From look-at-me luxury to eco-consciousness, Victoria’s finalists for the Good Food Guide‘s Restaurant of the Year are a high-definition snapshot of the most important dining trends of the last 12 months.
The six finalists for the Guide’s most prestigious award are Aru, Gimlet, Grill Americano, Navi, O.My and Vue de Monde.
“It’s a really eclectic list, and the finalists reflect some of the key themes we’ve noticed this year,” says Roslyn Grundy, editor of this year’s Guide.
Navi, a small independently owned Yarraville restaurant, champions low-waste cooking that still feels luxurious. Not throwing out fish bones and instead using them to make sauces takes far longer, but the alternative – tossing out bags of trim each week – is not an option for owner-chef Julian Hills.
Wasted food in landfill accounts for 3 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions; 70 per cent of what’s wasted is edible.
Hills thinks fine-diners like Navi should set an example for other restaurants.
“You’ve got to do it and you’ve got to show it’s do-able.”
Plastic is another focus. “We’ve gotten to the point now where a roll of Glad Wrap lasts us a year,” says Hill.
At O.My in Beaconsfield, the team grow all their own fruit and vegetables on a 2.5-hectare farm 15 minutes’ drive from the restaurant. It takes farm-to-plate dining to the next level.
“The people behind these restaurants are thought-leaders,” says Grundy. “They’re thinking more broadly about their place in society.”
Gimlet and Grill Americano, meanwhile, offer a postcard of mid-century glamour, a luxurious moment in time we seemingly can’t get enough of. Reservations at Gimlet are hard to come by even midweek, particularly since it was the only Australian venue included on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year.
But if old-school indulgence is back, critics are equally keen on the new guard. City restaurant Aru combines South-East Asian ingredients and wood-fired cooking in an exciting, contemporary package that breaks all the rules of fine dining.
There’s a snack of duck sausage on house-made white bread that you pick up and eat with your hands, just as you would at a sausage sizzle.
These restaurants are answering the question about whether fine dining is dead with a defiant “no”. Instead, they’re redefining what fine dining means.
Aru is part of a growing movement that reclaims the idea of fusion food. Chef and part-owner Khanh Nguyen says his cooking is inspired by his Vietnamese upbringing, childhood memories and high-quality Victorian produce.
“I think the whole goal of my career is to change people’s perspective on South-East Asian and Asian cuisine,” says Nguyen.
The oldest restaurant on the list, Vue de Monde, has clocked up 22 years in business, partly reflecting Melbourne diners’ loyalty. But operating at the highest echelons requires more than that, says Grundy.
“I would put it down to sheer determination in the kitchen and the sheer determination of its backers.”
She adds that its young chef, Hugh Allen, has injected new energy and ideas into the CBD restaurant, which sits at the top of the Rialto skyscraper.
“Each of the finalists is shaping trends, pushing boundaries and influencing other restaurants in its own way,” says Grundy.
The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at The W Hotel on Monday, November 14.
Restaurant of the Year finalists
A brilliant melding of Khanh Nguyen’s many culinary influences: Australian, South-East Asian and beyond.
268 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, aru.net.au
Gimlet at Cavendish House
Andrew McConnell’s love letter to big city dining from a bygone era – one that’s staging a comeback.
33 Russell Street, Melbourne, gimlet.melbourne
Italian aesthetic meets New York steakhouse in the beating heart of Melbourne.
112 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, grillamericano.com
A small fine-diner with big ambitions for more sustainable dining.
83B Gamon Street, Yarraville, restaurantnavi.com.au
City-fringe restaurant that pushes the idea of farm-to-plate to the next level.
70 Princes Highway, Beaconsfield, omyrestaurant.com.au
Vue de Monde
A Melbourne stalwart that continues to strive for – and achieve – excellence after two decades.
Level 55, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne, vuedemonde.com.au
The Good Food Guide 2023 magazine is on sale from November 15 for $9.95 at newsagents and supermarkets or pre-order from thestore.com.au.