"Pleased and overwhelmed and surprised," was Mark Best's reaction as he and Valerie Best stepped to the stage when their Sydney restaurant Marque was named the nation's best at the GT Restaurant Awards. Marque's win was the culmination of a top-10 countdown of the country's three-star restaurants. In accepting the award, chef Best paid tribute to "heroes" such as Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry, who inspired him and Valerie when they first started in the restaurant business (you can check out the full list of winners and the online version of the 2012 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide here).
It was the peak of a night packed with good reason (and even better means) to celebrate. The awards launched the latest edition of the new GT Restaurant Guide, but also marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of co-sponsor Perrier-Jouët, and with brand manager Julien Marteau on hand, fine vintage Champagne was in no short supply. Meanwhile, Adrian Hondros of our other partner, Commonwealth Private, wowed the crowd by being far wittier a public speaker than any banker has a right to be. The Opera House setting was magical, and Nine's Leila McKinnon, returning in her role as host, added a further note of glamour to proceedings (check out our coverage of the event at Guillaume at Bennelong above).
It's hard to overstate how professionally the Bennelong team, headed by Piers Ursell on the floor and Guillaume Brahimi in the kitchen, ran the evening. Guest chef Yves Camdeborde exchanged his St-Germain bistro Le Comptoir for the harbourside setting for the night with the help of our friends at Qantas, and presented a menu that married ingredients humble and luxe to capture the élan of bistronomy. The Wine & Truffle Co, Joto fishmongers and providore Simon Johnson brought the best local and imported produce to the party.
Following canapés of Brahimi's signature blue swimmer crab sandwiches came a moelleux of smoked haddock. Camdeborde infused potatoes with the flavour of the smoked fish, then whipped them into a creamy mousse and topped them with a crustacean jelly generously spiked with Sterling caviar. Ravioli of lobster followed, played off against the earthiness of truffles, crisp shavings of chestnut and crunchy buckwheat suspended in a hay bouillon. The final savoury course saw a hefty piece of foie gras wrapped in quail, wrapped again in Savoy cabbage leaves, poached and set on a celeriac purée. And truffles. Lots more truffles.
The flavours of pear and chocolate were Camdeborde's salute to another bistro staple, poire Belle Hélène, before the night dissolved into petits fours, Vittoria Coffee, Chivas Regal, and a chef-led lock-in at Surry Hills, Sydney, wine bar 121BC, but not without the parting gift of show bags loaded with freshly baked loaves from bakers-to-the-stars Iggy's Bread. A fitting end to a fabulous night.
"I am very emotional to be here tonight, but also very flattered to be asked to do this dinner," said Camdeborde to the assembled chefs and supporters. "I hope you enjoyed eating this as much as I enjoyed cooking it."
The GT Restaurant Guide will be available for download later this month from Apple's App Store (read more about it here).