Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year
Ticks every box. The winner does not need to receive three hats but must capture the mood of the city right now and exemplify what it means to be a world-class restaurant.
Where to start? New accommodation that means no driving and post-lunch playings of Marvin Gaye original pressings on your room's record player? The fact that Dan Hunter just keeps on marching down the path of deliciousness, channelling his impressive artillery into flavour over show-off moves? How about Simon Freeman and his floor team who carry out seamless service in the most relaxed and engaging way possible, all while you look out over the Birregurra restaurant's gardens, the aroma of woodsmoke in the air? It's all part of it and then some. Destination dining doesn't get better.
Best New Restaurant
The most exciting opening in the past 12 months, this restaurant sets the eating agenda and starts conversations. Represents everything that's fresh, hot and interesting about eating.
Everyone expected big things from the Kiwi collective behind Carlton's Town Mouse when they announced a city venue. Instead, we got huge things. And this is just the downstairs bar, with the restaurant proper still to come. Even so, it's become a magnet for inner-city snackers as much for the heat of the hospitality (all respect to Christian McCabe, an owner who still works the door on freezing nights) as for simpler-than- Town-Mouse but still razor-sharp take on bistro from chef Dave Verheul. That means crisp-skinned chicken, stracciatella lightened with camomile, and veg-based genius in the form of salt-baked celeriac. But you might never even eat when there's that dark bronze-toned bar to hold up and a hell of a wild wine list to investigate. Bring on phase two. We can't wait.
Citi Chef of the Year
To acknowledge those with the craft and ability to make a real difference to the way we dine now and in the future.
Aaron Turner, Igni
He was already a gun chef, evidenced by The Age Good Food Guide 2012 Regional Restaurant of the Year award for his much-missed Drysdale restaurant Loam. When it closed he spent a year cooking in Nashville before returning to introduce Geelongsters to spice-licked Nashville-style bird at Hot Chicken Project.
But this is the year Aaron Turner discovered fire. At Igni, which opened in a former electrical goods showroom in Geelong's backstreets in January, Turner has been cooking entirely over wood – often fruit wood such as apple and olive – making subtle adjustments to dishes daily in response to a fire that changes every day. It's forced him to rethink his methods, stripping dishes back to their essence to let the produce shine.
"The cooking needs to be a lot more precise. There's nothing to hide behind," he says.
In his new digs, Turner has enjoyed experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients brought in by locals, including hamburg parsley root with a flavour like parsnip; sweet, football-shaped cumquats; and burr comb, a kind of free-form honeycomb. The resulting dishes show the chef's innate ability to read ingredient potential so that even a potato becomes an unbelievable spaghetti-like showstopper. So many plates in the air, rarely a miss among them.
Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year
The best outside Melbourne. The winning establishment must provide a restaurant experience comparable to anything in the city but remain uniquely regional.
You could feel a gale of bated breath being exhaled when Igni proved to be not only as empathetic towards ingredients as chef Aaron Turner's much-missed Loam (native and foraged meets impeccably sourced, be it pigeon and marron or grown-to-order oyster leaves), but in some ways better, with an added focus on cooking over an ironbark-fuelled grill. Add the room in its grey, charcoal and ashen palette and the soothing hospitality stylings of Andrew Hamilton and Joanne Smith (fellow ex-Loamers) and you have one heck of a new destination restaurant for Victoria (and Australia).
Young Chef of the Year
To acknowledge our best and brightest rising star of the kitchen.
Jarrod Di Blasi, Ezard
It's the tale of slow and steady for Jarrod Di Blasi, the head chef of Ezard. Di Blasi has always believed in the long game, setting sights on working for his Michelin-starred idol, Tom Aikens, in London from the second he started his apprenticeship at 16. There he found his mission – to not only be great, but consistent, humble, produce-worshipping and above all, a teacher, so that the industry has chefs for the future. Back in Australia, Di Blasi has risen through the ranks, becoming head chef at Ezard in 2014. For our panel of judges, industry legends Alla Wolf-Tasker, Frank Camorra and Philippe Mouchel, Di Blasi is a chef they'd hire in a heartbeat.
Food for Good Award
An award celebrating innovation and charity. The winner goes above and beyond to contribute to the community.
In 2003 former businessman Adam Robinson started StreetSmart Australia, throwing his business and marketing smarts at the growing problem of homelessness. Since then, StreetSmart programs such as DineSmart and CafeSmart have raised more than $2 million for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, mostly through gold coin donations by diners and cafe-goers.
People's Choice Award
A reader-driven award that allows the public to name their favourite restaurant. Voted by the people, for the people.
Ezard @ Levantine Hill, Coldstream
They come by helicopter and they come by car to this Fender Katsalidis-designed dining room among the vines. A collaboration between Yarra Valley winemaker Levantine Hill and chef Teage Ezard (Ezard, Gingerboy), it combines a cellar door, tastings in barrel-like booths, and a fine-dining restaurant.
Wine List of the Year
A diverse and high-quality by-the-glass selection alongside an accessible bottle list that displays a good range of vintages and complements the restaurant's food and style.
In a year when the bar for drinking has never been higher, it's the drinks list at Andrew McConnell's Marion that's come out on top for so easily riding the line between trends and traditional. Whatever your hot take on sulphites or biodynamic horn-burying practices, Marion has you covered, and there's a lot to be said for that ability to challenge and cosset simultaneously. It's truly the bar that's there for its drinkers, staffed by a pro team who can get you where you need to be and serving everything you want to eat.
Champagne Taittinger Sommelier of the Year
The successful wine professional is able to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of their subject, while helping to influence and educate diners. They must be personable, inclusive, curious and driven to constantly deliver the highest level of service.
Jordan Marr, Oter
Maybe you last saw Jordan Marr on the floor at Dinner by Heston, but you'll be glad to find him here at this new progressive-French diner by Florent Gerardin. Drinking at Oter can be exciting and expensive but it's also an educational experience thanks to Marr's profound knowledge of the ins and outs of the modern and classic French scene and his enthusiasm for bringing drinkers into the loop.
Regional Wine List of the Year
Honouring a wine list outside Melbourne that displays a diverse selection that complements the restaurant's food and style while reflecting the unique qualities of the region.
Reading Provenance's wine list makes you want to hop in a car and head to Beechworth. Owners Michael Ryan and his partner, winemaker Jeanette Henderson, intelligently showcase the wines of their surrounding region, adding carefully chosen examples from France, Italy and Spain to give weight and context to the local selections. And at a time when many restaurants have begun dabbling in sake, it's a treat to find a list written by people who have invested so much time and money investigating Japan's sake culture, and know how to match sake to food.
Bar of the Year
The best all-round bar that nails service, drinks, vibe and decor.
Changes are afoot in barland, and they're changes for the fun. The past 10 years have seen everyone on both sides of the bar take a masters in cocktails, with majors in history, ice, and the use of local ingredients. It's been a delicious nerdy decade with bars like Michael Madrusan's Everleigh in Fitzroy leading the charge. Now, drinkers and bartenders have the knowledge and they're ready to party. Behold Heartbreaker – the bar by Team Everleigh that respects its drinks while cutting looser than anywhere else in town. It's the ultimate union of wild dive and high-end bar serving American craft beers alongside the Everleigh's pre-bottled cocktails.
Donlevy Fitzpatrick Award
Celebrating the memory of an influential Melbourne restaurateur, this award honours the unbeatable combination of restaurant-quality food in a bar setting.
Bar Liberty, Fitzroy
Class of 2016, hold up your hand if you haven't eaten Casey Wall's GLT (a BLT improved with salty sheets of chicken skin). You're in the minority. The bar snack that ruled the year joins one of the greatest matches in food and drink – 50 grams of comte with 50 millilitres of vin jaune – and a refreshing whack of crunch and spice from salt-and-pepper tempura vegetables at the wild wine bar by two ex-Attica sommeliers and the guys behind Rockwell & Sons. It's a heady mix of envelope-pushing snacks that redefines bar food.
Citi Service Excellence
To honour an individual's outstanding level of service and contribution to the hospitality industry.
Caterina Borsato, Caterina's Cucina e Bar
The all-seeing, all-knowing Caterina Borsato is a great reader of a table and a room, delivering each diner the experience they've come for in her long-running Italian basement restaurant. That might be a quick, revivifying bowl of pasta, a deal-making lunch over a serious bottle of red, or a golden handshake shakedown that will likely last until dinnertime. Even after 20 years, she works the room with an energy that suggests she leaps out of bed and runs to work every day.
Vittoria Coffee Legend
For outstanding long-term contribution to the industry, chosen from a shortlist by Les Schirato of Vittoria Coffee.
Jean-Paul Prunetti and Geraud Fabre, France-Soir
Restaurants come and restaurants go, but we'll always have France-Soir, a bastion of brasserie reliability since 1986. Also staying the course are Jean-Paul Prunetti, one of the two original owners, and Geraud Fabre, only the second chef to head the kitchen. Together, they keep up a high tempo, sending out textbook steak- frites, creme brulees and wines from a jaw-dropping France-forward list to the tightly packed paper-covered tables. Vive la France-Soir.
Best Cheap Eat
An award to celebrate great food that's also easy on the wallet.
Hem 27, Flemington
Fitted out like a swish Saigon street stall, Hem 27 is a classic cheap eats all-rounder. You can fly in for a pho and hawker snacks, or study the rarely seen regional noodle-soup specialities and expand your palate. The purely Vietnamese menu is expansive, adjusted seasonally (more salads in summer) and geographically, using ingredients that talk to Melbourne minds – Australian-roasted coffee served Vietnamese-style, Italian sparkling water and house-made sauces.
Cafe of the Year
A new award acknowledging a cafe with integrity, dedication and damn good coffee.
Higher Ground, Melbourne
The latest sibling to Top Paddock and the Kettle Black takes cafe-going to another level. The old power house at the west end of Little Bourke Street has been converted into a towering, smart space for brunching, drinking coffee or just lounging around. The food pushes cafe-style along with quality ingredients and fun tweaks (buffalo yoghurt and muddled strawberries with your chia bowl, spiced cauliflower with your scrambles), and the coffee from Square One is as good as any in Melbourne.