The best restaurants you'll never get to visit

Fanny's owner Gloria Staley with her chefs and head waiter Claude Verryser.
Fanny's owner Gloria Staley with her chefs and head waiter Claude Verryser. Photo: Peter Mayoh

To celebrate Good Food Month, we've rounded up the most-missed restaurants of the past few decades. Oh, and if you really want to experience an '80s revival restaurant in its heyday, check out our upcoming event, From the Vault presented by Yalumba which pairs legendary wines with one of Sydney's most legendary chefs. Bathers' Pavilion chef Serge Dansereau has gone back in time to recreate some of his most famous dishes matched to museum-vintage Yalumba wine, straight from the vault. See what made Bathers' Pavilion and Yalumba legendary in the '80s and '90s at this one night special event. Thu 20 Oct, 6.30pm. Bathers Pavilion; 4 The Esplanade, Balmoral, 02 9969 5050, batherspavilion.com.au, $175pp, includes matched Yalumba wines.

On some level, aren't we all Donald Trump, certain that we're smarter, faster and definitely doing everything better than anyone in history before us?

I hate to tell you, diners of Australia, but I'm not sure we're living through peak food. This week, as the Good Food team sent the 32nd and 37th respective Sydney Morning Herald and Age Good Food Guides to press (smarter, faster and definitely better editions than ever) we took a look at the archives. 

Tony Bilson at his Berowra Waters Restaurant in 1981.
Tony Bilson at his Berowra Waters Restaurant in 1981.  Photo: supplied

Sure, Australia's now an internationally respected tour de force, soon to host the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards.

We're champions of brunch who the rest of the world copies, when in 1981, the cafe introduction to the guides derisively huffed: "Since the Americans introduced the frightful idea of working breakfasts, several cafes in Melbourne now specialise in morning meals for the busy, or the lazy." Even so. Damned if one of the suggestions wasn't a plate of steak, eggs and a beer with the wharfies. 

But man, Melbourne and Sydney circa the '80s and '90s – what a glorious time. 

Blue Water Grill, Bondi, with Neil Perry pre-ponytail.
Blue Water Grill, Bondi, with Neil Perry pre-ponytail.  Photo: supplied

The 1979 Age Good Food Guide had no fewer than 20 restaurants where you could dance and dine. Writer Ruth Ostrow had the honour of compiling the discotheque section, including our answer to New York's Studio 54 in Razor, a nightclub with the excellent door policy of "freaks welcome but no dickheads".

And that's the trim. The real gut-wrenching FOMO is for the restaurants that launched the careers of so many chefs today or set the trend for the future. We'd pretty much chew off an arm to witness the majesty of the late, inimitable Gloria Staley ruling over Fanny's in impeccable power suits. Or to eat at Sydney's XO back when Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong shared the pans. See also: Claude's under Damien Pignolet and his late wife Josephine, for whom the SMH Young Chef of the Year award is named. 

Not that it's all gone wrong in the last 30 years, if you don't count spherification, cronuts and the lock-out laws. The future is crafty, fermented and sustainability-driven. It's a delicious time to be alive. But in counting down to the Good Food Guides for 2016, here's to the heroes and legends past who shaped the now, whose tables the 2016 Good Food Guide critics would still kill for a seat at. And to the books that captured it all.

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Sydney's most-missed restaurants

Berowra Waters Inn

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pic shows Tony Bilson at his Berowra Waters Restaurant 1981
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Tony Bilson at his Berowra Waters Restaurant, 1981.

Wish list: Myffy Rigby, National Good Food Guide Editor

"Oh, the days when driving under the influence of burgundy was vaguely acceptable. Imagine. Leaving aside the danger, there must have been something so liberating about not stressing about whether your Uber was going to show after a massive boozy lunch. Especially with Gay and Tony cooking and pouring the wine. Crikey." 

From the 1986 SMH Good Food Guide 

From modest beginnings in lower Elizabeth Street, Gay and Tony Bilson built what was generally acknowledged to be the finest restaurant in Australia. Random breath-testing scared a lot of regulars off last year, but it remains a most attractive restaurant, uniquely located. This is the most inventive cooking.

XO

Wish list: Myffy Rigby

"Kylie Kwong and Neil Perry cooking modern Asian food together is the dream of the '90s that was so alive and well, you can almost smell the wok and hear the chilled beats. I can only imagine how much fun and delicious this place would have been. " 

From the 1998 Good Food Guide 
Remember Wockpool? Miss it? Neil Perry once again has a pan-Asian restaurant in his stable. It's a space of levels with the amazing bar, views and a menu that crosses borders like the US chasing a cause. There are always pipis or mussels in XO sauce enlivened with dried scallops and tamarind duck, sticky and lightly sour.


MG Garage 

MG:990927.SMH.NEWS.PHOTOGRAPH:STEVEN SIEWERT
 JANNI KYRITSIS,DIRECTOR/CHEF OF MG GARAGE RESTAURANT WHICH HAVE PICKED UP AN AWARD IN THE GOOD FOOD GUIDE.

Janni Kyritsis at MG Garage. Photo: Steven Siewert

Wish list: Myffy Rigby 

"My greatest living Sydney restaurant regret is that I was too young and too poor to ever have made it to MG when Janni Kyritsis was working the pans. Every time I hear about how wonderful it was, my knuckles go another shade whiter." 

From the 1999 Good Food Guide 

Janni Kyritsis' presence alone is enough to qualify this as a gastro temple – albeit one with four shiny MG sports cars in the middle of the room (it doubles as a showroom). 

Eric's

Wish list: Jill Dupleix, Good Food columnist 

"I miss Eric's, a gorgeous old-school fish cafe on the Pacific Highway in Crow's Nest. The owner's fishing boat was always parked on a trailer outside the restaurant, the fish and the school prawns couldn't have been simpler, and there was a corkscrew attached to a string for your BYO bottle of wine." 

Blue Water Grill

Wish list: Terry Durack, chief critic for Sydney Morning Herald

"For a Melburnian on holidays in Sin City, it was a brilliant mix of surf, sand, mango daiquiris and sensational fish and seafood, it was Sydney on a stick. I remember sitting there thinking 'why aren't all restaurants like this?' Really, it was where Modern Australian dining was born – or at least conceived. The kitchen was full of talented young things destined to go on to make their mark on Sydney dining, including John Susman and Andy Davies." 


Claude's

Josephine and Damien Pignolet at Claude's in Sydney in 1982.

Josephine and Damien Pignolet at Claude's in Sydney in 1982. Photo: Supplied

"To have eaten at Claude's when Josephine and Damien Pignolet were cooking there together would have been one of those formative experiences. I know it was for Mark Best and Neil Perry. I think it's a mark of just how incredible that place was when you think about how Josephine's plating and attitude to produce is often replicated but never perfected today." Myffy Rigby  

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide award night, presented by Citi and Vittoria, is on September 5. The Guide will be on sale in newsagents and bookstores from September 6, with all book purchases receiving free access to the new Good Food app.

Melbourne's most-missed restaurants

Stephanie's

Stephanie Alexander at Stephanie's Restaurant. Date filed Dec 19, 1984

Stephanie Alexander at Stephanie's Restaurant, 1984.

Wish list: Roslyn Grundy, Age Good Food Guide editor

"Stephanie's was ground zero for seasonal, produce-driven dining in Melbourne, or so it seems looking back. The setting was grand (all crisp linen and polished silver in a Victorian mansion) but staff were unstuffy, making even nervous young couples feel at home."

From the 1979 Good Food Guide

Stephanie Alexander's fixed-price menu changes with the seasons, and relies (though not exclusively) on the flavours of French provincial cooking. In autumn it was mussels in tomato with crouton lids and an elegant pot au feu. The price includes savouries, salad cheese and petit fours post dessert.

The Latin

mcj000510.004.001 Age News, Picture Michael Clayton-Jones, Story Hugh Martin.  Smoker outside Marchetti's Latin Restaurant

Outside Marchetti's Latin Restaurant. Photo: Michael Clayton Jones

Wish list: Paula Scholes (aka Miss Pearls, owner of Madame Brussels)

"It was a place you could discreetly take a romance and then another one the next week ... and they held a perfect poker face." 

From the 1979 Good Food Guide

More like a congenial, old-fashioned club than a restaurant, politicians, writers, lawyers, doctors and businessmen give the slightly seedy surroundings an air of intrigue. Host David Triaca sits by the door six days a week, all year round, ready to greet old friends and keep a watchful eye over everything. Veal and chicken dishes, and the fresh fish, are usually good.

Tansy's

Wish list: Gemima Cody, Age chief restaurant critic

"Tansy Good's North Carlton restaurant turned out some of hospitality's best. The boards were trod by Gerald Diffey (now behind another centre of the universe, Gerald's Bar). On the pans it was chefs Philippa Sibley (aka the Queen of Tarts, who apparently was inspired by Good's dessert work) and Karen Martini (now Karen Martini!) This was fixed price dining starring the ultimate silk purse – soft pigs ear filled with sweetbreads. All guts and glory."

From the 1983 Age Good Food Guide 

Two stunning dishes are the confit of duck legs stuffed with duck liver, giblets and veal with a lemon marmalade, and a dish of perfectly trimmed lamb brains with fresh egg noodles. 

Fanny's

Mrs Gloria Staley with her chefs, kitchen staff and head waiter - Claude Verryser [far left] - at Fanny's Restaurant. 11-10-1984. PICTURE: Peter Mayoh

File pic: P: STALEY, Gloria
Date filed: 16-10-1984
Neg no: W32945 / 7

Gloria Staley with her chefs, kitchen staff and head waiter Claude Verryser, 1984. Photo: Peter Mayoh

Wish list: Gemima Cody, Age Good Food Guide critic

"Run by the leopard-print and blazer queen, Fanny's is the restaurant I wish I could still get dressed up for." 

From the Age Good Food Guide 1990

Age has not wearied her, nor has custom staled the infinite variety of her never-repeated seasonal menus. Now in her 31st year, Fanny's is the only mature-age restaurant in the elite class that has remained under the same ownership for so long. Chefs come and go, but it's Mrs Staley who devises the menus, composing every dish as an individual entity and demanding both technical perfection and artistic presentation.

Donlevy's

​Wish list: Terry Durack, chief critic for Sydney Morning Herald

"It was the game-changer, opened by Donlevy Fitzpatrick sometime in the 1970s. Some of Melbourne's finest chefs passed through the kitchens – Paul Strawbridge, Gary Sweetman, Robyn Joyce – and the place felt like a club, where everybody knew everybody else. I remember being shocked to the core one day in 1980, when Donlevy wrote up his new menu on the chalkboard and one of the main courses hit the $10 mark for the first time." 

Good Food Month presented by Citi is filled with events during the month of October. Head to goodfoodmonth.com for more.