Looking back on 40 years of the Good Food Guide in Sydney

Favourite things: Grilled marron with desert lime at Attica.
Favourite things: Grilled marron with desert lime at Attica. Photo: Colin Page

What a blast it has been to chart the rise of our incredible restaurant industry through the pages of this book. How best to celebrate our four-decade milestone? Ask a selection of former editors to reflect on great moments, both then and now.

These are the people who have not only reported on the changing face of Australian dining but have helped shape the way we eat and drink today.

Leo Schofield

1984-1993

What dining trend did you not see coming?

Tapas. Perhaps just because I was as interested in Spanish cuisine as I was in Icelandic. Like, not especially.

Janni Kyritsis, at MC Garage.
Janni Kyritsis, at MC Garage. Photo: Steven Siewert

What's the best/worst thing about dining out today?

The best thing is the dizzying choice of food styles, from plebeian to patrician. No question about the worst, the very worst: piped music. It's simply impossible to dine anywhere without relentless, thumping, loud, bass-heavy background sound. I hesitate to call it music. Almost as bad are tables of young women who, in a doomed attempt to be heard over the ambient racket, resort to shrieking, squealing and yelling. If there is a hell, it must be like one of these fashionable torture cells.

Where's your favourite place to eat out now?

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Lucio's, or Buon Ricordo, both oases of calm in a world addicted to noise. 

What is a part of the dining scene you miss most from your guide editing era?

Any restaurant with no piped music. 

Joanna Savill admires chef Josh Niland’s imagination and technical daring.
Joanna Savill admires chef Josh Niland’s imagination and technical daring. Photo: Supplied

What's your favourite Australian food moment/restaurant/person from the past 40 years?

The food at Berowra Waters Inn during the Bilson regime with Anders Ousback and Janni Kyritsis in significant supporting roles. Further south, the food and staff at Lau's Family Kitchen in St Kilda. And, of course, the entire package at Cafe di Stasio around the corner. 

Lisa Hudson

CO-EDITOR 2002-2004 

Restaurants such as Attica were at the forefront of the growing use of native Australian ingredients.
Restaurants such as Attica were at the forefront of the growing use of native Australian ingredients. Photo: Simon Schluter

What dining trend did you not see coming? 

Zero waste. I must admit to being more sceptical than I should have been about the no-waste movement, and how it would catch on with the mainstream. Hasn't it, though, in such a big way! Pioneers like Joost Bakker, and today's passionate advocates including Matt Stone and Jo Barrett (Oakridge) are paving the way for future generations. It's so gratifying to see the nose-to-tail trend embraced by leading chefs, and as with all good trends they start in the country's top restaurants and flow through to cooks at home. 

What's the best/worst thing about dining out today?

Kylie Kwong embodies the importance of  following your heart, says Joanna Savill.
Kylie Kwong embodies the importance of following your heart, says Joanna Savill. Photo: Peter Braig

Best: Our confidence. We're not trying to be Paris, New York or Hong Kong. We are perfectly happy being us, skilfully drawing on the myriad cultures of our heritage and dishing them up in ways other countries, constrained by centuries-old traditions, can only dream of. We don't try to copy, we draw on the influence – whether it be Chinese, Italian, Moroccan or French (insert hundreds more!) – and make it our own unique Australian cuisine. 

And secondly, how wine has become front and centre of the dining experience, highlighting the skills of our brilliant sommeliers and wine producers Australia-wide.

Worst: Having restaurants struggle to get good staff in the face of a serious hospitality skills shortage. All-international wine lists when we have an outstanding Australian wine industry on our doorstep. Ordering via iPad (please, no).   

Tony Bilson brought intellectual rigour and imagination to Sydney dining, says Simon Thomsen.
Tony Bilson brought intellectual rigour and imagination to Sydney dining, says Simon Thomsen. Photo: Jim Rice

Where's your favourite place to eat out now? 

Only one?! A place that improves your mood the moment you walk in, that greets you warmly and thanks you as you leave, has a sound track with meaning and personality and a menu so mouthwatering it's hard to choose, is right for its location, comfortable in its skin, timeless in its style and understands the importance of generosity. Of course, the cooking must be superb, perhaps even serving some of the world's best roast chicken. Have I given it away? There are a small handful that fit the bill, but I'd call out Sean's Panaroma.

What is a part of the dining scene you miss most from your guide editing era?

The unashamed glamour of restaurants like MG Garage, with one of the true patriarchs of Australian cooking, Janni Kyritsis, darting across the dining floor and dishing up decadent chocolate cake with gold leaf, or Neil Perry's original Rockpool with its gold-railed "catwalk" to the upper floor, or the marble columns of Banc, which, along with Rockpool, was a pivotal training ground for so many of Australia's best chefs and sommeliers today.

What's your favourite Australian food moment/restaurant/person from the past 40 years?

The moment I started editing Good Living (now Good Food), which set me on a path to meeting and working with passionate, dedicated, talented, fun and generous people in the food and wine world. I'm still working with them, still in awe of them, and many are my closest friends. It's a reminder that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.

Simon Thomsen

REGIONAL EDITOR 2002-2004, CO-EDITOR 2005-2010

What dining trend you not see coming? 
Ghost kitchens that turn restaurants into licensed brands for delivery services. And crowd-funded sushi pizza.

What's the best/worst thing about dining out today?
Best thing is being in the moment, not taking notes and not worrying about defamation lawyers, although old habits die hard in analysing the dishes and watching the flow of the room. Worst is the cost of wine in some places, although I understand how important it is to the ongoing financial viability of the business.

Where's your favourite place to eat out now? 
At a friend's house (they're not so scared of me now) and Abhi's Indian in Strathfield, which has been around for nearly 30 years.

What is a part of the dining scene you miss most from your guide editing era?
No. 2 Oak Street in Bellingen, where the late Toni Urquhart ran the floor with her chef husband Ray. She turned all their customers into a broad circle of friends, a legacy that continues to this day. 

What's your favourite Australian food moment/restaurant/person from the past 40 years? 

Gosh, this is a "favourite child" moment. So tough. 

Moment: Seeing my former co-editor, Matthew Evans, open Fat Pig Farm restaurant in rural Tasmania with a new benchmark for paddock-to-plate ingredients. He really walks the talk. 

Restaurant: Collits' Inn, a restored 1823 staging inn west of the Blue Mountains, run by French chef Laurent Deslandes and his South African wife Cyrillia. Nowadays they're in Cape Town, not far from Dubliner Liam Tomlin of Banc fame. 

Person: Tony Bilson. He brought intellectual rigour, artistic flair and imagination to Sydney dining alongside an incredible knack for spotting talent: think Tetsuya Wakuda, Manu Feildel and Pascal Barbot, now of  L'Astrance in Paris. 

Joanna Savill

2008-2015 

What dining trend you not see coming? 

Weirdly, the growing use of native Australian ingredients. It had been a thing in the late '80s and early '90s and then pretty well faded away. As part of Sydney International Food Festival in 2010 we brought Rene Redzepi from Noma to speak about his philosophy of "time and place", using what is local and unique to your geographical and seasonal context. Ben Shewry brought up from Melbourne an enormous box of seaweeds and foraged native ingredients and laid them out on the Opera House stage. Chefs were intrigued but most were dismissive and said it would never catch on. But of course it did, and things like sea succulents and native greens and of course finger lime have become part of our restaurant vocabulary.

What's the best/worst thing about dining out today?

The best is the focus on great produce and chefs genuinely dedicated to sourcing direct from farmers and fishers and working with the seasons and availability. And the creative and delicious no-waste approach that goes with it. The worst is that we think it's better value to have a quick casual meal of lesser-quality ingredients for a not inconsiderable sum but can't see the enormous difference in quality, expertise and staff numbers paying sometimes not even double that for an amazing fine-dining meal. I get it – we all love to eat out as often as we can – but it's the mistaken perception of value that is frustrating. 'Twas ever thus and it probably won't change, but it would be great if we started to understand the true cost of beautiful eating experiences.

Where's your favourite place to eat out now? 

I'm a huge fan of Saint Peter. I love to be constantly surprised by Josh Niland's imagination and technical daring. And how delicious everything is!

What is a part of the dining scene you miss most from your guide editing era?

I went to a celebration of 20 years of Aria last week – what a milestone. And I was recently at Tetsuya's for the first time in ages. So I was reminded of the truly groundbreaking work of that generation of chefs, including, of course, Neil Perry, plus other pioneers in their own right like Christine Manfield, David Thompson, Stephanie Alexander and Sean Moran. And while I am full of admiration for the generations since (thinking Martin Benn, Brent Savage, the Porteno boys, etc – all award winners in my era at the Guide), and our extraordinary and inspiring up-and-coming chefs, I think sometimes we forget the legacy of the chefs who really put Australia on the map 30 or even 40 years ago.

What's your favourite Australian food moment/restaurant/person from the past 40 years? 

That's a hard one! So many! I think I would say Kylie Kwong and watching her journey from a shy sous chef cooking from her heritage and beyond with Neil Perry, through to her position of global advocacy for the environment, producers, finding our Australian food voice, mentoring so many great young chefs and, of course, championing our First Peoples and women in the industry. She embodies the importance of finding your own path and following your heart. A great life lesson for all of us. With the best saltbush cakes and wallaby buns along the way. And duck with Davidson plum. I miss them!

The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, was launched on September 30 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2020 is on sale now in newsagencies and bookstores, and at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.