Looking back on 35 years of The Age Good Food Guide

The Age Good Food Guide 1988/89.
The Age Good Food Guide 1988/89. 

Thirty-five years ago, a gentleman required a jacket and tie to enter Florentino's Mural Room, French cuisine reigned supreme, and the mark of an attractively informal restaurant was a guitarist/folk singer strolling from table to table to play requests.

This year marks the 35th edition of The Age Good Food Guide, with the awards being held tonight at the National Gallery Victoria. 


Follow the #goodfoodguide hashtag on Twitter from 7.30pm tonight for the live results as they happen. Visit goodfood.com.au from about 9pm for full coverage.


Since 1980, the Guide has been charting the changing face of Melbourne dining.

The Age Good Food Guide 1992/93.
The Age Good Food Guide 1992/93. 

In that first edition, we reviewed buffets and carveries, restaurants specialising in smorgasbords and pancakes, and saw the first signs of Melbourne's crush on sushi, or "vinegared rice hors d'oeuvres", to quote the reviewer of the day.

Since then, we've witnessed the decline of "international" restaurants and the development of a modern Australian cuisine - yet we're no closer to defining it precisely. We've followed the careers of key influencers such as Hermann Schneider, Stephanie Alexander, Greg Malouf, Alla Wolf-Tasker and Gilbert Lau.

And we've observed restaurants and diners grappling with change: the early '90s recession, liquor licensing law reform, smoking bans, the introduction of GST, the rise of no-bookings restaurants and celebrity-chefs-as-rockstars.

In fact, as the Guide's introduction has frequently observed, change is the one constant in the restaurant industry.

Here are some of the highlights of the past 35 years.


The first edition of The Age Good Food Guide, published in 1980.
The first edition of The Age Good Food Guide, published in 1980. Photo: Fairfax archive

The first Age Good Food Guide is released. Why? Because, as editor Claude Forell writes in his introduction, an Age poll found "dining out is a more popular leisure activity than going to parties, football or cricket, the races, the cinema, theatre or concerts".

Hot dish: Seafood sausage with cream and green peppercorn sauce, Fanny's.


The Age Good Food Guide 1995/1996.
The Age Good Food Guide 1995/1996. 

Nouvelle cuisine arrives on the dining scene, causing a ripple. Some welcome its focus on fresh ingredients, natural flavours and attractive presentation. But unkind critics label it "small helpings on large plates at high prices".

Hot dish: Pastry-baked lamb loin with a trio of vegetable purees, Rogalsky's Hot Pot Shop.


The Age Good Food Guide 1997.
The Age Good Food Guide 1997. 

BYO restaurants still outnumber licensed premises five to one, the result of Victoria's quirky and restrictive licensing code.

Hot dish: Supreme of chicken with gruyere and green peppercorn sauce, Maria & Walter's.


The Age Good Food Guide 2002.
The Age Good Food Guide 2002. 

It's the era of the creative restaurant name. Among the year's listings: Prunella and the Priapic Prawn, the Great Australian Bite, and the Jolly Puddler.

Hot dish: Veal noisettes with lime glaze, John Smith's.


The Age Good Food Guide 2004.
The Age Good Food Guide 2004. 

Glo Glo's is dubbed "the place for a special occasion", Tansy's is the year's best new restaurant and the Source in Geelong is "by far the best restaurant in the country". Lake House - "worth a special trip to Daylesford" - makes its first appearance in the Guide.

Hot dish: Trout and smoked salmon mousse wrapped in sorrel leaves with a champagne sauce, Two Faces.


The Age Good Good Guide 2009.
The Age Good Good Guide 2009. 

The Health Commission embarks on a voluntary six-month trial to encourage restaurateurs to set aside separate areas or tables for smokers. Mietta's moves from Fitzroy to the CBD with its "brilliant French chef, Jacques Reymond", and the Flower Drum is touted as perhaps the country's best Chinese restaurant.

Hot dish: Creole-style blackened redfish, Slattery's.




Legislative changes nix the tax-deductible meal, immediately affecting the long business lunch, although fewer restaurants close than initially feared. Gilbert Lau opens a second Flower Drum in Market Lane, and "admirable new bistro" France-Soir is an instant hit.

Hot dish: Minced quail, bamboo shoots and mushroom wrapped in a crisp lettuce leaf, Flower Drum.


Rosati, a "Roman cathedral of a cafe", opens in Flinders Lane with Ronnie di Stasio as co-owner and capo sala (maitre d'). Iain Hewitson's Last Aussie Fishcaf, a 1950s-style fish cafe "wonderfully reinterpreted for the 1980s", is the year's most exciting new restaurant.

Hot dish: Assiette de crustaces (a selection of seasonal crustaceans and shellfish), Jean Jacques by the Sea.


New liquor laws allow licensed restaurants to use up to a quarter of their area for drinks only. Stephanie Alexander's Hawthorn restaurant Stephanie's is declared the finest restaurant in Melbourne.

Hot dish: Fish and shellfish consomme with prawn wontons and shellfish, Tansy's.


For the 10th edition, the Guide controversially introduces half hats - intermediate gradings between one and three - to signify the fine differences between top restaurants. Jacques Reymond leaves Mietta's to open his own restaurant in Richmond.

Hot dish: Baked chevre parcels with black olive puree, Watson Place Restaurant.


Increasing costs, competition and high interest rates make it a year of living anxiously. Greg Brown sells Paysan and opens Browns, named restaurant of the year. Cafe di Stasio opens in St Kilda and Andrew Blake takes over the stoves at Cafe Kanis in Richmond.

Hot dish: Capelli d'angelo (angel hair pasta) with vodka, cream and Tasmanian salmon caviar, Marchetti's Latin.


With the country in recession, the Guide observes that some restaurants have cut prices, started charging for sides and bread, and are playing safe with their menus. Many places close and the new openings are neither notable nor grand. Flower Drum is Victoria's first Chinese restaurant to score three hats.

Hot dish: Warm salad of pork sausages and yellow potatoes in a mustard vinaigrette, Kaye's on King.


What recession? French chef Philippe Mouchel arrives to head up Paul Bocuse Restaurant, where the house speciality is pastry-topped truffle soup, and Jacques Reymond moves to a heritage-listed Victorian mansion in Windsor. Soap opera luvvies Kylie and Jason can be seen at fashionable Caffe e Cucina.

Hot dish: Oysters in their own jelly, encased in smoked salmon and surrounded by a light cream broken by grains of caviar, Paul Bocuse Restaurant.


Donlevy Fitzpatrick shakes up St Kilda by transforming a seedy Fitzroy Street hotel into the fashionable George Bar & Cafe. Greg Malouf brings Lebanese-accented cooking to South Melbourne hotel O'Connell's. A growing number of restaurants gain bar permits to serve drinks without meals.

Hot dish: Salade nicoise made with salmon, Blake's Cafe.


The Guide switches to a five-hat system, reserving the top accolade for "Victoria's very best in every respect". Two of the Guide's standard-setters, Fanny's and Browns, close amid a trend towards more casual and cheaper eating. Changes in the Fringe Benefits Tax take a toll on business lunches and dinners. Mietta's turfs out the Guide's reviewers, who list the restaurant without a rating.

Hot dish: Creamy brandade with sourdough toast, the George Cafe.


We're enamoured with sauvignon blanc and unwooded chardonnay, and are increasingly able to order them by the glass. Rocket and parmigiana are the year's ''it'' ingredients. And as dining becomes more casual, the Windsor Hotel shuts the Grand Dining Room and Tansy's makes way for hip Stella, with Geoff Lindsay in the kitchen.

Hot dish: Fried sardines with peanuts, hot mint, chilli and lemon juice, Guernica.


Olive oil displaces butter on bread, semi-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers are in and pastry is out. Mietta's closes, Il Bacaro is gonged best new restaurant (and best Italian), and Stefano de Pieri opens a restaurant in the cellar of his father-in-law's Mildura hotel.

Hot dish: Rare seared tuna with wasabi dressing and pickled ginger, the Stokehouse.


The Guide kvetchs about artfully stacked ingredients and bistros so noisy that waiters have to lip-read orders. Crown Casino opens with a plethora of grand restaurants, Becco replaces the old Pellegrini's buffet with a modern Italian trattoria. But the year's best new restaurant is Est Est Est, owned by Donovan Cooke, his then wife Philippa Sibley and partner Frank Heaney.

Hot dish: Black pudding with sauteed apples and olive oil mash, the Point.


It's the year of the Brit-pack chef, when a coterie of young British-born chefs skilled in French technique rise through the ranks. Circa, the Prince is the year's best new restaurant, with Englishman Michael Lambie at the helm. Paul Bocuse and Stephanie's close, but it's not the end of fine dining, declares the Guide.

Hot dish: Braised beef cheek in beaujolais jus with button mushrooms, lardons and parsley potatoes, Circa, the Prince.


Modern ("adventurous and eclectic") and Mediterranean are the dominant cuisines in the Guide's 20th edition. Flower Drum is the year's best restaurant.

Hot dish: Truffled polenta with poached egg and parmigiano, Radii.


Restaurateurs begin grappling with the introduction of GST. Ezard at Adelphi wins best new restaurant and the Grossi family takes over the esteemed Florentino restaurant.

Hot dish: Tarte tatin of goat's cheese and shallots, Pomme.


Stefano's is the Guide's inaugural Country Restaurant of the Year, brothers Andrew and Matthew McConnell, of Diningroom 211 in Fitzroy, share the first young chef of the year award and 25-year-old Shannon Bennett opens Vue de Monde in Carlton.

Hot dish: Pork hock with chilli caramel, Ezard at Adelphi.


The Guide restores the three-hat system. Shared plates, once the preserve of Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants, are more widespread, panna cotta reaches plague proportions and the water question ("Sparkling, still or tap?") is on every waiter's lips.

Hot dish: Suckling pig spareribs with tangy coleslaw, Blakes Cafeteria.


The freshly opened Federation Square's, Reserve wins best new restaurant and its chef, George Calombaris, is named young chef of the year. Chris Lucas, latterly of Chin Chin and Kong, buys the Botanical, installing Paul Wilson in the kitchen. They earn restaurant of the year.

Hot dish: Twice-cooked duck on jewelled Iranian rice, Mo Mo.


The Guide marks its silver jubilee by naming the redoubtable Flower Drum restaurant of the year. Robin Wickens, then of Interlude, is young chef of the year, and controversially, Fitzroy pizza joint Ladro is the year's best new restaurant. MoVida moves into Hosier Lane.

Hot dish: Salad of rare squab with baby leaves and a crumbed, deep-fried truffled egg, Interlude.


Upmarket restaurants broaden their appeal by dispensing with "starched linen and starchy waiters", Vue de Monde moves to Little Collins Street in the CBD and receives three hats for the first time, and the best new restaurant award is withheld because nothing stands out.

Hot dish: Snow White and Rose Red (coconut cream tart and rose-geranium scented rhubarb crumble), Circa, the Prince.


Young Kiwi chef Ben Shewry takes over the Attica stoves, "melding Thai and Middle Eastern elements with European technique", and earns his first hat. Chorizo, black pudding and eel are among the year's star ingredients. Chefs revive the degustation or tasting menu.

Hot dish: Air-cured beef with truffle foam and poached egg, MoVida.


A swag of restaurants open at Crown, including the restaurant of the year, Rockpool. Best new restaurant is George Calombaris's Press Club, and chefs embrace terms such as organic, sustainable and rare-breed.

Hot dish: Confit apple with burnt butter ice-cream, Three, One, Two.


Dan Hunter quits Mugaritz, Spain, to join Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel, promptly named country restaurant of the year. Restaurant of the year is Attica. Kitchen gardens, communal tables and small shared plates emerge as top trends.

Hot dish: Smoked trout broth, crackling, basil seeds, fresh smoke, Attica.


Jacques Reymond's eponymous restaurant is dubbed the year's best. Andrew McConnell shuts Three, One, Two in Carlton and opens Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc in quick succession, winning chef of the year for his trouble. And George Calombaris' Hellenic Republic colonises Brunswick East.

Hot dish: Saganaki with peppered figs, Hellenic Republic.


Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld is restaurant of the year, Simon Denton's Izakaya Den is best new restaurant and Loam in Drysdale is best new country restaurant. Long-running Lynch's in South Yarra and Philippe Mouchel's brasserie at Crown close.

Hot dish: Roasted suckling pig with rockmelon and aerated goat's yoghurt, Loam.


Attica again wins restaurant of the year, Dan Hunter takes home the chef of the year prize and Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields in St Kilda is best new restaurant. Vue de Monde moves to the Rialto's 55th floor and Chin Chin opens in Flinders Lane. Dude food, no bookings, slate and smears leave their mark.

Hot dish: Lobster rolls with Kewpie mayo, Golden Fields.


Gertrude Street is declared the epicentre of food, chefs seek inspiration from street food, and sustainability becomes a greater focus. Michael Ryan's Beechworth restaurant Provenance is the regional restaurant of the year and he's named top chef of 2013. Vue de Monde, in its new location, is restaurant of the year.

Hot dish: Anchovy and smoked-tomato sorbet, MoVida.


Flinders Lane wrests back the eat street crown, chefs explore the food of South America and Korea, and no dish goes untouched by bacon. Attica wins its third restaurant of the year gong, Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac share the new restaurant of the year prize for Saint Crispin, and Dan Hunter leaves the Royal Mail Hotel for pastures new.

Hot dish: Duck waffle, foie gras and prune, Cumulus Up.


Stay tuned for this year's winners ... Follow all the action at tonight's The Age Good Food Guide 2015 awards from 7.30pm on Twitter via the #goodfoodguide hashtag.

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.