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

The Flower Drum holds a special place in Claude Forrell's memory.
The Flower Drum holds a special place in Claude Forrell's memory. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

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 in dining, both then and now.

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

Claude Forell

FOUNDING EDITOR FROM 1980

What dining trend did you not see coming?

Forty years ago, restrictive liquor-licensing laws meant BYO restaurants outnumbered licensed ones by a ratio of 10 to 1, and the most highly rated restaurants were French. What was not foreseen was the proliferation of more casual restaurants and cafes enabled by liberalised liquor licensing after 1986, the profusion of ethnic cuisines other than the long-established Chinese, and the development by creative young chefs of what we call contemporary cuisine based on a wider availability of quality seasonal and regional produce.

What is the best/worst thing about dining out today?

Chef Philippe Mouchel prepares a dish at Philippe restaurant.
Chef Philippe Mouchel prepares a dish at Philippe restaurant. Photo: Tash Sorensen

The best thing about dining out today is that present-day diners are reaping the benefits of those erstwhile unforeseen trends, with an incredible multiplicity of choice. The worst? Perhaps the same as before, that price is not necessarily a guarantee of quality or satisfaction.

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

I do miss some of the great restaurants, chefs and hosts of the past – the trailblazers of what is best in dining out today.

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

Most memorable meal: an amazing banquet I had asked Gilbert Lau to arrange at the Flower Drum for visiting journalists at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1981. Most outstanding restaurateur-chefs: Hermann Schneider and Jacques Reymond; greatest exponents of hostmanship: Leon Massoni and Maxim's Vincent Rosales; most glamorous three-hat restaurant: Gloria Staley's Glo Glo's.

Rita Erlich

CO-EDITED 1984-1998

Jacques Reymond.
Jacques Reymond. Photo: Eddie Jim

What dining trend did you not see coming?

Dietaries. I'm struck by how diverse are people's needs, intolerances and allergies now. Part of a worldwide awareness, I know; in Ireland there are sheets in every cafe, pub and restaurant with a list of 14 allergens.

What is the best thing about dining out today?

Alla Wolf-Tasker at the Lake House in Daylesford.
Alla Wolf-Tasker at the Lake House in Daylesford. Photo: Lisa Cohen

What was always a broad choice is even broader. I like the way shared food is now a thing, and I like it that the culinary traditions of more countries are recognised and appreciated. The worst thing? Higher noise levels. And I'm not mad about servers who interrupt conversations to tell me about the provenance of every item on the plate, however small.

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

Fifteen years was a long time, and a time that saw so many changes – and three recessions, I think. What I'm aware of now in the industry is how difficult business has become, so there isn't quite the sense of freedom and experimentation I saw in the 1980s. We did very well without the "dining experience" – that sounds so pretentious to me, as if I'm going to a show, or on holiday. Good food, good waiters, a decent wine list (if the place was licensed), and some comfort were just fine. A clear sense of identity completed the picture. It didn't need to be packaged as an "experience".

What is your favourite person/meal/moment?

Philippe Mouchel at The Brasserie at Crown.
Philippe Mouchel at The Brasserie at Crown. Photo: Eddie Jim

That's so hard to answer. I could give a dozen moments and meals – those extraordinary meals that are an education in themselves, where I have learnt and understood more about food and the purpose of restaurants. And there are the meals where I felt I had discovered someone. I remember the first meal I ate at Lake House, its first review, and knowing there was something special going on. That was early 1980s. As for people? Again, many, but I would single out Philippe Mouchel for his unerring style, his kindness, his professionalism.

Sally Lewis

2003-2005

What dining trend did you not see coming?

Dishes by Andrew McConnell at Circa Restaurant are missed by Sally Lewis.
Dishes by Andrew McConnell at Circa Restaurant are missed by Sally Lewis. Photo: Simon Schluter

The degustation menu. When Stefano's was awarded Restaurant of the Year in the 2003 Guide, it was probably the only restaurant in Australia where every diner received the same (daily changing) menu. At the time, a few leading Melbourne chefs couldn't believe it was given the top gong: "That's not a real restaurant," they cried. They didn't see what was coming around the corner ...

Where is your favourite place to eat out now?

We've just put in a wood-fired oven in our backyard so it's at home for pizza, great wine, BYO, good music and plenty of outdoor seating.

Dude food was huge.
Dude food was huge. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

If we go out, it's usually Asian so that could be Mr Wong, Din Tai Fung or the Sydney classic, The Malaya. Saint Peter is up there, too.

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

Campari and grapefruit at the Melbourne Wine Room, Andrew McConnell at Circa, tapas at Pelican, schnitzel at Scheherazade. I really miss what St Kilda used to be.

Grilled baby calamari, saffron and bacala from Osteria Ilaria.
Grilled baby calamari, saffron and bacala from Osteria Ilaria. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

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

We were lucky enough to have Peter Gilmore cook at our house as part of a charity prize we bid for. We had our best mates, a long table laid in the backyard under the stars by the late, great events man, David Grant (with a chandelier hung from a crane), and Peter showing our then young kids (aged four and six) how to make snow eggs in the kitchen. Unforgettable. Other great Australian dinners have been at Oasis Seros with Phillip Searle, Claude's under Damian Pignolet and the original Rockpool on George Street. All three would be relevant today.

Janne Apelgren

2009-2014, OVERLAPPING WITH ROS GRUNDY

Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel.
Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel. Photo: Robert Mason

What dining trend did you not see coming?

Dude food. Should have seen it coming. It was probably a reaction against those clenched-bottom restaurants offering earnest four-word menu descriptions (cacao, wallaby, Jerusalem artichoke, fennel) and those too healthy, sustainable dishes (carpaccio of radish). But suddenly we had maple bacon desserts, popcorn, fried chicken, tacos and po boys, sometimes all on the same menu.

What is the best/worst thing about dining out today?

Dining out today is pretty extraordinary, there's not much not to like. Sometimes noise levels get to me, and I'm not fond of two sittings, which make you choose between nursery and nightclub hours. That said, we haven't yet been pushed to 10.45pm bookings, which is all I once snagged at Brooklyn, New York restaurant Lilia, after trying pretty much every day for two months, including once at 3am the day bookings opened.

Where is your favourite place to eat out now?

That's like asking you to choose your favourite child! Probably, on frequency of dining, it'd be Osteria Ilaria. Lake House in Daylesford is our go-to for a special occasion spoil, and I recently ate twice in one week at Labart in Burleigh Heads. If it was around the corner, it'd be a regular. I'm also at A La Grecque in Aireys Inlet pretty often, and could eat at Anchovy in Richmond every week but manage it less often.

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

Having someone else pay the bill? Seriously, I don't miss much, perhaps the adventure of being able to be across every new place, every rising star, every exciting trend. But I enjoy eating what I want, when I want, where I want now. I guess I miss some old favourites that have gone from the business, like Loam in Drysdale, Woodland House and Jacques Reymond. But in their places new, exciting restaurants and chefs are rising up.

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

I've got very fond memories of being a 20-something spending my first hard-earned dollars at the restaurants which shone in Melbourne way back when: Clichy, Two Faces, Glo Glo's, Fanny's, Mietta's. In more recent times, my first trips to Attica, Loam and the Royal Mail in Dunkeld convinced me there was an Australian cuisine emerging and it was deliciously exciting, even if one of its proponents was a Kiwi.

I remember going down to the Royal Mail under chef Dan Hunter, which divided colleagues, who found the food fabulous but the whole experience a bit prosaic. When I finally got down there, I came to it from the perspective of someone who'd been living interstate and abroad, and I thought it was just fantastic ... the cattle trucks rumbling by the window, the looming outline of Mt Sturgeon behind it, the sommelier, in those days, running across the highway to grab a bottle of Bordeaux from the cellar. I wondered if there could be a more truly Australian restaurant anywhere else in the country.