It was a big night for CBD restaurant The Bridge Room, taking out the top gong and receiving a coveted third chefs hat at this year's Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awards.
The Bridge Room was named Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year at the event, held at the Ivy Ballroom and attended by Sydney's leading chefs and industry figures.
"Ross Lusted [Bridge Room chef and co-owner], to my mind, is one of the brightest yet most understated chefs in the country," says Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby.
"His quiet assurance, deft skills and completely original approach to cooking is just one of the many reasons Bridge Room took home the gong. Add a smart, straight-shooting floor team and place it all in one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the city and you've got yourself a recipe for Restaurant of the Year. Fact."
The much-lauded Sepia scored a massive 19/20 in this year's guide – only the eighth time a restaurant has been awarded such a high number in the 31-year history of The Good Food Guide (neither a 19.5 nor, indeed, a perfect 20 has ever been bestowed).
"Martin Benn [Sepia chef and co-owner] is one of those guys that inspires incredible loyalty from his team," says Rigby. "And that's in no small part to what comes out of his kitchen. But more than that, it's the utter finesse, from the inside out, which makes Sepia the highest scored restaurant in the city. It's world class."
The 19/20 score means Sepia maintains its three-hat status (a restaurant must score 18 or above to be awarded three hats). Sydney dining stalwarts Quay and Rockpool also kept their three hat ranking. Momofuku Seiobo, who appointed new executive chef Paul Carmichael in April, dropped to two hats.
Pasi Petanen of Cafe Paci was named Citi Chef of the Year and "one of the most forward-thinking, idiosyncratic food brains in the city" for serving progressive Finnish food with an Australian twist in an old taco joint painted a single shade of grey. Cam Fairbairn, all-round nice guy and restaurant manager of Rushcutters Bay local hangout Acme, collected the Citi Service Excellence award.
Under the new stewardship of Quay-masters Peter Gilmore and The Fink Group, Bennelong was awarded two hats and named Best New Restaurant for its high-art food "gently and sensitively executed". It was a big year for the Fink Group which also co-owns The Bridge Room.
Former Bennelong chef Guillaume Brahimi scored two hats for his namesake Paddington fine-diner, and Lumi Bar and Dining also collected two hats in its debut Guide entry (a restaurant needs to score of 16-17.5 to achieve two-hat status).
This year's guide awarded 43 Sydney venues one hat. Five of them jumped up to one-hat status – Izakaya Fujiyama, Ajo Italian Restaurant, 10 William St, Fratelli Paradiso and Sagra – as newcomers Acme, LP's Quality Meats, Firedoor and Sake Double Bay were all awarded one hat in their debut guide entry.
However, there was bad news for 13 restaurants who lost the chef's hat awarded to them in the previous guide by scoring below 15/20. They were Black by Ezard, Cafe Sopra, The Devonshire, Flying Fish, Lox Stock and Barrel, Vincent, Sake (The Rocks), 4Fourteen, Aki's Indian Restaurant, Alpha, Bar H Dining, Farmhouse and Hartsyard.
Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year was claimed by Fleet at Brunswick Heads, a 22-seat restaurant across the road from a caravan park. It doesn't have enough space for a cool room but it does have a progressive and down-to-earth menu that includes deep-fried prawn legs with sweet corn custard and a charred spring onion.
In the world of wine, Champagne Pol Roger Sommelier of the Year went to Rockpool's Seb Crowther for his "undeniably epic" wine knowledge and approach to service that is the antithesis of stuffy and aloof. Wine List of the Year was awarded to Bentley Restaurant and Monopole was named best bar.
Former Berowra Waters Inn and Bennelong chef Janni Kyritsis was awarded the Vittoria Coffee Legend award for "outstanding long-term contribution to the industry".
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 will be available from participating newsagents and supermarkets for $10 with the newspaper on Saturday, September 12, while stocks last. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au/smhgfg2016 for $24.99.