Restaurant Awards

Gourmet Traveller’s Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality: Sean Moran

The chef-owner behind Bondi's beloved Sean's, which opened 30 years ago and remains as relevant as ever.
Gourmet Traveller Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality Sean Moran

Sean Moran (left) and husband Michael "Manoo" Robertson (right) at Sean's in Bondi Beach, Sydney.

Anthony Geernaert

The year was 1993. Paul Keating was Prime Minister, Sydney had just won the bid to host the 2000 Olympics, and Australia was still recovering from “the recession we had to have”. A young Sean Moran had returned to Australia from overseas filled with ideas for a new kind of restaurant. One that championed fresh, seasonal produce grown in his own kitchen garden; a place that would bring families and friends together for relaxed long lunches and dinners, free of the pomp and ceremony of traditional fine-diners.

A boy from Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, Moran first learned to cook in French restaurants, serving up “frogs’ legs and snails”. It wasn’t until he made his way to Italy and learned about their seasonal approach to cooking that he found his calling.

Interior of Sean’s in North Bondi.

“I’d outgrown those fancy restaurant dishes and I just wanted to cook stuff that was really comforting and familiar and fed the soul a bit more,” he told Gourmet Traveller in 2020. He and his partner (now husband) Michael “Manoo” Robertson bought a property in Bilpin, transforming an apple orchard into a garden that would go on to feed thousands of future diners.

Sean’s Panaroma – now known simply as Sean’s – opened on Campbell Parade in North Bondi in November 1993. Thirty years later, it has become a talisman of Australian dining, changing what we value in a restaurant and introducing the Harbour City to true farm-to-table dining.

As long-time friend and fellow chef Kylie Kwong puts it, “Thirty years is no small feat in this tough industry of ours and it’s testament to how pure, authentic and simply good Sean’s offering is. I love Sean’s home-style restaurant kitchen filled with love and clutter and so many happy times. I love the linen napery with the burgundy trims, I love the focus and attention to every detail in his space. To me, he has the eye and mind of an artist, I love the intensity and obsessiveness, the care-factor in every single detail of that dining room and the side room with its rustic vases of roses and old honey pots.”

Kwong is one of many industry admirers, who seek out Moran’s culinary embrace when they step out of their own kitchens; their go-to destination for staff Christmas parties and celebrations.

“Sean has never allowed his ego to get in the way,” says Kwong. “He has always understood the importance of maintaining humility based on a deep understanding of self and the type of place he and Manoo want to offer the world.”

Sean Moran in the dining room at his eponymous restaurant.

As Moran himself says, “We are not businessmen. We do stuff because we love it. We’ve always got through. You just have to have faith that what you’re doing is right and it’s pure and it has resonance and a relevance.”

To see the full list of winners in this year’s Gourmet Traveller Annual Restaurant Awards, head over here.

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