Good Food Guide reviewers share their tips for a top dining out experience

Pappardelle with duck ragout and porcini mushrooms at Melbourne's Tipo 00.
Pappardelle with duck ragout and porcini mushrooms at Melbourne's Tipo 00. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Anthony Bourdain provided many gems of culinary wisdom during his time on Earth. "Cheese is the best dessert", for instance, and more famously "never order fish on Monday".

According to the celebrity chef's bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, most seafood has been kicking around a restaurant for four or five days before it's served on Monday as many chefs only visit the fish market mid-week.

Good Reviewers share their top tips when dining out.
Good Reviewers share their top tips when dining out. 

After "where's the hottest restaurant to eat right now?" and "can you get me a table at Attica?", one of the questions a Good Food Guide reviewer is most often asked is "is it true you should never order fish on Monday?" To put the matter to bed once and for all: no, it's not. At least, not in Australia.

"The 'don't eat fish on Monday' tripe is relevant mainly to the United States, and specifically New York, where daytime distribution is a nightmare except for the backpack-sporting Foodora cyclists," says John Susman, director of seafood sales and consultancy company, Fishtales.

"The Big Apple is served by distributors from New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia making the 'just in time' concept of seafood supply tricky. In Australia, Mondays are only slightly smaller than Thursdays as the second biggest fish market of the week in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Should you order seafood on a Monday?
Should you order seafood on a Monday?  Photo: Richard Cornish

"In both cities, many of the seafood distributors are also a mere empty schooner glass toss from the CBD, making the early morning dash to inner-city restaurants relatively simple."

With that fishy advice from Bourdain cleared up, and ahead of The Good Food Guide Awards at Crown Melbourne on Monday, the Guide's senior reviewer panel has a list of properly useful tips that can be used to enhance dining experiences around the country.

View tables are for amateurs

Think twice before you pay extra or tip heavily for a table with a view. If it's the seaside or vineyards out there, then there's no view at all after the sun goes down – just you two, with your backs to the restaurant and a sheet of black glass in front of you. The pros sit back a row or two from the window, immersed in the life of the restaurant itself. Terry Durack

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Fleet restaurant seats may come up as holiday bookings fall through.

Fleet restaurant seats may come up as holiday bookings fall through. Photo: Lauren Phillips

Waitlists work

Unless it's the bread line post-apocalypse, there's not a lot to recommend when it comes to queueing at 5pm to get into a booking-free restaurant three hours later. However, at places that take bookings – and are regularly booked out – sometimes little windows appear. Perennially popular Melbourne pasta joint Tipo 00 is always rammed, but even on Saturdays there's hope. Throw your name down, head to the nearest bar and wait for the call. The same advice applies for Poly in Sydney. At the two-hatted Fleet in Brunswick Heads, where you often have to book three months in advance, the restaurant often receives cancellations when holidaymakers' plans fall through. Put your name on the waitlist and you may be a lucky winner of one of the 16 seats. Gemima Cody

Stay home on Hallmark holidays

Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day: all guaranteed passion killers for serious diners. On big occasions, restaurants are often crammed with people who don't eat out regularly, and they're going to demand more of the service staff and the kitchen. Save yourself the grief and go another day. Roslyn Grundy

The online booking system isn't always correct

It's always worth calling the restaurant to double-check there are no tables left for the night you want to dine, especially if the reservation is for the same day you're trying to book. Note that if the restaurant is somewhere like Attica or Quay, which book out months in advance, there's Buckley's of getting in unless you're on a waitlist (see above). Callan Boys

If you want butter with your bread, ask for it.

If you want butter with your bread, ask for it. Photo: Alex Amato

There are no rules

If the entrees are interesting and the main courses are boring, then feel free to order two or three entrees and no main course. If you're only there for the snacks, compose an entire meal out of them. If they serve olive oil with the bread but you love butter, ask for it. Don't feel pressured into ordering extras and sides if you're not hungry. It's your night out, not theirs. Jill Dupleix

'Feed-me' menus aren't always the best deal

The veil of surprise is always cute, but ask what's on a "feed me" menu. They can either involve the chef showing their best work, or it can be the most crowd-pleasing stuff that gives the restaurant economy of scale if it's done share-style. With a group you might be able to get a better belt of the menu for the same price, but if it's an option for the solo diner, jump at it. GC

Eat it don't tweet it

Most restaurants won't mind if you snap a (decent) picture of dish and whack it on Instagram, but don't spend an age trying to nail the perfect angle and light. If you haven't taken a decent photograph within 10 seconds, it's not going to happen. The gods of lighting are fickle and cruel. You also don't want your fish taking on the texture of a cold sponge while you spend 10 minutes getting all Max Dupain on your turbot. CB

The bar seats at Melbourne's Supernormal are a great place to sit.

The bar seats at Melbourne's Supernormal are a great place to sit. Photo: Supplied

Best seats, bar none

If there are seats at the bar, grab them. For the same price you get dinner and a floor show. Sometimes, if you get chatting to the staff across the bar, they'll pass on an interesting morsel about the restaurant, their suppliers or the famous customer in the corner. They might even send a literal morsel your way, gratis. RG

Try to choose a restaurant whose values align with yours

If you care about ethically farmed meat or animal welfare, then don't order that schnitzel made with intensively farmed chicken. If you're worried about turtles choking on plastic straws, refuse plastic straws. If you believe in gender equality, identify a few female chefs and go support them. If you're concerned about our farming community, then give your hard-earned to chefs who support small-scale farmers by buying local, seasonal food. How you spend your money is how you spend your life. JD

It's always a good time to eat oysters

The old fishwives' tale that you should only eat oysters in months containing the letter "R" has no relevance in Australia. It's a northern hemisphere dictum concerning oysters that spawn in the summer months and can have a texture like gravel. Australian oysters are in brilliant condition over late autumn and winter, but the diversity of our climate and waterways means you can shuck excellent Sydney Rocks and Pacifics all year round. Check out Narooma Oyster Festival in May to sample the best domestic bivalves going. CB

If the wine list is laminated, proceed with caution.

If the wine list is laminated, proceed with caution. Photo: Adobe Stock

Be wary of wine mark-ups

Many restaurants make the majority of their profit on booze and it's not uncommon for wine to be priced double the retail cost. Some restaurateurs like to have a lend, though, and charge up to four times the value of the same plonk from a bottle shop. If the wine list is laminated, proceed with caution. The restaurant is buying booze in bulk and there's no guarantee those savings are being passed on to the customer. And always pay extra scrutiny to the second cheapest bottle. Many punters will gravitate towards the second least-expensive wine and dodgy restaurant owners might mark-up their budget swill accordingly. CB

Do your due diligence

Sometimes, the menu is a bit of a mystery, in which case, do a reconnaissance. Before you order, take a walk around the restaurant and check out what everyone else is eating. Then come back and order what looks good. This "I'll have what she's having" strategy is particularly useful when exploring Uyghur cuisine or Namibian braai for the first time. Just don't get there too early. TD

The Good Food Guide's second annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, will be launched on October 8 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2019 will be on sale from October 9 in newsagencies, bookstores and pre-ordered via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99. Don't miss Tuesday's Good Food for the special 24-page Good Food Guide Awards edition.