Regional Victoria sweeps the Good Food Guide Awards

Some of the best eating you can do in Australia right now is outside the city limits, it has been revealed at the second national Good Food Guide Awards held at Melbourne's Crown Casino last night. Victoria reigned supreme, claiming six of the major gongs, with four of those being awarded to regional restaurants.

For the first time in the guide's history a Mornington Peninsula restaurant, Laura, beat out all city contenders in Australia for the best new restaurant title, an award that goes to a restaurant with its finger on the pulse. The ambitious new fine diner sits at the heart of a $40 million-plus sculpture park in Western Port, helmed by chef Phil Wood, who was lured away from Sydney and the Rockpool group.

The Good Food Guide Awards 2018

The best of Australian food is celebrated at the second national Good Food Guide Awards in Melbourne.

"I think this tree-and-sea change has had a dramatic effect on Phil Wood," says chief Sydney Morning Herald restaurant critic Terry Durack. "It has made him so aware of the land, the soil and the sea; bringing him into closer contact with his suppliers and seasons. His food now is more reflective of its source and more aware of its time and place."

Mildura was in the spotlight, with the 2019 Vittoria legend award going to long-time champion of regional food and producers, Stefano de Pieri.

Best regional restaurant went to Dan Hunter's impeccable Brae near Birregurra, recognising Hunter's ever deeper commitment to the gardens that fuel the plates while Wickens at the Royal Mail's 30,000-bottle-strong cellar took out Australia's best regional wine list.

Chef Phil Wood at Laura, Point Leo Estate, Merricks.
Chef Phil Wood at Laura, Point Leo Estate, Merricks. Photo: Supplied

The Good Food Guide Awards 2019 were attended by 800 of the restaurant industry's biggest names and catered by chefs Neil Perry and Guillaume Brahimi. It is the first time the awards have been held in Melbourne after the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, and Brisbane Times editions of The Good Food Guide were combined into a national publication last year, with reviews of more than 500 restaurants across Australia.

New Melbourne restaurants Lesa, Sunda and Ryne entered the guide this year with one hat. Scott Pickett's swaggery South Yarra restaurant Matilda 159 Domain, underground kaiseki restaurant Ishizuka and Iki Jime, a seafood restaurant from the Vue de Monde group where Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year winner Jodie Odrowaz works, all debuted at two hats.

Some spills saw Port Phillip Estate, Matteo's and Philippe lose their hat. Meanwhile, Carlton Wine Room is back in hat stakes following a takeover by some Marion alumni, chef John Paul Twomey and sommelier Travis Howe, who also took out Sommelier of the Year.

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There was no movement in the three-hat stakes for Victoria. Attica, Minamishima and Brae all retained the high ranking awarded to establishments with a guide score of at least 18 out of 20. Nationally however, the honour was awarded to Sydney's Sixpenny for the first time and also to Restaurant Orana in Adelaide.

Restaurant Orana, where chef Jock Zonfrillo showcases Australian ingredients with fine-dining technique, was awarded Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year.

"Zonfrillo has an ability to take left-field ingredients such as ants and Geraldton wax and turn them into something incredibly delicious," said Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby. "There's no cultural cringe, just purity and beauty. And, most importantly, Orana is a lot of fun to eat at"

Glazed Benton Rise lion's mane mushrooms, abalone, Sterling caviar at Laura.
Glazed Benton Rise lion's mane mushrooms, abalone, Sterling caviar at Laura. Photo: Jason Loucas

Rigby believes future of Australian restaurants is bright. "For many decades, the restaurant industry has been associated with a mentally stressful work environment and boy's club culture," the Good Food Guide editor said. "In the last 18 months, however, work conditions, pay rates and gender equality have been under the spotlight in the media and within the industry. Creating environments that aren't toxic, and inclusive of a broad spectrum of people, is highly important. The end result of anything, if you treat it gently and well, is always going to be a better product."

The Good Food Guide's second annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, was launched on October 8 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2019 is on sale in newsagencies, bookstores and via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99.