The Sydney Opera House rocked out to a whole new tune on Wednesday night as the Gourmet Traveller restaurant awards took over the Bennelong space for a night to remember. The remarkable room was given a striking makeover, a vision in gold and black, thanks to designer and architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb and Cool Edies stylists Lucy Tweed and Jane Frosh, while the nominees for our Best New Talent award flew in from around the country to shake things up in the kitchen.
"The look tonight is all about excess," said Gomes-McNabb. "It's about having fun in this space, and it's an awards event, so why not bring it on?"
It wasn't excess all areas, though; Rolando Schirato from awards sponsor Vittoria handed the stage over to Ronni Kahn of OzHarvest, who spoke passionately about her work with restaurants and Australians who lack food security. Returning host Leila McKinnon, meanwhile, kept things fresh on the microphone.
At the table the nation's hottest hospitality talent gathered from far and wide for a taste of the fun - and the food. Alex Drobysz from Melbourne's Bar Nacional rocked the canapés, while Ester chef Mat Lindsay's raw kingfish with burnt mandarin and nori paste turned heads. The Pinbone crew's marron with pork-fat noodles in a seaweed broth was a popular favourite, as were Magill Estate's juicy Barossa pork belly with pine nut caramel, and the liquorice-braised beef short rib from Lee Ho Fook's Victor Liong. Ribbons of candied sweet potato with Korean fruit punch and a white chocolate and soy-milk pudding from Moon Park made for an eye-catching dessert.
And then, of course, there were the awards. Among the happiest patrons were the winners of Bar of the Year, Brisbane's Lefty's Old Time Music Hall. Bentley's Nick Hildebrandt scored with Sommelier of the Year, while his fellow Sydneysider Martin Benn, of Sepia, was crowned Chef of the Year.
Winning an award voted by his peers, Benn said, was a particularly moving experience. "The people that you work alongside and are continually striving to impress are here and they've voted for you and that feeling is amazing."
Scott Huggins and Emma McCaskill, the chefs from Adelaide's Magill Estate, took a break from the kitchen to snap up the prize for Best New Talent. Print Hall took out Wine List of the Year, flying the flag for Perth. Victoria, meanwhile, cleaned up, with The Town Mouse's Christian McCabe winning Maître d' of the Year, Alla Wolf-Tasker of the Lake House being awarded for her outstanding contribution to hospitality and Brae, Dan Hunter's new restaurant in country Victoria, picking up gongs for both Regional Restaurant and Best New Restaurant of the Year.
"It's great to get one award but two is fantastic," Hunter said. "It's recognition of the work of the team and we're really grateful that people appreciate what we do."
Counting down through the nine restaurants that scored the ultimate three-star ranking this year, the awards came down to the big one, the number-one restaurant in Australia. Melbourne's Attica is the country's new restaurant of the year, edging out some mighty impressive competition at the top.
Chef-owner Ben Shewry said he was humbled by the win. "Gourmet Traveller is one of the last really strong outposts of quality food writing in Australia," he said. "This means so much for me because I know that as passionate as we are about restaurants, the team behind these decisions is putting in all the work and doing the research and has the knowledge to make them in an educated way."
With thanks to Vittoria Coffee and supporting sponsors Cobram Estate, De Dietrich, Domo and Parisi, we're proud to present Gourmet Traveller's 2015 Australian Restaurant Guide. For your copy, and for details on all the award winners, pick up the September issue, on sale now.