A note from our chief critic, Pat Nourse:
Today we published the 2018 edition of the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, sold bundled along with the September issue of the magazine. To put it together, our team of 68 reviewers from around the nation, led by our stopless state editors, Michael Harden, Fiona Donnelly, David Sly, Max Veenhuyzen, Gareth Meyer and Sam McCue, ate at hundreds of restaurants over the course of this year to narrow down the 400 we review in full in the guide.
And what a busy year it's been. On the one hand, the Australian restaurant world has never been more in thrall to big business. Neil Perry got out of haute cuisine and into a deal with a private equity firm that created Rockpool Dining Group, one of the biggest restaurant empires in the country, while Vue de Monde's Shannon Bennett sold a substantial stake in his Melbourne restaurant group to Singapore's richest family in a deal worth tens of millions of dollars. Smaller operators, too, have been wooed like never before by developers keen to furnish new business and residential precincts with culinary set-dressing.
Questions of sustainability, waste, culture, foreign labour and working conditions are being examined with new scrutiny, and everything is magnified and echoed by social media. Chefs have never been more in demand, but it's also a particularly tough time to make a dollar running a restaurant. Which might explain why ever more operators are looking to produce fast-casual offshoots of their businesses, with many even experimenting with online home-delivery services.
What does this mean for the diner? With more restaurants but no significant increase in talent to staff them and few measures in place to bridge the gap, there's a strong chance that service from experienced professionals is going to be a rarer pleasure than ever before.
And while restaurateurs are careful not to raise the prices on main courses too much, just about everything else, from entrées and desserts to sides and drinks, keeps going up, and tasting menus, share plates and other formats that blur the cost of the individual plates and the divide between courses (and facilitate a healthier spend on drinks) are more popular than ever.
And there's nothing wrong with this. Good food and service cost good money, and economic sustainability is a desirable thing in a restaurant. If there's a silver lining here it's the high standards that our restaurateurs and chefs now work to, and the fact that a hyper-competitive market should, in theory, mean they're grateful for your business. If you love your local, vote with your feet and support it with your custom, early and often.
It also means having someone you can trust go and kick the tires for you first is more useful than ever. And that's where we come in.
HOW THE GOURMET TRAVELLER RESTAURANT GUIDE WORKS
The way we put the guide together is straightforward: we don't want to waste your time with the also-rans; if a restaurant is reviewed here, you can count on it being a cut above. The quality of the food comes first, of course, but to warrant a full review, restaurants also need to satisfy essential conditions of quality in terms of service and comfort. That said, even the most comfortably appointed establishments won't rate a mention if the food isn't up to scratch. Location and style of cuisine don't enter into it, and nor do commercial considerations. Whether it's a suburban yakitori bar or a luxe country lodge, the same standards apply, so you can be sure our recommendations are worth your money and time.
The cover of the 2018 guide, out now.
CAN YOU BUY A PLACE IN THE GUIDE?
No, you can't. Nor do our sponsors have any say in the editorial process, and restaurants are never rewarded or penalised for using our sponsors' products. The reviews and awards herein can't be bought; they're earned. Our critics pay their way and visit every restaurant reviewed here fresh for each edition of the guide to ensure that our ratings are current, fair and accurate.
WHAT ABOUT THE STARS?
We award stars to restaurants that consistently impress our reviewers, and the best of those starred restaurants are ranked in our top 100. The quality of restaurants in Australia today is such that we raise the cut-off point for inclusion in the guide each year; likewise, a restaurant listed in the top 100 in the last edition might be pushed out by newcomers or by heightened competition this time around. The same thinking applies to the stars and wine glasses.
WHAT DO THE WINE GLASSES MEAN?
Max Allen, our wine editor, assigns wine awards in the guide based on the quality of wine lists. To win the maximum three-glass rating, the cellar in question has to be substantial in its reach, but we also award glasses to more concise lists that still make a well-realised statement and bring an extra dimension to the table.
I've visited a scarily large number of the restaurants in the guide myself for this edition, and I can tell you with confidence that, with this book in your hand, you've got a fantastic year of great dining and fun times ahead of you.
I hope you enjoy taking it out for a spin as much as we've enjoyed putting it together for you.
Pick up a copy of the September issue of Gourmet Traveller, on sale now, to get your copy of the 2018 Australian Restaurant Guide.