Yesterday, we kicked off this column by asking if Melbourne can keep up this pace. It would appear the answer to that question is yes. Yes it can.
If ever there was a time to sleep in to gird your loins for the main event (the 50 Best Awards), this morning would have been that morning. But there, at the official 50 Best press conference, which began today at 8.30am, were Ben Shewry, Massimo Bottura, Kylie Kwong and most of Australia and the world’s food media. Very few of them turned in early last night, but of course none of them deserve your sympathy.
Also present this morning was Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment; Peter Bingeman, CEO of Visit Victoria, and John O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Tourism Australia. If you needed any further convincing about just what the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards has meant to Australian tourism, these three men were more than happy to tell you. O’Sullivan casually mentioned that Tourism Australia hasn’t invited this many international media to Australia since Oprah Winfrey’s visit, and all three reeled off an impressive list of figures about what the attention of the world’s food media will mean to the country’s tourism prospects.
But enough about that. What happened last night?
While most of the World’s 50 Best chefs were dining on the beach at St Kilda for the “Chef’s Feast” led by Kylie Kwong (and didn’t they get lucky with the weather), most of the international media was being taken on a Tourism Australia-organised laneway tour, stopping in at restaurants and bars such as Mo Vida to get the full Melbourne experience.
In Japanese, Den – the name of Zaiyu Hasegawa's modern kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo and winner of the 2016 One to Watch award – means style, and last night's Den takeover at Cutler & Co (you can still see in our Instagram stories) had no shortage of Zaiyu-san's name sake. Plenty of Den's signatures – the savoury foie gras monaka; the “Dentucky Fried Chicken” complete with replica box – were present and accounted for. Service under the Cutler team, and Hasegawa's wife Emi and Den restaurant manager Noriko Yamaguchi, was as fun and genteel as back in the mothership. Expect plenty of eyes on team Den at tonight's awards.
Peru's top chefs – including Virgilio Martinez and Gastón Acurio – gathered at Melbourne's Peruvian home Pastuso for an intimate lunch. Before being whisked off to another event after a haul of ceviche, Acurio spoke about the importance of a restaurant debut from a country that's never appeared on the list. As he says, once one restaurant from a country gets ranked, the entire restaurant industry gets a lift.
It's not just the chefs of the world's best restaurants in Melbourne this week – the 50 best sommeliers are here, too. As are the international media, being squired around the state to get a sense of what we have to offer. Yesterday some visited Beechworth for tastings with local winemakers. Others went on a tour of Melbourne, led by Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts, which began at Cumulus before hitting Coda, Kirk’s and Embla, showcasing different Australian bottles at each stop. (Day two of that tour happened today, with somms from Relae and Alinea among the group of nine).
At about 7.30 last night, two busloads of somms arrived at Project 49 to sample wine from across Victoria. We watched to see which bottles they were taking photos of – and then we copied them.