Ask anyone in the restaurant game and they'll tell you that they did it tough in 2018. Wage scandals, intense competition and food delivery app disruption made everyone feel the pinch. And yet Australian restaurateurs are gearing up to face battle again in 2019, and the year is looking up.
Victoria's biggest get comes at Sydney's expense now that three-hatted Sepia has departed for Melbourne. Chef Martin Benn and Vicki Wild served their last Japanese stones in December, and will launch a new chapter for the fine diner in partnership with Chin Chin restaurateur Chris Lucas late in 2019. The site and any hints at new moves are under wraps, which makes a preview dinner slated for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival this March the essential ticket to claim when they're released. Stay tuned.
Closer to lift off, two Melbourne icons are landing in the city. Art-loving vigneron and restaurateur Ronnie Di Stasio is due to open Di Stasio Citta, a branch of his landmark St Kilda-based Italian restaurant in Spring Street's Cbus building by the end of the month. It will be the first city operation for Di Stasio since he ran Rosati almost 20 years ago. Blocks away in Collins Place, chef Matt Wilkinson's much-missed mod-Brit cafe Pope Joan is due to get a second lease on life at the now-closed Mayfair. Wilkinson will be playing the hits, Reuben and all, from 7am-7pm at a pop-up from January 14 until Easter.
Trekking outwards, Victorians are awaiting the return of two-hatted Mornington Peninsula restaurant Ten Minutes by Tractor after a fire in 2018 forced a long closure.
New South Wales' hottest ticket will also require a hike to Brunswick Heads, but a worthwhile one when fresh Mexican from the team behind tiny, mighty two-hatted Fleet awaits. Chef Josh Lewis and Astrid McCormack took the sombrero-filled Gringo's Fresh Mex site last year and are due to start slinging mezcal cocktails, sausage-stuffed jalapenos, ceviche and tacos at 40-seater La Casita by January 24.
Back in Sydney the focus is on new moves from big names. Chinatown hero Golden Century will launch an offshoot in The Exchange at Darling Square complex in mid-2019. The yet-to-be-named restaurant will target a younger crowd with a contemporary, mostly Cantonese menu pulling in elements from other Chinese regions.
All eyes are also on a promised new venture from the crew behind Potts Point Fratelli Paradiso and pint-sized Paddington wine hero 10 William Street. Fratelli co-owner Marco Ambrosino has confirmed with minimal detail a new project starring 10 William chef Enrico Tomelleri, who has been traipsing Europe in research mode. This means exciting times for 10 William Street too, with chef Trish Greentree, last seen bashing the pans with chef Dan Hunter at three-hatted Victorian restaurant Brae, confirmed at Tomelleri's incumbent.
If you care more about your glass than plate, Maurice Terzini the eternal agitator behind Icebergs is busy installing award-winning London bar Scout in a formerly unused part of his Surry Hills party palace the Dolphin Hotel. Scout is the science-driven zero waste phenomenon from European barman of the year Matt Whiley. The Sydney residency, starting February, is pencilled for one year, but Terzini predicts a future beyond.
In other potent bar news, chef Jock Zonfrillo's native Australian ingredient-focussed Restaurant Orana (the Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year 2019) now has a second sibling to join Bistro Blackwood in Adelaide. Mallozzi is the Scottish-Italian chef's tiny Italian wine bar, named for his great grandmother and bringing the charcuterie and snack-sized pastas with force.
The Sunshine Coast is also due a serious contender thanks to vegan chef Alejandro Cancino who departed Brisbane's Urbane with three hats under his belt in 2018 and has now secured a short-term site for his small scale, ambitious plant-based fine diner, due to launch in August, and serving just eight souls a night.
Times may be tough in the dining landscape, but it seems the industry is tougher. Dance cards at the ready, diners.