Good Food Guide first look: Here's what to expect in the new books

Myffy Rigby
It's not all fine-dining, a casual restaurant serving peanutty khao soi noodles could make the cut.
It's not all fine-dining, a casual restaurant serving peanutty khao soi noodles could make the cut. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Salt and vinegar potato scallops draped with lobes of sea urchin; hot crumpets slathered with creme fraiche; steak Diane and thickets of chips; crisp school prawns and cold beers; a perfectly ripe tomato.

Yes, folks, after a COVID-19 driven hiatus last year, The Good Food Guide is coming back later this year, and we're starving.

What's on the menu this year is very different to what we were serving back in 2019. We no longer live in a world dictated by the openings and closings of high-end restaurants. Some may argue we haven't for a long time.

It's been almost 600 days since the last Good Food Guide landed on shelves. Back then, it was national, highlighting the best dining experiences in every state of Australia. We celebrated with a black tie event attended by nearly 700 people on the banks of the Brisbane River.

Just a few months later, as we were planning our next big Guide, the world stopped. Hospitality was on its knees. We no longer left our houses, let alone our cities. It was a year of challenge and hardship, one that showed an incredible spirit within the hospitality community.

Illustration: Mario Carpe.
Illustration: Mario Carpe. 

Projects that didn't necessarily represent the traditional restaurant model blossomed. QR codes, two-hour dining limits, outdoor pop-ups, picnicking, restaurant food home-delivery, and restaurants built in living rooms foreshadowed a different dining reality.

People, once allowed out of their homes, started exploring their own neighbourhoods far more than they once might have, appreciating a fantastic goat biryani or a soulful shakshuka yet still saving for that 15-course bells and whistles degustation with matched wines.

Recognising this shift to an evolving, more flexible way of enjoying restaurants, we had to rethink the entire idea of a guide book based on traditional dining.

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In a back-to-the-future move, we're returning to state-based books The Age Good Food Guide and The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, both with highlights from the rest of Australia. We're digging into NSW and Victoria with a renewed sense of purpose, showcasing the best of our states no matter what the style of dining. What matters most to us is deliciousness and hospitality.

The Guide's priority is to highlight the very best dining experiences, great and small.

To better reflect our dining landscape, we have altered our scoring system to cover a wider range of eating experiences. We're interested in places that are the best examples we can find of their dining style. That might be sharing an elaborate hotpot with a handful of friends, a solo bowl of peanutty khao soi at a Laminex table, rugging up for an al fresco margherita pizza, or getting dressed up for a proper jazz hands fine-dining experience.

What matters most to us is deliciousness and hospitality.

While our reviewers will continue to rate restaurants according to our strict criteria, we will not publish the individual scores in the next edition. This is still an incredibly turbulent time for an industry that has lurched from the COVID-19 crisis to a staff-shortage crisis. We believe publishing a score out of 20 would not be helpful right now.

But we are still awarding excellence and publishing hats for the best-performing restaurants, so diners can clearly see the level each restaurant is at.

The fact that a restaurant is featured at all in our forthcoming Guide means it has met a high standard, according to our behind-the-scenes scoring system.

Zeitgeisty snacks of cucumber, smoked sour cream and salmon roe at Monopole in Sydney.
Zeitgeisty snacks of cucumber, smoked sour cream and salmon roe at Monopole in Sydney. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Every venue in the Guide will have been subject to a critique by our independent, anonymous reviewers. As a team, they will review more than 800 restaurants in NSW and Victoria over the next six months.

We're changing and evolving. So what exactly is different? Expect more restaurants across our respective cities in areas we've previously left uncovered. Expect more cuisine styles and new, diverse voices. Expect a shift in the way we have always done things. We want to showcase restaurants that represent who we are as a dining population. We believe this shift is a strong step in the right direction.

The Good Food Guide, presented by Vittoria Coffee and Citi, will be out in November.

The Guide will include traditional fine dining establishments but it has broadened its scope.
The Guide will include traditional fine dining establishments but it has broadened its scope. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Scoring a hat (or even three!)

No hats

If it's in The Good Food Guide, it's good. Though these restaurants have not been awarded one, two or three hats, they are considered well worth a visit, providing an enjoyably memorable experience.

One hat

To score a hat is the gold standard for Australian restaurants. Whether it's a neighbourhood treasure, a brilliant pub, a tiny bar or huge dining palace, a one-hat restaurant consistently delivers good food, good times and good value.

Two hats

Something special. It could be a specific cuisine, an original idea, a zeitgeist experience, a perfect execution of traditional dining or the whole package, but it promises a benchmark experience infused with the joy of dining.

Three hats

These are the top restaurants in Australia, and it's no surprise there are only a few of them. A dining experience that consistently delivers great food, wine, hospitality, and the integrity of doing their own thing to the best of their ability. A restaurant that goes the extra yards, offering a celebratory experience that stays in your mind long after you leave.

Our points system explained

We score every restaurant we review out of 20. Here's how.

10 points for food

Deliciousness, technique, produce, balance, presentation, consistency, style, innovation, integrity.

*We're not comparing a fantastic biriyani with a 25-course degustation. This is all about what is best in its particular class.

5 points for hospitality

Attitude, friendliness, efficiency, pacing, attentiveness, professional skills, knowledge, COVID safety.

*Service need not be table service. It just needs to be the best version of the style of service they offer, whether that's ordering at the bar or counter, yum cha trolley, touch screen, QR code table delivery.

3 points for experience

Atmosphere, design, view, table spacing, noise levels, consistency, something extra (such as a kitchen garden, kitchen counter dining).

*Did you leave feeling like you'd had an incredible time, or as if you'd simply had a meal?

2 points for value

Is it worth it?

*Does it represent sound value either for money or experience? Would you recommend it?

Introducing Michael Harry, Editor, The Age Good Food Guide 2022

We're pleased to announce Michael Harry as The Age Good Food Guide 2022 Editor. Michael has worked with The Age since 2015 across Good Weekend, Executive Style and Good Food, and has been reviewing for The Age Good Food Guide since 2013.

"I'm beyond excited to be in the hot seat for the 2022 Guide as we tackle a whole new world of dining, from tiny apartment restaurants to much-anticipated blockbusters. I can't wait to share the best of the state on a plate."

Michael has hit the ground running, with the onerous task of eating his way around Victoria.