Your Good Food Guide questions, answered

From left: Terry Durack, editor Myffy Rigby, Callan Boys and Jill Dupleix at Restaurant Hubert in Sydney.
From left: Terry Durack, editor Myffy Rigby, Callan Boys and Jill Dupleix at Restaurant Hubert in Sydney. Photo: Daniel Boud

For the first time ever, the Good Food Guide's senior reviewing panel gets a grilling by Good Food readers.

Ever wondered how the Good Food Guide is actually made? It's nothing like a sausage, we assure you. We've attempted to show all the moving parts our readers have been curious about over the years. We asked readers to write in with their burning questions – from how the hats are awarded, to how we choose the restaurants.

The second annual national Good Food Guide proves Australia is one of the world's most diverse and delicious places to eat. We review more than 700 venues before selecting the best 500 for the Guide. To receive a hat, a pinnacle in a chef's career and a restaurant's history, a restaurant must score 15 out of a possible 20. Reviewers visit unannounced. They book under an assumed name and pay for their own meals. The national Good Food Guide builds on a proud 39-year tradition at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. We remain independent, always.

Here, then, are your questions.

How do you score?

We have a clear scoring system in the handbook each of our reviewers receives. Scores are calculated out of 20. Food is obviously the most important thing in a restaurant, so we score that out of 10 points. Service is the next most important part of dining out, so we award points out of five. This leaves three points for ambience and buzz, which takes into account lighting, noise levels, crockery, cutlery, glassware. The remaining two are the "wow factor" points: a killer view, exciting location, a teeming vegie garden.

Ardyn Bernoth, Gemima Cody and Roslyn Grundy at the Mayfair in Melbourne.
Ardyn Bernoth, Gemima Cody and Roslyn Grundy at the Mayfair in Melbourne. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Are reviewers' photos up in kitchens and do you get special treatment and does this affect the review?

Recently a colleague sent a snap of critics' headshots on a kitchen wall, so it seems there's some truth to the rumour. Many of us have been reviewing a long time, so it's inevitable that we'll be recognised in some restaurants. We don't review dishes that are sent to us unbidden, and where we feel we're getting special treatment, we pay extra attention to the way staff are treating other guests and the way their dishes are presented. But we always book under assumed names and do what we can to fly under the radar. It's a breach of the reviewer code to mention you're a critic when you're dining out.

Isn't the whole review process subjective?

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This is what separates professional reviews from much of what's on public ratings sites. It's not about what we as individuals personally like or dislike. For example, we'll look at a dish and assess things like whether it's unique,, well conceived and executed (seasoned properly, and cooked in a way that does credit to the ingredient) Also, the way we write reviews is slightly different. Our main goal isn't to tell you if we like a restaurant, it's to paint a picture of the experience so you can decide if you might like it.

If the reviewer is friends with the chef, do they get a better score?

No. We treat our relationships with the hospitality community with honesty and professionalism. If there's a conflict of interest, we ask our 60 independent reviewers to declare it and the venue is assigned to someone else.

The Good Food Guide 2019.
The Good Food Guide 2019. Photo: Supplied

How many visits/reviews of a restaurant are needed before the final score is awarded?

We visit each restaurant at least once, often twice. Every score in the book is finalised by a senior review panel – if a final score can't be settled on by the group, we go to the restaurant again.

If I scored 16 in the newspaper will I automatically get the same score in the guide?

So here's what makes our Guide special: every single year we re-review every single restaurant. Because of this, a 16 in the newspaper (when the restaurant may have been reviewed soon after opening) may not necessarily be a 16 in the book (where the restaurant may have been revisited months later). Standards may have slipped, or improved, since the first review, and the senior panel also benchmarks reviews against other similar restaurants nationally.

What do reviewers pine for when they're eating rich food three, four or even five times a week?

When we're so deep in review territory that we're sweating butter, most of us in the office eat as plainly as pho broth or steamed broccoli with tofu. We bounce back pretty quickly to want pasta, though.

Do you benchmark your hats and scores for new restaurants against certain restaurants that have been hatted/judged in previous years?

Reviewing season culminates in two marathon meetings with our senior reviewing panel. We wish it was held in a bar, but it's actually in two conference rooms in Sydney and Melbourne. We run through every hat and award. If there is movement up or down in points from the previous year, we analyse the score and cross-check it against who of the panel has been there recently. If there is any doubt about a score, we send someone back.

Does Vittoria Coffee have any influence on the whereabouts the hats go, that is, let's say if someone doesn't use Vittoria or any of their products, does it impact the loss or gain of a hat?

Absolutely not. As a principal sponsor, Vittoria gives us enormous support financially. Without them, we wouldn't be able to produce the Guide. But they have no influence on hats. This product would be worthless if it wasn't independent, and Vittoria understands that.

How does one even get reviewed, if there is no well-known chef on the pans, no A-list architect, or no big-brand outfit behind the scenes?

Tell us! Our tips come from far and wide, high and low. We're always talking with chefs, waiters, fellow reviewers, readers, producers and wine people. We particularly follow the movements of young chefs who have worked with the greats – there's a real joy in seeing them go forth and develop their own styles. And we love to discover an off-the-radar gem. The big change has been social media, which we follow way too much for our own good.

Why is it that long-established chefs and large group names receive so many awards and young new talent can remain unrecognised?

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to craft and hospitality to have your restaurant recognised by one, two or three chef's hats . So established chefs and restaurants tend to be successful, and stick around. The whole idea of the chef's hats is to provide benchmarks of excellence. They come when there's that magic combination of talent, service and deliciousness that we can trust to be consistent – and sometimes that takes time. That said, every year we see young chefs break through – in Victoria, Derek Boath, of Underbar, Zoe Birch at Greasy Zoe's, Khanh Nguyen at Sunda, Louis Couttoupes at Bar Rochford in Canberra and Natalia Gaspari, of Ble in Sydney, for instance.

Where is the information about how to get your venue reviewed?

IIf your restaurant is not in the Guide and you think you're among Australia's top 10 per cent, send us an email. Tell us briefly about your background, your signature dishes and what marks your restaurant out from the rest. A menu and photos of the dining room and the signature dishes wouldn't hurt either.

It's a clique, a club – and always has been. So many talented people overlooked, for the current crop of cool kids who appeal to editors obsessed with the new.

Yes, we're always looking for the impressive new talent who will push this industry forward. But we're always looking for the old, as well, for people who respect their diners and make us feel good when we walk in the door. Long-time hat winners such as Aubergine, the Flower Drum, Cafe Di Stasio, Otto and Oscillate Wildly aren't new or shiny. They're just good, and you never know who's going to step out of their kitchens and into a gig of their own.

I want to be a Good Food Guide reviewer when I grow up! Any tips?

You need context, experience and age-old wisdom; to be curious, passionate, articulate and incorruptible. You need a stomach of iron and a forgiving liver. You also need to avoid cliches, puffery and over-use of the word ''crispy''.

Please including a dunny rating. A bad dunny can ruin the whole experience.

A bathroom with less than desirable facilities is certainly factored into the final score. We always do a quick bathroom check and the majority are fine. Occasionally, a trip to the loo can make the experience an adventure, especially where you need to hike through the kitchen, up rickety stairs, and past a three-headed guard dog before realising you forgot The Magical Key Attached to a Wooden Spoon.

We've had people claiming to be Good Food reviewers come into our restaurant, asking for their meal to be complimentary.

Who are these numpties? They need a slap. Critiquing complimentary food or announcing you're from The Good Food Guide is a breach of the reviewer code. Our reviewers would never expect or ask for a complimentary meal. This behaviour is more native to the murky world of food blogging and social media "influencers" who will approach a restaurant requesting a freebie in exchange for nice words and pictures online.

Who we are

Good Food Guide 2019 senior panel: Ardyn Bernoth, Callan Boys, Gemima Cody, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Roslyn Grundy, and editor Myffy Rigby.

How to contact us goodfoodguide@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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.