Life Eat & Drink Why Australian restaurants are failing to wow the world’s food judges
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Why Australian restaurants are failing to wow the world’s food judges

Australian restaurants fail to make Word's best restaurants list
Chef Massimo Bottura whose Osteria Francescana in Modena was judged the world's best restaurant. Photo: Getty
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We’ve got clean waters brimming with vibrant seafood. Shining produce from the land. Unique bush foods and the culinary influences from myriad cultures. Our chefs are innovative and rated highly in the commercial kitchens of the world.

So, why aren’t Australian restaurants peppering The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list?

When Restaurant magazine’s 2018 line-up was announced recently, just one Australian made the cut. Melbourne’s Attica came in at number 20, in what some regard as our poorest showing since the awards began in 2002.

That inaugural list featured Rockpool, Tetsuya’s (both in Sydney) and Flower Drum (Melbourne). This year’s result has left some scratching their heads: What do you have to bring to the table to snag a spot?

There’s no doubt that Attica’s Ben Shewry is doing something right. His restaurant in suburban Ripponlea, in Melbourne’s inner south-east, has been in the top 50 for six years, and this is his best result, up from 32 in 2017.

Australian restaurants fail to make Word's best restaurants list
Ben Shewry (left) hard at work at Attica. Photo: Instagram

Dan Hunter’s three-hatted Brae, set on a glorious organic farm in Birregurra in south-west Victoria, slipped just a few spots, but it was enough to slide out of the top 50. While Hunter admits making the list brings both pressure to hold the position and disappointment when you don’t, he’s circumspect about this year’s result. For a country of our size and scale, we hold our own.

“The greater list is of 100 restaurants – one of our staff googled ‘how many restaurants in the world’ and came up with 20 million!” he told The New Daily.

Australian restaurants fail to make Word's best restaurants list
Brae’s Blaire Colman (right) in the award-winning kitchen. Photo Instagram

“So to appear at all seems like a pretty good showing. I was concerned that the media, observers, commentators and also our younger staff would have the feeling that we have done something wrong in the last 12 months because we dropped 14 places and out of the top 50.

“Yet four years ago, when we appeared at 80-something, I nearly got a tear from the emotion because I felt so proud of the achievement.”

Humans can’t resist a list: A top 40, a bucket list … restaurants ordered by brilliance. Some detractors might not love the idea of ranking creative enterprise, but a spot in The World’s 50 Top Restaurants can be a gamechanger. It can make bookings go wild, send website traffic through the roof and can drive tourism.

In Australia, the 2017 total international visitor spend was $41.3 billion, with food and wine identified as a significant factor in destination choice.

This year’s restaurant selection is an international feast, with five South/Central American, one South African, seven Asian and six US-based properties among those on the list.

This year, Restaurant magazine sent 1040 judges – a combination of chefs and restaurateurs, food writers and ‘well-travelled gourmets’ – into 26 regions, armed with 10 votes each.

They must have been to each of their nominated restaurants at least once in the previous 18 months. It’s a system Hunter believes is fair, and that for size of population and spread across a big country, Australia is well represented.

“I think the list is a good indication, in any year, as to what are the most exciting, interesting and often original and quite personal restaurants around the world,” he says.

Some see Australia’s distance from Europe as an inevitable limiting factor: Out of sight and out of mind down under.

In fact, the 2017 awards were held in Melbourne, bringing the world’s best chefs, an army of foodies and a mass of media coverage. Presumably, serious foodies can now follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to Australia pretty easily.

Hunter doesn’t buy the distance explanation: If we are disadvantaged, he says, it’s in the area of personnel.

“I don’t know one single restaurateur who isn’t constantly looking for staff – we really have a problem at the moment with a staffing shortage and our governments have never supported our industry with anything that resembles quality training and funding for schooling. The fact there are two restaurants on the [top 100] list in this environment is an amazing achievement, I think.”

Peter Gilmore’s Quay, which took 13th spot in 2009 – has been closed for renovations and was ineligible for consideration this year. A member of his team told The New Daily they’re hoping to open mid to late July with a new 10-course tasting menu. Might be enough to put Quay back on the list?

Acing this year’s list, and a previous winner in 2016, was the Italian restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena. The kitchen, which champions the produce of its Emilia-Romagna environs, is headed up by Massimo Bottura. Expect to tuck in to a 10-course degustation menu with matching wines for €390 ($616) … if you can score a table.

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