Last week, the sun shone on Melbourne, both literally and figuratively. While many Melburnians soaked up the early autumn sunshine, the city’s hospitality industry rolled out the carpet for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, the deeply influential list that ranks restaurants around the world. That the Victorian capital hosted what has been dubbed the “culinary Olympics” was remarkable in its own right (save for last year when the event was held at the Cipriani Building in New York, the event has been held every year in London since 2002); that it was happening concurrently with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s 25th anniversary extravaganza made for a food party Australia will likely not see again for a very long time.
As Broadsheet regulars will know, we kept a close eye on proceedings throughout the awards. We spoke with chefs. We were fortunate enough to eat some good food. We took some Polaroids. We had a good time, as did everyone else that scored tickets to guest chef dinners or spent any significant amount of time at Embla or That’s Amore last week. But now that the dust has settled and the hangovers have (almost) dissipated, it’s time to address the question: what do these awards mean for Australian dining as a whole?
Following the debut of Birregurra’s Brae at number 44 and Attica climbing one place to position 32 at this year’s reveal, Australia now has two restaurants in the influential list (three if you include Peter Gilmore’s Quay, which came in at 95 on the 51–100 section). At a time when more and more travellers are booking dinner reservations before their airline tickets, the value of being able to fly into the one international airport and hit two world-recognised “destination diners” in one visit can’t be overstated.
“If you’re an international food tourist sitting in your living room in Los Angeles and deciding where to go, it’d be hard to justify going all the way to Australia when Attica was the only restaurant on the list,” says Ben Shewry, Attica chef-patron. “But now there’s two restaurants on there, it’s a much easier decision.”
Brae chef and co-owner Dan Hunter hailed Wednesday’s announcement as a massive result, not just for his team but for the entire community in Birregurra that he and wife Julianne call home.
“For a town of 500 people in rural Australia, this type of thing has a fucking massive impact,” says Hunter. “Everyone who comes to Brae goes to the shop and buys something and stays at a B&B. People who come to our restaurant contribute to the economy of my community.”
Although Attica and Brae are the awards’ big local success stories, the awards are a win for the entire Australian hospitality industry as well as Tourism Australia, the government’s dedicated tourism arm that helped bring the event down under. Melbourne hosting World’s 50 Best Restaurants was the third major initiative staged as part of the government’s bold Tourism 2020 vision, a long-term strategy that aims to significantly boost tourism’s value to the Australian economy (in terms of a tangible goal, the program stipulates a goal of achieving “more than $115 billion in overnight spend by 2020”. In contrast this figure was $70 billion in 2009). Considering Tourism 2020’s other big coups were the audacious $40 million Invite The World To Dinner campaign in 2015 and helping bring the Noma Australia pop-up to Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct last year, you couldn’t accuse the program of lacking ambition. For Tourism Australia, the awards were merely the tip of the iceberg for visiting chefs, restaurateurs and journalists.
“The real benefit of the World's 50 Best Restaurants begins now as chefs and media head off as part of 160 separate food and wine itineraries across every state and territory,” says Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan. “It's an unprecedented opportunity for us to tell our Restaurant Australia story and hopefully turn these hugely influential guests into lifetime advocates of our country.”
Then, of course, there are the ramifications for next year’s edition of the list. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, following the 2016 event being held in New York, restaurants in the city put in a very good showing this year. Other than Eleven Madison Park leapfrogging Modena’s Osteria Francescana to take out the top spot, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, seafood stronghold Le Bernardin and modern Mexican diner Cosme were among the New York restaurants to rise through ranks. While the identities of the members of the award’s voting panel aren’t publicised, it’s safe to assume that many of them were in attendance during World’s 50 Best festivities in Melbourne.
Almost all of the international visitors your correspondent spoke to were dining at Brae and Attica, which certainly can’t hurt the restaurants’ chances of staying in the list in 2018. Factor in all the post- and pre-event excursions being made across Australia by these food-world heavy hitters and the prognosis for next year’s countdown looks more positive than not.
But let’s not put the cheese cart in front of the hors d'oeuvres just yet. As mentioned earlier, Australia increasing its presence on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List is something to be celebrated, certainly, but it points to something that you and I have known for some time: Australia is a good place to eat and drink, and the rest of the world is starting to turn the corner.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s on the list and who’s done what or who’s moved up or down one eighth of a place,” says Pat Nourse, the awards chair for Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. “We’ve had a whole bunch of really talented, interesting, influential people come to Australia and get a slice of how we live and understand that dining is a big part of our culture. We’re into quality, we’re into having good times and we’re into getting together around great food and wine. It’s a part of our everyday life, whether it’s yum cha or having a barbeque at the beach. Right now, we’re the envy of the world.”