On February 6, 2024, chef Brett Graham made history. His London restaurant, The Ledbury, received a coveted third Michelin star, making him the first Australian owner-operator to achieve the accolade. It was arguably well overdue; Graham has been at the top of London fine dining for almost two decades, frequently flirting with that rarefied third star but always falling short. The infamous “red guide”, bankrolled by a French tyre company, finally gave in.

“It was amazing to see The Ledbury get its third star,” says Nicholas Hill, chef at Sydney bistro Porcine, who worked under Graham in the UK. “I sent Brett a text straightaway … it was a big buzz and I was left feeling very proud of my time in that kitchen.”

The restaurant’s achievement – it’s one of only nine in the UK to currently hold the status –came as a surprise. “I was shocked,” admits Hill. “During my six years at The Ledbury, we gained a second star [in 2012], which was an amazing feeling. Chat of a third star never really surfaced, and the general drive of the restaurant wasn’t about stars … but around that time of year everyone is always hopeful.”

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The mysterious Michelin inspectors review anonymously and can appear at any time, making it challenging to prepare. “A week or so before the guide came out, two inspectors came in for one last meal,” Hill recalls. “Brett was off and the sous-chef rang him to let him know so he could come in. Brett basically said, ‘If you guys want it, cook your arses off.’ A week later we got the second star.”

The Michelin Guide has a seismic impact on the global restaurant scene. Yet, despite our undeniable international influence, it has never arrived in Australia. Why not? Pat Nourse, creative director of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, says the reason may be simple. “It’s not here because no one has paid [it] to be here, as I understand it,” says Nourse, who is a former chair for Oceania, Australia and New Zealand in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – Michelin’s culinary competitor. “Australia is pretty well serviced by multiple restaurant guides as it is, too.”

Hill agrees. “From my understanding it’s all a money thing with Michelin. It comes at a great expense to local tourism boards. Australia’s awards systems aren’t too much different; it’s still nerve-racking when you cook for a critic. The standard of restaurants in Australia is higher than ever, so it would certainly be interesting if it ever happened.”

One restaurant that stands to benefit from an Australian Michelin Guide is Melbourne’s Vue de Monde. Under the leadership of chef Hugh Allen, who cut his teeth at Copenhagen’s three Michelin star Noma, Vue would be a prime candidate to receive the star treatment. “The Michelin guide still holds significant prestige for chefs around the world, despite a shift in priorities towards running good and sustainable long-term businesses,” Allen says.

When asked why the guide has never come Down Under, it’s a similar refrain. “The absence of a Michelin guide in Australia is likely driven by financial considerations, and the lack of a compelling business case for Michelin and its partners. From what I hear, a lot of countries’ guides are partly funded by the local governments.”

So if Australia wants their restaurants to compete internationally, it’s going to cost money. But do we really need a Michelin Guide? “I don’t think we need it for locals, though I would be interested to see how Michelin sees Australian restaurants,” says Dani Valent, one of Australia’s most respected food writers. “But I do think it’s useful for international travellers to Australia. If they are used to dining according to Michelin, they can feel a bit at sea without it, and unsure how to calibrate our restaurants.” On the question of the guide’s relevance, the allure is inescapable. “I think it’s still very relevant,” adds Valent. “I’m travelling in Europe now and definitely crosscheck my eating plans with Michelin.”

Allen can see a place for a local imprint, despite a healthy local grading system. “While Australia’s restaurant scene is well-covered by fantastic and passionate local media, the lack of an internationally recognised award system puts Australian chefs at a disadvantage when compared on the global stage.”

The buzz and excitement of an Australian edition would bring a welcome boost to our local scene. In 2023, Australia failed to secure a single restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, or the extended 51–100 longlist. So perhaps the timing is perfect for Michelin to make a move in Australia. Hill says the guide certainly has a role to play. “Other awards come and go … but due to its history and power in Europe, the Michelin Guide will always have a place. And cars always need tyres.”

Jay Clough is the creator of the industry newsletter Bureau of Eating and Drinking.

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