"Very nice, thank you" was chef Andrew McConnell's not quite numerically accurate response when asked for a three-word summation of his feelings about Cutler & Co. being named Australian Restaurant of the Year. Pascale Gomes-McNabb, the restaurant's designer, was more succinct: "It's f*ing awesome".
"That's absolutely frightening," McConnell said as he accepted the award. "This award is not about me, it's about Cutler & Co. It's about an incredible front-man, Adam Cash, a seriously hot sommelier, Sally Humble, and a very talented designer, Pascale Gomes-McNabb. I'd also like to thank my right-hand man, John Paul [Twomey], the head chef of Cutler & Co., who I've been fortunate enough to work with for over six years now." McConnell also thanked his business partners, Frank and Sharon van Haandel, before his words were drowned by applause.
It was, safe to say, a decision that went over well with the assembly of Australia's top cooks, waiters, wine people and bartenders. It probably didn't hurt that this year's major winner was named in Melbourne, at that most Melbourne of Melbourne restaurants, Flower Drum.
The announcement of the top spot in the nation's 100 best restaurants was the culmination of six months' hard slog by GT's reviewers. It was also the highlight of a very special evening. Though Flower Drum rarely hosts events of this kind, chef Anthony Lui and manager Jason Lui pulled out all the stops to make it a night to remember. The Drum is well staffed at all times, but reinforcements were called in nonetheless, resulting in what almost seemed to be a waiter for every two diners. Spring onion pastries and tempura-like fried garfish fillets made superb canapés (we couldn't keep Neil Perry away, truth be told), and other highlights were crab-rich Shanghai-style steamed dumplings with red vinegar, and deeply savoury slices of Blackmore full-blood wagyu beef cheek braised with ginger, red date and garlic.
Channel Nine's Leila McKinnon, meanwhile, kept things fresh as host. "I only wish the Logies were this fast-paced," she said, "and I think you know which awards ceremony has the better food." Between McKinnon's jokes and glamour and the photographers staking out the entrance, the Oscars-of-food buzz was greater than ever. On the drinks front, our partners at Signé, the premium drinks division of Pernod Ricard Australia, contributed plenty of élan, from the Perrier-Jouët Champagne apéritifs to the after-party's Chivas Regal nightcaps. In addition to our sponsors Signé, Ilve, Vittoria Coffee, Qantas and Škoda, we thank the chefs and restaurant people of Australia, not to mention the diners and drinkers, for making this such an interesting business to write and read about. "Vision, team, result," was Cutler & Co. maître d' (and Maître d' of the Year nominee) Adam Cash's three-word take on their success, but we'd like to run with Sally Humble's slightly longer offering: "Cheers to you guys."