If you thought sushi and pasta were old news, think again.
A Richmond restaurant specialising in traditional Japanese cuisine was tonight recognised as Victoria's best dining-out experience at The Age Good Food Guide 2016 awards, while a pasta bar in the CBD was labelled the year's hottest foodie find.
For those pursuing pure sushi excellence, Koichi Minamishima's skills have created a word-of-mouth following at his namesake restaurant. Minamishima only opened in December but was awarded two hats, and two awards, including Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year, at the Plaza Ballroom tonight, September 21.
Credit for Minamishima's "calm and beautiful" dining experience was also given by judges to manager and sommelier Randolph Cheung. A graduate of Melbourne institutions Flower Drum and the Atlantic, Cheung won the Citi Service Excellence award.
Best New Restaurant winner, Tipo 00 (named after the double zero flour used to make pasta), was recognised for its minimalist, modern fit-out and fault-free silken pasta (with a social media following all of its own).
The Age Good Food Guide 2016 editor Roslyn Grundy said it was a sign of how competitive and food-savvy Melbourne had become that "the city can support a growing range of single-focus restaurants and cafes".
She pointed to the success of other new niche ventures, including Fitzroy vegetarian fine diner Transformer and – at the cheaper end of the spectrum – ramen specialist Hakata Gensuke and Nashville-style chicken devotee Belle's Hot Chicken. The winner of this year's 'Best Cheap Eat' award was Delhi Streets, a cheerful eatery in the CBD's Katherine Place, where diners can sample Indian street food-style bites from $6.
The Guide's ultimate accolade, three hats, was reserved for just two restaurants this year: Ben Shewry's internationally renowned Attica in Ripponlea and Dan Hunter's regional gem Brae.
Two long-standing Melbourne dining destinations – Flower Drum and Vue de Monde – lost some of their gloss, both dropping their third hat. Grundy said reviewers noted as discordant Flower Drum's "canteen cutlery and prosaic glassware" and irritation with Vue de Monde's high prices and up-selling.
It's not the first time either business has dropped from three hats to two and Grundy said that many restaurants responded to the loss of a hat by redoubling their efforts and returning stronger the following year.
Brae's Dan Hunter was the night's biggest individual winner. His Birregurra masterstroke was named the Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year while he was singled out as Citi Chef of the Year.
Grundy said while many chefs scattered terms like"local" and "seasonal" about, Hunter was the real deal. "He's turned a tiny town [population 500] into an international destination by sourcing and growing excellent local produce and plating up a snapshot of the day."
The Vittoria Coffee Legend award, which last year went to Flower Drum's longtime chef Anthony Lui, this year went to St Kilda stalwarts Gail and Kevin Donovan, who almost lost their eponymous restaurant to a fire last year.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's catering business, which employs asylum seekers as cooks and wait-staff, won the Guide's inaugural Food for Good award.
CBD bar Romeo Lane was named Victoria's best drinking spot while the Lake House's Meira Harel was named best sommelier.
Grundy said despite Japanese food being one of the key trends in 2015, Japanese restaurants Shoya, Tempura Hajime and Yu-u were among the nine to have lost their hats this year. But five restaurants earned a hat on their debut in the Guide: Kappo, Lume, O.My, the Roving Marrow and Tipo 00. Central Victoria also had good news, with Catfish, the Good Table, Masons of Bendigo and Public Inn all gaining their first hat.
The Age Good Food Guide 2016 will be available for $10 with The Saturday Age on Saturday, September 26 from participating newsagents and supermarkets while stocks last. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au/agegfg2016 for $24.99. #goodfoodguide