Normal service has not quite resumed for Australia’s COVID-stricken hospitality industry but judges of the longest-running national restaurant awards say the time is right for their return.
The annual Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards, dubbed the “Oscars of the Australian food and wine world”, are back on the menu this year after the pandemic forced their cancellation in 2020.
In a twist, the glittering awards dinner will move to Melbourne for the first time in a decade with star chef Andrew McConnell hosting the October 27 event at his venue Gimlet at Cavendish House.
No Australian capital has been burned by coronavirus lockdowns more than Melbourne, with the flow-on effects bringing many hospitality venues to their knees.
Gourmet Traveller editor Joanna Hunkin said the decision to shift the 2021 event from Sydney to Melbourne was made to acknowledge the Victorian city’s struggles and aid its recovery.
While many restaurants have not survived the crisis, she said chefs and hospitality workers she has spoken to support the awards returning.
“It’s going to come as a morale boost,” Ms Hunkin told AAP ahead of the announcement on Thursday.
“It’s very much a celebration of the industry. We’re certainly not trying to sugar-coat the challenges of the past 18 months.
“This is about recovery, about celebrating resilience and also about looking into the future.”
The awards and accompanying guide of Australia’s top restaurants have been continuously running since 1981 to honour the top establishments across the country.
Melbourne’s Attica, Sydney’s Quay and Adelaide’s Orana have previously won the top gong for restaurant of the year.
Other awards dished out on the night include best new restaurant, best wine bar, best new talent and restaurant personality of the year.
Ms Hunkin, who has the unenviable task of helping pick the finalists and winners, said this year’s shortlist will feature plenty of newly opened businesses.
“COVID has really changed the landscape,” she said.
“Some people have met that challenge stronger and better and smarter than ever; and some have been really hit hard and not weathered it as well.”
Award finalists will be announced on September 27 in the October issue of Gourmet Traveller magazine, with the winners named a month later at the awards dinner.
Ms Hunkin said a major reason restaurants had lobbied for the awards and guide to return was their potential as agenda-setters for the next 12 months.
“They know if they make the list, it is going to ensure that they are getting those forward bookings, that they’re running at capacity every night.”
Australian Associated Press