staff and keeping the complex machine running day after day.
''I'm a realist, I understand that a restaurant is a business,'' says Martin, who has done business-management study. ''A lot of restaurants open and close but we're full every day. If you do the right thing and you're doing what people want, you can be successful.''
Martin's signature dish: Wet roasted lamb on the bone with a brioche crust and salted cucumbers. Janelle Carrigan
From a super yacht in the south of France to Thomas Keller's French Laundry, at 28 Joshua Pelham has garnered the experience and skills that make him the sort of chef ''you'd have in your kitchen in a heartbeat'', in the words of one of our judges. He was an apprentice at Matteo's, and also worked at London's Michelin-starred the Square, and at George Calombaris' Press Club, before settling in as head chef at Northcote's Estelle in March this year.
More than once he's found himself in the right place at the right time. ''I was fortunate enough to have worked as a private chef on a super yacht in the south of France, where I met chef Thomas Keller. I gave him a copy of my CV and six months later I was staging [an intern] at the French Laundry,'' Pelham says, naming this a highlight of his career. Growing up in Adelaide, Pelham homed in on the chef's life as one that appealed when he was about 15. ''It was the whole experience of being in the kitchen, the camaraderie and freedom of expression,'' that appealed, he says.
As well as working alongside one of America's greatest chefs in Keller, Pelham spent five years as senior sous chef with London's Phil Howard, at the Square, then Howard's next restaurant, W8, which won a Michelin star in its first year. Now ensconced at Estelle, Pelham names its chef, Scott Pickett, as well as Phil Howard as his mentors. Though he's doing what he loves, Pelham says the profession is not without its challenges, which include ''understanding that if you commit to a job that you will be rewarded, but these rewards do not come overnight, it may take years.''
Pelham's signature dish: Wagyu rump, bone marrow and eggplant. Janne Apelgren
Awarded for knowledge, service and the ability to assemble an appealing wine list.
Banjo Harris Plane
Having grown up around his parents' restaurants gives Attica's manager an ease that rubs off on guests, as well as his team. Despite being only 30 years of age, Harris Plane has managed to curate a wine list that celebrates his knowledge of European wines, while showing his fearlessness in embracing the new and daring (orange and natural wines).
''We've seen an increase in the number of people either wanting to be guided to something unusual, or even picking the more esoteric,'' says Harris Plane.
''Better yet, my generation is getting in on the act as well.''
He's possibly the only sommelier in Australia presiding over a list of house-made juices, too. And if that isn't enough to keep him busy, Harris Plane is squeezing in at least two hours of study a day towards the final examination for entry into the Court of Master Sommeliers. If he passes in October, he will join only a handful of fellow Australian Masters.
The big question is: what does Harris Plane have left to achieve? He's the one to watch. Janelle Carrigan
To honour that unbeatable combination of a great bar with great food.
Jars of olives in golden oil, timber beams hung with ropes of garlic and chillies, and amber lighting give this salumiere a timeless quality. Carlo Grossi is the third generation of the Grossi family to offer hospitality on this stretch of Bourke Street. Sneaker-clad, he works the floor, ferrying snacks, freshly hewn salumi and blistered pizzas, and talking about the wines and menu like the food savant he is. Ombra has professionalism and smarts, but also the warmth that comes with being part of a family business.
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 theageshop.com.au/theagegfg2015 for $24.99. #goodfoodguide